Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Blurry World Vision

Earlier this week World Vision announced a controversial decision to allow homosexual men and women in so called "marriage" relationships to be eligible to work as paid employees at World Vision.  The specifics of the decision and the firestorm that followed have been covered elsewhere.  The purpose of this post is to comment on the agency's reversal of its new policy...two days after it was announced.

First, we should be thankful to leaders within conservative evangelicalism for a seemingly unanimous voice of concern.  Nationally prominent figures wrote open letters, published articles, and used various social and traditional media outlets to express their concern.  Major denominations instructed (or urged, depending on polity) its members to withdraw support from World Vision.  Individual contributors withdrew financial support and understandably so.

I can only imagine that numerous personal calls and other contacts were made.  Biblical confrontation and Scriptural rebuke are never easy.  National leaders and prominent pastors who privately and publicly contacted leaders at World Vision are to be commended to the Lord for their stand for Biblical truth.

Second, we should be grateful that the policy was reversed.  It was an unscriptural and ungodly example of moral compromise of the worst sort.  Any time a person, entity, or institution turns from sin and error, there is cause to be thankful.  I certainly am.

Third, we should commend World Vision for reversing its policy and using the language of repentance.  World Vision could have issued a vague mea culpa but instead released a statement that expressed regret, sorrow, and a request for forgiveness.  The document affirmed a Biblical view of marriage and sexual purity.  Although it could have been more specific, the press release was not designed to be a theological treatise on the family in general or on homosexuality specifically.

In short, there is much in their reaction that is commendable and we should thank the Lord for His work in the lives of leaders at World Vision.  This could not be overstated.

At the same time, there are a few reasons for pause before we simply hit the "reset" button and consider the matter closed.  Before citing those reasons let me illustrate them with a fictitious example.

Pastor Bob leads the Bible Fellowship Church, a historic conservative, Bible-believing congregation.  One Sunday he announces to the congregation that he is interviewing Sally Smith for the vacant position of director of children's ministry.  Sally is well known in the community for her lesbian lifestyle.  She deems herself to be "married" to a woman named Jennifer.

Immediately after the service, the deacons and elders hold an impromptu meeting.  Their Biblical concerns are obvious and unwavering.  The phones of the deacons, elders, and personnel team members ring "off the hook" all afternoon.

In the evening service, a spontaneous motion calling for the pastor's termination is roundly applauded before being ruled out of order based simply on a bylaw that requires 7 days' notice for such a motion.

On Monday, the pastor's office is filled with faithful members and supporters of the church vowing to seek his termination.  Monday night's hastily-called church council meeting begins at 6pm and concludes at 11:45pm.

On Tuesday, word has spread throughout the community.  A group of concerned pastor friends wants to meet with Pastor Bob.  They share their deeply held convictions and urge Bob to repent and reverse his announced decision to interview an open lesbian for a ministry position at the church.

On Tuesday night, Pastor Bob announces that he apparently had not sought enough counsel over his decision to possibly hire Sally.  He has reversed his decision.  Sally will no longer be a candidate for the position.

When the church gathers for mid-week services on Wednesday, still buzzing from the preceding 2 days' events, they are told, "Pastor Bob repented.  Pastor Bob made a mistake.  Our calls for Biblical fidelity worked.  Let's rejoice and move on.”

In such a scenario most of my close friends would say, “Not so fast.”  And they would be right.  Similarly, discerning believers should not move too quickly from this week’s fiasco at World Vision.

First, several phrases in the apology letter are troubling on their face.  World Vision writes, "We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.  We ask that you understand that this was never the board's intent."

Wait a minute, World Vision.  You adopted a policy that required single heterosexual employees to remain pure and celibate but allowed "married" homosexuals to be employed...and never intended this policy to violate a strong commitment to Biblical authority?  Personally, this is a case where the explanation (in some ways) makes me feel less comfortable than I was before it was offered.

World Vision also writes that it has now chosen "to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman."  Writing that they are "revert[ing]" to that policy is an admission that the policy announced on Monday allowed sexual "unfaithfulness" and a violation of the Biblical covenant of marriage.

This is instructive language because World Vision continues by stating, "We failed to seek enough counsel..."  Exactly how much counsel should a major Christian organization have to seek on such a matter?  Aside from the fact, seeking counsel of any amount on violating a clear command of God's moral law is problematic per se.

One national leader within my own denomination was quick to suggest that anyone who questioned the reversal by World Vision is playing the part of the infamous "elder brother."  Not only is that analogy a misuse of the beloved parable from Luke 15, it's a faulty comparison based on the facts.

If the Father had told the son, "You can go but you're not getting any money," and the son had stood on the porch for two days before deciding not to leave for the far country after all, then we'd be looking at a more consistent analogy.  Even in that case, we should REJOICE that the brother didn't ruin his life in the pig pen.  But we would be naive and foolish to just assume that the problem of his prodigal heart was resolved.

As a pastor, if a staff member asked me about hiring an open homosexual as the staff member's associate, I would say, "no."  Then I would tell the staff member to clean out his office.  Even if he withdrew his request, the request itself reveals a lack of Biblical conviction.  A crumbling of his own moral code and Scriptural fidelity would have necessarily preceded such a request.

Similarly, the unbiblical policy proposed on Monday by World Vision was a symptom of a deadly cancer within the organization itself.  It can be cured.  Praise God it can be cured!  But we mustn't declare the organization to be in remission simply because the fever has broken and the swelling has subsided.  The disease that produced the symptom potentially remains.

World Vision made a conscious decision to vacate Biblical truth on one of the core moral issues of our day.  And the fact that they didn't intend to vacate Biblical truth by Monday's policy actually reveals the problem is deeper than anyone might have expected.


So brothers and sisters, let's rejoice that the agency made a wise reversal and the troubling symptom is gone.  But for their sake and Jesus' sake, let's not assume the patient is cured.