Yesterday, while pondering the Christian reaction to the initial World Vision decision, I wrote a short article (unpublished) on how (not) to talk about World Vision on the Internet – don’t be hateful, clam down before you publish, and other nice things. Appropriately, I waited to publish the article until I had done all of the things I advised others to do. Unfortunately, my waiting made the article obsolete: on Wednesday, WorldVision reversed its decision to revise their hiring policy concerning gay marriage.
Why did they do such a thing? Ostensibly, the board that had previously overwhelmingly voted in favor of the decision suddenly realized they had “failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of faith, which says, ‘We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.’ ” Why the sudden realization? Presumably, the weighty change was not done without much contemplation and forethought. How did they not consider looking at the Bible before making the decision? The next sentence reveals the true motivation behind the dramatic reversal:
“And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners.”
So, it was not that the board members at World Vision U.S. suddenly started reading the Bible again. Instead, certain people who read the Bible a particular way demanded that World Vision read the Bible their way. Blog posts and Internet comments flooded their computer screens saying that if World Vision did not interpret the Bible their way, they would pull their funding. There is no room for neutral ground, they said – it’s our way or no way.
The reaction of the largely conservative Christian blogosphere and the general fundamentalist leadership was blackmail of an insidious Christian variety. Instead of remaining loyal partners of World Vision in serving the poor around the world (as Scripture indisputably commands), they said they would pull their funding of World Vision if the organization did not join them in condemning gay marriage (as Scripture does not indisputably command). In the end, the social agenda against gay marriage was more important than the Christian agenda of serving the poor and the least of these.
The whole scenario called to mind something that happens in the New Testament. It was no secret that the Apostle Paul disagreed with some actions of the church in Jerusalem. He did not mince words about it, “But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction” (Galatians 3:11-12, NRSV). In numerous other epistles, Paul lambasts this faction that favors circumcision and apparently wields much influence in Jerusalem (e.g., Philippians 2:2-3).
So, when the time comes that Jerusalem was in need, Paul made sure he and his friends were not sending them any funds. Except that’s not what happened. Instead, Paul was an enthusiastic leader in the effort to get funds to the church in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-4, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15, Romans 15:22-29). Did Paul still have dramatic differences with the way the church in Jerusalem was running things? Probably! However, Paul did not let that stop him from coming together with others to serve those with whom he disagreed.
The conservative response to World Vision was the exact opposite of Paul’s biblical example, and we as Christians should be ashamed of that. What happened to World Vision was a concerted effort to intimidate them into bowing to conservative theological opinion. It was not loving, charitable, graceful, or even biblical – it was blackmail.