When Doing the Right Thing Hurts People (Let’s talk about World Vision)
Posted on March 26, 2014
I’ve been trying hard for the past several months not to blog every time something upsets me. The World Vision situation this week seems big enough and important enough–and I’m upset enough!–that I need to say something. This is that something.
In the 90s and early 2000s, my dad, Christian musician Ray Boltz, raised a lot of money for a Christian aid organization Mission of Mercy. A Mission of Mercy representative we called “Uncle Wayne” preached at all of Dad’s concerts and told his packed audiences about poverty in countries like India, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. Then they’d take up an offering, and so many people would give that I remember seeing piles and piles of money being counted in the dressing room. Dad, Uncle Wayne, and the other staff would shout their enthusiasm when the offering was particularly high–it all went to Mission of Mercy’s programs to feed, clothe, educate, and house people in poverty around the world. Through high school, I often manned the Mission of Mercy table in the lobby, helping people pick out a packet featuring a child they were going to sponsor. On big nights, twenty or thirty people might come forward to sponsor a child for $20 a month. Dad traveled the world with the organization, performing in little underground churches in Southeast Asia and big outdoor pavilions on the Indian Subcontinent. His audiences gave enough money to sponsor numerous children, build schools, and support hospitals.
When Dad came out of the closet in 2008, Mission of Mercy could no longer be associated with him. I don’t know how the relationship broke down–I’m not privy to that information, and my parents haven’t really talked about it with me. However, I know that one day there was a partnership, and another day there was not.
It’s hard to blame the organization, of course. Mission of Mercy is a relatively small aid operation in contrast to big ones like World Vision and Compassion International. There is no doubt that if they continued to have a professional relationship with my Dad after he announced to the world that he was gay, it would hurt their fundraising. People might pull their support. Children could lose their sponsorships. My parents didn’t like cutting ties with the organization, but they knew that it was to protect the children they had worked so hard to raise money for.
This week, I thought about Dad and Mission of Mercy a lot as I looked at the situation with World Vision.
The short of it:
- World Vision announced that they would change their employment policy to be amenable to hiring gay people–specifically, gay people in legal marriage relationships that were blessed by the couple’s denomination. They didn’t change their belief that being gay is a sin or that their employees are to be abstinent outside of marriage. What they did was say that as a multi-denominational organization, they were not going to go against the heartfelt, dearly held beliefs of denominations that ordain gay marriages.
- The evangelical world FLIPPED OUT, evidenced by statements issued by countless major evangelical players.
- Unfortunately, thousands of people pulled their support of World Vision in opposition to what they perceived as a radical change that goes against their Christian values. Bloggers made some important, noteworthy criticisms of the people pulling their support, especially their child sponsorships.
- Then, in a really disheartening move, World Vision reversed its decision. They announced that they would revert to their original employment contract, which denies LGBT individuals the protection they deserve. No longer will the organization honor the fact that their numerous employees belong to countless denominations, and some of those denominations bless same-sex marriages. They’re okay with denominational disagreement on pretty much every other major and minor issue, but not this one. Not anymore. Not thanks to the pressure put on them by anti-gay evangelicals.
Here’s my take. Initially, World Vision did the right thing. They probably went about it the wrong way–their explanation should have been shorter and more to the point. They should have anticipated the dramatic blowback they would face, and clearly they didn’t. (Guess they never asked to see the thousands of angry, hateful e-mails Ray Boltz received when he came out!)
However, doing the right thing came at a terrible expense: the children whose sponsorships were dropped.
What do you do when doing the right thing hurts people? When it hurts children?
Respecting the diverse religious beliefs of their employees, which can be defended by Christian theology, was the right thing to do, and yet that decision led to public backlash that led to panic on the part of World Vision.
World Vision decided to protect the people they exist to serve. I understand that decision. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to watch sponsorships being snatched away, and to think of children who depend on donor’s money for their well-being losing that support. I bet there was a lot of anger at evangelicals in those board room meetings and conference calls at World Vision this week. I’m sure there were tears.
I’ll say it again: I understand why they reversed their decision. I understand why they chose to do the wrong thing to protect the right people.
I just think it was the wrong decision anyway.
World Vision’s reputation is tarnished in everyone’s eyes now. The sort of people who pulled their support are not going to suddenly renew it because the organization went back on their decision. LGBT people and their allies are going to have bad feelings about the organization, too. Some people will just be confused over the whole thing.
It seems like they are just trying to stop the hemorrhage of support before it got any worse.
They reversed the decision to protect the children they serve.
I just wish they had waited a bit. For an evangelical organization, they didn’t exhibit much faith that God would bless their integrity and desire for unity. They didn’t wait to see if maybe the pro-LGBT community could come together and support World Vision in a way that would replace the money being taken away by anti-gay donors. They didn’t wait to see if cooler heads could prevail. They didn’t wait to see who might stand by them in this.
World Vision may have thrown their LGBT employees under the bus, but the real shame lies with the people who pulled their sponsorships of children in need out of a selfish desire to make a political statement.
We should be better than this. The Church is diverse in its beliefs. It is foolish to claim that you have the best, most accurate take on scripture, and that those other churches, built on legitimate scholarship and pastored by genuine Christian ministers, are all WRONG, WRONG, WRONG.
World Vision didn’t try to re-define scripture. They simply decided to recognize that some denominations have different takes on it. Evangelicals were so opposed to that simple truth that they were willing to take away food from children they have supposedly built relationships with via letters and support updates.
And World Vision wasn’t strong enough to withstand the pressure from these evangelicals. What a shame. What an absolute shame.