By James Hansen
World Vision, a global, para-church ministry that helps countless people in numerous countries, has just taken a big step. On Monday, President Richard Stearns announced a new policy change that will allow people who are legally married to their same-sex partner to be employed by the Christian organization. The decision made by the board was not unanimous, but did have overwhelming support.
Ironically, abstinence before marriage is still a prerequisite to work at World Vision, as is fidelity in one’s marriage. In that respect, their new tolerance of committed homosexual couples seems a little odd. Apparently sodomy in the bonds of matrimony is permissible because the language in our culture has been changed. I don’t know. It feels kind of like they’re forbidding murder but allowing cannibalism. Something seems off to me.
President Stearns went to great lengths in his Christianity Today article to assert that this decision was really meant to preserve the unity of the entire Body of Christ, citing a number of times he felt it necessary for particular churches and denominations to wrangle amongst themselves with the theology of human sexuality. Being that World Vision has supporters and constituents from numerous denominational backgrounds and beliefs, Stearns judiciously wanted to defer to their individual authority and autonomy. He unhesitatingly went out on a limb, risking it all when he boldly proclaimed: “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.”
Wow. I haven’t seen this kind of bravery since the suicide bomber who went on his fifth mission. You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that World Vision was trying to have its cake and eat it, or rather, Kate and Edith, too.
Stearns is quick to note that this decision will enable World Vision to carry forth its original intent of helping impoverished people around the globe to a greater degree. In other words, their philanthropy outweighs this new policy. At first blush, this looks reasonable. To be fair, World Vision isn’t a seminary or theological training ground; it’s an outreach vehicle more concerned with orthopraxy than the finer points of orthodoxy. Isn’t providing medical relief for a destitute village more important than whether or not two dudes in your Christian organization are married to each other? In other words, who cares about Ben and Phillip if a hungry kid’s stomach has been filled up?
Well, actually, both are important. After all, James 1:27 tells believers to help widows and orphans in their distress as well as keep themselves unstained by the world. It isn’t an either/or; it’s a both/and. The travesty with World Vision’s decision is that this is what you would expect from an organization with no church affiliation. Its couched, insulating language comes off like a politician who’s in trouble or a referee who has children playing on opposing teams. World Vision has put on the glasses of political correctness and now sees only blurred edges where there once were distinct lines. The problem is not that a small percentage of people have demanded and received a redefinition of marriage. Nor is it that cultural decay continues to spread around us on a daily basis. No, the problem we face is far greater and more personal than that. You see, we as Christians are the problem.
We play by other people’s rules and let our adversaries set the rules of engagement. We speak only when spoken to, then cautiously craft our words so as not to offend. We hug-it-out for the sake of peace. We don’t rock boats or ruffle feathers. We give in quickly and give up easily. We shout about the temporal and whisper about the timeless. We gulp culture and nibble Scripture.
At the end of the day, many in the church are content to be in the world and just like it. If that’s not a whirled vision of the Christian life, I don’t know what is.
James Hansen is teaching pastor at Antioch Bible Church and academic dean of Imago Dei Institute.