It stopped me in my tracks. Not literally; the tube I was sat on thankfully kept running along its tracks just as it should, but I was dumbfounded. As I travelled home from a beautiful evening of wining, dining, and laughter, everything changed with the scroll of a thumb on my phone. I could not believe what I was reading.
World Vision are a Christian international development organisation. Their US wing has a strict hiring policy – its employees must not only be ‘professed believers in Jesus Christ’ but also agree to a comprehensive code of conduct which goes as far as to include their sex lives. To work at World Vision US, you must be abstinent outside of marriage and faithful within it. While it baffles me that any organisation can think it appropriate to set rules about their employees’ sex lives, there was at least some good news on Tuesday.
World Vision US had decided to include legal same-sex marriages in their definition of marriage. Along with their heterosexual counterparts, gay Christians who want to use their gifts and skills to tackle global poverty were now allowed to do so through World Vision. Great. Common sense and human decency prevailed.
What happened next makes me feel physically sick.
As you can unfortunately imagine, there were plenty of conservative evangelicals in the US who found the idea of World Vision employing talented, generous, compassionate people who love their same-sex partners and are publicly, faithfully committed to them in marriage, absolutely abhorrent. They’re outraged by the very suggestion that you can have such thing as a gay Christian (side note: I’d love to take these people to my mum’s church, full of gay Christians who embody the love and grace of Jesus more authentically than I’ve seen anywhere), let alone that they might be permitted to do a job that makes a difference in the world.
Outraged at the idea of LGBT Christians being offered employment, these angry evangelicals made a stand. They withdrew their support from World Vision overnight, in their thousands.
Now, World Vision’s model of development is not one I’d particularly advocate. They use a child sponsorship programme, which in my opinion has all kinds of drawbacks. But arguing about development models is not the point here – child sponsorship is what they do. Which means there are thousands of vulnerable children and communities depending on that sponsor money coming through. Children in poverty who look forward to receiving letters from their sponsor, knowing that someone on the other side of the world cares enough to give them the chance of a better future.
And thousands of Christians – people who claim to follow the same God I know, who is on the side of the poor, who calls us to stand up for the downtrodden and vulnerable, to shout out for justice, to release the oppressed – decided to break their commitment to some of the poorest children in the world to make a political point about gay marriage.
Less than 24 hours later, World Vision changed their mind. The evangelicals won. Clearly World Vision were in a difficult position – justice for gay Christians wanting to work versus justice for children in poverty wanting to survive. They were backed into a corner and forced to bow to the wishes of a group of Christians who used their brute strength to get their own way.
I just can’t believe that Christians would stoop so low. I can’t believe that anyone would ever think it okay to use their sponsored children as a weapon and a tool for blackmail, simply because they don’t approve of some other people’s relationships. In what world does that even vaguely resemble justice? In whose kingdom is that a demonstration of love?
Poverty is about powerlessness. Wealth belongs to the powerful and power belongs to the wealthy. Helping communities lift themselves out of poverty is all about redressing the power balance, ensuring people have agency and dignity and possibilities. And those Christians who took away their support from World Vision over its stance on gay employees, what they’ve done is to absolutely reinforce those unjust scales. They’ve stood up and shouted, ‘Yes, we have power because of our money, and we fully believe we’re entitled to it.’ They’ve used the poor as pawns in their political game, and bullied those who care for the poor into giving in to them.
I can’t imagine much that looks less like Jesus.