I finally sat down to address my income tax prep procrastination last Tuesday evening. In the process of gathering, sorting, and adding up receipts I got to thinking about our charitable giving. Now I know that when it comes to giving, the left hand shouldn’t know what the right hand is doing, but what transpired on Tuesday evening was significant enough to mention.
|World Vision’s Richard Stearns|
While I was sorting and recording the numbers for 2013, I paused to think about our giving to World Vision. Of all the causes that we support, the one that has remained a constant recipient of our support is World Vision. In fact, I became a member of the World Vision family as soon as I graduated from college in 1978, when I sponsored a child for the first time. I loved their passion, their philosophy of ministry, and their Christ-centered approach. I also loved the story of World Vision’s founder, Bob Pierce, who was prompted to start the organization after praying, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” A “dangerous” prayer for sure. God answered that prayer as Pierce encountered the heart of God in his study of the Scriptures, and then encountered the brokenness of the world through his exposure to poverty, seeing that world and shaping his response to it through the lens of Scripture. More recently, I’ve read and recommended Richard Stearns’ book, The Hole in the Gospel, a book that challenged me anew to recalibrate my life in the direction of Biblical justice.
Ironically, when I stepped away from my tax prep duties for the night (I can only take so much!), I sat down and checked my phone. That was when I opened an email that directed me to the Christianity Today story that broke that news about World Vision’s Board of Directors and their decision to change their policy to allow the hiring of homosexuals in same-sex marriages. I was stunned and deeply saddened. I felt that first and foremost, World Vision was compromising a strong stand on God’s design for marriage.
Since then – and even immediately – I was asked by several people to offer my thoughts on the decision. With the exception of a couple of very brief thoughts posted on my Facebook page, I thought it wise to sit back and prayerfully ponder the decision without caving to the kind of knee-jerk response that a) I am prone to, b) my fellow Christians are prone to, c) doesn’t typically add anything constructive to the discussion, and d) is warned against in Scripture (Proverbs 29:20).
So, I didn’t say anything publicly. I also kept from fully reading any of the multitude of blog posts responding to the decision. I talked about it only with my wife and a few trusted close friends. Of course, two days later World Vision reversed their decision. . . a move that could have been motivated by a variety of factors. We may never know what happened behind the closed Board room doors at World Vision. But I can say that my initial reaction to that reversal was one of great joy.
Now, I am still processing the events of this last week but thought I would post a couple of initial and not-yet-complete thoughts. For those of you who would say that the main issue here is homosexuality or who believe my sadness over World Vision’s decision to be rooted in some kind of homophobia on my part, I would respectfully disagree. Keep that in mind as I share just a few of my thoughts. . .
First, in many ways, this last week reminds us that the postmodern turn is for all intents and pragmatic purposes. . . complete. I began to seriously consider, study, and speak about the shift from a modern to a postmodern world about twenty years ago. At that time, philosophical postmodernism was by-and-large on its way out in academic circles. That ship was sailing. But a more “pragmatic postmodernism” that had been seeded by those philosophies was growing like a weed throughout popular culture. And, in the way that all cultural movements spread, postmodern thinking and living was by and large embraced unconsciously. It was simply being assimilated without thought or critique. What’s resulted is a world where an older generation who has enough years behind them to see that something has changed, has enough perspective from which to at least say, “It’s a different world.” They may not be able to thoughtfully articulate what’s happened, but they know that something big has happened. Younger folks who have been born onto the postmodern landscape and nursed by the basic assumptions of this new way of thinking about and living life know nothing else. This is just “the way it is” and “the way it’s supposed to be.” In fact, many of them write off, ignore, and even lament the “archaic” perspective of those who are older.
Very simply stated, there’s been a rejection of any kind of objective, widely-held standard of truth. Replacing it has been an “every person for himself or herself” ethic that allows us to personally define what’s right and wrong for me. . . and that can change from minute to minute based on how I feel at any given point in time. This way of thinking and living is prevalent in the church. As a result, we become the authority on everything. Our feelings and inclinations define “true north” on our moral compass. The big story of Scripture is rejected. . . but usually not in its entirety. We pick and choose bits and pieces to build our foundation, creating a Biblical system that is not fully Biblical. This reality makes things even more confusing.
