Nuance and Abstraction: The World Vision Hiring Fiasco


I want to make abundantly clear that the following are my own personal thoughts, and are not in way representative of the views of my employer. It's not often that I have a strong desire to express my thoughts publicly about current events, but the recent furore surrounding World Vision America and their very public tangle with homosexual hiring policy has captured my interest. As someone who facilitates donor relationships for a large charity, someone who has gay Christians in their family, and someone who is generally disturbed by the state of American Christianity(™), I suppose it's the perfect bait.

If you haven't been paying attention, a few weeks ago World Vision US issued a statement that they would permit married, gay Christian people to join the staff of World Vision in the States. It seems they were attempting to define a Christian solely as someone who believes in Christ, and to keep their sexual views disconnected from the issue of salvation. The policy change sparked massive backlash from many Christians and resulted in the immediate cancellation of thousands of sponsored children, as donors used their money to apply some leverage. Within days World Vision US reversed the policy, making clear that those in a same sex marriage were not welcome at World Vision. Conservative Christians called it a victory of God in turning such an evil policy around. Liberal Christians tore their clothes and lamented the reputation of Christians being destroyed for an entire generation. The current count of cancelled sponsorships is at 10,000 I believe. It's what one might call, a Charlie Foxtrot.

The whole thing leaves me utterly appalled.



For a number of reasons. It's hard to even start digging into this because the insanity of the whole thing strangles my thought process, so that's why I'm writing at all: to try and get my own thoughts in order.

First off... I am horrified at the behaviour of my Christian brothers and sisters who cancelled their child support in response to the policy. I find this to be morally bankrupt, and I attribute such behaviour to the spirit of religion that holds sway over so many Evangelicals today. These people, some of whom are no doubt friends and family of mine, have very effectively utilized human shields to wage their war of religion. Tiny, starving human shields. Baby thrown out with the aid-agency-provided bathwater.

Clap. Clap. Clap.

Next in line for disparaging comment is World Vision. The number 1 job of a charity or not-for-profit is to do good works (and do them effectively). The number 2 job is to intimately know the donors who support your work, building relationship with them so you can provide meaning and purpose to their generosity. This should result in increased donor conversion, and of positive donor moves (upgraded giving) via a long-term cultivation process. World Vision, somehow, missed the mark of their donors' readiness for this by a huge margin! What were they thinking?! As a long running charity with excellent traditional brand-equity I would imagine the largest base of World Vision US's support comes from conservative Christians in the 35-60 year old age bracket. People who did the 30 or 40 Hour Famine in their youth groups, then grew up and had kids who've done the Famine too.  And American ones, to boot. To think that this group of people would be willing to digest a policy that even acknowledges the existence of gay Christians, let alone permits them to work for your company, is a donor-understanding failure of the highest degree.

Now I get it, sometimes you want to push the limits, you want to abolish slavery when half the nation still supports it. Taking the moral high-road. You've got to take risks, you've got to experiment. I am firm believer that without testing things, you just don't know the answer. You can theorize about how your constituents or customers will respond to a proposed action all day long, but the proof of the pudding really is in the eating. I tried recently to move our staff away from spending so much time on unsolicited incoming phone calls, so we removed the option to reach a general operator on our phone system, and established a series of prompts presenting clear information on the most common subjects and offered a number of email contacts you could reach, and did our best to politely change the expectation that we would answer the phone to talk about every whim you may wish to discuss with the people behind The Toronto Blessing. I thought the timing was right, and I was totally wrong; it was a significant failure and we've received enough backlash to make sure our phones are manned by actual humans for the next few years at least. So I get it, OK. But phone systems and sexual identity are not apples to apples... the fact is, World Vision fumbled this.

But all this fiasco does is exposes a bunch of scum under the surface.

