Is gay marriage a denominational sidebar?

** UPDATE: Less than two days after making their announcement, the Board has reversed their decision. You can read the letter in its entirety here.

Regardless of what World Vision or other organizations decide, this is still a necessary discussion. How does homosexuality align with God’s Word? What are the ramifications of marginalizing gay marriage to subjective camps of specific denominations? Read this whole post for more. **

World Vision USA made an announcement this week, through an article and interview published in Christianity Today, that they will openly hire Christians in legal same sex marriages. Richard Stearns, World Vision USA’s president, stated that this is “a very narrow policy change” intended to promote unity among churches and believers worldwide.

world visionThey have decided to place homosexuality and same-sex marriages on the sidelines with “modes of baptism, women in leadership roles within the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.” These, Stearns says and World Vision USA asserts, are interpretive differences best left to the authority of churches and denominations.

I applaud World Vision’s desire to unify believers, to help the needy and draw attention to the hungry. I have long supported World Vision, even here on the blog. We promoted and taught The Hole in our Gospel within our church.

But I’m concerned. I don’t see denominations holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” I see people cold-turkey dropping sponsored kids, vitriolic words splashed against brothers and sisters and lots and lots of confusion.

Tread Softly

I’ve written about homosexuality before, most notably when the LGBT community took on Chik-fil-a. Same as then, I want to tread softly. Not weakly, mind you, but with sensitivity. This isn’t some high-brow discussion of theology. This is a real issue that affects real people, people who are precious. Homosexuality is a tangible reality, and discussions of it must be handled with great compassion and humility.

One of my greatest frustrations in discussing hot button issues (and why I don’t do it often) is how people flock to polar ends and rash actions. Those who oppose same-sex marriage immediately withdraw their support and begin questioning everyone’s salvation. Those who support alternative lifestyles immediately claim foul and start calling everyone “haters, hypocrites and pharisees.”

Just stop. Please.

Everyone, take a minute to calm down and think through what you are saying and doing and the ramifications of those words and choices.

People on both sides of this issue are — Guess what? PEOPLE. They are human. They are created in the image of God. People who want to know God. People who want to serve God. People who are imperfect, but who are trying their best. They’re people with feelings and emotions and intellect and families and … chances are, if you lived next door to one another instead of on opposites sides of your computer screen, you might even be friends. Good friends.

Disagreement does not equal hate. Nor does disagreement immediately call for ostracization and pulled advocacy. It is very, very possible to disagree with someone without hating that person or withdrawing all support. It is even possible to love someone while fully objecting to that person’s beliefs, choices, actions, or lifestyle.

We are all much more than sexual preference or denominational affiliation. We are more than the side we choose in any argument.

Choosing Sides or Not?

At first glance, I don’t know that World Vision had much of a choice. World Vision is based in Washington, one of the seventeen states where same-sex marriage is legal. They employ people from over 50 different denominations, some of which sanction same-sex marriages. They are a parachurch organization not restricted to any specific doctrine, and, if they want to retain the broad appeal attained by the vague overarching title of “Christian” among their categorization and affiliates, they need to avoid controversial divisions.  It seems logical that they would make this change and statement.

They’ve decided not to “jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue.”

Ah, yes, but this very statement does choose a side — doesn’t it? It chooses the side of ambiguity. And to choose ambiguity on an issue defined in Scripture translates to (at best) diluting Scripture or (at worst) compromising and distorting Scripture.

Why Does It Matter?

A friend asked if the conservatives would really restrict gay people from helping the poor. Another blogged that fundamentalists aretaking a stand on the backs of starving children.”  Are those who oppose World Vision’s statement asserting that homosexual Christians aren’t qualified to feed the needy? That’s definitely petty — and not at all what this is about.

This isn’t about hiring gays either. With 1100 employees in the United States, World Vision already hires homosexuals, whether they acknowledge it or not, whether those people are “out” or not. The policy change doesn’t change their hiring, but their recognition and affirmation of gay marriage. It changes what they deem acceptable employee conduct.

The debate isn’t over who can or cannot serve the needy or about who can or cannot get a job with a Christian charity. It’s about what in God’s Word is negotiable and acceptable for those who claim to be Christ-followers. If you claim something is a denominational sidebar, you better be sure that it is.

And I’m quite certain this is not. Furthermore, I feel this ventures into dangerous territory. Allow me to explain my concerns.

INACCURACY.

Some things in Scripture are subjective, and American churches are filled with varying views on these. Rules of modesty, dancing, drinking, playing poker, forms of baptism or frequency of communion … even which day to gather for worship. These are things not explicitly outlined in Scripture. Teachings on these topics (among others) leave room for interpretation.

Homosexuality, however, is not a grey area.* The Bible contains 66 books written over 1500 years by more than 40 writers, all inspired by the Holy Spirit. Not once in those hundreds of pages is homosexuality discussed in a positive light. Not once is it commended or approved. Quite the opposite, actually. Scripture clearly defines it as sin and a heinous one.

Need references? Here are just a few.

  • Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 clearly detail homosexuality as against God’s Law.
  • Mark 7:21–23 and 1 Timothy 1:8–11 show how God’s Law is still relevant and applicable even in the New Testament, both before and after Christ’s sacrificial atonement and the implementation of the New Covenant.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9–20 shows how believers embraced grace and repented of their sins, including homosexuality, to align with God’s call to holiness and purity. (This is just one of a number of passages that show this.)
  • Galatians 5:19–21 shows how homosexuality (and other fruits of the flesh) stands in opposition to the Spirit and regenerated life in Christ.

Some claim that homosexuality wasn’t a debate within the church until recent history, the past fifty years. That’s because no one questioned what God’s Word says about it. It was clear in the Old Testament, clear in the New Testament, and there existed no reason to question it. I struggle to see any reason to question it now.

Homosexuality is not a new issue; questioning God’s position on it is. To assert that it is up for denominational interpretation is a dilution of Scripture. It claims that we cannot be sure that the Bible really means what it says. If we cannot trust parts of it, doesn’t all of it fall suspect?

Please understand that this is about biblical interpretation and application, not about how to treat other people. Frankly, I have enough sin in my own life to worry about. It’s silly and arrogant for me to waste energy ostracizing or even berating friends (yes, I do have gay friends), neighbors or brothers and sisters about what they do in theirs.

Let us understand God’s Word first. Then let us live out that understanding in grace and love. We all need it.

INCONSISTENCY.

One of the first things mentioned in the article, by Stearns, is that World Vision will still require its employees to abstain from sexual relations outside of marriage. (I don’t want to know how they monitor that.) In other words, adultery and promiscuity are bad, but homosexuality is okay, as long as the participants are legally married.

The organization defers the definition of and authority over sin to local churches (not Scripture), but the definition of and authority over marriage to the state. Even if we could forget that God both created and defined marriage long before governments were born, this thought process exhibits inconsistency. Why grant authority to opposing entities?

Let us not forget that World Vision spent four years in litigation (a case that ended on the desks of the Supreme Court) defending their right to refuse employment to candidates who did not affirm their Statement of Faith. That was less than three years ago, in October 2011.

I am highly uncomfortable with the hard line drawn on certain things and the entirely vague, or nonexistent, line drawn on others. It almost would have been better if they had eliminated all specifications of marriage and sexual activity than to make an allowance for this one.

IMPLICATIONS.

No man can omit part of Scripture without calling all of it into question. The Bible is either all true or it is all suspect. One cannot claim inerrancy in any part of it unless he claims inerrancy in all of it.

I listed a number of references above. These are just a few of the passages in the Bible that talk about homosexuality. What happens when you alter all of those passages? You remove more than just opposition to same-sex attractions and unions. You cut a hole in the Bible, a hole that easily and quickly expands.

Many of the offending passages present homosexuality in lists of immorality. Logically, if you remove the validity of one item in a list, you call the whole list into question. Profanity. Physical Abuse. Murder. Slavery. Stealing. Lying. Idolatry. Orgies. Sorcery. Hatred. Drunkenness. Jealousy.

Suddenly, it’s not just about homosexuality.

I know, I know … we are reasonable, enlightened people and we would never compromise on murder or idolatry. I hate to tell you, but we already have.

Abortion. Materialism. Euthanasia. Doctrinal Ecumenicalism. The American Way.

If we cannot stand firmly on God’s Word and what it teaches, we have no trustworthy foundation on which to stand. Everything else shifts. Everything changes. But God’s Word is constant. It is sure and true.

“Character is always lost when a high ideal is sacrificed on the altar of conformity and popularity.” — Charles Spurgeon

What are you going to do?

It’s not easy to be counter-cultural. It’s downright scary. That goes for voicing an opinion against mainstream culture or mainstream Christianity. I cannot tell you how much I have prayed while deliberating over and writing this piece.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy for World Vision to make this decision. The board vote was not unanimous. The bulk of their funding and support comes from evangelicals, many of whom are very quick to pull their support when crossed.

Before you do anything, please carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully consider your options. Jen Hatmaker outlined them well in her post, and I couldn’t say it better. I can, however, say it with greater brevity. (Yes, I just suggested brevity in a post nearing 2000 words.) Click over to her site to see them presented in greater eloquence and detail.

  1. If World Vision’s position offends your convictions, find another organization to support. There are many. Find one that aligns with your convictions. IF YOU ALREADY SPONSOR A WV CHILD, please consider carefully how you part ways with World Vision. There is a child and a community depending upon your support. Perhaps you could give notice of your intentions or fulfill your annual commitment rather than implementing an immediate stop payment.
  2. If, regardless of your views on gay marriage, this decision by World Vision is not a deal-breaker for you, continue your support. Maybe even increase your support.
  3. If you fully support World Vision’s stance and statement, show it by sponsoring a child or a project.

More Viewpoints

Lots of people have had lots to say in the two days since the announcement. Check out these posts for more on the issue:

(I know there are arguments that oppose my position. I’m okay with that. I’ve read many of them and simply cannot reconcile the provided logic or biblical interpretation with consistency. I would never claim to know everything or own the corner on theological understanding. This, however, is the understanding I have reached through extensive study and prayer.) 

Talk to me!

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