Thursday, March 27, 2014

Forgiven Versus Restored: A Response to the World Vision Controversy

Many of you are now aware of the latest casualty in the culture wars. That casualty: World Vision.

What makes this casualty so sad is that an organization that had a solid name and reputation did it to themselves.

As their website so wonderfully describes, World Vision brings monetary sponsors alongside needy children worldwide to not only give those kids a chance to have a personal relationship with Jesus, but to also provide in a tangible way for the needs of those children throughout their formative years. 

What happened?

On Monday, World Vision announced a dramatic change in its employment policies. They announced that those professing Christ as Savior, but in a homosexual relationship that is considered in some states to be a legal marriage, may in fact find gainful employment with the U.S. division of World Vision.

The reason? On Monday, U.S. World Vision president Richard Stearns described this as a "very narrow policy change" that should be viewed "as symbolic not of compromise, but of [Christian] unity."

On Tuesday, the evangelical Christian community responded. Major denominational leaders called out the unbiblical position taken by World Vision in no uncertain terms. Sponsors called to cancel their sponsorships. 

World Vision's attempt to foster unity was successful: denominations came together to call the World Vision Board of Directors to account for this blatant compromise of Biblical principles.

On Wednesday, Stearns announced that the board had reconsidered their policy change and would reverse the policy. In a public letter, Stearns described the response to the original policy change as being done in love and with conviction. He then wrote that the World Vision board is humbly asking for forgiveness, as they are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion caused by their decision in the minds of many of their friends who saw this policy change as a reversal in World Vision's strong commitment to Biblical authority.

So...should we forgive them?

The Bible is crystal-clear: of course we forgive them! (Matthew 18:21-22) Jesus forgave all of us; we must do the same.

But...what about restoration? Do we just go on as if nothing has happened? That presents another issue: the breaking and restoring of trust.

By announcing an employment policy change that was in direct conflict with the Word of God, World Vision broke the trust of the Body of Christ. They had claimed a strong commitment to Biblical authority; their action on Monday claimed otherwise. Which was indicative of where they really are: what they claim, or what they do? I have observed that with most folks, doctrine drives deeds. We act out of what we really believe more than we act out of what we say we believe. 

Based upon what they did on Monday, it became obvious to me that the World Vision Board of Directors--several members of which belong to denominations that do not hold to Biblical inerrancy, the exclusivity of the Gospel, and have endorsed a rejection of the definition of Biblical marriage--were driven more by popular opinion, the desire to be liked, and the apparent success of their work that is fueled by that popularity, more than they are driven by a desire to be submissive to Biblical authority. What they did spoke louder than what they said.

Based on what they did on Tuesday, it is obvious that the World Vision Board of Directors acted on one of three motivations: 
  • an incredible illumination of Biblical truth that suddenly shone into the darkness of their ignorance of Scripture, which caused them to change their minds and repent;
  • an "aha" moment--a realization that their biggest supporters are the same people that they have an acute desire to avoid being categorized together with: Bible-believing members of the Body of Christ who are perceived as being "political" due to their insistence upon a Biblical position; or
  • (and this one is the most dubious) a discovery that their policy shift hurt their bottom line, and therefore a reversal was needed to stop the financial bleeding.
I know that last one is extremely cynical, but this is what happens when trust is broken. Forgiveness can come--and should come--immediately. Restoration--specifically, the restoration of trust--has to slowly be repaired. 

To be clear, this policy reversal was a necessary and welcomed first step. But it is not enough to restore the trust that World Vision is an organization that is submissive to Biblical authority.

The next step, one that would demonstrate the organization's sincere desire to be submissive to Biblical authority, would be for each board member who voted to change the employment policy to quietly submit his or her letter of resignation and then submit themselves to the leadership of their respective local churches.  Resign and humbly serve under the leadership of their respective local churches. That might be difficult, as Stearns mentioned that the original decision was "overwhelmingly ratified by the board." 

The result might mean a board room that would be completely empty for the next meeting. But it would be a necessary cost in the overall price to restore the trust of an organization that deliberately shattered its own reputation.

Solomon knew what he was talking about when he said that a good name was desired above great riches.