Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Which Road Will You Take?

Photo by Katie Martinez
The need for conversation among believers on justice issues just got greater. Social media has been blowing up with the release of the news that World Vision is going to hire gay married couples.

Franklin Graham put out a statement in response. His is shorter but he is no less clear in his view.

Many of the comments I've seen aren't as well thought out. One Facebook discussion took the issue in many different directions, most of which were not biblical.

To be honest  Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, wrote the book I was struggling to read (see "Crossing the Political Bridge to Nowhere, 3/22/14). The Hole in our Gospel focuses on issues related to poverty--one of the primary causes of human trafficking--and one of the challenges being addressed by Transform World. So it seemed good to see what the president of World Vision had to say. Stearns quotes Scripture liberally; in every sense of the word. He even goes so far as to rewrite it to support his agenda. In my opinion he goes too far, and so did his editor. On p. 65 he says: "Jesus' strongest denunciations were directed not at thieves, murderers, and adulterers, but at the faith leaders of the day, the very men who had studied the Scriptures most (in today's terms, the pastors and seminary professors). Yet in just twenty-one verses (Matt. 23:13-33) Jesus called them hypocrites seven times, blind guides twice, blind fools, sons of hell, whitewashed tombs, snakes, and a brood of vipers!"

It's troubling to me that Stearns' book was endorsed by Bill Hybels, Max Lucado, and John Ortberg (along with other notable faith leaders who have spent years studying Scripture) yet Stearns makes a blanket statement condemning them. This may be the editor in me--but he didn't say some, he made a blanket overgeneralization. In other places he makes oversimplifications of very complex issues rather than give a more balanced view. So how did he get such fine endorsements? For those who don't know, I'll tell you an insider secret. Most famous people trust the integrity of the person writing the book and often don't read but a small sample. I can't help but wonder if these and other endorsers would have said the same things had they read the entire book using critical thinking skills.

On p. 223, Stearns revises Scripture to write a letter to the Church in America, in Jesus' name. I find that problematic. Not only does it seem presumptuous, but it's terribly judgmental of all the Christians and churches doing incredible work around the globe. Stearns is certainly not the only one fighting poverty, and he cites fine examples of churches and pastors caring for the poor. Editors typically find and correct such inconsistencies. Yet, as an editor who has worked with notable authors, I'm all too aware of how easily mistakes can be made and how fallible all human beings are--even editors, even those in leadership.

That's one reason I'm finishing the book--because Stearns also makes some very valid points. The Church in America can do much more. On Sunday we took a missions offering at my church and though I sat halfway back, when the offering container came to me, it only had one check in it. That's shameful.

This is why believers need each other. We need to be talking to get the best each individual has to offer. It's a known leadership principle that conflict can lead to a better place. And true leaders bring people together. We don't make progress or reflect the light of Christ through condemning hateful words. 
That's why I wrote "Let the Conversation Begin, Parts 1 & 2 (see 2/26 & 3/9).  "The Other Part of James 1: World Vision, Gay Marriage and Fighting Christians" also fleshes out this need. Thank you Alison Buzard for pointing us all in the right direction. 

I hope the conversation begins soon and welcome your contributions as long as they are respectful. (To leave comments, click on "[#] comments." If anyone knows how to change that feature to be more clear, I'd sure like to know.)

6 comments:

  1. Personally, I like the specific concerns laid out in this post. I think it's much more impactful. Re: the statement about the mostly empty offering bucket. I rarely give to missions at our church, largely because I don't believe the leadership does a very good job of explaining what's happening or where money is going. We support other organizations like SP very liberally. Just a word to be careful of drawing too many conclusions over that limited observation. That's all.

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    1. Thanks "Child of God." That's a good point and a terrific example of why the dialogue needs to continue. Alone we are too short-sighted. With others, we can make a difference.

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  2. I'm saddened to learn that anyone in the church would purposefully hire and thereby encourage un-biblical lifestyles. I'm always shocked that anyone can rewrite the clear condemnation of these lifestyles that were carefully spelled out in scripture. The difficulties come in figuring out who is and who will adopt those lifestyles. So, unless someone is in a teaching position, you would have a tough time dismissing someone who fulfills their job description while employed. We can't dismiss anyone who may have other sins crop up in their life unless they reach a certain public level with full court conviction. Should world vision be policing private lives if their employee is not in a teaching or high leadership position? That was my impression of the early articles that described World Vision's decision. Now, I'm not going to bother researching too much more, but it looks like you are saying that they are defending the lifestyle instead of admitting that they won't fire gay staff? I have hired gay staff over the years. It usually surprises me, and always disappoints me, but it has never led me to change my working relationships. I'm appreciative of their contributions to my work, and disappointed at their personal choices, just as I'm disappointed when staff endure a divorce. I imagine that World Vision has been in a similar position hundreds of times already.

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    1. Thanks for you comment, Dave. I think the issue is more that World Vision was going to accept the government's redefinition of marriage instead of adhering to God's covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. Yet that decision has been rethought after input from other Christian leaders. My point is that it is important to discuss these issues so we make wise biblical.decisions. After input from other Christian leaders, World Vision has apologized for undermining Scripture and for the confusion they've caused and have returned to a biblical stance. See http://www.worldmag.com/2014/03/world_vision_reportedly_reverses_decision/

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  3. Nicely put. I like what you are saying about providing context and providing a full discussion on the subject. Do we as Christians, go over board on "loving the sinners, hating the sin" statements? No, in fact, my brief catch phrase summarizing the longer discussion is not enough. We will always lose the battle of catch phrases, because these are difficult issues that deserve more than catch phrases. I'm glad you've done the research on the book, because I wouldn't. I have some of my own expert opinions on some aspects of the issue, but I wouldn't spend 10 minutes on a book on the subject. That's not my calling. I think we need to discuss a very real comparison of divorce and same sex marriage. We grossly misrepresent scripture in our culture on divorce, but toe the line on same sex marriage. If we have longer discussions, then a significant difference can be drawn between gay women and gay men. There are scriptures that equate the two, but there are scriptures that address the their individual actions as well. Are we addressing relationships or activities? I would suggest that many of their supporters confuse the two in order to baffle us. That's a suckers game. Drawn in to be pounded for condemning simple relationships. And I haven't said anything about the marriage issue in all these comments. I'm not even trying to be heard in the public square here. I've abandoned the overly kind words in these comments, just hoping that the discussions can take on more maturity and specificity. I agree with being overly kind and defensively courteous in public, but this seemed like a good atmosphere to encourage deeper discussion on specificity, rather than vague platitudes and over arching generalities. When you get to specifics it seems like Putin is more thoughtful than World Vision. Thanks for providing a generous and thoughtful forum for sharing.

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  4. Oh so many discussions that could be had. One of the many reasons to look forward to heaven--no time limitations. Appreciate your thoughts, Dave.

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