Today, World Vision helped care for more than 4 million kids. They do so every day, and they do it without making headlines. There’s not much of a story there, I guess.
But when they announced that Christian employees in monogamous, same-sex marriages didn’t have to fear for their jobs anymore? All hell broke loose.
For a while, World Vision was trending on Twitter. Not because of the 70,000 people they helped gain access to clean water that day, but because of outrage over the fact that a cross-denominational Christian humanitarian organization decided it wasn’t its job to police a theological difference among denominations.
A gospel issue?
Of course, those voicing outrage don’t see it that way. To them, there is only one position you can hold on the issue of same-sex marriage and still be considered a Christian. Russell Moore claimed the gospel itself was at stake. John Piper argued that World Vision was trivializing the cross. Franklin Graham went so far as to say that “World Vision doesn’t believe in the Bible.”
I’ll grant that same-sex marriage is a deeply divisive issue among Christians. (I believe there are people of good faith on both sides of the debate.) But show me which of the great ecumenical creeds — Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian — makes homosexuality a litmus text for orthodoxy.
Show me which of the defining scriptural summaries of the gospel* say anything about same-sex marriage.
And if we celebrate a polygamist king as a “man after God’s own heart,” then why do we assume that a monogamous relationship between two people of the same gender is supposedly a deal-breaker for God?
We don’t need to trivialize differences of opinion on same-sex marriage. But to characterize it as a gospel issue? To me, that seems to miss the point of the gospel.
A justice issue?
I don’t envy the leadership at World Vision. To those who saw their (initial) decision as an attempt to pander to a broader audience: the people at World Vision know who their donor base is. They knew there would be a cost (update: though it seems they underestimated how much it would cost).
Some might ask, “Why take the risk? What about the kids?” It’s a fair question. But another question worth asking is whether it’s right to marginalize one group in order to pacify someone who is willing to hold impoverished children hostage to make sure they get their way.
But the stakes are even higher. Many countries — including some in which World Vision serves — have seen an alarming resurgence of homophobia in recent years. We’re not just talking about places where same-sex marriage is controversial. We’re talking about places where being gay can land you in jail — in some cases for life. We’re talking about places like Uganda and Nigeria, where homosexuality has been criminalized with the support of some US evangelicals who, having lost the culture wars here, are seeking out fertile territory elsewhere. Anti-gay rhetoric in this country has real-world consequences elsewhere. Wherever you stand on same-sex marriage, we we should be able to agree that these trends in other parts of the world are alarming.
One of World Vision’s commitments is to build a world where every person is respected, loved, and given a chance to thrive. Can they really do that halfway around the world if they don’t do so among their own staff here?
A personal issue
For many who weighed in on the controversy, this debate is an abstraction. For me, it’s more than that.
I spent four years writing for World Vision. I had colleagues who were gay, who were afraid of losing their jobs, who had to live in the closet because if they didn’t, they would be fired.
I’m also a World Vision donor. My family and I sponsor four kids. I’ve seen firsthand the difference they makes in impoverished communities.
So for me, this is about colleagues who no longer have to choose between their identity and doing something they believe in. It’s about my sponsored kids and their friends — many of whom have lost sponsors because, evidently, some people think that’s an OK way to retaliate.
This is personal. It’s about people. You may disagree with World Vision’s decision. But please don’t sacrifice children on the altar of your convictions. Especially not over an issue that cannot be construed as a tenant of orthodoxy according to any ecumenical creed or biblical summary of the gospel. Not over questions about which Christians legitimately disagree.
World Vision’s employment policy is not a gospel issue. Loving others is.
* Romans 1:1-4, Romans 3:21-26, 1 Corinthians 15, Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20, 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:8, 1 Peter 3:18-22. See The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight for a list of definitive gospel summary passages in the New Testament.