World Vision’s Hole in the Gospel: Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex “Marriages”

Greg Strand – March 25, 2014 10 Comments

World Vision has changed their policy for employees:  “Christian” couples in same-sex “marriages” are now allowed to be employees. Though sexual abstinence outside of marriage is still policy, marriage is no longer defined as between a man and a woman.

Richard Stearns, United States president of World Vision, “asserts that the ‘very narrow policy change’ should be viewed by others as ‘symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.’ He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.”

It is amazing that Stearns refers to this change as “very narrow.” Either he does not grasp the magnitude of this moral issue, or he is downplaying its importance. Though it addresses one change, this change is major and strikes at the heart of the Bible and its authority.

With this “very narrow” change, World Vision claims that they will be able to live above the fray of this moral issue that is “tearing churches apart.” They are taking their cue from legal decisions made in many states and liberal churches, both of which are attempting to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. Though the stated reason may be unity, it comes at the expense of truth, and it will not bring true unity. In a sense, one gets the sense in which one claims “unity, unity, but there is no unity” (a take on Jeremiah’s words of denunciation to prophets and priests who dealt falsely and healed the wound of God’s people lightly claiming “peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14; 8:11)). 

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.

Stearns attempts to downplay this decision.

‘It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there,’ he said. ‘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.’

‘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.’

Though Stearns is right to distinguish between the church and denominations and the parachurch (though denominations are also a parachurch, though related more directly to the church), it is naïve at best and disingenuous at worst to claim that they are merely an “operational arm” of the church and not a “theological arm” of the church.

There are two major problems. First, parachurches are birthed by the church to serve the church. That means that though they may serve as an operational arm of the church, they are grounded in the theological foundation of the church. Second, by changing this policy and claiming that they do not endorse same-sex “marriage” and that they “affirm and support ‘traditional marriage’” simply will not work. This is a theological issue and they have made their beliefs and commitments clear, regardless of the spin that is put on this decision.

Stearns claims the new policy is rooted in the fact that World Vision is a parachurch and is multi-denominational.

‘Denominations disagree on many, many things: on divorce and remarriage, modes of baptism, women in leadership roles in the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.,’ he said. ‘So our practice has always been to defer to the authority and autonomy of local churches and denominational bodies on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles’ Creed and our statement of faith. We unite around our [Trinitarian beliefs], and we have always deferred to the local church on these other matters.’

The reason the prohibition existed in the first place? ‘It’s kind of a historical issue,’ said Stearns. ‘Same-sex marriage has only been a huge issue in the church in the last decade or so. There used to be much more unity among churches on this issue, and that’s changed.’

As you read, Stearns places same-sex “marriage” in the same category as other issues over which Christians have agreed to disagree. This reflects his inability to discern between essential and non-essential matters, and how one goes about discerning what doctrinal matters are in the different categories.

Furthermore, to place this only in the category of being a historical issue, misses some profound issues. Certainly these issues are pressing on us now. And though there is a huge cultural shift of the general populace toward the acceptance of same-sex “marriage,” Evangelicals have not merely affirmed doctrinal matters because they are historical or culturally expedient. They have done so because they are biblical. Once again it is unity that drives this, unity that sought based on present-day historical and cultural consensus. Truth has never been determined that way.

This move truly does reveal that World Vision has a hole in the gospel, which is ironic in that this was the title of Stearn’s book: The Hole in Our Gospel. We now see the answer to his follow up book as well, Filling the Hole in Our Gospel.

Sadly, Stearns and World Vision have moved away from the gospel. Furthermore, they have distanced themselves from the Evangelicals, because the gospel, the evangel, is foundational to Evangelicals.

When I heard this, not only was I deeply disturbed about what this move stated about the gospel, I was grieved for what this move means for the children who are supported by many Evangelicals. Trevin Wax voices the same concern.

Russell Moore has also commented on World Vision’s tragic move away from the gospel.

 

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

10 responses to World Vision’s Hole in the Gospel: Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex “Marriages”

  1. Moore’s comment, “We’re entering an era where we will see who the evangelicals really are, and by that I mean those who believe in the gospel itself, in all of its truth and all of its grace. And many will shrink back. There are no riots if the gospel you’re preaching doesn’t threaten the silversmiths of the Temple of Artemis. And there are no clucking tongues if the gospel you’re preaching isn’t offered to tax collectors and temple prostitutes.” is absolutely powerful…because it is true.
    The church in Congo is struggling with “Do we turn our heads to this and continue to receive wages based on a U.S. standard and water and schools and health care?”, or “Do we choose to give it up because of what we believe?” It’s been a bridge on the horizon they haven’t wanted to cross.

