Bending the God of Love into a god of fear.

So I’ve waited to post something on the World Vision US hiring policy change and it’s subsequent reversal. I’ve waited until I could calm down and write something coherent and in love. This is my best attempt.

(Please note that all of this concerns World Vision US. World Vision Canada is a separate organization and has it’s own hiring policies. You can read about their hiring policies and their response to the WV US situation here.)

First, for those of you who hadn’t heard, last week World Vision US announced that they would change their hiring policy so that they would now hire Christians in same-sex marriages. Two days later, after receiving intense backlash from many of their supporter organizations and individuals (including over 4000 sponsors dropping their sponsor children), they reversed their decision, announcing that their hiring policy would stay the same after all.

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I’ve been greatly pained by this whole experience. Not, I’m sure, as much as those more directly involved in the situation, but as a Jesus-follower, it also causes me a incredible about of pain to see the King of Love used as a rally point for fear, hate and legalism.

Cards on the table, I am in favour of same-sex marriage within the church. However, this was not always my position and I would have felt the exact same way about this situation before changing my view. I do not write the following because I am offended that not all Jesus’ followers interpret Scripture in the same way that I do. I write the following because it hurts me to see people who claim to follow Jesus become so completely distracted from what Jesus is all about.

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he could not limit himself to one commandment but instead responded with two: to love God and to love your neighbour. Get these things right, he says, and all the rest of the law and the prophets follow from there. This is what Jesus is all about.

Did he care about how we live our lives? Yes, of course. Did he care about sin, about calling us to live the way God created us to live rather than according to the standards of the world? Most definitely. And the root of that calling, of that difference, is loving God and loving our neighbour. Almost every Jesus-follower is agreed on that. Or at least we should be!

This was a large part of the reasoning behind WV US’ initial policy change, wanting to allow those who read Scripture and come to different conclusions on this issue to show their love for their neighbour in the same way – by serving the poor. It wasn’t a declaration of what World Vision US as an organization believed Scripture to be saying on the issue, but a recognition that sincere Jesus followers can read the Bible faithfully and come to different conclusions, and that we should all be able to serve the poor together. Because loving our neighbour is what Jesus is all about, not sex.

The response from leading American Evangelicals was visceral and personal. Franklin Graham called WV US’s assertion that it was seeking to unify the Church “offensive” saying,  “as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church.” John Piper labeled the decision “tragic” as it “trivializes perdition — and therefore, the cross — and because it sets a trajectory for the demise of true compassion for the poor.” He also stated that WV US had “taken a step away from the cry of biblical love, which says, we care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering.” He explains his reasoning behind this statement by citing J.I. Packer, saying “There are ways of sin that, if not repented of and forsaken, will keep people out of God’s kingdom of salvation.”

There’s a lot I could say in response these statements, but in the interest of space I’ll just say this: Scripture does not teach that we must have repented of each individual sin in our lives to achieve forgiveness and eternal life. If I curse at someone while driving and then am in a fatal car accident before I can repent, I don’t miss out on eternity with God because I didn’t have time to repent before I died. If I sin 25 times today (a conservative estimate I’m sure!), but only remember 24 of them in my evening prayers, I’m not now destined to eternal flames and gnashing of teeth. Nothing in Scripture suggests God is this legalistic, but just the opposite, repeatedly describing forgiveness as a gift of grace freely given by God and not as something we achieve through works of repentance.

Eph-2-8-9

Similarly, there are areas of my life – and in each of our lives – which are sinful and that I am not aware are sinful. That is to say, I am wrong about some of the things that I think are right. I don’t know what these are, but I am self-aware enough to know that I am human and therefore fallible. Maybe video games really are bad. Maybe Jesus-followers really shouldn’t drink alcohol at all. Maybe, as a woman, I really shouldn’t be in the leadership at my church. The thing is, I have made decisions on these issues through reading Scripture, prayer and discernment with my community – and if I am wrong, Jesus will forgive my wrongness, my imperfection. Because he loves me, because I seek to follow him and because he died for my sins – those of which I am aware and those of which I am unaware.

