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

  • Gorbotsky

    You have assumed that World Vision sponsored children are the direct recipients of benefits resulting from their being sponsored. That’s not how it works. World Vision has area development projects (ADP) that span whole villages or entire communities and all the people in those communities benefit from World Vision’s sponsorship of that area development project. That is what sponsorship underwrites. World Vision puts a face on the ADP by portraying the faces and names of some of the children who will benefit. It’s not dishonest, they’re trying to be personal.

    It’s not right to impose guilt on people by inferring that children are somehow doing without whenever a child sponsor removes their support. That’s not the case. World Vision will not close an area development project that is being supported by dozens or hundreds of donors because a few of the sponsors of children in that particular ADP have cancelled their support. For various reasons, child sponsors cancel support every single day and World Vision doesn’t close shop in that ADP. They have already provided continuity of support for that contingency. So, 2,000 sponsors removed their support. You imply that those who did remove their sponsorship dealt a “big blow” to World Vision. This also is incorrect. Although the life-time donor value of 2,000 sponsors is a lot of money, it still represents under 1% of World Vision’s budget. Don’t you think they have made provisions for a revenue shortfall? I know they have.

    As for sticking with your commitment, World Visions’ own commitment to donors is that you can cancel or change your sponsorship at any time. So, please, not another guilt trip.

    A charity must earn the right to ask for, and to receive a donor’s support. Donors are part of the moral ownership of any charity and no charity can exist apart from the support of donors. World Vision U.S. have themselves admitted that they should have been more diligent in seeking opinions from stakeholders….like donors.

    There are many choices out there if you want to sponsor a child. One must assume that many donors choose to support World Vision because they are an ostensibly Christian organization. Trust takes a long time to earn, and only a short time to damage. World Vision leadership knows this. They’ve done the analysis. They are savvy and know full well that Christian donors sponsor children for the longest period of time and are the most generous donors compared to other donor groups. They just did the math and performed their awkward 180 degree pirouette before any real revenue damage occurred.

    As for your point that you needn’t score a public blow against your ideological opponents, I agree. Venting on Facebook does NOBODY any good. However, deeds speak and if World Vision donors decided to vote with their pocketbooks, they have every right, and it looks like World Vision listened. Why do you have a problem with this?

  • Greg Marsh

    Hi Tim

    Thanks for a well-balanced summary of a very unfortunate situation.

    As I posted on a different blog, my frustration or disappointment with the World Vision leadership is that they caved / reversed themselves so quickly.

    I presume that the WV leadership would have prayed about the decision – in part because I am confident prayer is an ongoing central element of any Christian organization and because this particular decision (probably more than many others) needed the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    If leadership felt the Holy Spirit was guiding them to this decision then it is essential that they stick to this path and allow God to provide for whatever financial hits and other fallouts that might arise from their prayer-based decision.

    The fact that the decision was reversed in only two days looks like spiritual weakness (regardless of whether or not that was the case) and poor business planning and management (whether or not that was the case.)

    One area where I do disagree with you was your chastisement of non-conservative Christians for their condemnation of those Christian who withdrew support of World Vision.

    At every juncture and at all time Christians must ask if their thoughts, deeds and words are helping or hurting the cause of Christ. I feel, without the slightest hesitation, that this highest calling of ours – to further God’s work by being a light to the lost – was further damaged by the actions of these right-wing Christians.

    It is therefore imperative that we Followers of Jesus publicly call out those who are damaging the Christian brand, hurting God and in many ways compromising Jesus’ suffering and death.

    The reason that the Christian brand is so damaged is because in the name of unity or apathy or cowardliness we have not criticized and distinguished between those Christians who love God and love their neighbours as themselves and those Christians who act, talk and waddle like Pharisees.

    As a result we are all seen as un-loving, self-serving hypocrites.

    God deserves better than that.

    Again Tim, thanks for your article.


  • richard benoit

    i know that the mighty will fall, this happens over and over, at one point the W V team where full of the Holy spirit. but corruption hits everyone, as history shows. will we ever learn . I know that this is only a phase in there grater achievements that God as bless them to do.

