World Vision's secular myopia
By Michael R. Shannon
web posted April 7, 2014
Maybe it was a Mexican divorce.
Late last month World Vision President Richard Stearns walks hand–in–hand down the aisle pledging fealty to homosexual marriage until death do they part. This is big news, because World Vision is a Christian charity and the nation's 10th largest.
Then, only 48 hours later, the happy couple is fighting over who gets to keep the china as Stearns backpedals furiously.
And through all the uproar Stearns has this slightly baffled aspect, as if he'd just spent the last two days selling flowers in Terminal A for the Moonies, and now his parents have whisked him back home where he decides joining the Jaycees isn't that bad after all.
For those who missed the controversy, in Christianity Today World Vision announced it "will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman" — an implied endorsement of homosexual marriage.
Stearns characterized this surrender as a "very narrow policy change." Yet AP described it as "a dramatic policy change on one of the most divisive social issues facing religious groups."
During an interview Stearns became defensive, "We're not caving to some kind of pressure. We're not on some slippery slope…This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues."
Which makes one grateful World Vision didn't have any members of Westboro Baptist on the board.
Still you can't help but wonder what version of the Bible Stearns and the board is consulting. "This is also not about compromising the authority of Scripture. People can say, 'Scripture is very clear on this issue,' and my answer is, 'Well ask all the theologians and denominations that disagree with that statement."
This is sophistry. Bart Ehrman is James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the UNC and a best–selling author, yet he denies the divinity of Christ, which at the time this is written World Vision still supports. Evidently Stearns and the board pick–and–choose among theologians as they pick–and–choose among Bible verses.
Then demonstrating his utter cluelessness regarding fundamental issues of church doctrine and how the secular world views the faithful, Stearns remarked, "I don't want to predict the reaction we will get. I think we've got a very persuasive series of reasons for why we're doing this, and it's my hope that all of our donors and partners will understand it, and will agree with our exhortation to unite around what unites us."
I suppose this type of reasoning makes sense when your reading matter is limited to The New York Times and Sojourners.
But in the Evangelical Christian world his "persuasive series of reasons" produced a stunning backlash. In the ensuing 48 hours World Vision lost money, support and credibility. Approximately 5,000 individual sponsors and contributors canceled, costing the organization upwards of $2.1 million. 60 church partners called the office to withdraw their support. And a number of employees at headquarters resigned. Some in protest, some because of the stress of dealing with the fallout from Stearns' colossal stupidity.
Wednesday a chastened Stearns and board chairman Jim Beré signed a contrite letter that read, "We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness."
Later in a conference call with reporters, Stearns elaborated, "We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness" and if he "could have a do-over on one thing, I would have done much more consultation with Christian leaders."
But he just ran out of time, what will all the meetings with The New York Times editorial board, the Human Rights Campaign and the cast of The Laramie Project.
The rapid retraction is a good first step, but the fact remains World Vision's current leadership is unfit to run the organization.
In a post–divorce interview with Religion News Service, Stearns is taken aback by the notion he bears any responsibility. "No, there have been no serious requests for my resignation. I would certainly under- stand if the board wanted to make a decision around that. Some of the board members have asked the question about their own resignation. Right now, our feeling is we were all in this together. We made certainly, in retrospect, a bad decision, but we did it with the right motivations."
Here we agree. Stearns and the board are all in it together and they should all take the honorable path and resign.
Here's just a brief rundown of the unnecessary havoc these morally blind people have caused:
1. Seriously damaged a reputation in the Evangelical community it took 63 years to build.
2. Proved themselves totally unfit to manage the reputation and public relations of a billion dollar organization by demonstrating a basic failure to understand the culture and media.
3. Potentially endangered employees working in Africa where governments are passing laws criminalizing homosexual conduct.
4. Cost the organization millions of dollars.
5. Opened World Vision up to scrutiny and attack from militant homosexual organizations and a hostile Obama administration.
6. Distracted the staff from the mission of serving the world's poor.
Any one of these offenses is enough, but all are an indictment that only resignation, reflection and repentance will answer.
Naturally many Christian leaders are welcoming World Vision's return to the fold and urging Christians to resume financial and prayer support. But as for me, if I want to make a contribution to an organization run by leadership that is this slippery and disingenuous, I'll send a check to Congress.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at mandate.mmpr (at) gmail.com. He is also the author of the forthcoming book: "Funny Conservative" Is Not an Oxymoron. (Or any other type of moron).