World Vision has been one of America’s — indeed, the world’s — great Christian organizations. It has done incalculable good for the “least of these,” serving in the world’s most poverty-stricken regions to save and sustain lives. When we adopted our youngest daughter from Ethiopia, it was immensely gratifying to see such a strong World Vision presence, even in the nation’s most remote regions. We — like millions of other American Christians — sponsor a child through World Vision, and we’re grateful for the folks on the ground who maximize our too-small gifts.
But World Vision is more than just a relief organization. Its good works flow from its deep and abiding commitment to Jesus Christ, and that faith is the reason for its action. To that end, it has defended (in court, if necessary) the right of faith-based organizations to utilize faith-based hiring practices.
And that is precisely why I was so deeply dismayed to see that World Vision will now hire employees in state-recognized same-sex marriages. Its president, Richard Stearns, justifies the decision this way:
Stearns asserts that the “very narrow policy change” should be viewed by others as “symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.” He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.
In short, World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently “tearing churches apart” over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.
He went on to say:
“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.”
Yet this is deceptive. World Vision is not dodging the issue, it is plainly taking sides — declaring that a same-sex union is, in fact, a “marriage” to a Christian organization. This is akin to saying something like — as one critical pastor noted — politics are divisive, and rather than endorse one side or the other, we’ll just vote Democrat.
It is also destructive. It is a temptation for every Christian ministry to view their particular calling as the chief object of one’s Christian life, and this can be particularly true of Christian missions to the poor. Thus any other requirement of the faith that is seen as impeding the purpose of the mission is negotiable, while the mission is not. I’ve seen this many times as Christians steadily shed the more inconvenient aspects of their faith to focus on what “really matters” — which often happens to be the very thing they most want to do.
Yet the purpose of Christianity is to serve Christ, not to serve the poor. Our service of the poor is sustained and flows from our love and obedience to Christ. In other words, faithful Christians are the nation’s most generous citizens not because we’re better than others but because our meager efforts to love and serve Christ demand a response to his call to love and serve others. We serve others because we serve Christ, and we cannot compartmentalize our service to Christ to those areas most palatable to our dispositions or to the trends of our culture.
Remove the emphasis on loving and serving Christ, and the rest falters over time as well — just witness the steep decline of Mainline denominations, with their dwindling flocks, dwindling influence, and consequent diminishing service to their communities. World Vision is one of the most dynamic and effective ministries on Earth. How long will it remain so?
I’m not going to abandon the child we help support — and I would urge that other Christians currently sponsoring children through World Vision stay the course with the kids they’ve pledged to help — but it is now difficult to trust the moral compass of a ministry that has chosen so clearly to take the wrong side on a matter plain in scripture and echoed through 2,000 years of church history and teachings.
This is willful sin, and willful sin is a poor choice for a Christian ministry.
UPDATE: Since posting, it appears that World Vision has reversed course and is reinstating its previous policy. Here is a key portion of the World Vision board’s statement:
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.
World Vision has done the right thing, indeed the brave thing in our current cultural climate. I applaud the change and deeply appreciate the board’s humility. Well done.