Yesterday I received an email from a friend that stated “Yet another reason that I am increasingly distancing myself from conservative evangelicalism.” He then included a link to an article by “Matthew Lee Anderson” titled “On whether Christians should keep supporting World Vision“. So I read the article.
My first thought was: “Is this article intended to be a biting satire of conservative evangelical ethical discourse?” So I scanned the comments. But nobody seemed to be getting the joke. I concluded that Matthew Lee Anderson was serious. (Since I have interacted with him on the blog thread, I now know he’s serious.)
So why would Anderson suggest that Christians should stop supporting World Vision, a development agency dedicated to helping the world’s poor, with a special focus on children, community development and disaster relief, and which gets a solid three stars on CharityNavigator.org?
The reason, Anderson explains, is because “World Vision USA has altered their employee handbook to allow them to hire members of committed same-sex unions.”
Yes indeed folks, a changed position on same-sex unions is the catalyst to consider withholding support from World Vision, its child aid, community development and disaster relief. As Anderson says,
“I want to focus on the decision which many conscientious Christians who deeply disagree with World Vision USA’s decision now face: should they continue on supporting the child that they had been, or should they send their donations elsewhere?”
Of course, the conscientious evangelical Christian who is a child sponsor will face a rather embarrassing obstacle at the outset: would Jesus really want you to stop sending money to little Jennifer Ajego because of World Vision’s changed policy on gay unions? Anderson provides a first response to alleviate the troubled evangelical conscience:
“As with many organizations, the funds an individual contributes in support of a child do not go to that child directly. They are “pooled” and sent to support the community which the child lives in.”
So you don’t have to feel as guilty when you cut off Jennifer Ajego because you’re not really cutting her off. Rather, you’re cutting off thirty bucks to her village. Anderson concedes, however, that “if individuals withdrew their support en masse a significant impact would be felt.”
But then he quickly adds that “the effect of pooling funds means that responsibility is pooled as well.” (emphasis added) As best I can interpret this, Anderson is suggesting that any culpability resulting from an unplanned mass boycott of an African village will be shared collectively by all who participate in the boycott. And this should provide some sort of solace for those worried that their protest might inadvertently place them within such a boycott. (Perhaps by now you can see why I initially took this article for satire. All this hand-wringing simply to try and work oneself into the mindset that it’s okay to punish an African village for an American NGO’s policy change on gay marriage.)
However, even if your decision won’t hit Jennifer Ajego directly and her village still survives your moral protest, there is one other uncomfortable implication of your moral stand: it represents the end of your relationship with young Jennifer. As Anderson recognizes, many supporters of World Vision develop close relationships with their official “sponsor children”, writing letters and sending gifts over the years. (I have a friend who recently travelled from Canada to The Philippines to participate in her sponsor child’s graduation from high school. I know another couple who recently visited their sponsor children in Peru.) A moral protest against World Vision would entail the end of this relationship since World Vision is the intermediary.
Anderson makes two points in reply. First, he notes that difficult though this may be, it may simply be necessary to sacrifice that relationship for the sake of taking a moral stand against World Vision’s pro-gay stance:
“Prioritizing the relationship with the child in the decision about whether to withdraw support or not locates the financial considerations in their appropriate position: as important, but by no means all-important.”
In addition, Anderson suggests that one should blame World Vision for the ending of your relationship with Jennifer Ajego:
“All this could be mitigated, of course, if World Vision USA opened up pathways for people to continue to correspond and send packages to children without sending money to World Vision USA itself. Such a possibility would allow for many people to keep up the kind of support they prefer to give directly, without necessarily entangling them in supporting a ministry that they (rightly) think has made a decision that is deeply inconsistent with the Gospel it has taken upon itself to proclaim.”
Finally, Anderson outlines how, after you’ve cut off Jennifer Ajego, you can find a new Christian charity to support in its place, one that has the right position on gay marriage. He explicitly mentions two: Food for the Hungry and Compassion International.
