On Tuesday, I shared about the news of World Vision’s shifted employee policy allowing Christians in same-sex marriages to be on staff with the organization. As an inter-denominational organization, this decision was a bid to promote more unity and to acknowledge that many Christians and churches are affirming of gay marriage. World Vision did not take a stance, but rather opened the door to differing viewpoints, as they have done with any number of doctrinal viewpoints of employees outside the basic tenets of Christian faith. However, this was interpreted by many conservative Christians as a statement on biblical authority, and the backlash was swift and fierce. I’m hearing that nearly 5000 sponsors dropped their children in the days following the announcement, but what had more far-reaching effects were the threats of boycott from churches, publishers, and higher-ups in Christian media. It became very clear that this decision would have far-reaching adverse effects on the work that World Vision does around the world. As a non-profit, they rely on support to do their work.
And so, two days after their inclusive policy was announced, World Vision’s board overturned it. I was incredibly disappointed to hear this, as were many other people. I felt angry, discouraged, and a bit betrayed. I also felt embarrassed, as I’d stuck my neck out for them all week, recruiting new sponsors, defending their position, and urging people to not let theological differences stand in the way of helping impoverished children. I encouraged people to sign up to fill in the gap for those dropping their sponsored kids, and when this reversal was announced, I felt like I gave my readers a bait-at-switch. To any of you who signed up to sponsor kids under this pretext, I apologize.
It’s easy to be angry at World Vision, and I still feel that. But at the same time, the very thing I was arguing for, making the kids the focus, is what World Vision ultimately had to do. My friend David Henson said it well:
So, no, I don’t blame World Vision. Its leaders did exactly what everyone urged them to do — both on the left and the right.They thought of how it would affect the children.
Rather, I blame the far-right evangelicals who held World Vision hostage to their homophobic agenda. These evangelicals held a gun to the head of World Vision. They forced an organization to choose between aiding hungry children and offering a small step towards equality for gay and lesbian people who work for them.
And no matter what World Vision chose, these evangelicals were always going to pull the trigger on one of the hostages.
Now, I know the word homophobia wrankles some Christians. “But we’re just standing for biblical truth!” you say. Okay. Then show me another example of a doctrinal difference that has caused this much outrage in the Christian community. Are we threatening to pull support from international aid organizations over their views of female pastors or water baptism? Are we going to check the BMI of every World Vision employee to make sure none of them struggle with gluttony . . . in the name of biblical authority? There are an array of issue that individual Christians and denominations don’t see eye to eye on. Yet same-sex marriage rallies the Evangelical base with unparalleled furor. Why is this paid so much more airtime? Perhaps it’s time to honestly examine whether or not the attention paid to this particular issue displays some covert homophobia.
I’ve been mulling over how to respond to this reversal in the past few days. The whole thing just makes me sad. But rather than focusing on the debate, or my feelings, I really want to focus on the effect this whole debacle has had on LGBT Christians. I thought Benjamin Moberg articulated his thoughts so well, and he graciously allowed me to share his post here. I hope you will take the time to read it and consider his words. And as with all guest posts, comments judging, chastising, or preaching at Benjamin will not be tolerated. Listen and consider.
When World Vision Drops Me
I got the news that World Vision had reversed its’ policy on employing gay and lesbians right after I got done with work. I was outside the school where I aid elementary age kids, special needs kids, and though I sometimes struggle with feelings of inadequacy in my job, I am actually a pretty awesome paraprofessional. Turns out, I’m pretty great at caring for kids in need.
And I was in my car when I got the news and I sped away, lest any of my little guys climbing the bus would see me, should I start to cry.
Before I headed home where I would find my mom, on the phone with another mom of a gay kid, telling her, “We will not respond the way they did. I refuse to be like them. We will be like Jesus, instead.” Before I got the text message from my brother, a very simple and needed, “I Love You.” I pulled over and parked in a vacant lot.
I turned off my ignition and I didn’t cry. I just sat there. Breathing. Stunned and struck by betrayal and pain and anger, wave after wave of it, and I couldn’t form a coherent thought or calm my heart. But in the midst of it, a memory came to me of a conversation I once had with Jay Bakker.
Jay, if you don’t know of him, was born into Christian Royalty. His parents were televangelists and their faces were amongst the most well-known and adored in Christian culture. Then the scandal. His dad had an affair, resigned, and then went to prison for fraud, leading Christians to banish the Bakker family outright. And for years, Jay would never step foot in a church.
