Wherefore art thou, World Vision?

On March 24, World Vision President, Richard Stearns announced in a Christianity Today article that World Vision would be hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages.
On March 26, Christianity Today posted, World Visions Reverses decisions to Hire Christians in Same-Sex Marriages.

Wow. Two days. To say the interwebs blew up would put it mildly. Here comes some generalizations:
Many conservatives saw the first decision as further proof that the world is headed to hell in a hand basket.
Many progressives, while supporting the initial decision, were frustrated with conservatives reaction and continued hate speech.

In an extreme move of irony, after many conservatives reacted by pulling support from WV, and after progressives chastised them for putting their views on same-sex marriage ahead of hungry children; progressives had an opportunity to practice what they preached two days later. Intellectual honesty, it seems, is hard to come by and harder to practice.

So, while hoping it is not too soon to try and view this drama from an objective viewpoint, I want to share some insights that will make us better. After all, how we live and communicate the Gospel, and the tools we use to do it, are central to the purpose of this blog

Disclaimer: this is not a post about same-sex marriage, the church’s response to same-sex marriage, or a post castigating World Vision for their flip-flopping on this important topic.*

Neutrality is a false choice.

“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.”

Richard Stearns
World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same Sex Marriages

There is no such thing as a neutral choice in theology. In all of the issues cited above, where World Vision tries to maintain neutrality, they actually alienate someone. I don’t have a problem with taking a stand on certain issues and not taking a stand on others, but pretending that you are being neutral only muddles the point and ends up hurting good people. As WV quickly learned, they were not on the sidelines for this one at all.

We can do better and it starts by making definitive choices and standing by them. Which leads me to my next point:

Visionary leadership divides.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to turn –
‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law
– a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.'”
Matthew 10:34-36 (Jesus quoting Micah 7:6)

When you are a leader, and you say you are going to do, or be, X, there will be people who disagree. Regardless of your compelling pitch, scriptural support, ranting and raving; people have an obstinate habit of choosing to make up their own minds.

All true, visionary change is divisive. Period.
Visionary leadership does not bring unity – it brings clarity (It may foster unity as those who do not support the vision get off the proverbial bus, but that’s a different point). And it is disappointing that a major Christian leader of a major Christian organization would miss this truth. But, to be fair, many of us continue to make the same mistake in our areas of responsibilities and in local churches.

I believe Jen Hatmaker pointed this out well:

Stearns said, “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… I’m hoping not to lose supporters over the change.” That is intellectually dishonest. At no point does a Christian organization with a predominantly evangelical base make a policy change surrounding gay marriage and truthfully expect it not to offend.

To change a policy that knowingly offends the majority of his base without acknowledging their established theology or making any concessions for their conscience was unfair and passive aggressive.
Jen Hatmaker
World Vision, Gay Marriage, and a Different Way Through
emphasis added]

I would like to see the church stop making the mistake that once we get the vision right, we will have unity. It is simply not true.

We have a reason to be skeptical.

Consider this: after WV’s initial announcement, even though they assured people their goal was greater unity, many did not believe them. Many saw the decision as a capitulation to political correctness.
After WV’s reversal, even though they assured people that their goal was to honor scripture and a scriptural process, many did not believe them. Many saw the decision as a capitulation to financial pressure.

Please forgive me for being emotionally distant, but I find this fascinating.

Probably depending on your view of same-sex marriage, you found one of World Vision’s policy statements lacking full disclosure. I find this to be the most troubling realization—Christians do not believe a Christian organization.

Today, most of us start with skepticism. We suspend belief until we gather more facts. We rarely, if ever, believe the first version (Unless that first story uncovers dirt. We can quickly jump on those band wagons).

As Christians, we must begin to tell the truth or we forfeit our witness to Christ. The situation is desperate. No one should question our truthfulness. Half truths are not good enough.

Information is second hand (at best).

In the age of social media, none of us are in complete control of our message. Although we initiate it, communication takes on a life of it’s own. The internet has its own version of the telephone game. Press releases are scrutinized, dissected, and carved up for juicy tidbits.

We must carefully weigh what we say. I doubt if as many people read the initial interview between Stearns and Christianity Today as read facebook, twitter, and blogs in the aftermath. This is the new reality. This is the world we communicate in. The sooner we wake up to that fact, the better off we will be.


While trying to look at this situation through the eyes of grace, I can’t help but think that regardless of the position you have about World Vision (or same-sex marriage), the emotions of all of us were similar. We either went from feeling disappointed and betrayed to relief and vindication, or from relief and vindication to feeling disappointed and betrayed.