Oh, and be sure to let World Vision know why you’re cutting them (and Jennifer) out of your charitable giving. But you must remember that “Angry, belligerent emails and phone calls are not a Christian mode of response.” Let them know, but do it with Christian love.
So what should we think of this? In reply, I’ll make three points.
Stop supporting World Vision … but not Starbucks?
Let me start by offering a caveat to those inclined to take Anderson’s advice. If you cut Jennifer Ajego and World Vision out of your charitable giving, be sure to cut Starbucks out of your coffee budget since they’ve been on record supporting gay marriage since 2012. (See here and here.) You see, it would look rather bad if you were willing to cut off the poor based on your high moral principles, but not willing to do the same for your favorite espresso beverage.
And be sure you do the same for Apple, Target, Disney, Ford, Levi-Strauss, Microsoft, Amazon.com, The Home Depot, Expedia.com, The Gap, Pepsi, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Macy’s, Walgreens, et cetera. Because how bad would it look to cut off Jennifer Ajego while still driving your F-150 and allowing your daughter to dress up as a Disney princess?
I can anticipate the excuse that will be proffered as to why World Vision should not be supported while our dollars can still go to these other “secular” companies. World Vision purports to be a Christian organization, and as such they have perverted the gospel with their most recent stance. Thus, the issue is not simply their stand on homosexuality, but their perversion of the gospel. That seems to be suggested by Anderson’s claim that World Vision has taken a stand “that is deeply inconsistent with the Gospel it has taken upon itself to proclaim.”
The first commenter in the discussion thread seems to stake out a position like this as well:
Continued support for Jennifer Ajego could take you down “a very toxic rabbit trail”. Who would have guessed that helping the poor could be so … dangerous?
So far as I can see, folks like Anderson and Anucia Maldosa don’t expect a moral stance against Starbucks, Apple, Target, Disney, Ford, Levi-Strauss, Microsoft, Amazon.com, The Home Depot, Expedia.com, The Gap, Pepsi, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Macy’s, Walgreens etc. because these organizations are not Christian and thus are not perverting the Gospel with their pro-gay stance. By contrast, it is right to boycott a Christian charitable organization World Vision because they are perverting the Gospel.
This raises an obvious question: just what is the gospel? In the words of Paul, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) According to Jesus, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) So I take it that if you want to talk Gospel, works of righteousness carried out for the poor and oppressed in the name of the crucified (and risen) Christ brings us right to the heart of the Gospel.
Gay marriage is an important and difficult ethical issue. So is abortion. And artificial reproductive technology. And gene therapy. And just war. And factory farms. And all sorts of other things. And it is really important to think hard about these issues. But does your position on any one of them stand at the very heart of the Gospel? No.
(And yes, it is endlessly ironic for a website called “mereorthodoxy.com” to take a stand on what the Gospel is which is so very far from mere orthodoxy.)
Boycott Compassion International?
As I noted above, Anderson suggests that one might shift their support from World Vision to Compassion International. This raises an interesting problem. You see, I spoke with a Compassion representative just this morning and she was unaware of any policy that precludes Compassion from hiring folks who have been divorced (for reasons other than covenantal unfaithfulness) and then remarried whilst the former spouse is still alive. This despite the fact that such behavior is, according to the very words of Jesus, adultery: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)
So far as I can see, then, it appears that Compassion is willing to hire people who, according to the very teaching of Jesus, are in adulterous relationships. I take it that the acceptance of adultery among one’s employees is at least as bad as the acceptance of monogamous homosexual relationships. Consequently, I would think that if we stop supporting World Vision, it is inadvisable to offer Compassion as an alternative.
Now I would suggest you go out and find a Christian NGO that does take a principled stand in their hiring policy based on Matthew 19:9. Good luck with that.
The closing word goes to Jesus (Mark 9:38-41)
38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”