I have debated for days now over whether or not I should throw my verbal tuppence into the endless fountain of words that has surrounded World Vision's latest appearance in the news. As somebody who walks by sight not mere faith when it comes to the work that World Vision does on behalf of the poorest people on earth, I'm deeply disturbed by what I've seen this past week.
First, let me lay some groundwork for those unfamiliar with the entire story:
Last week, Christianity Today broke the story that World Vision has changed their hiring policy to permit the hiring of gay people who are in same-sex marriages. Multiple sources have confirmed to me that this change was never intended to be some kind of grand statement on the issue of same-sex marriage but was rather being quietly rolled out on a department-by-department basis. However, when a disgruntled employee contacted Christianity Today with the news that same-sex marriage was now going to be embraced by one of the biggest Christian charity organizations in the world, World Vision had no choice but to make a public statement.
In a nutshell, the statement can be paraphrased like this: World Vision has both supporters and employees from all across the Christian spectrum. Some of these churches represented affirm gay couples and others do not so rather than take sides we’re going to accept that there are good people on both sides of the issue and hire people from both sides of the issue equally. Because really, it’s all about the poor not church politics.
The reaction from the Christian Right to this news was as predictable as it was pointed. Everybody on the spectrum from Franklin Graham to Matt Anderson and even David Cloud expressed outrage or began calling for Christians to drop World Vision support. Apparently unable to withstand the threat of a massive loss of support, World Vision was forced to reverse its policy change and reaffirm traditional marriages as the only ones they would recognize for their employees.
As I read these sweeping condemnations my heart sank because I’ve been on the other side of the world and I’ve seen the joy on the faces of children who found out they are being sponsored. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be one of those kids who suddenly stops hearing from their sponsor and is eventually told they’ll never read a letter or receive a care package from that person again. All this because that sponsor thinks Jesus would rather that child’s spirits be dashed than a married gay person get a job in a charity office.
But I’ll admit that I was equally upset when I heard that people like Rachel Held Evans had been encouraging people to take on child sponsorship BECAUSE of the World Vision policy change. Predictably, the narrative that the pro-marriage-equality crowd took up was (in so many words): the conservatives care more about their politics than they do about the poor so let’s go sponsor kids as a statement of support for World Vision’s new policy! This is no less a terrible motivation for establishing a relationship with a child. Now that World Vision has reversed its position how long will these sponsorships-as-statement withstand?
Rachel at least asked the right question: “who’s this child sponsorship about anyway?”
The answer is that for a whole lot of American Christians our charity is more about us than it is about the needy. If the fact that gay hands wearing a wedding ring might touch your money on its way to heal the sick or feed the hungry is enough to make you stick your cash back in your jeans then shame on you. But by the same token, if a person has the resources and is perfectly aware of the needs in the world, why does it take the opportunity to support a political agenda to make them want to take up the challenge? That kind of charity is hardly charitable.
I suspected that most people from both sides of the aisle never take the time to look at the specifics of where their giving goes and — given the amazing level of sensitivity that has been highlighted this week — perhaps that’s just as well. When you give a dollar to World Vision that money is funneled into a community where the World Vision staff probably don’t look like or believe exactly like the people in your church. They could be anything from the most conservative Catholic to the most effervescent Episcopal. They might drink alcohol. They might be pro-choice. They might even be Socialists. Egads.
What’s more, from those World Vision field offices the projects that are funded are managed via Community Based Organizations where the people involved may not even be Christians. That’s right, folks: Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist hands may touch your money before it cleans one drop of water, plants one seed, or teaches one child to read.
And that’s ok.
Because giving isn’t about you and your agendas. And it’s not about me and mine. And it’s not about the hundred thousand virtual words spilled on the Internet this week as Christians who should know better engage in the perpetual Game of Stones hurled back and forth. Its not even about Franklin, or David, or Rachel. It’s about the call to meet the physical needs of people who are struggling on the edge of despair.
Feeding the hungry. Clothing the naked. Healing the Sick. Sound familiar?
So here’s the deal: if you have it in your heart to make a difference in a life, then sponsor a child through whichever organization you think has the best chance of making a difference in that child’s life. I’m still recommending that you do it through World Vision because I know they get results. Real lives are saved. Real children get hope. I’ve been there and I’ve seen it.
If, on the other hand, your charity is about pride, or politics, or some kind of personal agenda then take that money on your next trip to the mall and save some child the future heartache of being abandoned so that you can make a statement or when the statement you were trying to make is no longer valid. Maybe somebody else will help that kid. Maybe.
I don’t remember Jesus treating the poor like pawns in his religious game. It’s a pity so many of his followers have different priorities.