If nothing else in this post resonated with you, there has to be something we can learn in that.



*As to my view on World Vision’s policies and all the reactions, I’ll just say this:
Of course the low-hanging fruit is the self-righteousness among Christians, and that’s where most of the conversation has focused; but I wonder, does this episode betray a deeper flaw with the entire parachurch organization model?

And that seems worth technically thinking about.


4 thoughts on “Wherefore art thou, World Vision?

  1. Perhaps there was just too much humanity in the leadership of WorldVision. As humans, we are fickle and can’t be counted on to make good decisions. I can’t count how many times the groups that I serve with make spontaneous decisions without truly thinking through the consequences.
    I must assume that WV did not fully plan for the fallout of their actions. They cannot possibly be so blind as to assume no one would notice. Which leads to the true area of disappointment. They did not think through the consequences and then stick to their convictions. It is irrelevant whether you agree with their point of view or not. If you are going to pick a side, pick a side.
    Which leads to my second area of disappointment, how can agreement or disagreement with one area of sin trump a christian’s desire to grant mercy to those in need. God was pretty specific about what He wants from us. Love Him and love one another.
    Following God does draw a line in the sand. You are either for Him or against Him. Yet, He designed us to be different. How have we missed the idea that we can be different and yet still serve in a Kingdom perspective.

    1. Thank you, for sharing these thoughts. I think you capture the dilemma well. There are no winners here.
      I speculate that there was some insulated and tunnel vision going on in the original decision – insular group think. Even though I have to believe that they debated and prayed about their decision, and from what I gather it wasn’t unanimous, that wasn’t enough to arrive at a good decision (and I’m saying it wasn’t a good decision because *they* reversed it).
      In the end, even for those who agree with the reversal, one has to ultimately see this as a loss. Once you lose your integrity, you’ve lost everything.

  2. This is has been a difficult week for me, watching WV circle the drain, and processing the reactionary words of hate that so easily flowed from both sides of the issue. Continuing to identify as an evangelical has felt like I am making a conscious decision to continue to identify with a hate group, no matter which side I claim as my own. As the director of a very small nonprofit dependent on support dollars, I have also wondered what I would have done in Stearns’ shoes. How much $$ does your organization need to have to survive before you begin to fall to the highest bidder? When does the opinion of the donors, who support your work but never truly see it, begin to over-ride that of your staff or people you support on the front lines of your mission or the still small voice of God giving you clarity and direction?

    I agree that what we can find commonality in is the pain we felt and feel. That ought to also be where we find commonality with those who are different from us and challenge our believe systems.

    1 Sam. 16:7, “…people look on the outside appearance, but God looks on the heart.” was the lectionary reading for today. The way forward for me seems to be to beg God for His eyes when it comes to people who are different from me, to continue to lean into human suffering and the tough questions that come along with those relationships, and work hard to care more about what defines success in His eyes rather than mans.

  3. Wow. Thanks, Melanie.
    There is definitely a point of commonality we can find in the pain of life, in our search for meaning, and our need for belonging. It should cause us to lay down our judgment for mercy, because it is what we crave so desperately. Especially for people we deem as sinners, since we are the unworthy ones also invited to the wedding feast. If that’s not true, I don’t know what the Gospel is.

    All of us are dependent on others, and that is simultaneously empowering and tethering. I know it sounds cliché, but we have to be true to ourselves and who God has called us to be.
    Which brings us back around to the topic at hand, who is the real WV? The WV of the first decision or the second decision?
    I think it is obvious. Where they stand today is who they are.
    [which is halfway to an answer]

    As is true for us.

    So, are they about conviction or expedience? (In other words, how did they arrive at where they stand today?) Only they can answer that.
    [which is the other half of the answer]

    As is true for us.

    It’s not as simple as just encouraging people to get close to Jesus and let Him take care of the rest. Paul was more confrontational than that. We don’t get that simplistic approach from the NT epistles as they wrestled like us to apply new life in Christ to very real everyday issues.

    I find myself struggling to live faithfully in the midst of these questions, too – where do I stand and why? We all face that everyday. It hurts when we see a leader, or leading organization, mess that up.

    As we watch people flounder, instead of throwing rocks, I pray we are driven to introspection, repentance, and a fresh start. We all stand guilty before a Savior who does not condemn, but also commands,”Go and sin no more.”

Join the discussion...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s