    • Thank you for your comment, Jim. It is true that the church in Congo will need to wrestle through this, not, I trust, questioning the truth of the gospel, but how to proceed faithfully as they move away from the ministry of World Vision. And just as the church in the Congo will struggle with this, so will many Evangelicals, including my family personally, who are supporting a child through World Vision.

      This is another example of a ministry who has, tragically, moved in the direction of the social gospel at the expense of the true gospel. Unity trumps truth. As Evangelicals, we must remain tethered to the text and grounded in the gospel. This means that the gospel is foundational to doctrine and practice. The truth of the gospel is the ground of unity. Apart from it, it is not true gospel and it is not real unity. Furthermore, we must be wise and discerning that we do not allow the pendulum swing to move us to the gospel divorced from its entailments, as the Fundamentalists did a century ago.

  2. Greg, thanks for making this statement, and for clarity with which you express it. A much needed response to Mr. Stearns.

    • Thank you for your reply, Chuck. This is a very important issue for Christians, one that strikes at the heart of both the gospel and Evangelicalism.

  3. Stearns forced bad options on many supporters. I guess I hope folks with fulfill their commitment to the child they are sponsoring, while letting World Vision know when that is fulfilled, they are gone.

    Is this a good time to tell of another option for supporting children?

    http://go.efca.org/ministries/reachglobal/globalfingerprints

    GlobalFingerprints

    GlobalFingerprints is the child sponsorship ministry of ReachGlobal. We partner with national churches around the world to send children to school and help care for their physical, spiritual and emotional needs.

    Change a child’s life for $35/month in Congo, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Liberia or Zambia.

    Kerry

    • Thank you for your reply, Kerry. Stearns and the board of World Vision have made a poor policy decision based on cultural expediency, not biblical truth. It will force many to rethink and reconsider supporting children through World Vision. Sadly, it is the children who suffer most directly. I appreciate the link to the ReachGlobal ministry of Global Fingerprints.

      Matthew Lee Anderson has also written of some options for how to respond to this change: http://mereorthodoxy.com/whether-christians-keep-supporting-world-vision/

  4. Well, there’s always Compassion International and Global Fingerprints …

    • Thank you for your response, Dave. As you see below, Global Fingerprints was suggested.

      One asked a question on FB about this as well. He made the point that this decision will affect children, and we need to take that into consideration. Here was my response.

      Because many Christians will no longer support children through World Vision does not mean they will not be supporting children. There are many other organizations that will continue to support children and they will do so solidly grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. One very good alternative for those in the EFCA is ReachGlobal’s Global Fingerprints.

      Here is a response from Matthew Lee Anderson providing some suggestions of how to respond to this World Vision’s policy change in light of remembering the children: http://mereorthodoxy.com/whether-christians-keep-supporting-world-vision/

      The first thing to do is, of course, inform World Vision USA of your conclusion and the difficulty they have subsequently thrown you into. Angry, belligerent emails and phone calls are not a Christian mode of response. But level-headed, patient, and clear reasoning can be. It would be prudent to ask for World Vision to set up pathways for people who have decided they can no longer give to continue corresponding and supporting their child directly, as a sign of their willingness to help those who disagree with their new vision carry on those modes of communication that first and foremost make World Vision a Christian organization, even if it costs the organization a great deal of money and time to ensure that it can happen. Opening up such pathways would convey not World Vision’s commitment to unity of the right sort, namely that which respects and seeks to maintain lines of communication within and across real and substantive disagreements that it recognizes must be maintained.

      Second, it seems to me that continuing to give in a situation where there has been a substantive relationship established with a child would be appropriate, at least for a season. Given that education and formation happens at the local level, and that the other branches of World Vision are not beholden to World Vision USA’s decision, there is nothing substantive lost by maintaining support temporarily. The boundaries of a “substantive relationship” are, of course, somewhat fuzzy. In the abstract, what sort of relationship qualifies is impossible to discern. But some sort of differences are obvious, as I noted above, and those differences introduce genuine and substantive reasons for acting that must be accounted for in this case.

      But I would add a qualification to this, if support continues: I would notify World Vision USA that the continuing of support is for the purposes of the child alone, and that when the financial-support relationship comes to an end (as it does automatically at age 21, and at other ages for a variety of reasons) it will not be renewed or transferred to another child, but will be taken to another organization. There would be two ways to look at this sort of communication: either it could be seen as ‘holding World Vision hostage’ by threatening to remove financial contributions, or it could be a form of ‘informing World Vision USA of a decision so they can make alternate arrangements’. Which description belongs may depend entirely on how the communication is given: non-profits need to know how to project their finances, and giving them some advance warning that support would be withdrawn at least allows them to seek alternative means of funding in the interim.

      But the effects of these sorts of organizational decisions are often slower moving than internet responses or commentary. The logic of the traditional marriage case depends upon a commitment to something like a “moral ecology,” but that means that the effects of certain decisions are not often known until several generations later. Analogically, this sort of symbolic move will have a substantive effect on the moral ethos of World Vision USA, but the fruit in its own organizational life and in its relationship to the broader World Vision organization (the structure of which is not entirely clear to me) may not grow for a while. For those who are committed to supporting particular children, that delay is a benefit, as it allows support to continue while still expressing a fundamental disagreement and communicating to World Vision USA the reasons for such a disagreement and the end-point of any future support or help. It’s a slow withdrawal, to be sure, but we are to be patient in doing good, even when doing good demands changing the recipients of our support.

      Third, I would begin any new contributions with another organization and encourage those who ask to do the same. Food for the Hungry, Compassion International, and others do similarly good work to World Vision. Best of all may be your own denominational support structures, which presumably are accountable to the body where you worship.

      Though the ministries mentioned by Anderson do not work the same way as World Vision, I include this post as a possibility of options, simply acknowledging them as options. Though Anderson’s response is certainly not definitive, referring to him is simply an example of how one is thinking this through with possible alternatives to a ministry of mercy to children apart from World Vision.

  5. Several years before this news of World Vision came out I was beginning to sense a change in the direction of their ministry. It first began when I received Christmas cards to give to my three supported children in Africa. The cards read Happy Holidays. My first thought was, this totally sounds like a secular greeting card. I called World Vision with my surprise and concern. I was told one of my children was Muslim and that it wasn’t acceptable to wish Merry Christmas. The rationale was that World Vison would first minister the love of Christ through humanitarian aid in hopes that the Muslim community would experience the love of Jesus and choose believe in Jesus. These explanations quelled my concern, but there was still a nagging doubt. A year later, I was noticing that information sent on the children I was supporting was devoid of any Christian message whatsoever. I looked at the back page of the brochure, and there in very small print, the kind no one ususally reads, there were these words “World Vision is a Christian Humanitarian Organization”. That is the only reference given to Christ at all. Red flags raised and I prayed and asked the Lord what to do. As an Evangelical I believe that the message of Jesus is the priority always. Then again I saw an article where World Vision was showing a video that cast Israel in a bad light on the Palestinian issue. I think that was the final alert that something was wrong at the heart of this ministry. I made the hardest decision I had ever made. I was a supporter of World Vision with three children for about 15 yrs. When I looked at those children’s faces I cried but I could not support World Vision anymore. Through my different experiences over the past few years and the deep down troubling in my spirit that would’nt go away, I cancelled my support and went with an agency that honors the Name that holds all good, liberty and love-the Name of Jesus. If World Vision wants to maintain humanitarian efforts they could do that, but I wanted my support to go to the ministries that aren’t ashamed of the Gospel and don’t hide their light under a bushel (like the small print on the brochure). A year after leaving World Vision I was very surprised to hear that World Vision was supporting gay couples who are married as their employees. I know now that the unrest I felt in my spirit was valid. Jesus said that we are not to hold any religeon, man, woman, child or even our own family members above His Word. I have always found that when I put Him first and love Him with all my heart I have an abundance of love to give to others. Just thought I would share my own experience with World Vision. I can say that I am deeply saddened by their falling away from the true Gospel.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Susan. Thankfully World Vision did rescind their day-old policy, but it did raise questions which remain. From what you share, they had been on a trajectory that made this decision not overly surprising. May the Lord use this in this recent event such that they move back toward biblical authority being foundational to their ministry.

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