News surfaced yesterday that World Vision modified their Employee Standards of Conduct to “allow a Christian in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed at World Vision.” Of course, media sources went ablaze with either condemnatory or congratulatory remarks. Several prominent Evangelicals sounded off about their concerns with this decision. The wagons circled and arguments were made denouncing homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Now, I affirm an interpretation of the Bible that prescribes marriage as limited to one man and one woman; however, I remain unconvinced that this affirmation precludes me from continuing to support a child through World Vision. Instead of arguing for-or-against homosexuality and same-sex marriage, we should be asking whether our consciences allow us to support children in need even if we disagree with a certain biblical interpretation.
World Vision states that they are a “humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.” That is, they are not a gospel organization, but rather a humanitarian organization. Their primary goal is filling hungry stomachs, providing clean water, and educating young minds. Gospel proclamation is not at the forefront of their ministry. And so, Trevin Wax is right when he states that children will needlessly suffer; although my connotation of suffering here is different. My assumption is that the removal of financial support by conservative Evangelicals will cause children to suffer more from lack of food, unclean water, and poor education, than they will by World Vision’s inclusion of same-sex marriage and the prophesied degradation of that organization. My guess is children receiving relief from World Vision will never know of this decision, and even if they did, would still care more about the immediate need of filling their empty belly than doctrinal squabbles between rich, Western Christians. It’s easy for us to claim that we cannot be concerned with temporal suffering if we are not concerned with eternal suffering after we’ve eaten our three-course breakfast; but for those looking for food scraps amongst the trash, we must recognize that in order for them to be concerned about their possible eternal suffering, we must show them that we care about their temporal suffering.
Amid the melee were several internet squabbles. Rachel Held Evans and Denny Burk (who seem to banter often on Twitter) exchanged tweets yesterday about boundary-makers. In response to Denny’s “Farewell, World Vision” tweet, Rachel claimed that he has appointed himself the boundary-maker of Christianity (or at least evangelicalism). Although Rachel is right in affirming that conservative Evangelicals have, in general, appointed themselves the boundary-makers, she may have missed her own self-appointment. That is, claiming someone is incorrect as a boundary-maker is, actually, a claim that you are the correct boundary-maker. In this instance, Rachel is claiming her interpretation is correct because Denny’s isn’t. To be sure, it doesn’t bother me if one person wants to say that another is right or wrong; but let’s call a spade a spade. Be humble enough to admit that calling out incorrect boundary-making is in turn a self-appointment to boundary-making.
Not letting Denny completely off the hook, I’d also like to address two questions he raised: Is God’s word about human sexuality true, or is it false? And, [i]s it binding and authoritative over our consciences, or is it an optional debate that we can opt out of? Denny is asking the wrong questions here. It’s not about truth or falsity; it’s not about binding authority; it’s about interpretation. I would consider myself a “conservagressive,” which means I fit somewhere between a conservative and progressive Evangelical. In other words, I believe God’s word is true in all that it says, and I believe that it is binding and authoritative over our consciences – but what I hold as true and authoritative is dictated by interpretation. Denny and his fellow conservative Evangelicals will have added influence if they spend more time arguing for why their interpretation is correct and less time saying people aren’t Christians because they do or do not affirm a certain interpretation.
For instance, he states that “it is impossible to be a ‘follower of Christ’ while endorsing or participating in a same-sex marriage.” He relates endorsing or participating in same-sex marriage as “open immorality.” And, although I agree with Denny’s conclusions about marriage, shouldn’t we spend just as much time saying that if open immortality is qualified as endorsing or participating in same-sex marriage, that we should also argue that endorsing or participating in gluttony, pride, and dishonesty (probably the most over-looked sins in Evangelical Christianity) also preclude you from being a follower of Christ?
We’re all actively involved in some type of sin. Which is why Paul’s message of salvation by grace through faith does not also include convictions about, for instance, same-sex marriage? The gospel is about the reconciling atonement by King Jesus for sinners.
And, one final note: Piper and Burk are both right in stating that World Vision has made a choice despite their claims of neutrality. Although World Vision’s board “may have tricked themselves into thinking that they haven’t taken a position,” a neutral decision is still a decision. You either include or exclude, there is no neutral.
**Update – World Vision has reversed their decision.**