  • richard benoit

    understanding God purpose is beyond me but only a few make it through the narrow path or 10% of those who have read the scriptures. referring to the parable of the farmer who spread is seeds on four different type of christian. Leaving only 25% saved also 40% of world population are somewhat believe in Christ, so making it 10% of world population are saved although it is God will that they are all saved? Me I see corruption everywhere, let the church Have the guts to separate, and see who God blesses. Let the games begin those who obey God’s will or those who put in to the test, this means playing games with the children of the world or at there expense, everyone suffers. God is not for sale ,many put a sign around God’s neck and proclaim having all the answers. If God is on your side you will be bless.Satan’s job is to destroy humanity at all cost and is first place to hit in town is the church many people avoid it because they see who is in charge they sold there soul before they try to sale you God. If only there was a church that actually loved God for real and not with there lips or songs. There always a few good soul in every church but a few bad ones can push believers away asking for perfection can be frustrating, but really tell that that you know that some of this so called christian have Satan as there father.? let the truth be told and the war begin but it as already started a long time ago.


  • wendy

    To my understanding, 10,000 people pulled their sponsorship dollars – not 2,000.

  • Al Hiebert

    The TWU law school is more in the news in 2014 than the World Vision US March 24 & 26 statements on their staff expectations on marriage. Before March 24 & after March 26 World Vision US was in accord with TWU’s Community Covenant Agreement which includes “In keeping with biblical and TWU ideals, community members voluntarily abstain from the following actions: …sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

    Unfortunately this CW article on the World Vision US March 24 & 26 statements says nothing about this. Might that suggest that the writer and this periodical stand on the side of the TWU law school critics, or are you simply choosing not to speak to the core new position that World Vision US held for all of 2 days? And where does World Vision Canada stand on this matter? Can we speak truth in love? Or do we prefer to scold yet again?

  • Ken Godevenos

    No man can serve two masters. I believe World Vision out of its own desire to keep on growing and not lose any opportunity for more sponsors, decided to serve two masters. My recommendation is that you serve only One and then let Him worry about the consequence — for yourself, your organization, and yes, even the children. He can handle it. What He does not like is you trying to change His thinking on what He’s already put in the Book for your convenience and doing things your way. We can all learn from this. And to World Vision, I would add, “Never mind more public opinion next time around; just stick to the Scriptures.”

    • Greg Marsh

      Hi Ken

      I’ve read your post three times. I believe you are saying (since you weren’t explicit in your statement) that WV was wrong to hire gay Christians to work for their ministry and that you feel they did this to grow their ministry by attracting secular or gay-supporting donors. I hope I interpreted your post correctly.

      My challenge with your view (and those of many others who are condemning WV for their decision to hire gay Christians) is where in Scripture do you find your support for your opposition to gay Christians. Certainly not in John 3:16; certainly not anywhere in the Gospels. I don’t feel avowed Christians are to pick and choose which Scriptures we use to support a case and position and which to ignore. I believe Jesus’ words should be our guide.

      Jesus preached grace, love and not judging. I would appreciate it if you would please explain how your stance reconciles with Jesus’ teachings and, again, which Scriptures you feel supports your view.

      Thanks Ken


      • Ken Godevenos

        Thanks Greg for writing and for your gentleness. First of all, Christians are to love homosexuals period. Second I do believe that a person with homosexual tendencies can be a Christian but not a practicing one, any more than a heterosexual Christians can be a practicing adulterer. The issue for me is not how we treat homosexuals as much as it is what do we as any organization stand for. Thanks Greg.

      • Guest

        Mark 7:21 Sexual immorality in a jewish culture meant what was spoken of by God in the Law. Homosexuality, bestiality and so forth. I assume you need it to be directly from Jesus’ mouth as all throughout the bible it is either forbidden outright as in the law or by reference. Jesus never said bestiality was wrong asides from a reference to the law on sexual immorality.

  • Edgar Schroeder

    Many Christians leaders and Christians make serious judgement errors believing they are doing Gods will being lead by the Spirit, when they may of been lead astray by other motives. As Christians if we see a brother ere in his ways we must try in love to get his attention and show why we believe from a biblical perspective why they are in the wrong. This really shows we care rather than to ignore it and avoid doing nothing which to many Christians do. I rather congratulate WV on reversing their position as it take humility to say yes we were wrong, rather than to stick to your guns and ignore what other spirit filled believers and invested donors have to say. The business world practices this without to much judgement. And unless you are a sponsor yourself do not critique the actions of those that decide to speak with finances as this unfortunately is sometimes the only way organizations listen. And if you are a sponsor you must make sure the organization is keeping faithful to who they claim to be and do.

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