Last week, in one of the most bizarre (and that is saying a lot) incidents in the evangelical world in recent months, the venerable relief organization in the span of a few days, affirmed and then repudiated the practice of same-sex marriage as acceptable for its employees.
World Vision (USA) President, Richard Stearns, in a baffling interview published in Christianity today, made the argument that essentially in the name of “Unity” World Vision would not take a position on same sex marriage, and that they would express their lack of a position by changing the long standing employee conduct policy. [Of course it is simply ridiculous on its face to claim you are not taking a position and then to express your “neutrality” by changing a written policy, sending out press releases and sitting for interviews to explain your non-position position, but I digress.]
And while Stearns expressed hope that this newly expressed “neutrality” would not cause donors to abandon the organization, he made clear that he understood the risks involved and was willing to take them in order to focus on unity and what they perceive as their primary mission.
"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."
But in the ensuing 48 hours it became very clear that many of World Vision’s donors did not see the organizations new policy as neutral but rather as provocative and a clear rejection of the authority of Scripture. And donors began to vote with their dollars, as The Religion News Service reported, to the tune of $840,000 in just two days.
And coincidentally World Vision reversed their position stating:
“In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we 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.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.” [Full text of their statement available here]
While many expressed thankfulness and relief at this reversal, to my eye it only underscores the true problem with World Vision, pragmatism. World vision has been clear over the years that their mission is not to spread the Gospel, but to feed starving people. And that is a noble endeavor, and for that they should be commended. However that alone does not make them a Christian ministry.
A Christian ministry must be built on Christian convictions and convictions simply do not change in two days. No matter what anyone’s position is on this issue it is an unavoidable conclusion that World Vision’s policy change (neither of them) was not based on principle, let alone Christian convictions. It sounds a lot more like they are being tossed to and fro like spiritual children (Ephesians 4:14) and that they have been taken captive by vain philosophies of men instead of submitting themselves to the will of God (Colossians 2:8). As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount “you cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24) yet it seems that when the donations began to dry up they made the decision to change their policy, which tells me their original decision was not based on any deeply held (if very wrong) convictions, let alone convictions about church unity.
World vision has a long history of compromising on core Christian beliefs. No belief is more foundational to the Christian life than the unshakable belief that Jesus is the Way, The Truth and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6) and that all believers are tasked with spreading this message wherever they go (Matthew 28:18-20). But in the name of providing services in Muslim and other closed countries World Vision has jettisoned the great commission. Time and again Stearns and other representatives of the organization have given interviews in which they emphasize that Word Vision has a strict no proselytizing policy. It has morphed from the Christian relief society founded by Belen Pierce into an effective, but essentially secular charity, in the name of increasing its reach.
A Christian ministry is a ministry that proclaims the name of Christ. It shares the Gospel and cares more for the eternal souls of the lost than the contents of their belly. That doesn’t mean that feeding the hungry and starving is unimportant, it is very important, but for an organization that calls itself a Christian ministry meeting physical needs should be secondary to meeting spiritual needs of the lost. Jesus speaking of the cost of discipleship said He would be ashamed before the Father of anyone ashamed of Him now, essentially saying that someone who is ashamed of the name of Christ and of the Gospel has no relationship with Him (Mark 8:38). Based on their lack of conviction, history of pragmatism, and jettisoning of the great commission I am forced to conclude that World Vision is no longer a Christian organization but that it is a secular charity that pragmatically appeals to Christians as a source of income.
Does that mean that Christians should withdraw their support of World Vision? Not necessarily, it is a matter of Christian liberty. There is nothing sinful or untoward about supporting secular charities. I support some secular charities, and I do so with a clean conscience, but I do it with my eyes wide open. I don’t confuse my support of the Biblical Archaeology Society or Trout Unlimited with supporting a Christian ministry, and no one should confuse supporting World Vision with supporting a Christian Ministry either.
When it comes support for World Vision, prayerful consideration should be given to any decision to support them or to withdraw support from them, such a decision will impact real human lives that are in true distress. The children they feed are very real and really hungry.
But while they are doing good work, they are not reflecting the love of Christ on the people they serve. You have to claim the name of Christ in order to proclaim and reflect His love. You can’t serve the poor in the name of Christ if you are unwilling to speak it. If the events of last week made anything about World Vision clear, it is that their Christianity is merely a pragmatic label they use for fundraising. And that is the real problem with the organization.
[If you desire to support a Christian organization that is not ashamed of the Gospel, the local church, or the name of Christ, please consider Children’s Hunger Fund.]