All of this stuff about World Vision reminds me of what Jesus said in Mark 7.
That Which Defiles
7 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.[a])
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’[b]
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
9 And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe[c] your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’[d] and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’[e] 11 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”  [f]
17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)
20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” – Mark 7:7-23
Last week, World Vision’s USA office announced that it will no longer discriminate against homosexuals in their hiring practices. That is, they would hire any Christians, including gay Christians who were married. This was a very bold move, particularly as many states are currently having their bans on gay marriage struck down by constitutional courts, or are lobbying to legalize gay marriage, in spite of very outspoken opposition largely from Christian groups. World Vision’s change in policy was a big move for a Christian organization in the US to make, and could have been symbolic of a larger shift toward laws that recognize all humans and their relationships and institutions without prejudice. And given the worldwide persecution that homosexuals are facing, not least in Russia and especially Uganda, where homosexuals are now given life in prison (or are simply being beaten or killed in the street), World Vision’s change in policy gave it some moral authority as it worked to serve the downtrodden around the world.
The next day, World Vision retracted their statement. In 24 hours, or so I’ve heard from multiple sources, 2000 or so people pulled their support from World Vision. Clearly World Vision wasn’t prepared for such a response. They should have been. But that’s not the heart of the issue.
Those who pulled their support did so, or so the internet explained, because they felt that World Vision had betrayed their Christian values. Or to put it differently, “minimizing something as structural as the definition of marriage is a damnable act, and whether or not World Vision suffers financially, it has already suffered, and inflicted suffering, spiritually.” World Vision’s actual statement reversing their decision said “we are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.” Those Christians who gave to World Vision are the victims here: they were betrayed, experienced spiritual suffering, and were painfully confused.
I’m confused too. I can’t even begin to understand how this decision could inflict pain or “spiritual suffering” (whatever that is), but I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt. I’ve been a bit sarcastic here, but I honestly believe that they’re probably good people who love Jesus. They were hurt by what they perceived to be a betrayal of their values, even breaking an implicit covenant of sorts in which they support World Vision because World Vision represents their values. I suppose that has some logic to it, even if it’s packed full of assumptions and bad theology. I could critique the theology involved here, I could pull out all of the assumptions, and I could point out that none of these people had time to even think it through before they pulled their support, but none of that would get to the heart of the issue either.
At the heart of the issue, I suggest, is that the people who pulled their support from World Vision, the people who railed against them on the internet and accused them of a ‘damnable act’, have allowed their own laws and rules to get in the way of the commandments of God.
The Pharisees Jesus was talking to in Mark 7 (above) had come up with the rule of Corban as a way of structuring their lives in the service of God. The Torah has a few thousand commandments, but the Pharisees had many more, designed to ensure that they kept the commandments of God. In Bible college this is called “building a fence around the law.” The idea behind it is good, but as Jesus points out here, things get complicated quickly when we create our own laws to go along with those we receive from God. What happens when our fence around God’s laws conflicts with God’s laws?
There are laws in the Bible about homosexuality. In spite of what Joe Dallas says about it (above), a lot of people disagree about the exact content and purpose of those laws, or even what’s being talked about in those passages, but let’s even assume that they’re very clear and say that homosexuality in any sense is totally and deeply sinful. Even if that’s the case, there’s no law that says that you can’t donate to a gay charity. There’s also no law that says that you can’t bake cakes for gay marriages, to pick up on another recent controversy. There are no commandments to shun gay people, to discriminate against them in your hiring practices, to keep them out of your churches (unless you get into some creative application of Corinthians), to refuse to participate in worship or charity with them, etc. etc. Those laws weren’t given. All of the ways that Christians have behaved toward homosexuals in North America, under the guise of religious freedom, were not in obedience to any law or commandment of God. They were, instead, things that we felt we had to do in order to defend the idea that homosexuality is sinful.
Pulling support from World Vision isn’t withdrawing finances from an organization. World Vision was not punished by these people. The way World Vision is set up, donors are connected with individual children, who receive (most of) the money that the donors give every month. These children write letters to their supporters, their “family”. Sometimes these relationships can last years, even decades. When people pulled their support from World Vision in response to the news that World Vision will not discriminate against homosexuals in their hiring practices, they weren’t doing it because of a command from God, they were calling their money “Corban” and refusing to give to the children who wrote them letters thanking them for saving their lives. Some of these kids probably live in Uganda, where homosexuals are being imprisoned and killed for simply being gay; do these kids know why their “families” have abandoned them?
I may be being a bit melodramatic here, but not as much as it sounds: these are real kids, and they’re not interchangeable with whatever kids those 2,000 supporters have supposedly sponsored elsewhere. You can’t just pull funding from one organization, and then find another who will allow you to sponsor the exact same child. Real people have been really hurt by this, and they weren’t hurt by World Vision, they were hurt by the people who let their politically charged (electric?) fence around the Law cut them off from the commandment of God to care for “the least of these.”
I’m going to take this a bit further, and say that God doesn’t care half as much about anyone’s sins as he does about their obedience and care for others. I’m going to say that God would rather have a gay person who works at World Vision in this world than 2,000 people who would pull their support because of that gay person. I feel very confident of this, because of a story Jesus told about a good Samaritan.
I’m not going to paste the whole story here, but the gist is: a priest and a levite, both religious leaders, pass by a guy who’s been badly beaten and is laying in a ditch on the side of the road. In fact, they cross the road to stay away from him. What we usually fail to recognize when we hear this preached is that they were following actual commandments of God, which told them that they should stay away from dead bodies. They thought the guy was dead, so they did what they were supposed to do and stayed away for the sake of their ritual cleanness, without which they couldn’t serve God in the Temple. Then a Samaritan, who was a religious outsider who was treated by the Jews very similarly to the way we treat the LGBTQ community and was considered unfit to worship in the Temple anyways (i.e., ritually unclean to the max!), comes along and saves the guy. Jesus commends the actions of the Samaritan over the actions of the priest and levite, in spite of the fact that they were following God’s commands (and not just a fence around the law – actual commands from the Torah!). If we follow what Jesus was saying, he was implying that in order for the priest or the levite to do the right thing, they would have had to be willing to break God’s direct commandments for the sake of a stranger they thought was probably already dead.
Let’s bring this into the issue at hand then: Christians, God would rather have you work with LGBTQ people in your ministry than miss any chance to serve the poor. In fact, God would rather have you hang out at gay bars and rest stops with drag queens and fetishists and show them his love than ignore a single person in need. I can’t say this strongly enough: Christians, God would rather have you be gay, with all of the prejudices and persecution that you would have to suffer for being so, than to have you disobey his command to love your neighbour as yourself. (Gay Christians, God would rather have you be a homophobe who protests funerals but still obeys him by serving others, than an inclusive and kind person who would refuse to help a homophobe. This cuts both ways.)
So don’t blame this on World Vision: they screwed up, but what they did has nothing to do with our responsibility to serve others, or with the relationships that were destroyed for those 2,000 kids. Don’t appeal to Biblical authority, because when it comes to refusing to serve others (for any reason), you won’t find much support there. And don’t even appeal to religious freedom, which is another way we like to use man-made things to help us get away with ignoring the commands of God. No, Christians of North America, we need to own this: the culture wars, the systematic exclusion of LGBTQ people, the endless debates about religious freedom, this is all ours. We’ve made our bed in a white-washed tomb, and we’re lying in it, and we need to get up and start serving the people that God loves: ALL of them.