Why must we have a policy on absolutely everything? Do we really need to take a public stand on every little thing? Is our opinion that important? And what happened to nuance? To a reasoned understanding? Maybe the sole reason the gay flag draws so much ire is because it has more colours than just red and blue in it. Or black and white. I haven't even begun to suggest to you what my own opinion is on the actual policy in question because there's so much absurdity to dig into first.

Let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

Some facts.

It is highly likely that someone you know and love has an addiction to substance abuse. It is almost certain that at some point your hard earned money, generously given to another, has been used in corruption and illegal activities. It is a statistical certainty that a Christian you know and love today has an addiction to pornography. If you work for a company with 60 or more employees, 2 of them are quite possibly gay.

I refuse to discuss issues such as homosexual identity and how Christians should respond, in abstract terms. Abstraction doesn't honour anyone, it's systematic and religious and un-Godly and a waste of our damn time.

It's story time.

Your father divorced your mother and left home when you were young. Your twin brother, when young, was sexually abused by a teenage boy. These events caused major trauma to your brother's identity as a male, and left a raged gaping hole where healthy male affection should have been. When your brother enters puberty, it's kind of like a time-bomb full of nails and glass shards goes off, and he finds himself more alone, hungry, scared, desirous and confused than he ever has been before. Everything in his psyche is crying out for a man to love him, and that's just the natural reaction! Enter the deceiver (yes, Satan) who adds shame and condemnation and false-hope to the mix, largely via your brother's well-meaning but ignorant friends and leaders at church, and you are starting to picture the life of most gay Christians. Charming environs, wouldn't you say?

Your brother survives his high school years as a loner and enters the workforce. He has a profound revelation of Christ while hiking alone in the wilderness, and begins a deep relationship with a male (Jesus) that he's always wanted. He pursues healing and wholeness, and does his best not to be gay any more. For some years this is enough. Your brother passes his bar exam and is eventually an accomplished lawyer. As he approaches 40, however, he finds himself still experiencing same-sex attraction. He decides for himself that God must be OK with this, and he happens to meet another man who loves the Lord and is also same-sex attracted. They begin a relationship.

Much of this is unbeknownst to you. Turns out you're not quite the doting sister you thought you were. Two years prior to your brother's relationship beginning, you and your pastor husband are sued by a member of your congregation who has accused your husband of embezzling church funds. The individual is a member of some means, and has launched a major legal case against you. You and your husband are innocent, and so you certainly don't have the funds to adequately defend yourselves. (Perhaps you should have been embezzling after all, might have paid better.) You turn to your brother for help, and he defends you pro bono. The case drags out for 23 months, but your brother proves his worth as a close confidant, a faithful member of your congregation who sticks by you, and an excellent attorney.

Your brother invites you over for dinner. A bottle of wine is already half-way consumed when you arrive, and the look in his eye tells you it's time for what we like to call, walking in the light. He starts to tell you about his trauma, and you are taken back to those uncertain days when your father left, and your brother suddenly withdrew from family life. You had forgotten this. The tears flow, and you are both reconciled around an issue you never knew needed reconciliation. He is your brother, your dear friend, your womb-mate, of course you love and accept him. It is confusing, you don't quite have a grid for this. You've seen the incredible fruit in your brother, of a life yielded to Christ. You've always wondered how he had such depth, and keen insight into the suffering of others, and how the Gospel of John seemed to be his favourite. You're not entirely sure what your husband will think, but you know he loves your brother almost as much as you do. He has certainly earned it, if ever he had to. As you prepare to leave, your brother tells you he'd like to introduce you to someone before long.

La fin.

