This whole flip-flop fiasco with World Vision (declaring one day that they’ll employee abstinent or married gay people and then reversing the decision two days later) just makes me sad. I wrote a piece about it for Church Marketing Sucks, but it’s primarily from a communication lens, exploring how World Vision tried to [rightly] focus on their mission of helping kids in poverty but in the process forgot that very mission. In short, they ended up in a fight about gay people instead of helping kids in poverty.
I think that was a tragic miscue, and I’m curious if more will come out about how this situation went down. Tony Jones claims to have the inside scoop from “unnamed sources” at World Vision (which sounds all cloak and dagger, though in this social media age that sounds totally reasonable), that basically this had been a multi-year process roll out but a leak to Christianity Today forced their hand.
However it went down, it’s unfortunate. Rather than taking a stand on LGBT issues, World Vision was trying to opt out of the discussion so they could be focused on more important things. I think that’s commendable. The fact that opting out was vehemently rejected is shameful. We’re not talking about a church, a pastor or a theological publisher—somebody dealing with theology where a stand on sexuality might actually be important. We’re talking about child sponsorship. We’re not even talking about affirming gay marriage, we’re talking about avoiding a fight.
I’m convinced that LGBT issues are going to continue to rip the church apart until either we figure out how to handle this or there’s nothing left. Actual LGBT people are hurting and struggling with their faith, and we’re too busy arguing about whether or not it’s OK to employ them. Other people see this as one more reason to walk away from the church.
A few months back I heard a story on the radio that just nailed the predicament the church is in. Scott Cooper is a gay football player from a conservative church who wanted to go into ministry. He changed those plans and came out to his family and friends:
“I describe myself as a ‘recovering Lutheran’ and that means I can’t tell you where I’m at in my religious and spiritual journey. I have feelings of hurt. I don’t hate the church, but I hate how it made me feel. My mom always worries about my relationship with God and I tell her it’s better now than it ever has been.” [emphasis mine]
We need to come to grips with this.
Part of the problem, I’m convinced, is that in today’s polarized society, we’ve forgotten how to disagree. “When did the church become a place where we had to believe the exact same thing on everything or else we couldn’t be in community together?” says Pastor Pete Wilson in the book Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.
Blogger Jen Hatmaker reminds us that the church has been wrong before and some humility is needed: “The church has never, not for one millisecond of its entire history, been right about everything. This sobering fact should give us pause and inject some much needed humility into our ethos.”
I’m also reminded of the response Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber heard when she found herself once again sorting people into two camps: “Nadia, the thing that sucks is that every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.” Nadia’s response? “Damn.” (Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint)
What really scares me is that the lesson from World Vision is that we can’t even opt out of the debate. That kind of refusal to disagree, the “my way or the highway” sentiment is not healthy. I can only hope there’s a path forward somewhere down the road. But I’m not seeing it yet.