World Vision and the State of American Evangelicalism
It was just yesterday that the president of the Christian social justice organization World Vision announced that it would begin hiring LGBTQ Christians to work at its organization. The reasoning behind the decision was explained to be one that was "symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity." In a letter to his employees, World Vision President Richard Stearns was very clear on his reasoning behind this monumental decision:
“I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue. We have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on this issue alone."
But within hours of this news being released to the general public, many of the most prominent leaders within evangelical Christianity released public statements condemning this decision of World Vision and calling for other evangelicals to boycott the organization, which is committed to providing food, clothing, education, and the Gospel to thousands of children across more than 100 countries worldwide. Among the harshest of the criticisms launched at World Vision came from Dr. Russell Moore, the President of the Southern Baptist Ethics Coalition, who said:
“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.”
Trevin Wax continued the criticism of World Vision over at the Gospel Coalition blog saying:
“Children will suffer as evangelicals lose trust in and withdraw support from World Vision in the future. It will take time for evangelicals to start new organizations that maintain historic Christian concepts of sin, faith, and repentance. In the meantime, children will suffer. Needlessly.”
It is easy to see that over the coming weeks thousands of evangelicals will withdraw their support from World Vision. And Dr. Moore is absolutely right. As this begins to take place, thousands of children will suffer because of the lack of funding from their former sponsors who decided that this theological and political issue was more important than their life. It is a sad day when followers of Jesus Christ will chose to make a theological/political point by withholding funds from children in life-and-death situations.
It is indeed a sad day for evangelicalism. It is sad because we have willingly put on blinders to hide our eyes from the truth of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have chosen to ignore the entire example of his life and the bulk of his teachings and instead pick up our weapons and engage in culture wars instead of working to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, which, by the way, sums up all of the biblical laws. We have chosen to ignore Jesus’ harsh words to the Pharisees who valued doctrinal rightness over the sacrifice of justice that God has always called us to:
“Then the King will say to those on his left, ‘Go away from me. You will be punished. Go into the fire that burns forever that was prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. I was alone and away from home, and you did not invite me into your house. I was without clothes, and you gave me nothing to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ “Then those people will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or alone and away from home or without clothes or sick or in prison? When did we see these things and not help you?’ Then the King will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, anything you refused to do for even the least of my people here, you refused to do for me.’ (Matthew 25:41-45 NCV)
The harshest warning that Jesus ever gave was not to those who believed or stood for the wrong things. No, rather, Jesus harshest warning was given to those who stood for all of the right beliefs but neglected the one sacrifice that God requires of humankind: “ What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
We are living in a day when we as evangelicals value our political positions and doctrinal systems over real, living people — children whose lives are stake, who rely on our simple donation of $35 dollars a month to sustain them and give them a hope and future. In our waywardness, we are willing to withhold our money to make a political point. And we justify it by saying this is an issue of “the Gospel.” But in the words of Brian McLaren, “If the Gospel we preach is not first and foremost good news to the poor, then it isn’t the Gospel of Jesus.”
We in American evangelicalism seemed to have misplaced the Gospel of Jesus Christ — a Gospel that calls us to radically love and extend grace, justice, and mercy to every human being regardless of their political, theological, or sexual orientation. We have instead chosen to sacrifice children on the altar of evangelical politics. When we withhold mercy to the poor, we withhold justice from God. When we chose to remove our support from a faithful Christian social justice organization that has given life and hope to millions of children globally because we disagree with who they employ, we are removing our support from the hands and feet of Jesus. Our only hope is to return to the way of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same Lord who is incarnate in the children that many will abandon their support of over World Visions decision on who they will employ.
This isn’t an issue of political position. This isn’t an issue of theological perspective. This is an issue of plain obedience to the words of Jesus. Dr. Moore was right. This is in fact a Gospel issue. But not because of World Vision’s decision, rather, because of the many followers of Christ who are willing to forsake his way to make a point. We are truly misguided. And we truly need to return to Jesus. He alone is our hope.
Brandan Robertson is an aspiring writer, activist, public theologian and the dreamer behind the Revangelical Blog. He is currently finishing up a B.A. in Pastoral Ministry and Theology. He is a frequent blogger and podcaster at The Revangelical Blog and Podcast. To find out more, visit BrandanRobertson.com.