Nothing about the World Vision debacle was a victory for Christianity. Even though they reversed their decision, the case highlights a growing desire on the part of Christians to accept homosexual marriage. Paul Raushenbush of The Huffington Post commented: “In the end, however, World Vision’s waffling is still a victory. It shows that there were many people within the organization that wanted the exclusionary policy against LGBT people changed.”
Unfortunately, the biggest takeaway many people got was that Christians would rather see people starve than give up an argument. Many who had sponsored a poor child for years called in to drop their support. Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, placed the losses at around 5000 sponsors – up to 2.1 million a year.
The question in the minds of many is, “Shouldn’t Christians be focusing on helping the poor instead of making a big deal about homosexual marriage?”
On the surface that might seem plausible. After all Jesus didn’t talk about homosexuality, but he did talk about helping the poor. Shouldn’t we be emphasizing what Jesus emphasized?
To answer that question, we need to take into account several contextual factors in Jesus’ ministry and in our situation today.
1. Jesus mission was not primarily to end poverty and disease.
The first factor we need to understand was that although Jesus did not speak to the issue of homosexual marriage, it is clear that he cared about more than just feeding the hungry and healing the sick. His primary mission on earth was to save men and women holistically. Yes, he cared about their physical condition, and he often used showing compassion as a means of conveying truth. His primary ministry, however, was one of teaching. He was almost constantly teaching his disciples privately or preaching to huge crowds. And he was noted for his striking, authoritative, communication style. He boldly confronted all kinds of sin, but most notably the sin of hypocrisy that was rampant among the spiritual leaders of the day.
That was the reason that Christ was rejected by the Pharisees but found an audience among the sinners. The proud Pharisees didn’t want to hear that they were sinners; the harlots and the tax collectors needed no convincing. Many of them longed for the spiritual healing Christ offered and came to him broken and repentant and found mercy and kindness. Yet Christ did not ignore or condone their sin. He told them “Go and sin no more.”
Jesus didn’t fall for the false dichotomy of either showing compassion on people or confronting them with their sin. He perfectly knew people’s hearts and how to approach them. We too need to be sensitive in our approach. We never want to communicate hatred for any person, but we can’t be wishy-washy about calling sinners to repentance either.
2. Jesus didn’t need to address the gay agenda.
Although Jesus did confront sexual sin, here, and here, and when speaking to the woman at the well, he never spoke about the specific sin of homosexuality. That’s because he didn’t really need to. I’m sure it happened, but in the Jewish culture he ministered in such a thing would have been uncommon. It was much more common, say, amid the excesses of the Roman culture (which is why Romans 1 comes down so strongly on that lifestyle).
Jesus did explicitly define a marriage as being between a man and a woman in Matthew 19:4-5:
Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said,‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?
In the Jewish culture of Jesus day, it was assumed that marriage was between a man and a woman; anything else would have been unthinkable. Therefore Jesus did not need to engage in extensive discussion about homosexuality.
3. Jesus said some things are more important than helping the poor.
The Gospel of Mark tells this story in chapter 14:
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.
That woman’s act of worship was more important to Jesus than anything she could do for others. No one could argue that Jesus did not care about the poor. Yet the test of love for him is not helping the poor, but obeying His commandments. And certainly Jesus expected obedience to all of Scripture.
4. Jesus unequivocally supported the authority of Scripture.
Jesus made it clear that his authority was in harmony with Scripture, not opposed to it:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Some people today think that all those commands against homosexuality in the Old Testament were superseded by Christ, who taught only the “law of love.” Christ explicitly says here that it’s not so. The law of love for God and others was what He taught should be the foundation of obedience to God, not the excuse for condoning wickedness in the name of love.
So bringing it back to our own situation, we can apply what we’ve learned about Jesus in these ways:
- We must recognize that spiritual poverty is much more critical than physical poverty. While we should emulate Christ’s compassion toward all people and try to mitigate the effects of sin and the fall, we can never do so while ignoring the spiritual impact of decisions that we make.
- We don’t need to argue about helping the poor. Christ assumed that we would be reaching out to them. People who believe the Bible should be even more compassionate to those who are hurting. So just because we speak up against accepting homosexual marriage doesn’t mean we don’t care about the poor.
- War on sin is the most effective antidote to all forms of marginalization. Christians realize that all disease, discomfort, and death is a result of sin and the fall. Not only did the fall bring these terrible calamities to us, but much of the poverty and disease in the world today is a direct result of sin. So if we truly care about the poor, we will care about sin and wage war against it – in our own lives and in every arena we touch, realizing that Christ offers the only solution for sin and eventual reversal of its effects.
- Those who compromise to the culture cannot impact the culture. The ironic outcome of the fundamentalists / modernist controversy of the early 20th century was that the churches and institutions that accepted liberal theology have become largely irrelevant. They were gutted of their message and their heart. Their constituents had no need for them any longer. The same will be true of Christians who compromise to the changing norms of culture. In seeking to be accepting of the spirit of the age, they will find their Christianity to be no longer relevant. If they accept what God says is sin, there is no need for Christ to save anyone from it.
World Vision initially made the statement that “not their place to take a theological stance on a divisive issue.” What that really means is that for pragmatic purposes they would be willing to eject any doctrine that people might disagree on. That’s why they were so quick to reverse their decision when it started impacting donations. They tried to do what is impossible: maintain a Christian ethos without claiming any theology as the basis for it. Everybody is a theologian and theology is everywhere. What you believe has huge implications on what you do. You can’t ignore the teachings of Scripture and truly follow Jesus, and you won’t truly help the poor either if you do.