Today World Vision made an announcement that it’s changing how it handles LGBT employees, and IMO in a very good way. Previously, they required employees to either be in heterosexual marriages or to abstain from sexual activity. As I understand it, the old policy meant that if you were gay you couldn’t work there and be involved in even a long-term, monogamous relationship. (You still have to be married if you’re sexually active, even if you’re gay; it’s just that marriage isn’t restricted to heterosexual couples.) You couldn’t bring your spouse to the company picnic, for instance, and I’m assuming they wouldn’t be eligible for spousal health insurance or even to be listed as next of kin in a health emergency.
Some people are saying this is a really little thing and doesn’t deserve much praise, but I actually find it pretty courageous. It’s not a big change in a lot of ways, and I want to hear more about what they mean by marriage. For instance, do they mean sacramental marriage (which, to my knowledge, no church offers) or do alternate religious commitment services count? What about government marriage licenses or civil unions? It may well be this seems like a decent step when really it won’t be available to anyone. I’d also like to know how many gay people actually work at World Vision – if you’re not actually hiring them, then this seems like a progressive step when it’s really quite moot.
But I also find myself encouraged because, from a purely messaging level, World Vision made me feel particularly proud of them today. This decision sends the important message both to their employees and to gay people in the larger evangelical subculture that an authentic life is increasingly available to them in that culture, that they don’t have to choose between the common evangelical dream of family and a future together, meaningful work, a chance to effect the world for good — and who they know themselves to be. That’s a good thing in my opinion. It also tells them that there are expectations for how they live that life, too. That there’s a standard that’s meet-able, that doesn’t categorically exclude them from Christian virtue. That’s something many Christians really, really don’t do well with LGBT people. Myself included in the past, and probably to a certain extent todya, though I do hope I’m making progress there. Of course, it’s the nature of progress that you can only really see it in retrospect: if I saw I was wrong in any way now, I’d be changing my actions and thought-processes now.
Of course it’s usually two steps forward with people who take their beliefs as seriously as most people still opposed to homosexuality probably are. (If they weren’t deeply committed to the idea they most likely would have already changed; which is not to say they’re correct, just that they care about this issue passionately.) And some people are saying some things I find deeply unChristian. Exhibits A and B are Trevin Wax at the Gospel Coalition and Russell Moore at the Southern Baptist Convention. Dr. Moore called this policy contrary to the gospel, Satanic even, because it tells people in danger of damnation that they don’t need to repent. I obviously disagree in a big way, though I’m hesitant to do so since he’s much better educated in theology than I am. But I’ve read my Bible cover to cover multiple times, and I honestly don’t see where he gets this idea that homosexual sex is so damnation-worthy of all the other sexes.
That’s not what really interested me, though. Over at the Gospel Coalition, Mr. Wax says the real danger of this decision is that children who need World Vision’s help will go hungry or cold. In his own words:
No matter what you think about this decision, I hope you feel a sense of grief… for the children. This is a story of deep and lasting significance, because there are children’s lives at stake in how we respond.
Children will suffer as evangelicals lose trust in and withdraw support from World Vision in the future. It will take time for evangelicals to start new organizations that maintain historic Christian concepts of sin, faith, and repentance.
In the meantime, children will suffer. Needlessly.
He goes on to talk of how children in America will suffer because this redefining of marriage undermines the institution of marriage, making it more likely that children will grow up in families where spouses aren’t married. Personally, I think the best way to encourage people to get married is to, you know, actually expect them to get married – to send the clear, unambiguous message that marriage isn’t something just for white people or rich people or young people or straight people. I suppose this is a larger cultural issue that will need to be debated, though. If someone can explain to me why marriage recognizes something that only a man and a woman joined together semi-permanently can bring about, I’m at least willing to listen. But there’s something we need to clear up first, though.
If you’re an evangelical Christian and you think there are starving children somewhere that you’d really like to partner with, that you’d like to give them money or get involved so they can do the good work they’re trying to accomplish, if you’re all set to get involved or write that check but then you think the group’s value statement isn’t right or they hire people you don’t approve of or are involved in other programs that make you maybe not want to be associated with them? If those kinds of thing stop you from giving money you could afford to give but that you don’t because the group seems to have a position on sexuality or some other issue like that? It may be time to read your Bible again? It may be time to read your Gospel again, specifically the parable of the sheep and goats in Mt 25:31-46.
Put simply, starving kids simply matter more.
To be absolutely clear, I’m not saying people bothered by World Vision’s new policy have to sit quietly by and just accept it because sexuality doesn’t matter. If I believed homosexuality was a sin and I thought changing the policy was actually an effective way to address it, I would absolutely try to pressure World Vision to change it. If they refused and it was important to me, I’d work on setting up a new foundation to help the poor, that I could work with in a way that I didn’t feel like my involvement was propping up evil. But I absolutely would not sit by and let kids die because helping them would require me to indirectly say two married men should both be allowed to come to the company picnic.
When I read that comment, all I could think of was rape culture, where people say a woman wouldn’t have been raped if she wasn’t out late at night alone or if her clothes were more modest. Or as I’ve seen it in church culture, when I’ve been told that because I wear dress trousers which, granted, are more revealing of the body contours rather than flowing skirts I was making the men and boys lust after me. (Yes, that happened. Yes, that was the last time I set foot in that particular church. Yes, I have found other churches where the people I worship with would never say anything – but equally, I have heard stories of other women and teen girls who’ve found themselves hearing similar things in situations they couldn’t avoid it. It’s one thing to praise modesty but something else entirely to say it’s a real shame the way I’m dressing is making the men sitting in the pew next to me look at me and apparently see nothing more than an object they’d like to someday have sex with. In the same way, it’s one thing, arguably an okay thing to say this organization doesn’t match up with your values and you’d like to work for a better (or at least closer to you) way to help starving kids. It’s another thing entirely to say that now you can’t donate through the old group those poor starving children are going to have to die and wouldn’t it have been better if World Vision had just kept their eye on the prize and not forced you to do that.
My religion compels me not to pass judgment on another person’s salvation (the true meaning of the “judge not” imperative), and I really don’t know Mr. Wax or these people who will choose not to donate to World Vision well enough to make any kind of a pronouncement in that area. But if you think offering benefits to two men or two women in a committed relationship is anywhere near on the same level as getting a blanket or food or medicine or education to a kid who wouldn’t have anything like the life more abundantly Jesus promises us? It’s probably time for a values-check.
And that’s me putting it mildly.