I’ve never been as ashamed of my evangelical roots as I’ve been this past week. Although I am currently a Lutheran with fairly liberal leanings on social issues, nothing ever has been more important to me than loving God and loving my neighbors on earth as a demonstration of that love.
As an infant, I was baptized in a small Methodist church in Cambridge, Wisconsin. I went to Sunday school, church, Sunday evening service, and midweek prayer service every week of my life (unless I was sick) until I left Cambridge to go to college. I went to Malone College, a Quaker liberal arts college in Ohio for a year, after which I transferred to Wheaton College where I graduated in 1970. Billy Graham was our commencement speaker. You can’t get more evangelical than that!
I’ve always been thankful for my conservative Christian upbringing. Even though some of my beliefs have evolved as I have grown in my faith – through life experiences, through relationships with people who believe differently from me, and through studying God’s Word and other writings, I still have a profound faith in the love and kindness of God. My conservative Christian beginnings provided strong roots from which I have been able to branch out and learn more and more about the love of God. I’m thankful for these roots.
But then last week happened. World Vision changed one of its internal personnel policies. World Vision is the largest Christian charitable organization in this country. It is the organization that has created the means that enables thousands of individuals to personally sponsor children, one by one, to provide some of the poorest children in the world with food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, and companionship – direct communication with a person who cares about them enough to provide for their basic needs. Thousands of caring people worldwide sponsor these children, one on one. My mom was among the sponsors. When she passed away, Mim and I continued to sponsor her little girl. More recently, Mim and I have periodically made donations to World Vision for some of their other humanitarian efforts, particularly after major natural disasters. Because World Vision already has networks in place worldwide to care for the needs of their sponsored children and their communities, they are particularly well-suited to provide immediate aid following natural disasters.
The personnel policy that World Vision changed is that they would no longer disqualify applicants for employment who were legally married to someone of the same sex – someone like Mim and me. In announcing this change in policy, the president of World Vision said they were not condoning same-sex marriage by this policy change. They realize the issue is very controversial, particularly among churches. The president said World Vision is not in the position to resolve controversial theological issues. They would leave that matter up to the churches. Some churches support same-sex marriage. Some don’t. World Vision would not get involved in a debate on the issue. World Vision is focused on uniting Christians to work together to address the needs of the poorest of the poor, not on resolving theological differences.
What makes me ashamed of being identified with evangelicals is the way many evangelicals reacted to this policy change by World Vision. Thousands of sponsors in the worldwide network of sponsors providing life-saving aid to poor children withdrew their monthly support because of this internal employee policy change. Apparently, standing firm on this controversial political issue is more important to thousands of evangelicals than keeping a personal commitment to a poor little girl or boy to continue to provide food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, and companionship to her or him.
My heart sank when I heard of this mass exodus of support. I just can’t understand how thousands of evangelicals can be so obsessed with condemning “homosexual behavior” – something Jesus never even mentioned (at least nothing is recorded in the Gospels) – that they would allow a poor little girl or boy to starve rather than allow someone like me to work for World Vision to help feed these children. Clearly Jesus’ priority was to care for the children, not to judge our co-workers.
Mim and I talked about this, and then I went onto the World Vision website to make a one-time donation to be used wherever it is most needed to help them through this crisis. We’ve started to talk about sponsoring a child again, but we haven’t made a commitment yet.
Then we heard the news. The evangelicals have succeeded in bullying World Vision to reverse its employee policy. Rather than let thousands of children be abandoned by their sponsors, World Vision backed down on its policy change. The bullies made them choose between standing firm with their inclusive new policy and losing thousands of sponsors, or sacrificing their new policy for the sake of the poor children who would lose their sponsors.
My heart sank again. The evangelical bullies had won. I’m truly ashamed of evangelicals, at least the bullies among them. I feel so sorry for the leaders and employees of World Vision. If this story were in the Bible, I would describe it as another one of those awful Bible stories I wrote about a couple weeks ago, a story where a decision must be made, and there are no good choices.
But personally, I still have choices. I can continue to support World Vision for its humanitarian efforts wherever natural and man-made disasters happen. They are God’s well-trained, efficient, and caring hands on earth for providing help in disasters.
However, I don’t know if I’ll choose to sponsor a child through World Vision again, or if I’ll look to another charitable organization for that, one that’s less vulnerable to bullying by evangelicals.