Corrective Lenses

In case you have not heard, World Vision has announced that it is reversing its decision on hiring homosexuals in same-sex marriages. Apparently the decision was made at a World Vision board meeting held within a few hours of my last post (a few hours before I posted, I might add–I am not suggesting any correlation between the two events!) This decision marks a quick turnaround by the parachurch ministry since the announcement that it would allow such hirings came just two days earlier.

WORLD Magazine news editor Jamie Dean broke the story of the reversal on Wednesday afternoon, saying that Columbia Theological Seminary president Stephen Hayner, who is a World Vision board member, responded to an e-mail inquiry from WORLD with this statement: “The Board of World Vision is just concluding a meeting and will be releasing a statement shortly reversing the decision that was made. It was never the intention of the Board to undermine our firm commitment to the authority of the Scripture.”

Approximately an hour and a half later Dean posted an update on the story, including the World Vision statement. The statement, issued over the names of World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns and World Vision U.S. board chairman Jim Beré, begins this way:

Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our national 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.

It is encouraging to see that the board acted so quickly to reverse this decision and to acknowledge that a mistake was made. At the same time, it still troubles me that a board of such intelligent individuals would have made the decision in first place, somehow believing that the decision was not undermining Scripture.

The statement continues, “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.” Therein lies the problem. I repeat, how could this board of intelligent and accomplished individuals honestly believe that its decision was not a “reversal of a strong commitment to Biblical authority”? When a decision is made to allow accept something that the Bible clearly and unequivocally states is wrong there is no explanation for it other than a reversal.

“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,” the statement says. This, too, is encouraging, but begs yet another question; specifically, why was this “wise counsel” not sought before the decision was made? If somehow (and, in my opinion, inexplicably) the World Vision board truly was not sure how the announcement of the policy change would go over among the evangelical community why would they not have sought this insight and counsel before announcing their decision? The furor and backlash that poured forth in the few days between the announcement of the decision and its reversal could have been avoided completely. Yes, it is good to learn from one’s mistakes, but it is also good to avoid mistakes when common sense or, at the very least, a minimum amount of thoughtful reasoning would have prevented it in the first place. Stearns acknowledged as much according to a report from Religion News Service, stating, “We hadn’t vetted this issue with people who could’ve given us really valuable input at the beginning. In retrospect, I can see why this was so controversial for many of our supporters and partners around the country. If I could have a do over, it would’ve been that I would’ve done more consultation with Christian leaders.”

No doubt the possibility that contributions to World Vision would see a sudden drop was at least part of the reason why this decision was so quickly reversed. The Assemblies of God had already encouraged its members to consider dropping their support of World Vision and no doubt many other individuals and churches had or would have soon made similar recommendations. Ryan Reed tweeted on Wednesday, “My wife works for WV. In today’s staff meeting Stearns announced that so far 2,000 kids dropped.” If true, that figure would have equated a drop in World Vision donations of $840,000 since the monthly child sponsorships are $35. That was within two days of the announcement; no doubt the decrease would have ended up being considerably greater.

Richard Stearns did acknowledge in talking to reporters that the initial decision reflected poor judgement; “We believe we made a mistake. We’re asking them to forgive and understand our poor judgement in the original decision.” Still, Stearns also stated, “What we found was we created more division instead of more unity, and that was not the intent of the board or myself.” If that is an attempt to explain their poor judgment it really does not help since, I say again, it confounds understanding to imagine the World Vision board honestly believing that their decision would increase unity. In light of these events I believe that the World Vision U.S. board needs to seriously evaluate Stearns and itself in order to figure out how such an egregious lapse of responsibility could have happened in the first place; there may well need to be some changes made in order to prevent it happening again.

Russell Moore tweeted soon after the announcement, “World Vision has done the right thing. Now, let’s all work for a holistic gospel presence, addressing both temporal and eternal needs.” I think he speaks for many when he states that World Vision did the right thing. Jim Daly of Focus on the Family also released a statement. It says, in part, “I believe the Board of World Vision had the best of intentions when they cited a desire for ‘unity’ in making their original decision. But however well-intentioned, nothing is more important than adherence and faithfulness to the clear teachings of Christ. No matter how hard culture tugs, we cannot relinquish God’s truth.” Frankly, Daly gives the WV board more credit than I do; they may have had the best intentions in pursuing unity in some sense but it certainly was not, in my mind, a unity around biblical truth–and that should be preeminent.

Daly goes on to say that World Vision ought not suffer from this blunder. “I pray that Christians will now respond likewise with a spirit of grace and humility. World Vision does not deserve to be harmed by this incident. The security and fate of too many children are at stake to hold a grudge and punish them by withholding support.” He’s right about the children who are served by World Vision. They had no say in the decision of the World Vision board and they will be the ones who suffer if the World Vision contributions take a hit–and they should not be victims of poor decision making by the board. At the same time, there are many ways to help disadvantaged children around the world and sponsorship through World Vision is but one such way. My belief is that it would only be prudent for Christians who desire to help children in poverty to evaluate their options are to take the position and history of the organization into consideration when deciding where and how to give–and that consideration needs to include this decision and reversal by World Vision.