It's complicated. It is. It really is. It's nuanced, and it's real, and it has major impact on people's lives. And the reality is that our Western, institutionalized, church-state understanding of what it means to be a Christian does not actually possess the structural flexibility to wrap itself around a hurting world. It never really did. But when the hurting were coming to us, it didn't matter so much. Now that the enlightened world is full of moral, ethical humanists and the church is seen to be full of morally bankrupt, unethical religious goons, the hurting won't come anywhere near us. And who would blame them! I love me a good moral humanist, I have many in my community and their company enriches my life. But I also wish they knew Christ. He's beautiful. Funny thing really... I wish some in the church knew Christ as well. Our churches and Christian educational institutions are not as prepared for this hurting world as we need to be, and I want to be a part of that change, don't you? When all the major ministries in my city can sheepishly agree that none of them are prepared for transgendered students to enrol at their facility, we've got to wake up, people. All of us. The model was never going to be able to cope with these issues, so let's figure out where Jesus is today and go join him there. The Son of God is alive and well, ministering to the poor and downtrodden, through those his Body, outside of religious churchianity. John Mark McMillan sums it up beautifully:

Who would've thought it but life is finding a way through this wasteland of cynics, concrete, and pain There's a man down here somewhere between those Saturday cartooons and the dirty magazines He's raising the dead in the graveyards where we've laid down our dreams and his name is Hope

Last summer, when my 4-year-old son was complaining about not having a new toy that he wanted, I sat him down and explained that there are some kids in this world who don't have any toys. Some of them don't have mummies and daddies. Some of them don't have much clothes, and some of them hardly have enough food to eat. He was shocked and saddened, and there were tears in his eyes. I told him that some people really want to help these kids, and so they work where these kids live, and they help their families to get jobs so they can feed themselves, they help them get clean water and all other kinds of things. James jumped to his feet and declared "We should help those guys!" It still makes me tear up. I said that if we want, we could give them money each month to keep helping those kids. He thought it was the best idea ever, and so we went online together and found a boy in Brazil who was James' same age, and signed up that night to sponsor him. We pray for Damacio regularly, have his photo on our fridge, and James sent him a hand-drawn birthday card. We fully intend to visit the World Vision project running in Serrana, Brazil at some point.

God cares about human beings, especially orphans, widows, and illegal immigrants. He also cares that we conduct ourselves in an honest and righteous manner. I think it was unwise of World Vision US to test such a policy at this time.  By contrast, World Vision Canada has made very clear that the sexual orientation of its employees is strictly none of its business; its business is providing aid to children. I think World Vision US lost sight of its business just a little bit. It certainly lost sight of its donors. I also think it was disgusting that so many Christians withdrew their support in response... someone needs to write a parable about the aid worker the donor rejected.[1] But let's not get too caught up in moralizing and throwing blame. Plenty of liberal Christian pundits have taken the evangelical world to task over this, citing "10,000 starving children!" but quite honestly, if 10,000 liberal Christian pundits don't follow through their rhetoric by sponsoring 10,000 more children to make up the shortfall from cancellations, then they're just clanging cymbals like the rest.

Can we all try to see the world with a little more nuance than we saw it yesterday? Can we all be a little bit less religious and a little more Christ like? This would require actually knowing Christ, not just knowing about him. Can we all sponsor another child, or give another gift, or volunteer that extra day a week? Generosity is good for the soul, and is so so so so necessary is our consumer oriented world. If you really can't give support to a charity that employs or contracts people that don't agree with your understanding of sin, and this means a lot to you, then I promise you that you will not actually find a charity that lines up with your beliefs. If you really do your research of course. Remember my healthy list of facts that I equipped you with earlier? Nor will you find a hardware store that lines up with your beliefs, nor a gas station, nor a hospital, nor a police force, nor a grocer. I work in the charity sector, and there are good people here. There are also selfish horrible people. And Buddhists. And selfless moral secular humanists. And people who like to have sex with folks they meet at fundraising conventions. And unfamous, unglamourous faithful workers who love Jesus and help the poor and clothe the naked. And gay people.

Turns out, the charity sector looks a lot like everywhere else. So no one condemns you. Now go and sin no more. And go sponsor a child. Here are three I personally believe in and can recommend:


[1] Psalm 118:22

The photo of the homeless man is called "Thumbs up for Jesus" and is from here: