“The quest for doctrinal purity & the exclusion it necessarily brings about is the very definition of missing the point.” —Carla Jo, 3/27/2014
There’s been a lot of e-ink given over to World Vision USA this week. I’ve had no personal dealings with this organization, though I’ve known of the work other World Vision branches have done around the globe. Like the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), World Vision has branches in each territory that adapt with their respective legal and social climates.
The purpose of this adaptation: that World Vision can advance its faith-mission in the most effective way for the benefit of those who need help no matter where in the world they happen to be.
I don’t know any international faith-based NGOs that don’t do this: it’s a necessary and non-negotiable part of working with others. Failing to adapt with one’s context is a recipe for extinction. You can be sealed off and buried as pure and unmoved as you like; without adaptation you’ll still be dead.
I agree with those who foresee World Vision USA changing its hiring practices in a decade or two, perhaps sooner, with none of the angst it’s experiencing now, and as part of the tail-end of the US’ evolution rather than part of its leadership.
So for me, the only question to be asked about World Vision’s sustainability in this country is not whether it will adapt to culture, but how it will adapt to culture. World Vision Canada has long adapted and its mission hasn’t been damaged: something else other than efficacy is in play here. The status quo—a kind of Christian intra-group cannibalism—is phenomenally expensive in both fiscal and human terms.
According to World Vision’s board chairman Richard Stearns, the organization lost around 5,000 sponsors this week—the fiscal equivalent of “up to $2.1 million a year.” People from all perspectives have been crying “But what about the children!” and telling their peers how terrible it would be to use child sponsorship as a way to reward or punish the non-profit for its hiring policy.
It seems that most people genuinely are concerned for the well-being of children now served by World Vision or suddenly unsponsored by donors. But I have a broader concern about the wider Church. It’s not simply that children are pawns in the Church’s skirmishes. It’s that as a collective we’ve accepted that anyone of any age can be collateral in this dogmatic battle or that Last Doctrinal Stand.
As I said to a group at Loma Linda University last month, we’ve fallen into such love with military faith metaphors that the logic of “acceptable losses” is virtually native. The children and adults who bear the burden of these losses are asked why they don’t just leave the group to its exclusive norms. And should they leave, they’re asked why they lacked the grace to forgive any harms done. Given an acceptance that collateral damage is either unavoidable or a sign that we’re doing something right (!), it’s so easy for us to lay the burden of moral response on individuals than to question or change the institutional, social, and policy context that begs for a response in the first place.
So children have been harmed here. I’ve also read comments from LGBT World Vision workers. A major difference between the unsponsored children and the LGBT staff members who support World Vision is that LGBT staff members have returned to work for an organization whose administrators have just spent the last 24 hours telling the world that they’re morally deficient, have abandoned essential Church tenets, and are essentially unfit to cooperate with the Church in anti-poverty relief work. Some of us reach toward a future where children like those served by World Vision will never have to experience the kind of false comfort that serving adults have experienced this week.
In his Q&A with Religion News Service’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Stearns says his board had aimed “to create some space of togetherness around differences within the church.” My sense is it’s a colossal error to imagine that that space of togetherness is something everyone in the Church wants.
I see us collectively reading the prayer “That all of them may be one as we are”—and responding to it not with a “Amen” but with a wrinkled forehead and a long list of exceptions. The first time I had this thought it shocked me, but when the shock wore off, I understood some of our recurring policy disagreements a whole lot more. Not all of us want to be one. Some of us would prefer to be the Few, the Pure.
Perhaps until recently I’ve been subtle about the fact that the vision that I walk and work towards includes people who have already called me the mouthpiece of Satan. And this vision doesn’t require them to change their opinion about how wrong I am. These people are part of my ideal future because I believe they have beautiful things to add to our common table whether we concur or not, and they already add some of those things now. I believe this even as I know their vision for us doesn’t include me as me, and might, in its most generous form, only include an Outer Limits-style analog of who I am.
No surprise: the option that motivates my time, energy, commitment, resources, skills, and vocal support is the one that accommodates each of us, that imagines space for us to offer our best to collective advantage, and that doesn’t run on a logic of dominance and exclusion. “With each new interpretation [of Scripture],” Josiah Daniels writes, “Christians have an opportunity to extend an olive branch instead of a sword.”
That branch is what I offer those who demonize me. I think, in the end, we’ll all benefit from that.
If you’d like to read more around the World Vision situation this weekend, you have a million articles to choose from! Try these:
- Christianity Today: World Vision Reverses Decision to Hire Christians in Same-Sex Marriages
- Religion News Service: World Vision Reverses Course on Same-Sex Marriage Policy
- Benjamin L. Corey: World Vision Announces New, Radically Consistent Employment Standards
- Rachel Held Evans: World Vision Update
- Tony Jones: Let’s Talk About What Happened Yesterday at World Vision [includes WV staff comments]
- David Henson: I Don’t Blame World Vision. I Blame Homophobia and Hate
- Josiah R. Daniels: Ultimatums, Interpretations and an Old World Vision
- Paul Raushenbush: World Vision’s (Failed) Attempt at justice for Gay Christians
- Religion Dispatches: Global LGBT Recap: World Vision Caves…
- New Direction Ministries: World Vision – A Drama in 5 Acts
Re. one who has lived a different Way: OnBeing’s Krista Tippett recently released her conversation with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Listen here.
There’s no question about the reality of evil, of injustice, of suffering, but at the center of this existence is a heart beating with love.
Tutu’s giggle is the best.
I’m grateful for his life witness.
May this kind increase.