Two More Thoughts on the World Vision Controversy

I’ve already written at length on why I think World Vision’s new hiring policy is a profound mistake. I won’t rehash those arguments here. But I want to briefly respond to a couple of points that keep surfacing–points that can appear more persuasive than they really are.

Poor Argument #1: How can you let children starve just because you don’t agree with gay marriage?!

This line of reasoning packs an emotional punch. Who wants to be the Levite who refuses to cross the road to help the  sick and dying just because a gay couple wants to help the battered man too? Ouch. Sounds terrible. But the argument is much less than meets the eye.

It assumes that sending money to or through World Vision is the only way to help the poor. The situation is not analogous to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Or if it is, it’s like the Samaritan hears about people in Spain suffering from famine and there are seven different ships sailing to Spain to deliver relief and he has to decide on which ship to place his grain.

The argument assumes that as long as a person or organization aims to help the needy every other consideration is irrelevant and inappropriate. But what if Samaritan’s Purse had announced on Monday that it was now was open to hiring polygamists or racists or sex offenders or members from Westboro Baptist, do we really think the progressive wing of the church would be as strictly utilitarian then?

The argument assumes that the critics of World Vision are themselves indifferent to the suffering of others. To be sure, not everyone reduces the argument to this ad hominen level. But some do, as if people like Justin Taylor, Russell Moore, and Trevin Wax have never done anything for orphans in their lives. Meet their families. Read their bios.

The argument assumes too much. If the needs of hungry children justify the acceptance of homosexual behavior as consistent with Christian witness, why disallow adulterers from being hired? Why insist on Trinitarian Christianity? Are we so overcome with Mormonophobia that we wouldn’t help the bloody man on the Jericho Road just because Mormons want to help him too? World Vision is a Christian organization which insists on certain Christian beliefs and Christian behaviors in its employees. If we are all utilitarians in the strictest sense, we ought to have been outraged with World Vision a long time ago.

The argument assumes that maintaining its Christian identity is ancillary to the real mission of World Vision. If gay marriage is good, let it be said so. Then what we are really arguing about will be clear. But if a Christian believes same-sex intercourse is not fitting behavior for the holy ones of the Holy One, then it makes sense that he would see the tacit support of gay marriage to be deeply subversive to the Christian identity of World Vision, so much so that he may choose to support another organization which more fully embraces Christian principles.

Poor Argument #2: Isn’t it best not to take sides since the church has not reached consensus on the issue of homosexuality?

This train of thought contains a kernel of truth. On some issues it is the better part of wisdom to draw a line in the sand at refusing to draw lines in the sand. Sometimes when faced with committing to the run or committing the pass, we punt instead. But as a general principle the “we can’t decide what is biblical without consensus” argument is absolutely disastrous.

On what point of theology do professing Christians everywhere in the world agree? You can find churches, scholars, and pastors who support abortion and others who oppose abortion, some who believe the prosperity gospel is good and others who believe it is wicked, those who believe the bodily resurrection of Christ is essential to the faith and others who believe the resurrection is only a powerful spiritual metaphor. There is not one point of World Vision’s statement of core values or behavioral hiring policy that some Christian and some church would not dispute.

Okay, you say, but those are extreme examples. Obviously, we aren’t talking about anything goes. We must walk in the way of the Great Tradition. That’s what really matters–the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, Chalcedon, that sort of stuff.

And what sort of consensus was there at time of Nicea? Arius was a sincere person. Arius had Bible verses. Arius had a following. We are happy to use the Nicene Creed as a means of stating our consensus, but the creed was first necessary because there was not complete consensus. Every creed and confession in the Great Tradition arose out of some controversy. If the church must steadfastly refuse to take sides every time professing Christians read their Bibles differently, then shame on Augustine for combating Pelagianism, shame on Chalcedon for getting hung up on definitions, shame on Athanasius for wasting his life contra mundum for a diphthong.

Of course, it may be argued that homosexuality is not nearly so important as those issues. But given 2,000 years of pretty darn near unanimous consensus on the sinfulness of same-sex intercourse, this is a point that must be proven, not merely sidestepped because that consensus has been fractured in the West. Everything in the New Testament–from Paul’s farewell to Ephesian elders to the pastoral epistles to Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor–suggests that within the church there will always be those who oppose the truth.


In the church.

As in, no universal consensus among those who profess to be Christians.

The task, then, of the Scripture-saturated, Spirit-filled, heaven-smelling, holiness-pursuing, righteousness-loving, grace-offering church is to discern the truth, rightly handle the word of truth, and stand as a pillar and buttress of the truth, so that the sheep are protected, the wolves are warned, and the darkness is exposed by the light. On issues of eternal significance–the kind the devil loves to confuse–to wait for consensus is not compassion; it is capitulation.