World Vision, one of America’s largest Christian charities, is now open to hiring gays and lesbians. In yesterday’s surprise announcement, first reported by Christianity Today in an exclusive interview with World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns, the Christian humanitarian organization explained that it will no longer prohibit its more than 1,100 American employees from homosexual activity, provided same-sex intercourse happens in the context of a legal marriage (as is sanctioned by the state of Washington where World Vision is headquartered).
According to Stearns, the move amounts to nothing more than a “very narrow policy change” which was not motivated by any outside pressure, only a desire to foster Christian unity. For Stearns and World Vision, the issue of homosexuality is something good Christians disagree on, just like they disagree on whether to dunk or sprinkle in baptism. “I think you have to be neutral on hundreds of doctrinal issues that could divide an organization like World Vision,” Stearns explained.
“Denominations disagree on many, many things: on divorce and remarriage, modes of baptism, women in leadership roles in the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.,” he said. “So our practice has always been to defer to the authority and autonomy of local churches and denominational bodies on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles’ Creed and our statement of faith. We unite around our [Trinitarian beliefs], and we have always deferred to the local church on these other matters.”
The reason the prohibition existed in the first place? “It’s kind of a historical issue,” said Stearns. “Same-sex marriage has only been a huge issue in the church in the last decade or so. There used to be much more unity among churches on this issue, and that’s changed.”
And the change has been painful to watch. “It’s been heartbreaking to watch this issue rip through the church,” he said. “It’s tearing churches apart, tearing denominations apart, tearing Christian colleges apart, and even tearing families apart. Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We’ve got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity.”
The about face in World Vision’s hiring policy deserves comment both because their reasons for the switch will become terribly common and because the reasons themselves are so terrifically thin. Serving in a mainline denomination I’ve heard all the assurances and euphemisms before: “We still affirm traditional marriage. We aren’t taking sides. This is only a narrow change. We are trying to find common ground. This is about unity. It’s all about staying on mission.” But of course, there is nothing neutral about the policy at all. The new policy makes no sense if World Vision thinks homosexual behavior is a sin, which is, after all, how it views fornication and adultery. There are no allowances for their employees to solemnize other transgressions of the law of God.
To be sure, like many evangelical parachurch organizations, World Vision allows for diversity in millennial views, sacramental views, soteriological views, and any numbers of doctrinal issues which distinguish denomination from denomination. Stearns would have us believe that homosexuality is just another one of these issues, no different from determining whether the water in baptism can be measured by liters or milliliters. But the analogy does not work. Unlike the differences concerning the mode of baptism, there is no long historical record of the church debating whether men can marry men. In fact, there is no record of the church debating anything of the sort until the last forty or fifty years. And more to the point, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that getting the mode of baptism wrong puts your eternal soul in jeopardy, when there are plenty of verses to suggest that living in unrepentant sexual sin will do just that (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Jude 5-7).
We are entering the days and the decade of a great shifting and sifting of evangelicalism. The capitulation will not happen all at once. The camel of compromise will poke its nose into the tent little by little. We will hear about the unity of the church, as if Christ in John 17 were interested in a unity indifferent to the truth (John 17:17). We will hear about the reputation of the church, as if Christ promised that everyone would love us as long as we meant well (John 15:18-19). We will hear urgent pleas to stay on mission and not be distracted by controversy, as if Christ’s gospel of the kingdom had little to do with actually repenting and believing in the gospel (Mark 1:15). We will hear—in a hundred ways from a thousand voices in a million devilish disguises—the siren song that beckons the church to change or die, as if we could rescue Christianity by saving it from itself.
The issues surrounding World Vision’s new hiring policy will be debated and dissected for the next days and weeks. There is much we could comment on. We could talk about the assertion that World Vision is only an operational arm of the church and doesn’t try to make theological judgments (when their statement of Core Values already draws a number of doctrinal boundaries). We could talk about the folly in surrendering an issue every time Christian thinking is not uniform (when, in fact, every major doctrine is disputed). We could talk about the urgent pleas which are sure to come that we should not put our theological niceties above serving the poor (when there is no reason to think the pool of evangelical Christians wanting to do social justice work is so shallow that World Vision had to broaden their hiring policy). Like I said, there is plenty that can and will be said.
But the overriding issue is this: World Vision has decided that to be a practicing homosexual and a practicing Christian is no contradiction in terms. Despite the claims of neutrality, Richard Stearns and World Vision are not neutral. They believe what the Bible calls an abomination is not a big deal, not a serious issue like adultery, not a life threatening concern like malnutrition, not something that the Bible addresses clearly or warns against urgently. Before we get embroiled in a throw down about whether Jesus would love to take coffee breaks with World Vision employees, before we allow the issue to be reframed as “Jesus was nice; the Pharisees were mean; you are mean and not nice; so you are a Pharisee and not like Jesus,” before we accept that calling someone a bigot is the same as making an argument, before we write off every opponent of this policy as a Calvinist fundie inhabiting a hermetically sealed little house on a Christian prairie somewhere in flyover country, let us establish if the following is true:
Jesus Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead (Acts 17:31; Rev. 19:11-21). Those who repent of their sins and believe in Christ (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38; 17:30) and those who overcome (Rev. 21:7) will live forever in eternal bliss with God in his holy heaven (Rev. 21:1-27) through the atoning work of Christ on the cross (Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:1-21; Cor. 5:21). Those who are not born again (John 3:5), do not believe in Christ (John 3:18), and continue to make practice of sinning (1 John 3:4-10) will face eternal punishment and the just wrath of God in hell (John 3:36; 5:29). Among those who will face the second death in the lake that burns with fire are the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, the murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars (Rev. 21:8), and among the sins included in the category of sexual immorality is unrepentant sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Jude 5-7).
I realize a paragraph like this has become highly controversial, even offensive, perhaps someday criminal. But the question for the Christian is whether the Bible teaches it. If the Bible does not teach these things, or if we no longer have the courage to believe them, let us say so openly and make the case why the whole history of the Christian church has been so wrong for so long. But if the Bible does teach the paragraph above, how can we be casual about such a serious matter or think that Jesus would be so indifferent to the celebration of the same?
The good news of the gospel is that the sin of exchanging natural relations for those that are contrary to nature, like every other sin, can be forgiven, and that homosexual offenders, like every other kind of sinner, of which I am profoundly one, can receive grace, mercy, and peace in the name of Jesus Christ and be justified, sanctified and glorified by the power of God. To treat these straightforward truths as beyond the ability of confident hermeneutical inquiry or altogether as a thing indifferent is not to unify Christians in the gospel but to sacrifice the gospel for a togetherness that will not hold and a shortsighted vision that is sure to fail.