Of course the outcry that resulted after Monday’s announcement will now reverberate from the other side of the spectrum as World Vision will receive condemnation from those on the political and evangelical left who believe that support for the ministry should now be questioned because they have reversed their decision to embrace those in homosexual marriages. Read through the comments on the story of the reversal on the NPR web site and you will find plenty of comments like this one: “‘World Vision has a yearly operating budget of about $1 billion.’ According to Charity Navigator, $174 million comes from government grants. We should put a stop to that nonsense. … Why should any government be supporting organizations that discriminate?” It’s a no-win situation for World Vision–but one of their own making.

Bottom line, I am thrilled that World Vision has acted swiftly to reverse their decision. They recognized that their vision was blurred and they applied the corrective lenses of Scripture. I am still troubled by the poor judgment that the initial decision reflects and I would personally think carefully and give prayerful consideration to supporting World Vision financially. But I would absolutely continue to find ways to support children in need around the world if that was what I felt the Lord leading me to do.

Blurred Vision

On March 24 Christianity Today ran an article in which World Vision made clear that it is now hiring homosexual Christians in legal gay marriages. Interestingly, the charity’s policy against sex outside of marriage is still a rule.

World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns granted CT an exclusive interview in which he explained the policy change. According to the article, “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.”

Before I go any further I need to stop right here and state that very few things I have read or heard recently trouble me so much as someone simultaneously stating that abandoning a long-standing policy that is consistent with the Bible is a “very narrow policy change” and that this change is “symbolic…of [Christian] unity.” Nothing could be further from the truth. This “narrow policy change” rests on the belief that what the Bible makes clear about homosexuality and marriage is not correct or, at the very least, has been traditionally misunderstood. It is not possible to pursue Christian unity by redefining the Bible.

Franklin Graham, in a statement on the World Vision decision, said, “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.” Graham is exactly right; you cannot unify the church by embracing sin!

The CT article continues, “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.” I read that to mean that Stearns hopes that Christians will ignore World Vision’s trampling of one part of Scripture in order to join forces in adhering to another part of it. The reality is, of course, that that makes no sense. After all, if what the Bible teaches about homosexuality or marriage need not be adhered to why should its teachings on caring for the poor stir me to action?

Stearns stated that the policy change is nothing more than that. “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.” Actions speak louder than words, Mr. Stearns. A decision to hire and accept individuals who are living a life that is contrary to what the Bible teaches absolutely is an affirmation of that choice–whether you say it is or not.

Because of World Vision’s size–it had revenue of more than $1 billion last year–and the scope of its ministries, “other Christian organizations look to World Vision for leadership on defending faith hiring practices,” Christianity Today reported. That is true…and scary. When one of the largest Christian charities in the world accepts this kind of compromise it will surely lead other ministries to consider doing the same.

For that reason it is imperative that churches, parachurch organizations and other ministries, as well as individual believers, take a stand for biblical truth and against the compromise of World Vision. Franklin Graham is but one evangelical leader who was quick to denounce the decision. Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission issued a statement that included this observation:

But here’s what’s at stake. This isn’t, as the World Vision statement (incredibly!) puts it, the equivalent of a big tent on baptism, church polity, and so forth.

At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If sexual activity outside of a biblical definition of marriage is morally neutral, then, yes, we should avoid making an issue of it. If, though, what the Bible clearly teaches and what the church has held for 2000 years is true, then refusing to call for repentance is unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish.

John Piper said this: “This is a tragic development for the cause of Christ, because it trivializes perdition – and therefore, the cross – and because it sets a trajectory for the demise of true compassion for the poor.” Piper goes on to highlight the idiocy of the stated position of World Vision:

When World Vision says, “We cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue,” here is the side they do, in fact, jump onto: We forbid fornication and adultery as acceptable lifestyles among our employees (which they do), but we will not forbid the regular practice of homosexual intercourse. To presume that this position is not “jumping into the fight on one side or the other” is fanciful.

There are no doubt many other individuals and groups that have issued and will issue similar statements affirming the biblical position on marriage and challenging the foolishness of the World Vision position. When they do we must echo a hearty “Amen!” and join in their willingness to stand on the wall to defend the truth.

Russell Moore concluded his statement by suggesting that a refusal to stand firm for the Scripture, a refusal to call sin sin and to also share the Bible’s message of forgiveness is nothing more than “empowering darkness.” May we never be guilty of empowering darkness. May we, instead, follow the exhortation of Paul to the church at Ephesus when he wrote, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11, ESV).