Now I know that this brief explanation doesn’t even come close to describing the complexity of what’s been happening in our culture. But I do think it offers some insight into what’s happened at World Vision. From where I sit, I think it’s impossible to reconcile World Vision’s policy on forbidding pre-marital and extra-marital sexual activity among its employees, with World Vision’s “Tuesday” policy to allow same-sex sexual activity among employees in same-sex marriages. But if I am embracing a pragmatically postmodern approach to ethics, it makes full sense and could even be considered “the right thing to do.”
Second, the World Vision “controversy” of this last week has exposed the root issue at hand. . . and it’s not homosexuality. Rather, it’s an issue of authority. I don’t think we can even begin to have the kind of constructive, generous, and grace-filled conversations on any same-sex issue that we need to have until we can arrive at some common ground on Biblical authority. If you read the Scriptures while assuming the Scriptures are an apple, and I read the Scriptures assuming the Scriptures are an orange. . . well, you know what happens. . . and it’s happening. It’s also an issue of hermeneutics. . . the way that we approach the task of interpreting the Bible. Again, it would be an over-simplification to say that people either take an “interpret all of life through Scripture” or an “interpret Scripture through all of life” approach, but isn’t it reasonable to say that we all fall somewhere on that spectrum? And, if that’s the case, no wonder we can’t agree on issues related to sexuality, or any other issue for that matter.
Third, the World Vision policy and its reversal remind us that we need to be thinking about, praying about, and talking about marriage. . . . and we need to do so from the vantage point of interpreting and defining marriage through Scripture, rather than interpreting Scripture through cultural trends on marriage. This requires us to return to God’s intended design for marriage at the time when things were the way they were supposed to be. The Shalom that existed in the garden was a gift to humanity that allows us to experience the fullness of our humanity. That Shalom is what we’re called to pursue here in the brokenness of our world. Doing things “my way” is what got us in trouble in the first place. Shouldn’t World Vision be pursuing and promoting a view of love, sex, and marriage that reflects God’s order and design? That divine order and design is certainly what’s behind their long-held policy on pre-marital and extra-marital sex.
And finally, the events of this last week reminded me of how important it is for us to listen to people who have proven that they are worth listening to because they are wise, time-tested, humble, and trustworthy. I have not yet ventured into the blogosphere on the World Vision issue to track the fallout and responses because I knew I would wind up getting side-tracked. Several friends suggested that I read this or that response. Instead, I deliberately went to my book shelves to consult with some trusted “mentors” who I know have spent their lives dedicated to pursuing a deep knowledge of God along with an understanding of God’s will and way on this and other issues. For example, I took some time to re-read parts of John Stott’s The Radical Disciple, and Richard Lovelace’s 1978 Homosexuality and the Church. Without the overt vitriol of so many of my angry brothers and sisters, and without the veiled-by-Christian-love and grace passive-aggressiveness of many brothers and sisters who want to enlarge the theological tent of evangelicalism, Stott and Lovelace offered me a grace-filled and Biblically-faithful perspective that calls the church to be pastoral rather than punitive when it comes to same-sex behavior. . . or any other equally grievous wandering from God’s will and way.
This got me to thinking more deeply about who it is that we choose to listen to in today’s world. In a pre-social media world where anyone can build a following, those who spoke publicly earned their place by developing their knowledge and expertise. They truly had something to say. Their expertise. . . built and developed over the course of a lifetime. . . that’s what gave them the right to speak. Now, I fear that all we have to do to develop an audience is market ourselves through social media. We live in a world where all you have to do to make a name for yourself is, well, make a name for yourself. Those who are most gifted at building their presence in the world of social media, tend to be the most persuasive. We have to be more careful about who it is that we listen to and who it is that we follow.