World Vision & The Problem With The Faith-Based Label

If you hadn’t noticed, the world of American Christendom/Evangelicalism is being rocked by the announcement by Richard Stearns of World Vision that they will not refuse to hire someone in a homosexual marriage legally recognised by the State of Washington.

Leading Christian voices are sounding off left, right, and center.

– John Piper and The Gospel Coalition have been fairly predictable and quick to condemn the move.- Red Letter Christians wonders if World Vision would be getting “Rob Belled” if they hadn’t been so public about it.- Jen Hatmaker is asking everyone to stop tearing each other apart and have a more measured, compassionate response.- Rachel Held Evans has turned off the comments after calling Evangelicals “obsessed with homosexuality.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure the tremors will grow louder.

UPDATE: According to World Magazine, the board of World Vision has reversed their decision due to Evangelical uproar. The interesting thing to me is that board members are sharing that they had “unintentionally undermined their commitment to the authority of Scripture,” even after Richard Stearns’ explanation to Christianity Today that the original decision was NOT a statement of World Vision’s understanding of what Scripture says about homosexuality. It still begs the primary question of this blog post: Why can’t a charity leader be held to the same standard as a business leader who is a Christian? Is the problem found in the label?

Rather than offer yet another rant/diatribe that I would have to inevitably follow up with a disclaimer about my view not necessarily being the official position of Communitas, I’d just like to offer up some relevant questions that relate to the idea about labels, particularly in the charity/nonprofit sector. In my own life, it has far more to do with the messy work of having an incarnational influence that transcends rhetorical labels than it does with making decisions based on what we’re against or what we find morally offensive as Christ-followers. (And by the way, if any personal views do happen to get expressed below, they are not necessarily officially endorsed by Communitas.)

The first question that has been bouncing around in my head and heart is this: Do we expect Christian leaders in the private sector (eg., CEOs of Chick-Fil-A, Otter Box, etc.) to avoid hiring non-Christians who don’t hold to the same moral values? My hunch is that most Evangelicals would at least expect these leaders to hire a combination of Christians and people who don’t belong to the Evangelical tribe. Those with a robust Kingdom/missionary understanding of their faith would even hope for these leaders to be proactive about having a measured, strategic Kingdom influence through their hiring policies.

The hiring policies of these Christian leaders would not necessarily be a good way for them to “stand up for what is right” or to otherwise express their doctrinal or moral stances. They may hire a woman who is a great fit for the job but is an atheist with a live-in boyfriend (or even a married lesbian?). In the world that a Christian business person lives in, they have incredible opportunity to have influence amongst people, such as their employees and other business leaders, who would never even consider walking through the doors of a Christian church.

So why would we expect something different from a world class charity organization that is on the front lines of economic development and humanitarian aid around the world? Could it be that maybe the problem for World Vision was that they were too explicitly Christian or “faith-based” in the first place? 

In today’s post-Christendom world, could it be preferable for a nonprofit, led by Christians, to move ahead with a vision inspired by the substance of the Kingdom of God WITHOUT the rhetoric of a faith-based label?

Why can people of faith in economic relief and development NOT be about the Kingdom of God with their organizational goals and allow for a staffing policy that would allow non-Christians (or Christians they disagree with!) to leverage their gifting/talent for the sake of the stated mission of the nonprofit?

Could it be that the arguments of John Piper and scores of other Evangelical leaders taking issue with Stearns are actually a big fat red herring? The moral rightness or wrongness of homosexuality is not at issue here. The issue is the freedom of a Christian nonprofit leader to allow for a staffing policy that allows the hiring of people with whom he or she may not agree.

In my own efforts to live on mission with God and to announce AND demonstrate the in-breaking Kingdom of God, these are critical questions. At the end of the day, I want to remove any labels and barriers that may create distance between my life and the lives of people who have never been offered a chance to see Jesus in a favorable light. If that includes dropping the faith-based rhetoric from my nonprofit community development work, then so be it.

(There are lots of questions posed in this blog post. Please share your thoughts, additional questions, concerns, in the comments section below. And, of course, please keep it civil and respectful.)