The World Vision kerfuffle

World Vision’s same-sex marriage flip-flop this week would have been unthinkable twenty years ago.

My impression is that it’s been under-covered journalistically, but Terry Mattingly says that at least Christianity Today (which is no longer on my regular reading list) covered it. Also:

Note the reference to the “international operating budget of nearly $1 billion.” Question: Where does most of that money come from? How much of it is from religious groups, how much is from donors and, crucial point, how many of those dollars now come from private foundations and government sources that may be lobbying for the modernization of any nasty old doctrines that define World Vision’s mission? Trust me, there is a story there. The World Vision showdown is not about secularists opposing religious people. It’s a story — from the viewpoint of many government leaders and journalists — about good Christians with modernized doctrines striving to cause reform among the bad Christians who are in part (repeat, “in part”) defined by, well, 2,000 years of Christian doctrine on sexuality, family and marriage.

(Terry Mattingly) Still, how can this happen:

The agency had announced Monday that its board had prayed for years about whether to hire Christians in same-sex marriages as churches took different stands on recognizing gay relationships. World Vision says its staff members come from dozens of denominations with varied views on the issue.

followed just 24 hours later by this?:

The aid group told supporters in a letter that the board had made a mistake and was returning to its policy requiring celibacy outside of marriage “and faithfulness within the Bible covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.” “We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness,” the agency said in the letter, signed by World Vision president Richard Stearns and board chairman Jim Bere.

This story ought to be driving serious Evangelicals to serious thinking about their roots, the firmness of their real foundation. Instead, we get Andrew Walker at First Things exulting that

Evangelicalism did triage this week, and did it well. We saw through the malaise (sic) of theological indifferentism and insisted that while evangelicalism remains a big tent, at some point, the canopy ends.

The exulting seems facile to me, though I confess that trying to read Evangelicals arguing with one another over this makes me realize that I’ve become almost incapable of understanding their manner of speech. Not that I disagree necessarily, but that I see English words stream  by my eyes on the page but cannot apprehend, or can barely apprehend, a coherent thought behind it. (If you can translate Walker for me, I’d appreciate it. Really.) So I am genuinely uncertain what Walker means except “horray for our team!,” or as they say at Yale

Boola, Boola; Boola, Boola; Boola, Boola; …

Then Walker adds this:

In each age, intellectual surrender and compromise has stood before the church, yet she keeps on going. The faith persists. As G. K. Chesterton said that bears repeating: “Time and again, the Faith has to all appearances gone to the dogs. But each time, it was the dog that died.”

Got that?

  1. “The Church.” You’d almost think Evangelicalism actually has an ecclesiology, even though clearly World Vision was not a Church, but one of those parachurch thingies, unanswerable to any putative Church.
  2. You’d almost think that “intellectual surrender and compromise st[anding] before the church” was a formidable foe instead of a second weird metaphor.
  3. You’d almost think that what Evangelicals mean by “the Church” is what Chesterton meant – that Evangelicalism actually has a deep “time and time again” to look back at with admiration – but you’d be quite mistaken if you did. Chesterton was writing of Roman Catholicism, against which Evangelical tends to define itself (when it’s not cannibalizing Catholic thinkers).

In the hour of real trial, will Evangelicalism field 7,000 unbent knees, a squadron of Polycarps who won’t offer even a pinch of incense? Is it God’s Ark?

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Tony Woodlief’s Sand In The Gears blog, which appears infrequently but is almost always good, has a confessedly angry response to “worldly vision” that barely overlaps with my thoughts, including this (emphasis added):

Those of you who were outraged by World Vision’s state-pressured recognition of same-sex marriages, would you turn your backs on the little girl in danger of being sold into sex slavery in Thailand, the little boy in Haiti whose mother cannot feed him, for a point of dogmatic purity in an organization which is not the Church?

Leah Libresco at American Conservative identifies some of those who called for a World Vision boycott (Billy’s son Franklin for one) and explores, with a little help from her friends, what it would be like if the boycott mindset were universalized.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.