Many of you e-mailed me privately or messaged me about my response to World Vision over their policy change towards hiring people in same sex marriages, announced Monday , then on their reversal, announced yesterday. Some of you took strong exception to my position, and that of most conservative Evangelicals, on the WV situation and on sexuality in general. So I’d like to address some of the points you raised, because they’re of interest to all of us, no matter where we stand.
First, thanks for voicing your concerns. They’re clearly deep-felt and sincere. In the heat of these debates it’s easy to forget how strongly those we disagree with feel about the issue, but in most of your messages I heard earnestness and no small amount of pain. So while I hate the fact these issues divide us, I do hope we can at least come to better understand each other despite our disagreements. We can respond to each other without reacting to each other; that’s a goal I think many of us share.
The first question some of you raised was whether or not I felt a gay person is fit to serve children. Well of course he is. Like every believer I know, I have no problem with a secular company hiring anyone, gay or straight, for this kind of charitable work. But when an organization claims, as World Vision does, to be specifically Christian in both its mission and function, then we expect it to maintain Biblical standards in its hiring practices. Those standards don’t just take into account the competence of an individual; they also consider whether he or she is living a life in line with Biblical guidelines. For a Christian organization, that’s a reasonable expectation. That’s why I believe WV erred seriously in its decision to hire people engaged in same-sex relations, then corrected the error by reversing the decision.
Some of you questioned who should be excluded from leadership. (Gluttons? Gossips? Fornicators? Nail biters?) The point you were making was that we seem to pick and choose whose sins matter, with homosexuality being near the top of the Don’t Do list. I honestly think that’s an unfair charge. By and large, the same people objecting to homosexuality object just as strenuously to adultery or fornication in leadership, or among employees of a Christian ministry, for that matter. There may be some exceptions, but as a rule, those holding a conservative view on sexuality will condemn any overt sexual sin. We do hear more Christian objection to homosexuality these days, only because, to my thinking, we’re being asked to revise our position on this behavior, whereas there’s not much pressure on the church to revise its position on adultery or fornication. Naturally, then, we speak more often about subjects that keep being raised. (If there was a move to persuade Christians to change their minds on sex before marriage, you’d hear more about that topic, believe me.)
As for qualifications for leadership, another issue some of you raised, I think the New Testament clarifies them in 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:2-3. (By the way, Bob Deffinbaugh did a terrific post on this issue in more detail, which is really worth a read. You can find it here) And while I agree that all sin is serious, all sin does not, in fact, disqualify a person. A pastor may occasionally be rude or careless without needing to step down from ministry, but if he commits adultery or steals from the church, then his ability to shepherd is seriously compromised. In that sense, all sins are not the same in severity of consequence.
Many of you said we should stop pointing out sins, and just let the Holy Spirit do His work, because we’re not Him. Copy that. We’re well aware that He’s Him; we’re not. And as for letting the Him do His work, not to be silly, but does anyone really think His ability to work depends on us “letting” Him do it?
Still, I think I get the point. He convicts of sin; He draws people to Christ. That’s His job, but – and here I guess we differ pretty strenuously – we’re also part of that work, both by His commission and empowering. God doesn’t need us, but has nonetheless called us as members of the Body of Christ to engage each other by building each other up and, when needed, by correcting each other as well. That’s what body ministry is all about (Romans 12:5) so exhortation, occasional rebuke and, as needed, church discipline, should all be realities of church life. Think about it: If we simply “let the Holy Spirit do His job” without saying anything, how would sermons be preached, doctrine be taught, discipleship be done? There’s no way to live out the faith in a Biblical manner without knowing, then communicating, truth to each other.
As for non-believers, Paul said he doesn’t judge them and neither should we. (I Corinthians 5:12) And really, if someone is unsaved, it makes little difference to my thinking whether they are homo or heterosexual; lost is lost. But to state something is wrong (when such statements are appropriate, and yes, sometimes they are) is not a judgment on the person, but on the behavior. When I say adultery is wrong I am not judging the adulterer; I’m only coming into agreement with the traditional Biblical position. Ditto for homosexuality.
Finally, I really don’t feel the shame some of you expressed over being an Evangelical. Nor do I see this as a sign of the demise of Evangelicalism, as some of you said you do. And I really am sorry you feel that way. I do agree Evangelicals could do a better job of loving all people while adhering to truth, and I agree when you point out that the chasm between gays and Evangelicals keeps growing, with no sign of abating. Sadly, I guess it will probably get worse. Now, if such a chasm develops because we’re cold, harsh, hypocritical or just plain jerks, then that’s on our heads. But if it develops simply because we hold to positions we cannot in good conscience compromise, then so be it.
Of course, we should avoid needless chasms, and when holding our positions, we could definitely be more like Jesus; there we agree. But compromising on critical moral issues is neither Christ-like nor helpful, and supporting organizations when they do the same is, for many of us, simply out of the question. That accounts for the 2000 or so people who pulled their support for WV when it first announced its policy revision. That was no indication those folks were disinterested in feeding hungry children, but rather, that they would do so only through organizations that honor their identity as “Christian.” (Don’t try telling me World Vision is the only vehicle for feeding the hungry; no one was willing to literally abandon children over this.)
When responding to all of this, we – Evangelicals, Conservative Christians, Fundamentalists, whatever you wish to call us – are trying to be faithful to our mandate to speak the truth in love, and live it out in love. Sometimes we wimp out on truth; sometimes we neglect love; sometimes we get them both right; sometimes we bungle them both. For that we are truly sorry. And while we cannot say we’ll revise our position just because so much of the surrounding culture is doing so, we can and hopefully will commit to being better neighbors, more responsible fellow citizens, and in general, more loving people.
Those are goals we’ll never reconsider, policies you’ll never hear us announce a change in. And God grant they always influence our positions and practices, however unpopular or difficult they may become.