BREAKING NEWS: Since the writing and planned release of this blog, World Vision has reversed its decision to hire Christians in same-sex marriages. The Church & Culture team felt the following blog should still be released in light of future situations that may arise of a similar nature, and the principles Dr. White presents. Needless to say, we applaud and celebrate the decision by World Vision. Click here for the link to their reversal and the full text of their announcement.
The American branch of World Vision, one of America’s largest Christian charities, will no longer require its employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman. Abstinence outside of marriage will continue to be required, but a policy change announced this week will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed.
In an exclusive interview with Christianity Today, World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns explained the decision not as an act of compromise, but an act of unity. Citing gay marriage as a divisive theological issue that is best left to churches and denominations World Vision, as a parachurch agency, will position itself to unite Christians around serving the poor.
Wait, it gets worse.
Given that states are permitting same-sex marriages, including World Vision’s home state of Washington, Stearns feels the issue should join such theological in-house discussions as differing modes of baptism. “Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us,” said Stearns, “makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues.”
Wait, it gets “worser.”
“It also allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage.” He then added that by making this decision, “We’re not on some slippery slope.”
Forgive me while I choke on those last words.
Where to begin?
First, it is disingenuous to say that gay marriage is simply an honest theological debate among Christians, along the lines of Presbyterians sprinkling and Baptists dunking. Such disagreements are between Christians disagreeing on tertiary issues while remaining under an overarching umbrella of the authority of the Bible.
The question of gay marriage is antithetical to the very order of creation, marriage, family and sexual morality. If you want to reduce things to the Apostle’s Creed (which Stearns suggests), then recall the line about believing in the Holy Spirit, Who happened to inspire a book, which happens to be our authority.
(Click here if you want to read a series of blogs I wrote on homosexuality and gay marriage in 2011).
Let’s be clear: if you wish to make it merely a theological debate, then it is between those who hold to the authority of the Bible, and those who eschew it. Few are arguing about what the verses in the Bible related to homosexuality say; they are arguing over whether they should be followed. One view stands within historic orthodox Christianity, and one does not.
So yes, parachurch organizations should not usurp the role of the church on matters of doctrine and interpretation. But if a transdenominational parachurch organization drops its standards on morality every time a minority element of the church does so – all in the name of “unity” - then God help us all.
Second, to say that the legalization of something should be taken as a reason to accept something morally makes culture the transcendent voice of morality instead of God as revealed in His scriptures. It should hold no more sway over a Christian than the legalization of something such as prostitution. Legal or not, no woman should prostitute her body, and no man should avail themselves of one who does.
Finally, Stearns says he is wanting to be a parachurch that leaves this to the church. But the very definition of a parachurch is an entity that works alongside the church. Yet on the most pivotal issue related to Christ and culture of our day, World Vision capitulates in the name of being that parachurch. As a pastor of a church, I can say without qualification that World Vision is not being the parachurch we need. It is neither creating unity nor honoring the church. Indeed, it is undermining both. Indeed, it is abetting the cultural slide into a moral abyss.
To be clear, Mecklenburg Community Church entered into a partnership with World Vision many years ago as one of our Missions 2.0 partners, specifically related to our efforts in Zambia and the sponsorship of AIDS orphans. We sponsored over 500 children, dug wells, distributed blankets and initiated micro-economic development projects.
World Vision has done so much good, and I’m sure will continue to do so. And we will certainly continue to care for AIDS orphans, but we will search for another partner. World Vision is no longer a parachurch organization I can stand in front of my church and endorse.
But I will give Stearns and the World Vision board credit for pinpointing the crux of the matter. They have faced a new question in recent years: “What do we do about someone who applies for a job at World Vision who is in a legal same-sex marriage that may have been sanctioned and performed by their church?”
World Vision board member, John Crosby, adds: “Many of us support World Vision specifically because of its Christian identity. While there are many other good relief organizations, it’s the faith component of World Vision that makes it distinctive for us. [But] how can we represent ourselves as a Christian organization in such a diverse world? That’s what we’re trying to work through on a daily basis.”
Yes, that is the question.
And what we all are working through on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, World Vision did not work to answer the question, or work through the challenge, adequately. You do not solidify a Christian identity by weakening your Christian convictions.
All to say, since World Vision wants to leave such theological matters to the church, here is my charge as a pastor, professor of theology, and former seminary president:
World Vision needs a worldview that is informed by more than the world.
James Emery White
“World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages,” Celeste Gracey and Jeremy Weber, Christianity Today, March 24, 2014, read online.
For a series of blogs by Dr. White on issues related to homosexuality and gay marriage, click here.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones, is now available for pre-order. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.