Jay and I bonded over coffee in our shared experiences of feeling orphaned by the faith that raised us. And we also bonded over a shared hero, a man who, in a very real way, saved us.
That man is Brennan Manning. I will say it today and tomorrow and every day for the rest of my life that no one has left a larger impression on my faith than this man. Besides Jesus, he is the one I am most looking forward to meet in Heaven.
Jay was also swept off his feet by the Ragamuffin himself, and when Jay was set to publish his first big book, Son of a Preacher Man, Brennan agreed to write the forward. It was Jay’s dream come true.
Not long after, Jay heard from a representative of Brennan that he decided to pull out. He was afraid of the backlash he might receive by associating with the Bakker family. To this day, Jay says that that was the greatest let down, it left him completely disillusioned.
Don’t idolize your heroes, he told me. They will inevitably let you down. They’re human, too.
Years later, Jay was asked to pen an endorsement of Brennan’s book, and in the years between, they built a relationship based on forgiveness and trust and love. There was restoration. And Jay was brimming over with grace.
What Brennan had done was deny the Jesus in Jay. What he did was wrong andunfair and deeply hurtful. He ditched Jay when Jay most needed him, ran straight off the road off the gospel.
And yet, at the same time, in the Midwest, a teenager was reading Brennan’s books and his life would never be the same. A teenager would read these words, “God loves you just as you are and not as you should be.” And it would be enough, just that line, to give me the strength to move forward.
Though I understand that World Vision essentially had a gun to its head after evangelical leaders incited a mass backlash of dropped funds, it doesn’t make what they did right. Their reversal hurts more than anything I read from the evangelicals ranting. It was the kiss of Judas. And in the end, this was simply wrong and ungodly and deeply defeating.
I read Richard Stearns apology to conservatives through gritted teeth, because it isthat bad. Richard Stearns, the man I praised the other day, disqualified me in a way against serving alongside him, and begged the forgiveness from those like Graham, Burk, Moore and Piper. And it does really hurt, this abrupt abandonment, this puncture of what was so much hope and pride and encouragement. Suddenly,reversed.
But, and not many years ago, it was Richard Stearns who shook up my faith in the best possible way. I read his book The Hole in Our Gospel, twice, and I recommended it to every person I knew. It was and still is one of the best Christian books I have ever read.
And who can understand the vehemence of yesterday upon him and his? Who can completely throw out he, Stearns, who left a life of luxury, to serve the world’s poor? Who can deny that World Vision is a rarity in Christianity, a group of folks who’s sole purpose is to give the gospel hands and feet, bringing bread and water and mercy? Who can look at those pictures of kids being fed, of kids writing letters, those going to school and becoming kingdom builders themselves and write off an organization that is doing such beautiful work?
The truth is, friends, I am sitting in a coffee shop and writing this, and my teeth are still gritted, because I am writing things I am not feeling. But I believe, wholeheartedly, that there will come a day when I will. I know I will.
And when it comes to forgiveness, I take something like that very seriously. If it’s not flowing through my veins, then it’s not really there and I refuse to pretend it is. So I’ll say it true, as it is, right now:
I am not ready to forgive those that held starving children as ransom because of who I am and I am not ready to forgive Richard Stearns for this profoundly deep betrayal. I am not ready to forgive either of them for the devastating message they have sent to gay children everywhere.
But I can do grace. I can reach into the deep pockets of all that I have left and let it be a balm on my heart, let it tend to me until that moment comes when, as Anne Lamott says, “it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back.” I can give and give and give even as I’m pissed off and hurt because although they don’t deserve this, neither do I.
And my rage isn’t wrong, because this isn’t right. And so I will channel it all into doing my job here as a blogger, as a believer, loving gay kids and talking about the Jesus that wouldn’t change them for the world.
And though a Christian nonprofit embracing me, if just for a moment, is quite an event of subversion, I know in my own little world, the most radical act I can take is to say this: Yes, I love Jesus, too, and you’re my brother, and the Love of God makes us both enough. It might be offensive to you, infuriating perhaps, it might even tempt you into dropping a kid off the face of the earth and blame it on me, but here’s the truth:
My chains are gone. I’ve been set free. My God my savior, has ransomed me.
And like a flood, his mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace.