Palm to head, repeat, then hope, trust and speak (or write)

World Vision offices
World Vision offices

I have been wrestling with being willing to write this or not. Well, since you are reading it, its obvious that the push to write it won out over my resistance to doing so.  If you haven’t heard by now, World Vision, an organization I do respect, recently made a decision to be willing and open to hire people, regardless of their sexuality and if they were married or not as long as they were “abstinent if not married.” Within two days though, the organization then changed its mind.

I share much of the sentiment theologian and blogger Rachel Held Evans has already expressed. My heart hurts. Theologically, I am sad because those who would create barriers to Jesus’ love and service have convinced or expressed the power to restrict. I am sad because this organization which does such beautiful work is based in my home state and has decided that not all people are welcome and created equal. I am sorry, that just doesn’t stand well in light of the gospel. In the gospels, its repeatedly and abundantly clear that whenever people create rules and barriers which divide, Jesus is always on the side that is being shut out and marginalized (the Gospel of Luke practically hits you over the head with this). It is abundantly clear, that to create barriers is not to live into the vision Paul expresses particularly well in Galatians 3:28-29:

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29, NRSV).

Richard Stearns, CEO of World Vision USA
Richard Stearns, CEO of World Vision USA

However, in articulating this, I am confronted with a core piece of Lutheran theology that I hold. We are all broken. We all need healing, because we are all broken. It’s this brokenness that results in the hurt in relationships, in the broken or absence of community, and in the pain and sadness that we feel today. So, I express what I am feeling here recognizing that I myself am broken in ways that I may not even recognize and need healing. This being true, I cannot leave this discussion here though as a sort of “cop-out.”

I must admit, I am perplexed and confused by the acts of leadership and process that went into this. If its true what I have seen that the decision to change the policy to accept and welcome people who were married in same-sex relationships, was a decision that was prayed about and discerned about for nearly two years, how did it take only two days to reverse the work and discernment? I ask this somewhat rhetorically. The answer is obvious, funding and threats of withheld funding.

But to make a decision out of the fear of withheld funding, and to make that decision only two days after a multiple year process of discernment and reflection about this possibility seems shallow, disconcerting, weak leadership, disrespectful for all those involved in the process of discernment, etc. It also shows that no matter what the organization believes to be true and right, it will always bend to the will of those with the money. Values and beliefs be darned. I would argue, the love of the neighbor, be darned as well.

I mean, its a fair question what kind of person would withhold giving to support the work of World Vision because of its stance about its employees? If you say that is what a Christian would do, then I hurt as a Christian. That’s not who I am as a Christian. As a Christian, we are called to love and serve, to baptize and teach, to point out the light in the world and to wonder and discern together about the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.

For awhile on Monday, I thought we were having one of those moments. I thought the kingdom of God was breaking in, as the sense of greater welcome and community was being broadened. To be honest, I share Paul B. Raushenbush’s sense though that there may still be positives here because many in the organization wanted to make the change, and because of that I trust that this was a God breaking-in moment.

I have to wonder though, how an organization claims to be about love but its decisions are dictated more about funding (and particularly the threat of lack of funding) then the love of the service it does. I also have to wonder about what this says about those churches and people of faith who were willing and ready to abandon World Vision on Monday. But then again I have to remember that we are all broken.

World Vision on Monday was living into a discerned two year process. Sadly, it never gave itself a chance to see what that would lead to. It never engaged the conversation more openly with different denominations and faith groups. It just closed the doors, somewhat similar to Thrivent’s decision recently.

The sun over the sea, is as good as any image to show or symbolize God's love and in-breaking, isn't it?
The sun over the sea, is as good as any image to show or symbolize God’s love and in-breaking, isn’t it?

I know that this post won’t change your mind. But its obvious, that the message of love needs to be continued to be shared. It’s also obvious that we have to keep speaking, sharing, and writing. We can’t let the message of love and grace found in the gospel to be lost because of some people in our wonderful tent of Christianity who think they have it figured out better than others and that there is supposed to be some “of us and them,” rather than all of us together. We may disagree about certain things, but we shouldn’t let that keep us from being the Body of Christ together, because really that’s not up to us to decide anyway.

I guess much of my pain comes from my core theological convictions which I reflected on in the nine-part blog post series unpacking my current theological understandings.  To summarize, I believe that:

God creates all with value and that this has serious implications for creation and community!

I admit I am not perfect at standing up for this core belief. But I do believe that this is something that we as leaders are called to embody and share. This is the message of the gospel, “God loves you and God is for you.” Not “God loves you and God is for you if you do this and that and this and that.” No, there is no “if.” God loves you, period. How can we put limitations on God’s love and mercy? I mean if God did, God never would have allowed God the Son to die upon a cross. So if God doesn’t place limits, why do we?

What do you think? Have I offended your theological convictions? Am I preaching to the choir? Perhaps you have some thoughts based on this to continue our conversation? I would love to hear them.

Update:  Credit to Tony Jones for providing more details.

Image Credits:  World Vision offices, Richard Stearns, Sun over the sea (by Rachel Kramer)

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