Yesterday afternoon I participated in a conference call with World Vision president Rich Stearns.
It lasted a little less than an hour and consisted mostly of Rich explaining and apologizing for everything that has taken since (and before) World Vision changed and then reversed their decision to hire employees who are married and gay.
While the original decision may have seemed like a publicity stunt, it was not. World Vision had no intention of trying to grab headlines with their employment policy change. In fact, they held small group meetings with all of their employees in an effort to talk through the change and hear concerns in hopes of having a smooth and quite internal transition.
Unfortunately, at least one employee who did not approve of World Vision’s decision tipped off Christianity Today who, in turn, contacted World Vision to let them know they would be running the story and asked if Rich would like to make a statement.
In other words, the bullying that characterized so much of last week began long before the threats of abandoning children even started.
So much for being a Christ-like community.
By the time the conference call was over it was clear not just that Rich has given this talk several times over the past week, but that he and his employees at World Vision have taken a beating. In the first day alone, he said the call center received 7,000 mostly angry calls from people cussing out phone operators (who had nothing to do with the decision) and telling them they were “agents of Satan.”
The calls continued until after immense pressure from evangelical leaders and major partners, World Vision was forced to reverse their decision.
In that time, 10,000 children were abandoned by their sponsors.
You could hear Rich’s heart break as he talked about how concerned he was for the children and how they have been affected by this fiasco. I left the call convinced more than ever that caring for the poor and children in particular really is of the foremost importance for World Vision.
I also left hopeful that World Vision is committed to making changes to make sure to the best of their ability that they do not find themselves in a situation like this again. Rich made it clear that the World Vision Board is already seeking help from outside of World Vision to review what happened and find concretes steps they can take to prevent another disaster like this in the future.
But I left disappointed too.
During the call, Rich talked a lot about World Vision’s core values – caring for the poor and the marginalized, especially their children. In other words, at it’s very core World Vision values people. While Rich made it clear that World Vision does and will continue to hire folks in the LGBT community (and makes no inquiry into sexual orientation during the hiring process), if those employees choose to get married (in Washington state where World Vision USA is headquartered and where it is legal to do so) they will no longer be allowed to work for World Vision.
He told us that while the Board voted overwhelmingly for the initial move to allow the hiring of married gay employees, they also voted overwhelmingly to reverse that decision.
While I totally understand that the emphatic reversal stemmed from a genuine concern for the children who were losing their sponsors, the decision to suddenly reverse course on the claim to not take a position on gay marriage by “defer[ing] to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that [World Vision] can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor” seems disingenuous or at least disappointing and confusing in retrospect. Because in World Vision’s announcement of its reversal, not only did they take a clear stand on an issue they previously claimed to defer to local communities of faith because it wasn’t a core issue, but they took a sharp turn in an entirely new direction by suddenly making marriage a core value of their mission to the poor by stating unequivocally that, “on marriage as an institution ordained by God between a man and a woman—those are age-old and fundamental Christian beliefs. We cannot defer on things that are that central to the faith.”
Again, I understand this decision came in the face of intense blackmail and bullying, but I wish World Vision had found a way to stay the course and affirm their original position of deferring to local communities of faith.
How you choose to respond to all of this is, of course, entirely up to you.
But if you’re struggling with just how to respond, you’re not alone.
I’ve spent virtually the entire time since the call ended trying to make sense of it all and figure out how to move forward from here. To be honest, I’ve still got a lot of thinking and discerning to do, but at least a few things are clear to me.
The response of so much of the church to World Vision’s original decision was utterly abhorrent and unspeakably anti-Christ in the truest sense of the word.
As I said on Facebook and Twitter yesterday, Jesus fed the 5,000 with no questions asked. We stopped feeding twice that many in the name of theological purity.
But as I think about it more, what the church did was worse than that. “Stopped feeding” them sounds too passive. We actively picked up the phone to intentionally take food out of the mouths of children.
We punished innocent children in the name of God. Children who had done nothing to deserve our wrath. Children to whom we are to be incarnating Jesus in their lives.
Children who now will look to Christian organizations and the church in general and not only doubt our faithfulness to them, but the faithfulness of the God in whose name we claim to come.
Which is why the church’s sin last week was so grievous.
For as Jesus once said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones-those who believe in me-to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.”
And yet (at least to my knowledge) not a single apology or cry for forgiveness has been offered by those who so zealously championed and followed through with the abandonment of these announced little ones.
But you know what I realized?
Those kids who lost their sponsors don’t give a shit what side of the gay marriage debate we’re on.
They’re just hungry.
I can tell you from experience, they see all of us privileged American Christians as the same. It wasn’t just conservative evangelicals who abandoned them. It was all of us.
And so even though those of us who are outraged by the abandonment of children had no hand in their abandonment, we can and must have a hand in their restoration.
Because whether we like it or not, in the eyes of these children, we’re all in this together.
We all need their forgiveness.
We all need to make this right.
So, rather than simply looking at this situation at 10,000 tragedies – which is absolutely is – I believe we can and should look at it as 10,000 chances at redemption.
Standing in the gap and sponsoring a child who was abandoned won’t erase what happen, but it can begin the process of healing and become the first step in redeeming a relationship that has been shattered.
This is the way of Jesus.
This is the path we have been called to follow as his disciples.
And so whether you dropped your sponsorship or not. Whether you’ve been outraged for a week or this is the first time you’re hearing about it. I urge you to consider sponsoring a child today.
It’s a simple act of compassion that’s easy to do and will cost you very little.
And it will go a long way towards healing a relationship that needs to be resorted.
So, if you’re willing to take one of those 10,000 chances at redemption, then follow this link today and change a child’s life forever.
I promise, it’s a decision you won’t regret.