The events of the last 48 hours regarding WorldVision has created a disturbance within the religious world unlike anything we’ve seen in recent years. This was not some comment made by some celebrity or CEO that became a rallying cry for those who feel threatened by cultural changes. This was a disturbance resulting from a parachurch organization wrestling with the complexities of the post-modern world. WorldVision’s policy change regarded same-sex employees who could affirm the Apostle’s Creed, were legally married, and committed to faithful monogamy.
And then the divisions started. There were those who immediately celebrated the change as a major institutional move by an evangelically-related organization to respond to changes in state and federal law. There were those who immediately challenged WorldVision for not upholding biblical standards and encouraged faithful evangelicals to distance themselves from WV (which includes dropping child sponsorship — one estimate had it at 2000 cancellations). Forty-eight hours of blogs and tweets dividing Christians from a variety of positions, coming a close to calling each other names as is possible in 140 characters or less.
Today, WorldVision announced that they were reversing the policy change they had announced on Monday. They apologized. The voices that had dismissed them as unChristian on Monday now simply said “Thank You”. All, it is assumed, is well. Except that it’s not. The damage done to young evangelicals who are trying to find a place in the religious world is hard to overestimate. I read more than one post saying “I’m done with evangelicalism”. I’m sure there are other posts out that will simply say “good to see you go”.
Here’s what’s been bothering me through the whole thing. We’re suffering from a inability to see the church — not the church as we want it to be but the church as it is. There were two elements of Monday’s WorldVision announcement that particularly caught my attention.
First, they recognized the importance of their location in Washington, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2012. Furthermore, it is one of the few states where same-sex marriage was approved by popular vote (instead of by the courts or legislators). For those who have argued that majority votes are determinative in other states, this creates a different context.
Second, and more important, WorldVision acknowledged that as a parachurch organization, they worked with a variety of denominations. Three of those in particular (United Church of Christ, PCUSA, and Episcopalians) had acted within their denominational bodies to legitimize same-sex marriage. These two factors meant that it was only a matter of time until active and faithful church members, married within the church, might apply for a position at WV.
Today’s reversal announcement backs away from those very denominations. “What we are affirming today is there are certain beliefs that are so core to our Trinitarian faith that we must take a strong stand on those beliefs,” said Stearns. “We cannot defer to a small minority of churches and denominations that have taken a different position.”
So where does it leave the Christians in that “small minority” of denominations who spent years in political and procedural turmoil wrestling with questions of responding to homosexuality, ordination, marriage, scripture, theology, and faithful witness? You don’t have to agree with their conclusion, but denying their efforts is not allowed. These are people of faith who have worked to be faithful to the Gospel as they understand it.
Where do our mainline sisters and brothers find support? Are they part of the Body of Christ or have we decided that the “real” Christian church belongs to our little circle? On what basis do we make that claim?
Over the years, I’ve been fascinated with issues of community. I’ve drawn on Paul’s imagery in Romans and Corinthians as he discussed the complexity of the Body of Christ. One passage that I’ve struggled to make sense of is in 1 Corinthians 8.
9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.
I think this passage speaks well to issues of Christian responsibility. It acknowledges that we have an impact on those around us. What we do and how we act matter. Even if we think our position is correct and defensible, that position could hurt others who don’t share the same commitments.
I’ve always heard these verses used as a defense of more conservative positions. Some may think alcohol use is okay, but that might cause others to stumble who can’t handle the temptation so better to leave it alone.
But what we’ve seen this week is a reversal of the Corinthian passage. It seems that no one is allowed to move from the defined conservative position. The tone of the WorldVision responses seems to fit the subtext of Paul’s warnings about eating meat.
If not holding the defined conservative position results in public attacks, who will be the ones to stumble? Not likely the ones concerned about protecting traditional marriage. But hosts of others.
The range of people damaged this week is pretty broad: the young evangelicals I mentioned earlier, those committed to supporting same-sex couples without turning their backs on faith, people who work at WorldVision, and the broader public watching all the drama play out. Paul would say if being so absolutely right causes others to stumble, was it worth it?
To move forward, we need clearer vision. We need to see the Kingdom of God unfolding in our midst, to see the church in its wonder, to open our eyes to complexity of modern life. Lord, give us eyes to see.