Controversy du Jour: World Vision

In case you haven’t heard what’s been going on…

World Vision is a Christian organization run out of the state of Washington (that’ll be important in a second), and they do amazing things. They’re arguably the most famous for child sponsorship (that’ll be important, too). This past Monday, March 24–four short days ago–Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, announced that the US branch of World Vision would now hire Christians in same-sex marriages. He was quick to note that “It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there…this is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.” 

When I read about this on Monday, I was torn between feeling happy about the change in policy and being really confused, because World Vision has a history of discrimination towards LGBT people. And now here they were saying that people in same-sex marriages would be allowed to be hired by World Vision, without the company endorsing their marriages or indicating that their marriages were on the same level as heterosexual marriage. Essentially, “you’re not the same as us, but we believe in unity and we’re not going to let a disagreement on a minor issue to get in the way of our organization operating better and being more effective.” That’s not the most positive message, but I was hopeful that it would cause the course of the conversation to change, and would stand as a leader for other Christian organizations to follow.

I was wrong.

On Wednesday, after severe backlash from supporters (Stearns says that a bit less than 5,000 people removed their child sponsorship because of Monday’s decision), Stearns made a new announcement that not only said “lolz jk” but took further steps backwards by apologizing to the people spewing hate, removing their sponsorships, and generally saying horrible things about gay people. He also backslid from stating that including workers in same-sex marriages would help build unity to stating that “Rather than creating more unity [among Christians], we created more division, and that was not the intent. […] Our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake … and we believe that [World Vision supporters] helped us to see that with more clarity … and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake…We cannot defer on things that are that central to the faith.”


Let’s talk about business. 

I’m not a business person, so I’m not going to spend much time talking about this, other than to say that I wouldn’t have cared one smidgeon if World Vision had never changed their policy in the first place. They have standards for their employees, I get that. I have spent a number of years working for various Christian organizations, and each one had its own standards for what was acceptable and not acceptable conduct from an employee. I don’t think that World Vision’s hiring standards are absurd, and I respect their ability as a company to choose whom they want to hire. HOWEVER. They also get over 200 million dollars in governmental grants every year, and the government is encouraging businesses to have non-discriminatory hiring practices. As someone who has seen firsthand how grants can really tie an organization’s proverbial hands in certain matters, I get that sometimes grant-writers make you do things you don’t want to do. But World Vision’s reason to fight the government on this was because gay people can’t actually be Christians (I mean come on, ammirite?). 

Business-wise, I don’t think anyone would have raised a big stink if the policy never changed. But it DID change. And then it changed back after people stopped sponsoring children. And yes, I understand that it goes into a giant pot and the children affected wouldn’t suddenly be kicked out of life-saving programs, but losing 2.1 million dollars a year would have been a pretty hard loss for a not-for-profit organization. So while it wasn’t about the money…it was about the money.

Let’s talk about responses.

Y’all have probably heard all of the negative, angry responses (if not, check out World Vision’s Facebook wall Monday-Wednesday and feel the hate burning your eyes out of their sockets–and now they’re getting the same negative backlash from the other side, because apparently unity is a myth), so I’m going to share some heartbroken responses, both to Monday’s decision and then Wednesday’s “repeal.” Rachel Held Evans blogged about the scenario on Monday, and then on Wednesday she wrote what I thought was a perfect piece. “Honestly, it feels like a betrayal from every side.” And it does. I am hurt by Christians who are so opposed to my being sanctified by Christ that they would rather give up supporting an organization that would dare to hire me. I am hurt by an organization that for one small moment told me that my relationship was considered valid and valued, and then told me that I was rejecting a fundamental piece of the Christianity I claim.

Benjamin Moberg wrote on Monday out of his pain, “I am tired, friends, so tired of being hit. I am tired of being the most galvanizing symbol for evangelical Christians.” To which I say a heartfelt ‘yes.’ And his follow-up words on Wednesday ring just as true: “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.David Henson also had some really great things to say.

