Wednesday, March 26, 2014

WHY WE’RE DOUBLING UP ON OUR SUPPORT FOR WORLD VISION

*** UPDATE ***
Today, Wednesday, World Vision has reversed its decision, which is sad. Sad because apparently the pressure they received from groups opposing their decision was too much, and they have capitulated. It's disappointing in that it frames it as a misunderstanding with their key partners, and sends a message to those groups that their holding hostage of children and communities is something that they are willing to do and not be called on.

I have little doubt that World Vision will now be held in suspicion by the groups that pressured them, groups that rarely seem to be satisfied, and who will now certainly request a larger "seat at the table" to review decisions by the organization. These are the organizations espousing a "we won", "Nyah-nyah-nyah" tone to their posts today, and disregarding those who share their faith yet have divergent opinions.

On the flipside, I believe that the reversal will be met with great disappointment by those who remained supportive, including those who may have disagreed with their decision, but respected that World Vision was leaving theological interpretation to each person, congregation and/or denomination.

I thought that Monday's decision was forward-looking, expansive and welcoming of the wide spectrum of the body that we call the Church. Today's reversal feels backward-looking, defensive, and limiting. Regardless, I stand by my support of the organization's work, and look forward to the relationships to be built with our sponsored children.

Here's an article on the reversal


*** ORIGINAL POST ***
On Monday of this week the relief and development organization World Vision announced that they had changed their hiring practices to include those in same sex marriages. They further stated that they wish their focus to remain on the eradication of poverty and lifting up of communities and individuals around the world, and would leave the theological issues of doctrine to the individual congregations and denominations that they work with. Here's a wide-ranging interview with their President, Richard Stearns. As a Christian organization, World Vision covers the spectrum among both staff and partners in terms of theological views. And what they said was that they were not going to get into doctrinal arguments, but focus on serving those most on the margins. World Vision is one of the 10 largest charities in the US, and throughout their history they have garnered an impressive representation for care, efficiency and efficacy of their work.

 I’ve got friends who work there, and I have worked on projects with many World Vision people over the years. Michele, our kids and I sponsor a child through World Vision (2 after this week’s inanity), and have always been impressed with the communication, detail and care that are evident in WV’s operations. They were early on to fight stigmatization of HIV/AIDS patients in global communities, and have always communicated an expansive and welcoming spirit to serve wherever there is need. We also like that they cover a wide spectrum of thought, as we feel that a variety of views helps us to develop insight and empathy for others, and just might help make communities stronger through that. 

So when some influential evangelical voices began decrying their hiring practices and even stating that they would withdraw support from World Vision, it was depressing, and maddening, and infuriating. Depressing because it seems another example where someone’s every requirement must be met in order to gain support, or in another interpretation, the need to be “right” overruled the desire to understand and form a deeper relationship. Maddening in that it feels like these things keep making people who claim to represent good news appear nothing like that to anyone but their own tribe. And infuriating because the language around the withdrawal of support quickly morphed from another loud, angry boycott, to that of effectively making transactions out of an intimate, personal process of sponsoring a child and that child’s community. It made something powerful and enormous seem cheap and small, and damn near close to bartering one set of lives for another, and that is infuriating. But let me step back a second:

 When our family made the decision to sponsor a child, we wanted to choose children the same age and gender as our own so that we, and our kids, could sense a connection. That’s just how we approached it. We currently sponsor a girl our daughter’s age who lives in Ethiopia. We chose that country because several of our friends have adopted from there and our kids know some of those kids, so there’s another level of connection. As of yesterday we now also sponsor a boy our son’s age from Haiti. We chose Haiti because I’m going there in a couple of weeks, and our family can feel a sense of place to where I’ll be. Haiti is also, incidentally, the country of the first child I ever sponsored when I was out of college, so I also feel a connection to the country.

 Our decision to sponsor a second child came as a direct response to our sadness and anger at people declaring that they would be dropping their support of World Vision, no doubt including their very effective and well-run sponsorship program.

 When I see people expressing their views in comment sections of blogs and articles, one of the most sickening to me is the train of thought that, “I’m not abandoning aid to children, I’m just going to do it through another agency - the giving all washes out in the end.” I want to scream at that and say, “do you not realize that you’ve just commoditized a child!? Do you not see that you’re acting as though the relationship you have (or have an opportunity to have) with the child that you sponsor is not something to be bartered, sold or transferred!? That that child’s entire community is affected by your actions!?” 

Look, if you want to stop supporting World Vision, that’s your right - I’m not arguing rights. But you made a commitment to a child and a community. If this were a financial or level-of-care scandal where the funds weren’t reaching the children and communities served, then I get it. But World Vision is an organization that has a sterling reputation globally for its service and its financial accountability. So I’ll say it again: do not commoditize children. If you do, you’ve missed out on what the World Vision sponsorship program is all about. And you’re being being mean. And petty. And indiscriminately cruel. Wait until your sponsored child ages out of the program and has the advantage of an education, leadership and life skills, and then make your move. But to make this a cold, transactional exchange is insidious.

 To my friends of other faiths or no faith, please see past the things that appear to be silly, nonsensical or ridiculous in this brouhaha amongst the wide spectrum of belief that my Christian family encompasses. It does not represent the best of this community by a long shot, nor does it reflect the majority of what I see my faith community declare and exemplify from day to day.

 To everyone - it shouldn’t necessarily take something this crazy for us to have made a decision to increase our support, but this event is one that is pushing many to action. We had dinner with some friends last night who were wondering about our take on the events and what we may do about it. We explained our decision to sponsor another child, and they said that it got them thinking that they may do the same. This isn’t a heroic move - the immediate decision response was in some way a reactionary response to an impersonal set of communications. But the reality is that we are hoping to open ourselves to the promise of a relationship with another child and another community and see ourselves as part of those lives, and vice versa. We are making a commitment to a child and a community, and World Vision is the conduit for that - one that we trust and are grateful for.

 I do hope that others will consider increasing or beginning a relationship through World Vision or any of a number of other great organizations. And I also hope that somehow some deeper and more redemptive conversations and actions will take place as the arguing and gnashing of teeth subsides. It’s been years since I’ve used this blog, mostly because I’ve written other things in other places, but I needed a home for this outburst, and here we are. Thanks to anyone who’s reading. Oh, and here are a few other responses to the news that I found of particular interest and encouragement:

Rachel Held Evans 
Matthew Paul Turner 
Ben Irwin at FaithStreet

1 comment:

Marcy Schorsch said...

Well said Dave.