It’s been almost 2 days since I heard the news that World Vision made an adjustment to their employment policy that will now allow for the hiring of people who are married and gay.
2 days since I watched as righteous indignation poured out across the web in the form of threats (now fulfilled) to pull funding and end child sponsorships over World Vision’s decision.
It’s been 2 days and I confess – I’m still angry.
I’m angry at those who would treat children as pawns to be discarded in an effort to win a theological battle.
I’m angry at biblical blackmail that threatens to let children suffer and die if a charity organization doesn’t readjust it’s employment policy.
I’m angry at the dehumanization of the people World Vision supports, as if they can just be exchanged at the store like a pair of jeans that didn’t fit.
I’m angry that the good news of the gospel about a world being made new has been replaced with the shackles of dogmatism by Pharisees hell bent on keeping things the way they were.
I’m angry at a church who seems to value theological purity more than people.
I’m angry and I make no apologies for it.
I know how easy it is to dismiss anger as some sort of unmeasured, unreflected reaction. Sometimes it is. But sometimes anger stirs deep within our souls and boils over exactly because a great amount of thought and time have been spent investing and reflecting on the issue at hand.
Sometimes anger erupts because it must, because injustice demands such a response.
Sometimes anger is exactly what is needed because the offense is so great and the need so pressing that contriving the issue at hand as something simply in need of more debate around a table trivializes and compounds the suffering of those in need. Righteous anger can move us to righteous action. But treating the real suffering of real people as a marginally significant part of a ideological debate only ensures their suffering will continue unabated.
Which is why I’m so angry. Because this isn’t an abstract argument over ideology. It’s the stripping away of food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education from children.
Children I’ve seen with my own eyes, shared a meal with, played with and prayed with.
I’ve proudly supported World Vision in various capacities for years. Last fall I had the privilege of traveling with a World Vision team to Guatemala to witness their child sponsorship program up close and personally. I’ve seen the eyes of parents light up with pride as they show off the backyard garden they use to feed their family. I’ve watched children run around with genuine joy in their hearts because they simply get to go to school. And I’ve witnessed the sick being nursed backed to life from the brink of death at the hands of nurses battling the epidemic of malnutrition.
The very thought of looking those parents in the eye and telling them they will no longer have the support they need to provide for their families, or telling the kids they can’t go back to school, or the nurses that those in their care will have to fend for themselves because their sponsors in America are repulsed at the thought that a gay man or woman might be processing paper work or answering a call that will give them the things they so desperately need is utterly incomprehensible to me.
But that is the tragic reality of what is happening today as countless sponsors abandon the children they’ve committed to because a charity organization changed their employment policy.
I’ve been a Christian my entire life. I’ve spent nearly a decade in ministry. And I’m currently finishing up my third degree in religion. I fully understand and appreciate the importance of theology in the life of the church.
But as a church, we’ve forgotten the simple truth of Jesus’ ministry – there is no virtue or righteousness or holiness that is ever to be found in choosing theological purity over loving and caring for the least of these.
While there may be disagreement over the Bible’s view on gay marriage, scripture is unequivocally and prophetically clear about this point. In fact, the whole second half of the Old Testament is a sustained prophetic response to a people who chose law and ritual over love and justice. It’s why Isaiah begins the way he does with some of the harshest – and angriest – words God ever spoke to His people, words that are just as relevant today as ever.
The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
The call of the prophets was fulfilled in the life of Jesus for whom choosing love over law and dogma was the very foundation of his ministry and the cause of every single one of his conflicts with the Pharisees. It’s why he made love for God and neighbor the greatest commandment because that love must guide and even correct our theology when it leads us to doing anything other than loving and serving the least of these.
And lest we forget the centrality and primacy of love over dogma, Jesus spelled its importance out in no uncertain terms when he gave the clearest description of the final judgment in all of scripture, a final judgment based not on adherence to a list of doctrines, but a life lived in pursuit of justice for the least of these.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
But even though Jesus made love and justice central to the Christian life, somewhere along the way we’ve made them secondary issues, not nearly as important as believing the right things.
Somewhere along the way we forgot that greatest of commandments.
Somewhere along the way we elevated theological purity to the same level as love for neighbor.
Somewhere along the way we stopped following Jesus and became the very Pharisees we claimed to despise, more concerned with rules and purity than the people we’ve been called to serve.
Worse yet, we’ve reduced to good news of the gospel to little more than sexual ethics and a litmus test of right beliefs. If that is indeed the gospel, then there is nothing good about the good news and Christ died for nothing.
My friends this must stop. We don’t have to agree about everything, but we can’t continue to put theology above people. We can try to hide behind claims of a false dichotomy between the two, but the reality of our actions demonstrates how disingenuous that defense really is.
We can and should continue to disagree and debate until the Second Coming. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a good and healthy thing to do. But when it stands in the way of our call to love and serve other or, worse, replaces it altogether, the talk must stop and action begin.
There are real lives at stake here.
And as God Himself made abundantly clear through the prophet Isaiah and again through through the lips of Jesus Himself, no amount of adherence to tradition will save us if we abandon the least of these for the sake of theological purity.
So it’s my prayer today that more of us get angry, righteously angry like the prophets of old. Not simply at the people on the other side of the theological divide, but at the needless suffering of innocent children and their families.
I hope you get angry and do something about it.
If you already sponsor a child, I implore you to take a prophetic stand and keep your commitment to that child. Even if you don’t affirm gay marriage, affirm the value of that child’s life by continuing to support them in word and in deed.
And if you don’t already sponsor a child, take a prophetic stand by claiming for your own one of the many children who has been lost to our theological bickering.
It’s easy to do and will cost you very little, but the impact both symbolically and literally can and will change someone’s life.
So, come let us learn to do right.
Let us seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless.
Plead the case of the widow.
Feed the hungry.
Give the thirsty something to drink.
Clothe the naked.
Visit those in prison.
And care for the sick.
For this is the path of Jesus. The life we are called to live as his disciples. And it is the incarnation of the good news that God really does care for His creation and really is bringing the kingdom of God to earth just as it is in heaven.
So, be the good news for someone today and continue to sponsor your World Vision child.
Or if you don’t have one, stand in the gap, and sponsor a child today.
Grace and peace,