In the same way, to allow someone who has come to an honest conclusion – through the study of Scripture, prayer and community discernment – that God has created them gay and called them to marry someone of the same sex, to allow them to partner with other Jesus-followers to love their neighbour by serving the poor should be a no-brainer for all of us who follow Jesus – even if we think they’re wrong. To say that it is not loving to those in same-sex marriages to allow them to serve in this way because it sets them up for hell is hypocritical – World Vision allows women in leadership, as well as those who drink alcohol and few Evangelicals suggest this is unloving as it encourages those people in behaviour that leads to the flames of perdition. In short, no matter what your understanding of Scripture on the issue, keeping brothers and sisters in same-sex marriage from serving the world’s poor makes no Scriptural sense.

(On a side note, a number of objectors to the WV US proposed change suggested that it is inaccurate to equate different interpretations of Scriptures’ approach to gay marriage to different interpretations of Scriptures approach to infant vs adult baptism, basically because the former is a “bigger deal” and will result in people going to hell while the latter won’t. I would remind these people that, historically, these were considered issues linked to salvation and thousands were killed over disagreements on this issue. The so called “third baptism” used to murder Anabaptists is just one example. In time we learned to recognize as brothers and sisters those who read Scripture sincerely and come to different conclusions.)

What makes even less sense than preventing our gay brothers and sisters from serving the poor is dropping sponsor children – children living on the brink of starvation – in order to express our displeasure to World Vision US. And writing a convoluted argument to make your cancelation of your sponsorship somehow World Vision’s fault doesn’t make it so. You’re responsible for your own actions.

Lincoln (highwayman)

 

And so, in the face of loss of funding from numerous individuals and – probably more significant – many funding partners, World Vision US quickly reversed their decision stating, among other things, “what we are affirming today is there are certain beliefs that are so core to our Trinitarian faith that we must take a strong stand on those beliefs […] We cannot defer to a small minority of churches and denominations that have taken a different position.” Seeing how, in their initial statement, they stressed that they were not giving in to pressure of churches, this statement seems a bit transparent. World Vision US was bullied away from doing what they thought was right by Evangelical organizations who have made crusading against same-sex marriage their political rallying point – a rallying point that trumps the command to love our neighbours.

And this is what makes me so sad. As a Canadian I can be glad that WV Canada has a more inclusive hiring policy and that I don’t have to worry about it. However, my primary identity in life is not as a Canadian but as a follower of Jesus. And it pains me that so many of my brothers and sisters have been distracted by the world’s obsession with sex and sexuality away from the primary mission of the Gospel. It hurts that they hold children hostage to their political priorities – and do so in the name of my God, the God of love. It saddens me that the leaders at World Vision US felt that they needed to give in to this pressure, turning away from what they clearly thought was the right thing to do, in order to keep food in the mouths of hungry children.

In the first book of his Space Trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis explores the idea of how being “bent” is more dangerous than being “broken,” that is, how it is dangerous to have part of the truth but have that bent and twisted away from the core Truth, than it is to be functioning completely outside the truth. For a “a bent [person] can do more damage than a broken one,” for “bent creatures are full of fears.”

Hross

Most of American Evangelicalism has become “bent” is this sense. Calling society to a higher standard of living, to live the way God has called us to, is a good thing – but it is only part of the Truth. We are called first and foremost to love God and love our neighbour, not to decide whether our siblings’ reading of Scripture makes them correct enough to do the same. In focusing on holiness to the exclusion of love, on letting a zeal for what we understand to be physical and sexual purity eclipse our concern for the orphan and the widow, we make the same mistake as many first century Pharisees, missing the forest for the trees and missing the heart of our Lord in our  desire to ensure others follow what we believe to be his commands.

This is the real threat to the American/right-wing/Evangelical Church today. It’s a trap many of my brothers and sisters are falling right into. And it makes me sad.

For some loving and thoughtful responses to this situation, I recommend the following:

 

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One thought on “Bending the God of Love into a god of fear.

  1. Love this post, Erin. I’m glad you were able to write (and articulate with kindness and love) that which I was not able to write!

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