Sorry World Vision, Words Matter

World Vision

In an interview with Christianity Today, World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns explained a change to the employment requirements of the Christian relief organization that will allow them to hire believers in same-sex marriages.

They claim that this issue is divisive within Christianity and they serve with Christians from denominations that currently accept gay marriage, as well as those who do not. Therefore, this is, in their words, an attempt to be accepting without endorsing. But it will not work.

Much of World Vision’s shift is troublesome from a theological perspective. Of particular concern, is their seeming dismissal of the need for a parachurch organization to make any doctrinal stand if it could interfere with “unity.”

Unity is not the goal of Christianity, it is the result of our shared submission to the lordship of Christ. We do not gain Christian unity by disregarding Christian doctrine.

You cannot and must not sacrifice biblical orthodoxy on the altar of “unity.” It is gay marriage today, it will be something else tomorrow. There will always be opposition to the clear teachings of Scripture both within and without the church.

But not only does World Vision’s position have a problem with the Word, it has a problem with words, in general.

They have every right to change their organizational hiring policy, but they do not have the right to change our shared language. In making a policy change and then denying that they are taking a position, that is exactly what they are attempting to do.

As a writer by training and trade, I have to insist that words matter. We cannot haphazardly change the meanings of words to suit our own use. I’ve written about this before with the use of the word “hate” to mean “disagree with.”

I understand why World Vision would want to assert the distinction between their actions and taking a stand in the debate over the definition of marriage. They want to work with (and draw donations from) both conservative and liberal Christian denominations.

But World Vision will discover the same truth as the Boy Scouts – you can’t make everyone happy by trying to use misleading semantics. By making a half-hearted change, but insisting that it is meaningless, they are patronizing everyone and pleasing no one. This is a word game they will not win.

Those in favor of the traditional definition of marriage understand that World Vision has now lined up in opposition to them on this issue. It is easy to see through the thin veil of “accepting” to the hard reality of “support.”

Yet at the same time, gay marriage advocates cannot be pleased with World Vision either. Will a gay person feel that much more welcomed by an organization that is saying they do not agree with gay marriage and, in fact, support traditional marriage?

In their attempts to explain how they accept gay marriage, but not accept-accept it, they have alienated everyone. They have essentially dismissed both sides of the issue as contrary to Christian unity.

World Vision cannot claim they are taking no position on same-sex marriage and then intentionally and proactively change their hiring policy as it relates to those in a same-sex marriage. That is the very definition of taking a position.

You are making a theological statement. Even if that statement is, “The definition of marriage is unimportant to us.” To state otherwise is not a plea for unity, but an excuse for lying.

Whatever World Vision wants to do, they should at least be honest with themselves and those of us who have partnered with them in the past or may in the future.

The Word matters. Words matter. As of now, World Vision seems unconcerned with the integrity of either. I hope that changes.

Update: Just to be clear, I am not advocating anyone immediately stopping their support of a child through World Vision. Matthew Lee Anderson gives some helpful perspective and advice for those currently partnering with World Vision.

It should also be noted that other Christian relief organizations do much of the same work as World Vision and have not made the same changes to their hiring policy. No one wants to cause additional hardships for children in need.

4 Comments

  1. Jeff Schaefer

    “Unity is not the goal of Christianity, it is the result of our shared submission to the lordship of Christ. We do not gain Christian unity by disregarding Christian doctrine.” This statement is profound, and thank you for it, but I believe this statement much more applies to churches and denominations than a charitable organization that primarily feeds hungry children. I don’t need to be sure that a charity has all of their Christian doctrine correct before I give to or support them.
    If there are others out there who want to call themselves good Christian people and be practicing homosexuals, what does that have to do with feeding hungry children? I know the thrust of this article is attacking the dilution of language, but there IS a difference between accepting and endorsement. You CAN have one without the other…

    • Thanks for stopping by and reading the post, Jeff. I especially appreciate that you engaged with point of the article. On such a hot button issue, many fail to do that and instead get emotional and attack strawmen. You clearly didn’t do that, so thanks!

      I do agree there is a clear and healthy distinction to be made between the church and a parachurch organization that partners with Christians to love our neighbors around the world.

      I also believe someone can, in good conscience, disagree with World Vision on their policy change and continue to support their mission to help those in need.

      There is a difference between accepting and endorsing, however I do not believe it to be a lasting one for World Vision. As I said, it doesn’t really satisfy anyone. It angers conservatives and underwhelms liberals.

      That is not a safe place to be for an organization that relies so heavily on people being passionate about working through them.

      I also do not believe we can draw such a clear line between theology and actions. Our philosophical positions have consequences (both intended and unintended). For those of us who view this as a potential abandonment of World Vision’s commitment to Scripture, it causes us to doubt whether this is the last move to be made in that direction.

      There can be followers of Christ who are practicing homosexuals, just as there can be followers of Christ who are currently engaged in any number of acts and attitudes the Bible regards as sin. But none of those should be celebrated and encouraged by a Christian organization or fellow believers.

      World Vision and those in leadership, like all believers, should be working to help all people – both those in need of food and water around the world and those in need of freedom from the sin that so easily entangles them. This move could sacrifice the latter in an attempt to accomplish the former. I don’t see the need to make that decision.

  2. Jeff Schaefer

    Good points all round! My mind to be honest is not settled at all on the issue, though in World Vision’s case it’s now moot. It honestly surprised me just how fast they reversed the decision. I haven’t read much in the way of in-depth reports, but could it be that they reversed so quickly specifically because of the outcry from the Christian community?

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.