World Vision, Ecumenism, and Moral Confusion – Part 1
I was just about to enter into our Monday prayer for Faculty and Staff at Southern California Seminary, when one of the students from my previous course on “Christian Ethics and Leadership” emailed me asking,
“Did you hear the news? World Vision has just changed their policy to accept Gay Marriage.”
For thirteen years I lived and served the Church near Seattle Washington in the backyard of World Vision. In that time, I collected many friends in both “low” and “high” places who still to this day work for them. Every friend, without exception, shares the passion of World Vision to care for the poor and demonstrate love.
Motivated by our faith in Jesus Christ, we serve alongside the poor and oppressed as a demonstration of God’s unconditional love for all people.
So I admit that it was with a heavy heart I clicked the link sent by my student and read the headline from “Christianity Today” announcing,
“World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same Sex Marriages.“
Celeste Gracey and Jeremy Weber broke the news through their article in “Christianity Today” which featured an interview with World Vision’s President Richard Stearns. They reported in part:
Given that more churches and states are now permitting same-sex marriages (including World Vision’s home state of Washington), the issue will join divorce/remarriage, baptism, and female pastors among the theological issues that the massive relief and development organization sits out on the sidelines.
World Vision’s board was not unanimous, acknowledged Stearns, but was “overwhelmingly in favor” of the change.
“Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues,” he said. “It also allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage.”
Stearns took pains to emphasize what World Vision is not communicating by the policy change.
“It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there,” he said. “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.”
“We’re not caving to some kind of pressure. We’re not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us,” said Stearns. “This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We’re an operational arm of the global church, we’re not a theological arm of the church.
“This is simply a decision about whether or not you are eligible for employment at World Vision U.S. based on this single issue, and nothing more.”
With this kind of news, it was not long before the internet was ablaze with responses from notable Christian leaders.
This press release from Samaritans Purse reflected one strong reaction. A leader with no less devotion than World Vision to helping those in poverty, Franklin Graham wrote the following:
I was shocked today to hear of World Vision’s decision to hire employees in same-sex marriages. The Bible is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. My dear friend, Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, would be heartbroken. He was an evangelist who believed in the inspired Word of God. World Vision maintains that their decision is based on unifying the church – which I find offensive – as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church. From the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Scriptures consistently teach that marriage is between a man and woman and any other marriage relationship is sin.
President and CEO
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world, responded with some very specific concerns about the theological error inherent to World Vision’s thinking.
Richard Stearns has every right to try to make his case, but these arguments are pathetically inadequate. Far more than that, his arguments reveal basic issues that every Christian ministry, organization, church, and denomination will have to face — and soon.
The distinction between an “operational arm” of the church and a “theological arm” is a fatal misreading of reality. World Vision claims a Christian identity, claims to serve the kingdom of Christ, and claims a theological rationale for its much-needed ministries to the poor and distressed. It cannot surrender theological responsibility when convenient and then claim a Christian identity and a theological mandate for ministry.
One final leader of note, John Piper on the DesiringGod blog, expressed his disdain for the World Vision policy change.
Of course, World Vision does not intend to shipwreck their legacy of compassion for the poor. But that is what they are doing. I say this for two reasons.
First, World Vision has taken a step away from the cry of biblical love, which says, we care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering. Without care about eternal suffering, care about temporal suffering is a mirage. It looks like love, but the greatest gift is being withheld.
When World Vision embraces as an acceptable alternative behavior what God says will lead to eternal suffering (1 Corinthians 6:9–10), it sets a trajectory of lovelessness.
Second, World Vision has aligned itself with liberal Christians who choose not to renounce homosexual practice. Culturally, historically, and biblically this is a huge step toward the powerlessness and growing irrelevance of the mainline liberal establishment. You cannot undermine biblical authority, and trivialize perdition and its blood-bought remedy, and expect to maintain a vibrant spiritual base. It isn’t going to happen.
This is only, of course, a small selection of the swift response of Christian who felt betrayed by World Vision and wanted to take a positive stand for the teaching of the Scripture. But, of course, there were those who felt the need to attack anyone who would dare hold World Vision to account. One such example is Jen Hatmaker, a populist writer, promoter of social justice and speaker. Ms. Hatmaker writes on her blog what she believes that her role in this controversy is to be the voice of “peace” and “reason.”
I aim to be a peacemaker, because someone has to be.
First of all, the Christian community is not going to reach consensus on gay marriage. Every article, regardless of its position for or against, is the same. The support arguments; same. The rebuttals; same. The circular thinking; same. The responses are fully predictable, the language identical, the interpretations immovable, and after all the energy expended, we discover we are at the same impasse.
This is a fact: Thousands of churches and millions of Christ-followers faithfully read the Scriptures and with thoughtful and academic work come to different conclusions on homosexuality (and countless others). Godly, respectable leaders have exegeted the Bible and there is absolutely not unanimity on its interpretation. There never has been. Historically, Christian theology has always been contextually bound and often inconsistent with itself; an inconvenient truth we prefer to selectively explain.
But regardless of theological bullying, there has never been “one way” to interpret scripture. There has never been “one way” to be a biblical church. Even the early church leaders had severe and lasting disagreements about the nature of God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, Salvation, Faith, Works, etc. This admission is not an indictment on the Word of God at all. Rather, it is simply a reasonable assessment of the trajectory of the kingdom as God has interacted with each new generation of the church.
Reason and humility occupies too small a place in the analysis of the historical church and the progressive interpretation of Scripture.
In short, Mrs. Hatmaker is saying, “hey, we will never all agree on moral issues, so lets just move on, go out, and do good deeds.”… but more on that in Part 2 of my post.
So back to the controversy….
Only two days after World Vision made their decision that gay marriage is not an important issue, they reversed themselves on March 26th and decided it was important. Here is the full text of World Vision’s letter:
Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.
We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.
In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.
We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent. We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.
While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.
Please know that World Vision continues to serve all people in our ministry around the world. We pray that you will continue to join with us in our mission to be “an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God.”
Sincerely in Christ,
Richard Stearns, President
Jim Beré, Chairman of the World Vision U.S. Board
That is the background for Part 2 of what I hope to write next week. I want to address the connection between this current event with the history of Ecumenism and the resulting moral ambiguity. In the meantime, here are my questions for you, my readers:
- What is the most important issue brought to light by this story? Is our discussion focused on the right or wrong things?
- How should we respond to the moral ambiguity apparent in the leadership of World Vision?
- What should other Christian run Nonprofits do moving forward as we deal with the social pressures to compromise moral convictions?
I will write more on this in my post for next week, but in the meantime, I am interested in your thoughts on this whole issue.