Thursday, March 27, 2014

Jesus is gay --- and other World Vision thoughts

Land sakes alive, World Vision has been having a harsh week.

Most probably haven't noticed --- and many won't have heard of the Christian mega-charity. Others would ask, why should we care?

There are several reasons to care, actually. For one, World Vision International is a very good charity, managing to get roughly 85 percent of its $1 billion annual budget directly to the poor it serves in more than 100 nations. Then there's the fact roughly a fifth of its budget ($174 million in 2011) is U.S. taxpayer dollars. 

Many of us, churched and non alike, probably have donated to local fund-raising efforts sponsored by World Vision U.S. --- the national affiliate (headquartered in Federal Way, Washington). Episcopalians especially like to help dig and equip wells in impoverished villages where clean drinking water is an issue.

Although its polity is conservative evangelical, World Vision has managed to draw and hold more than 50 religious expressions, ranging from ultraconservative to very liberal, together in a united effort. A strict non-proselytization policy has helped. In other words, when food is given to the poor its just food --- not bait concealing a denominational missionary hook.

The charity's most visible effort involves a child sponsorship program. Individuals are invited to contribute something like $35 a month to a specific child. These giving relationships can go on for years and make a considerable difference in young lives in many parts of the world.


Trouble developed early in the week when World Vision U.S. announced in Christianity Today, a major evangelical periodical founded by Billy Graham, that it had made a slight (or so it thought) concession in hiring policy related to LGBT employees. 

The World Vision U.S. board --- naively as it turned out but in good-will deference to its more liberal stakeholders who look upon gay people as just folks (rather than devils incarnate) --- had decided to employ people united in same-sex marriages in states where such marriages are legal.

Otherwise, policies that seem harsh to those unfamiliar with evangelical politics remained in place. All employees are required to pledge fidelity in marriage and celibacy, if single. All must sign, too, a trinitarian Christian pledge (or pledge allegiance to the Apostles Creed). Jews, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, et. al., need not apply.

It's interesting to note, too, that World Vision never has queried prospective employees about sexual orientation when hiring, operating under a virtual don't-ask-don't-tell policy.


Well, that was a mistake. The old boars allowed to speak for fundamentalist and evangelical Christians began to squeal like stuck hogs. Franklin Graham, a sad little man whose principal achievement in life to date has been birth to Ruth and the Rev. Billy, was especially harsh.

Albert Mohler, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president, chimed in: "The worst aspect of the World Vision U.S. policy shift is the fact that it will mislead the world about the reality of sin and the urgent need of salvation. Willingly recognizing same-sex marriage and validating openly homosexual employees in their homosexuality is a grave and tragic act that confirms sinners in their sin -- and that is an act that violates the gospel of Christ."

John Piper, another Baptist pundit, added: "In other words, to treat regular homosexual intercourse as less dangerous than fornication, adultery, greed, theft, and drunkenness is to treat perdition as if it were a small thing, or not really coming. The same text that imperils active fornicators and adulterers and thieves and coveters, also imperils those who practice homosexuality."

These were among the nicer pronouncements.

Now thoroughly outraged, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians by the thousands began to cancel their support of needy children, alleging that association with World Vision imperiled their souls. The leaders of some denominations, including the Assemblies of God, encouraged members to shift their giving to other Charities.

Finally, late yesterday, the World Vision U.S. board rescinded the new policy, apologized and begged forgiveness from outraged fundamentalists and evangelicals. Of course, World Vision --- after throwing gay people under the bus --- assured us that we were loved anyway.


Another thing that happened during this debacle --- many who hadn't given to World Vision before, including a good number of LGBT people, began to do so after learning that so many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians were jumping ship. Spokespeople for the emergent and moderate church launched drives to encourage such giving.

Even odder --- after having been thrown under the bus, none that I could find were threatening to withdraw their support. 

This suggests, at least a little, that holding the poor and hungry hostage, making Christlike love and service a conditional thing, is a conservative Christian trait.


No sensible, thoughtful person wants World Vision to fail --- that would mean only additional suffering for those it serves. So I hope funding rebounds, but also that the charity's leadership remains open to change and that less-inept efforts to be gracious may occur in the future.

There are alternatives, however. I favor Episcopal Relief and Development. Global Ministries, a joint effort of the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ (Christian) also offers child-sponsorship opportunities, and there are many others.

It's also useful to remember that Jesus, although the possibility remains that he's Baptist, Pentacostal, Nazarene and a member of the Assemblies of God, too, also is gay --- and straight; black and white; male and female; affluent, imprisoned --- and right there, look, especially among the impoverished, the sick and the starving.

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