Aguiang Agnes, a teacher, holds textbooks donated by World Vision Canada to students at Tubur Primary School, Tubur, Uganda. Photo by Gary Dowd, World Vision Canada.

The gospel suffers when Christians “play to type”

A response to World Vision USA

The March 24 decision of the American arm of World Vision to broaden its definition of marriage for its hiring policy and its abrupt reversal just two days later continues to reverberate beyond the borders of the United States. What strikes me is just how everyone publicly involved has thus far “played to type.”

Let’s start with World Vision’s leadership. The first action was the result of a “courageous” decision. The scare quotes are on purpose. In perhaps the best political satire of all time, Sir Humphrey Appleby, a senior civil servant, continually needs to remind his minister, Jim Hacker, that “courageous” decisions are ones that lose votes, and possibly elections. Of course, the only thing more annoying than the “courageous” decision was the flip-flop. Was no one savvy enough to see how this would play out before it was announced?

Now we can move to the culture warriors. Great. You struck a blow for biblical morality by cancelling 2,000 World Vision sponsorships. That’s a big blow to World Vision’s budget, and your voice was heard loud and clear.

But it was also a big blow to needy people around the world, not just sponsored children, but their families and villages who benefit from the support. And transferring from one charity to another doesn’t remedy the fact that, at least for a while, the children who were supported will now do without. Was it worth it?

Then there was the reaction of the Christian left. They denounced the former group as heartless fundamentalists. Cruel evangelicals who know only the political power of the pocketbook. Sweeping generalizations made about a movement that numbers in the hundreds of millions globally because of the stupid actions of 2,000.

One commenter entitled her piece, “How evangelicals won a culture war and lost a generation.” I’m not sure how one would test the second half of that claim.

But, when one has an opinion constantly in search of justifying events in order to publish it one more time, well… Frankly the schadenfreude and pompous self-congratulation in many of these pieces was almost as disheartening as the crowing of the culture warriors. How does piling on help?

As I look at the situation—and as a Canadian conservative serving a liberal denomination with two World Vision (Canada) kids on the go and one graduated from the program, I don’t fit tidily into any “camp”—all I pray for is some sort of divine time-out for everyone.

Here are some lessons I draw: First, develop leaders with foresight, and if a “courageous” decision needs to be made, the courage to see that decision through.

Second, when you make a promise, keep it; if you, as a matter of conscience, must withdraw your support from a charity that is your privilege. But do it in a way that doesn’t harm vulnerable people (e.g., write a letter, end your support after your current obligations, whether explicit or implied, are fulfilled, and then switch to a different charity). That might mean you don’t get to strike a public blow for your cause. But so what?

And third, publicly picking on the silly actions of your ideological opponents does not, in fact, help the cause of Christ. So don’t do it.

But here’s the most important lesson of all. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone bids you go a mile, walk with him for two. If someone takes your cloak, give him your sweater also. Pray for your enemies and do good to those who despitefully use you.

On every side and at every level, there was a failure to enact the gospel. And all of us who played to type have given people with lists long enough another reason to ignore the gospel. Somewhere Uncle Screwtape is laughing. Shame on us all.

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About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Tim Perry is rector at Church of the Epiphany in Sudbury, Ontario. He blogs about theology, religion, politics and sometimes the blues at texasflood.ca.