I get that this is a hot button for everyone right now: it’s political, it’s religious, it’s personal, yada-yada-yada. But it’s also 100% about people. It’s about me, and it’s about my legitimacy in the eyes of God, in the eyes of my Christian brothers and sisters, in the eyes of organizations, and in the eyes of the world. Me and God, we’re all right. We don’t need anyone else’s approval. I know where I stand with Him, and that’s really great. I just get so tired, my friends, of having to defend myself, my spirituality, my relationship and my reconciliation of teachings in Scripture. But hey, let’s go ahead and talk about them, in a minute. First, I think it’s time for a little sex talk.

Let’s talk about sex.

It seems to me that people sit around thinking that all gay people ever do is have sex: sex, sex, sex. That is the only thing that makes up someone who is LGBT, because, after all, it is their SEXual orientation. Geez, is that all you heteroSEXuals think about? That gay people don’t fit together like a puzzle piece (I’m looking at you, old college ethics professor!)? Did you know that LGBT people actually have entire RELATIONSHIPS that are not solely (and sometimes not at all) involving sexual intimacy? I know, crazy thought! A romantic evening with my partner typically involves playing Rummy or Nerts and watching Netflix. For how obsessively straight people talk about gay people sex, you’d think there was nothing else about which they could fill their minds.

But let’s bring the sex talk back to the World Vision conversation: World Vision was (albeit however temporarily) allowing Christians in marriages to work for them, holding them to the same standards they held all of their other employees. Washington (I told you it would be important) allows same-sex couples to be legally married. World Vision was saying, “that’s fine, Washington. That’s fine, same-sex people. Abide by our rules and you’re welcome here.” So whatever sex these Christians were having was within the confines of a legal marriage (and I could talk ALL DAY about how if you want to argue that marriage is purely a religious thing, you shouldn’t be allowed to vote on who can do it, and if you think it’s purely a political thing, you STILL shouldn’t vote on who can do it–but that’s another talk for another day), thereby fulfilling their employee policy.

Let’s talk about love.

I want to talk about Christ’s love for ALL PEOPLE. “How can Jesus love gay people when they are constantly sinning?” one might ask. “There are so many verses in the Bible that clearly condemn homosexuality!” Well, I disagree. The context behind those verses do not indicate to me that they’re really about gay people at all. They’re about inhospitality and gang rape, they’re about the purity code and trying to build a nation, they’re about pagan prostitutes, they’re about acting against how you were created, but they’re not about modern-day homosexuality as we know it. (I know that many of you will disagree, and we can dispute this until the sun goes down, but I believe what I believe [and I respect that you believe what you believe, as well!]. Our beliefs do not have to get in the way of loving each other and treating one another with respect, kindness, and genuine interest in each others’ lives.) Regardless of the translation of these verses, there are about 75 verses about love to every 1 verse that might-or-might-not be about gay stuff. My favorite of these verses, and one of the ways that my heart feels at peace in my spirituality and my orientation, is something Jesus said. Answering the Pharisee’s about what the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).

Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you, and Jesus loves me. Jesus loves those people. He seriously actually really does love everyone. His love isn’t hidden under condemnation; he doesn’t tell people that they need to change in order to be loved. He says “go and sin no more” and knows that literally no one can. No matter what your views are on sin (what it is, what it means to stop, what counts and what doesn’t), you can pretty much be sure that you’re sinning. I’m sinning, too. And Jesus loves me, anyway. And Jesus loves my partner. And I believe with all of my heart that Jesus loves us together, and loves the family that we’re going to be, and loves that our church extends His love to everyone. I believe Jesus loves World Vision and the wonderful work they do and the staff that tirelessly work at being God’s hands and feet on this earth. I believe Jesus loves the people who were so mad that World Vision changed their policy to include gay people, and those who are so mad that World Vision changed their minds. Love, love, love. I know I am far from perfect in showing that love. We all are. So let’s all try a little harder, yes? Let’s listen, and respect, and LOVE.