More World, Less Vision*

This is a sad blog to write. It is about a profound failure in a ministry whose track record has been good, even exemplary. World Vision has served the needs of the poor in exceptional ways for decades. I recall with deep fondness visiting numerous times their school site located on the edge of the garbage dump in Guatemala City, Guatemala. I took students in to show how poverty can be met with ministry. Their outreach to children living in the dump to give them a core education using the help of volunteers and seminary students showed love and compassion of the deepest kind. It was the faith at its caring best.

But the decision World Vision made to accept same sex marriages among its employees was a betrayal of that care for kids. It let different kind of standards guide their choices than that which has led them to minister to kids in the dump. The betrayal was not about laws in a nation nor about rights in the public square debate about same sex marriage. People are making their choices there quite evident. Our culture has signed on, for better or for worse. No, this act was a betrayal of the nature of the Christian community and the importance of pursuing divine standards in our ways of life within that community. It was a denial of how Jesus defined marriage as between a man and a woman when he was asked about divorce. It was a rejection of the call of the Christian community to be distinctive even as the world goes its own way. It ignores that whatever one might expect of standards of life in the world or see there, that Christians are to strive to live and love in a way that is not merely what others do.

World Vision had an explanation for why it did what it did. Its goal was Christian unity, acknowledging a disagreement about the area of monogamous same sex marriage across all the denominations World Vision serves. It was opting out of that debate, just as it does on modes of baptism. No one should doubt the sincerity of the transparency this announcement conveys. What is questioned by one sympathetic to all the good World Vision does is the judgment and lack of discernment it reflects.

The suggestion that this debate is equal to a kind of neutral thing, like modes of baptism, reflects a blind spot of black hole proportions. The idea that the decision might hope to unify the church by accepting that which Jesus and the Scripture rejects shows how tone deaf the action is. The explanation and defense in part was that because same sex marriage is now legal, World Vision did not want to be placed in a position of excluding someone who meets a legal standard. So what World Vision did was let the world set its moral standard and lose its vision for reflecting to righteousness that God sets forth as a Christian community's standard of righteousness. It ignored how unitedly the church has read these texts for centuries despite more recent discussion. God's vision for how we are to live by His Spirit calls us to do better than the world. One can only pray that World Vision will regain its biblical sight and move from more world and less vision to being an example again. 

Darrell L. Bock is Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, where he has taught since 1982. He also is Executive Director of Cultural Engagement at the Howard G. Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement at the Seminary.

* This post first appeared in http://blogs.bible.org/bock on 3/26/2014. It is reprinted here with the permission of Dr. Darrell Bock.

Note from TKE: World Vision, admitting that it had made a mistake, reversed its decision to allow its American Branch to hire employees in same sex marriages on 3/26/2014, less than two days after it first announced the policy. Dr. Bock’s comments, though written before World Vision’s retraction, remains relevant and is a somber reminder to Christian leaders that we must be in the world, but not of the world!