informal essays

World Vision: In With The Outrage


Here we go again.

Barely three months after the Duck Dynasty uproar, evangelical Christians have sparked a new round of homosexual outrage – except this time, we’re mostly fighting each other, with knee-jerk reactions to partial truths cascading shamefully across the Internet. I’ve been watching things unfold, reading as many statements from as many viewpoints as possible, and I believe the complete story discredits some of the outrage on both sides. This is my attempt to explain things as clearly as I understand them up to this point.

World Vision is a large, Christian non-profit organization that serves needy people around the world. Their Biblical-based values include requiring employees to abstain from sex outside monogamous, heterosexual marriage. In response to some denominations that have begun to accept same-sex marriages, a few months ago World Vision quietly amended its policy to include employees from those denominations in same-sex marriages.

ChristianityToday caught wind of the change, interviewed president Richard Stearns about it, and published an article on March 24: “World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians In Same-Sex Marriages.” Almost immediately, this triggered an enormous backlash among the organization’s evangelical supporters. That very day – as Stearns reportedly revealed in a conference call this week – World Vision received 7,000 calls, many of which included angry “torrents of verbal abuse… name-calling and being told they were ‘agents of Satan’.” Two thousand child sponsorships were dropped in 12 hours, and the number quickly grew to 10,000. It only took two days for World Vision to announce a reversal of their decision.

These reactions prompted an equivalent level of outrage from the more liberal side of the Christian community, incensed that so many followers of Christ would “rather let kids go hungry than be reasonable on gay marriage.” It seemed to be the final straw for Rachel Evans and her readers to consider renouncing association with evangelicals altogether.


Where do I begin?

Though I am often ashamed of the things I see my fellow evangelicals saying and doing, I am not ashamed to count myself among them. We believe all men are fallen and depraved, including those of us who follow Christ, and though we are supposed to have the Holy Spirit changing us from the inside, it should not be surprising that we have not yet been made perfect, either. I will bend over backwards to defend evangelicals from what I see as unfair accusations.

But I will not bend so far that my head goes up my posterior. There is no excuse for angrily storming World Vision’s phone lines to verbally harrass their call takers. And I agree with my more “liberal” friends that it seems indefensibly selfish, even petty, to drop a specific commitment to serving the least of these because you disagree with a policy change.

As I noted last time, a lot of evangelicals do a really good job at least looking like they care way more about homosexuality than, well, almost anything else, and this latest episode has only reinforced that notion. In essence, we just took the off-hand accusation that we “care more about gays than helping the poor” and proved it as literally as possible.

Yet I believe the nuances of these issues run deeper than the cursory examinations and accusations suggest, and the complexities of World Vision itself make this far grayer, in my opinion, than either side wants it to be.

I think few evangelicals would dispute that Christian business owners should be content to hire gay employees, or that Christian volunteers should be content to work alongside gays. But whether or not an explicitly Christian service organization can require Christian behaviors from its workers is a very different question. Both supporters and critics seem to ignore that even during the change, World Vision still prohibited unmarried employees from having sex outside of marriage. On the one hand, the critics don’t seem concerned about those people being excluded from service. On the other hand, I wonder if evangelicals would have been as upset if that had been the policy that was changed.

But suppose they would have. Even if a person has the right to redirect general support from organizations it disagrees with, isn’t the specific commitment of a child sponsorship a little different? I think so. Now we could argue that apparently the organization’s sponsorships are not exactly directly tied to the children, and that this makes a cancellation less reprehensible. But once we start down the road of World Vision’s detailed operations, things get even murkier.

The organization receives large sums of money from the US government in exchange for limiting some of the more explicitly Christian aspects of their work. Does this make supporters’ sudden concern for their Biblical foundations less believable? How many other organizations with imperfect practices do evangelicals have no problem supporting until they touch the gay button? There’s enough convolution and money and politics here that nobody involved really looks all that great, even before everything exploded into outrage.

However, I encourage critics not to project the actions of a few evangelicals as representative of the whole group. As best I can tell, these cancellations represented less than 1% of World Vision’s child sponsorships. Many of those were not done angrily and flippantly, but with deep sorrow and with intentions of giving elsewhere. Even if you find these cancelled commitments more inexcusable than a generic support redirection, let’s not forget that 99% of the largely evangelical sponsors did not break their support, to say nothing of all the other organizations evangelicals support.

In the broader sense, if various surveys are accurate, conservatives/evangelicals give more money to charity, volunteer more, give blood more, and adopt and foster at higher rates than other groups (including, quite possibly, many of their critics). In spite of that, I still think most of us need to be challenged to care less about our comfortable, suburban lifestyles. But just because the loudest evangelicals make headlines about their oppositions to various forms of social justice doesn’t mean there aren’t millions of us quietly giving and serving everyday, away from the spotlights and tweets and blog posts.

Many conservative evangelicals view beliefs about homosexuality and actions of service to the needy as emanating equally from adherence to the Word of God, and they view critics as attacking the former while elevating the latter as much more important, even to the point of celebrating it as a good in itself, apart from an expression of service to God. Many critics allow for personal opposition to homosexuality as long as it doesn’t interfere with acts of service, and they view evangelicals as elevating the former as much more important, even to the point of compromising acts of service.

I think there are legitimate concerns of both viewpoints, and room in Christianity for both. But the World Vision issue is complex enough that each side can focus on specific pieces and use them to project that the other side is egregiously imbalanced. Each side believes they are properly balanced while the other side is imbalanced, so each side offensively attempts to correct the other while defensively viewing the other’s correction as an attempt to imbalance things further.

This is not to imply that each side must be equally culpable. I view the 10,000 cancellations as a grievous overreaction by the evangelical community. I just also think it doesn’t reflect the level of bigotry or merit the level of outrage expressed by the critics.

But I probably have too many planks in my eyes to risk further diagnosis. Thankfully, we serve a God who is in the business of redemption. I can only pray that the Spirit will guide us to the truth that sets us free.