Saturday, March 29, 2014

Shame on Us



Five days ago World Vision U.S. made a change to its hiring practices, to include those in same-sex marriages.  Two days later, it reversed it. 

When the initial decision was announced, the president, Richard Stearns, said, in an exclusive Christianity Today interview,

"Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues," he said. "It also allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage."

"We're not caving to some kind of pressure. We're not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us," said Stearns. "This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We're an operational arm of the global church, we're not a theological arm of the church.”
The article went on to say:

In short, World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently "tearing churches apart" over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.

Given that more churches and states are now permitting same-sex marriages (including World Vision's home state of Washington), the issue will join divorce/remarriage, baptism, and female pastors among the theological issues that the massive relief and development organization sits out on the sidelines.
World Vision's board was not unanimous, acknowledged Stearns, but was "overwhelmingly in favor" of the change.
I would encourage you to read the article in its entirety.
What was clear in the article is World Vision’s deep commitment to its calling and mission, and desire to be faithful to that calling, even in the complex and changing church landscape.  The article indicates that the organization thought this policy shift was a way of holding unity in the church –with employees from over 50 denominations, some which reject and others which affirm same-sex marriage – the move was an attempt simply to make the way open to as many Christians as possible, to serve together on issues that do not divide us, namely, fighting poverty and caring for widows and orphans.


"I don't want to predict the reaction we will get," he said. "I think we've got a very persuasive series of reasons for why we're doing this, and it's my hope that all of our donors and partners will understand it, and will agree with our exhortation to unite around what unites us. But we do know this is an emotional issue in the American church. I'm hoping not to lose supporters over the change. We're hoping that they understand that what we've done is focused on church unity and our mission."
And Stearns believes that World Vision can successfully remain neutral on same-sex marriage.
"I think you have to be neutral on hundreds of doctrinal issues that could divide an organization like World Vision," he said. "One example: divorce and remarriage. Churches have different opinions on this. We've chosen not to make that a condition of employment at World Vision. If we were not deferring to local churches, we would have a long litmus test [for employees]. What do you believe about evolution? Have you been divorced and remarried? What is your opinion on women in leadership? Were you dunked or sprinkled? And at the end of the interview, how many candidates would still be standing?
"It is not our role to take a position on all these issues and make these issues a condition of employment."
A few years ago, I got a phone call from an organization in our neighborhood that offers support to struggling pregnant woman, children and families; they were looking to make wider church connections.  Several members of my congregation agreed to meet with the folks from the organization, and we spent two hours learning about their thrift store, classes and support groups, midwife care and medical assistance, and other empowering and affirming programs that impressed us all greatly.  When we left, we commented on how much overlap there was in our sense of mission, and how excited we were by the work we saw happening through them in our neighborhood.  
Driving home, I called someone from the congregation and shared what a wonderful visit we had had.  She sounded tentative on the phone, and finally, gingerly asked the question, “Where do they stand on abortion?” 
Now, in the two hours we had spent together, this question had not come up.  What had come up were things like feeding the poor, caring for those who were without a support system, and helping people learn skills and find strength as parents. 
But not abortion.
Were they "pro-choice?" "Pro-life?" 
This person asking was concerned that aligning ourselves with them might say something about us.  It seemed, at first, like we had better call them and clarify that.  
And then I took a deep breath. 

Because here is the thing: We spent two hours united on things the God has called us to care about, things that it means to be followers of Jesus in the world.  And if I were to call them back to verify where they stood on the issue of abortion, I would be saying that what really matters to us is not caring for the poor, not supporting people in crisis, not providing food or clothing or medical care or a listening ear, not sharing God’s love in concrete, tangible ways, but instead, whether or not they were advising people for or against abortions.  And then, that would mean, that even though we said we were defined by our love of Jesus, and wanting to live that love in the world, what we were really defined by is some particular stance on abortion and making sure we keep to the right side of that. 

And what if, after this great, inspiring connection, we called and discovered that they were on a different side of that question than some members of our congregation?  Would we say, “Oh! Well we thought we could work with you, but it appears that we cannot after all.”  Even though we love what you’re doing.  Even though we want to be part of doing something like this. Just not with you.  So-called liberals and so-called conservatives stick to their own, and being a so-called Christian should not, and cannot, bridge that divide.  So, thanks, but no thanks.

We decided not to ask.  And to move into the relationship trusting the Holy Spirit, and listening to where God was leading, which we had all clearly discerned initially, was forward.  We said, if the issue comes up, we will talk about it together then, and wrestle through it as sisters and brothers in shared ministry and in relationship, but we cannot raise up a litmus test that allows us to turn our back on other Christians, rejecting both the people inviting us to share ministry we believe in, and the people being so well served by them.

World Vision did the right thing. And we didn’t let them.  
Shame on us.  Not just Evangelicals. All of us.  We’ve divided the Body of Christ.

We have created a great big litmus test that every word and action of other Christians must go through.  It’s a powerful tool that makes us powerful.  We get to judge who is following Jesus correctly, and plan our shunning and embracing accordingly.  We get to separate ourselves from others and claim to be the true Christians.  We get to point at others and say, “Can you believe how awful they are?”  We get to bully others – either overtly or subtly – into conforming to our idea of what their following Jesus should look like.  And we get to limit God Almighty, because obviously God would not or could not use someone we deem unworthy.

It’s insidious and complex, this system we’ve developed.  We’ve totalized one another in horrible ways and developed an extensive and ever-expanding set of code words and symbols that tell us if someone is our “kind” of Christian or the other “kind” of Christian, so we don’t accidentally step foot in the wrong kind of church, or give money to the wrong kind of soup kitchen, or let our guard down with the wrong kind of person, or, God-forbid, so that someone doesn’t mistake us for them. 

We could have a thousand things in common, not least of which might be the centrality of Jesus Christ in our lives, but right now, the biggest and most important thing that defines us, the thing that can make or break relationships, churches, denominations, non-profits, and reputations, is what you believe about sexual orientation.  That is our real religion.

It’s a religion World Vision was trying not to sign onto. They were trying to faithfully follow Jesus.  They were trying to be Christians.  Not one “kind” of Christian another.  Just followers of Christ; just doing ministry that every “kind” of Christian could share in.  And we simply wont let them.  

In the meantime, we’ve lost sight of God’s grace – which reaches even our judgy hearts, and God’s love, which doesn’t distinguish who is worthy to receive it or not, and God’s call, which is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves, which would require that we actually recognize them as human beings first, instead of objects of our scorn, pity, judgment or rejection.

The Christianity Today article ended with these words by Stearns,

"I know the Evil One would like nothing better than for World Vision to be hobbled and divided on this issue, so that we lose our focus on the Great Commandment and the Great Commission," said Stearns. "And the board is determined not to let that happen.
"I hope if it's symbolic of anything, it is symbolic of how we can come together even though we disagree. We—meaning other Christians—are not the enemy. We have to find way to come together around our core beliefs to accomplish the mission that Christ has given the church.
"We feel positive about what we've done. Our motives are pure," said Stearns. "We're not doing this because of any outside pressure. We're not doing this to get more revenue. We're really doing this because it's the right thing to do, and it's the right thing to do for unity within the church.
"I'm hoping this may inspire unity among others as well," he concluded. "To say how can we come together across some differences and still join together as brothers and sisters in Christ in our common mission of building the kingdom."


Apparently we are not capable of that.  May God have mercy on us all.

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