It took only two days for World Vision USA to reverse its decision to allow employment opportunities with the organisation to people married to same-sex partners. WV USA President Richard Stearns today made a statement including these words:
“We listened to [our] friends, we listened to their counsel. They tried to point out in loving ways that the conduct policy change was simply not consistent … with the authority of Scripture and how we apply Scripture to our lives. We did inadequate consultation with our supporters. If I could have a do-over on one thing, I would have done much more consultation with Christian leaders.”
Stearns’ statement on behalf of the board follows a number of senior church leaders in the USA expressing dismay at the original decision, and a string of supporters deciding that they would pull their monies and put them elsewhere. Stearns went on to say:
“What we are affirming today is there are certain beliefs that are so core to our Trinitarian faith that we must take a strong stand on those beliefs,” said Stearns. “We cannot defer to a small minority of churches and denominations that have taken a different position.”
Whilst it would appear that Stearns’ role as President is now untenable, what is of most interest is the manner in which Stearns describes why the decision was made. In referring to those denominations that affirm same sex marriage as an appropriate Christian position to take and practice, Stearns calls them “a small minority of churches”.
This is a massive turnaround from the comments he made just two days ago when he stated:
“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.”
What today’s reversal admits is that, actually, there STILL IS a lot of unity among churches on this issue, an issue upon which there has been unity in the church throughout time and space. And which, in the larger picture of the global church, there still is. It would be interesting to see the demographic make up and size of those churches even within the United States who have shifted markedly on this issue. I suspect that there is a lot of noise coming from a rather small section of the church, funnelled through a media that pretty much takes it for granted that the church has to change on this one or die.
The truth is the churches that are changing on this one are generally dying – as in ageing and declining in number. Age goes up, attendance goes down. It’s a pattern – check it out. Such denominations’ championing of same-sex marriage as a valid perspective of what the Bible teaches on marriage isn’t causing them to die, it is simply proof that they are dying.
Of course it is more complex than that, but it looks like Stearns and the board got stared down by the wider culture, before realising their mistake and backing off. But what it also points out is the inherent danger of Christian groups coming adrift from the umbrella of the church. Para-church organisations do much good, and here’s hoping World Vision USA continues to do good to all people who are suffering – straight, gay or bi. But the board’s initial statement that it will leave doctrinal matters to the church and get on with serving the poor is naive. Doctrine and practice go hand in hand. The early church in the Roman Empire saw no need to alter its credo “Jesus is Lord” in order to better serve the needs of both its poor and the pagan poor around it. And it faced far more pressure to conform that any modern Western Christian does.
Organisations don’t just serve in the name of Jesus – as if Jesus were a funnel down which to pour any meaning they like – they serve the crucified, risen, ascended, reigning and returning Son of God, second Person of the Trinity, who modelled to us what servant leadership and concern for the poor looked like, giving up glory in heaven to go to the cross as a ransom for our sin to do so. That string of theological statements alone should get us all off our chairs and serving others and giving sacrificially out of sheer gratitude.
And another thing: Perhaps this will be the decision that tips USAID over the edge and instead of “strongly recommend[ing]” that religious organisations remove any employment barriers or face cuts from federal funding, go to the Supreme Court and force them to remove those barriers. Perhaps such religiously affiliated groups will have to fend for themselves without government funding. Well, that’s ok isn’t it? In fact it’s probably what will happen sooner or later throughout the Western world as governments implement anti-discrimination laws, er, indiscriminately. That will be the point at which the Western church, awash with cash, can take the decision to tighten its belt, stop being so enraptured with money ( a sin condemned as frequently in the Bible as sexual sin) and fund the shortfall. And for every same-sex marriage supporter who pledged to give to WV USA, who now reverses their decision because WV reverses theirs, perhaps those who opposed the original decision can pick up the slack. That would be the godly thing to do. That would demonstrate true compassion. And it would be a chance to put one’s strong theological convictions into costly practice, the very thing that the World Vision organisation committed itself to when it began some 64 years ago.