World Vision has a lesson to share

…and it isn’t what you think.

This whole World Vision debacle (becoming inclusive toward LGBT families and then retracting it when hell breaks loose among their conservative charitable base)… I’ll tell you, this is something that plagues organizations that wish to build a base around interdenominational religious financial support. Here is something to ponder. If you start an organization that actually goes out into the field to do the work that Jesus might suggest — living among the poor, caring for the marginalized and society’s “least” — then you can pretty much guarantee that a wide appeal will get you money, but not without a price.

World Vision has spent years hawking their ministry at big Christian music festivals, concerts, and events — all almost exclusively supported and developed by the conservative commercial base of Evangelical Christianity. They, after all, had the niche media machine — bookstores, radio stations, and brand-name musical artists,mega-churches, celebrity pastors, etc. Their theology was wrapped around the notion that giving (money) would come back to them “pressed down shaken together and overflowing.” They call that “prosperity doctrine.” Most, short a mission trip to Mexico here and there, viewed giving money as their primary vehicle to living out the call of Jesus (which often is viewed by this group as gathering converts to Christianity, personal salvation, etc.).

The same crowd often politically and (somehow) morally opposed religious and secular people who did the same type of work domestically that World Vision does abroad.

What we saw this week with World Vision, then becomes framed differently than most social media vehicles have represented because what really happened here was that World Vision — who knows firsthand what working and living along the marginalized means — naturally followed that progression into their domestic and staff policies as well. A good portion of their supporters, on the other hand, acted in response based mostly in the theocratic ideology that has been well developed since the 1980s. I mean, they’ll pay World Vision to do the work of Jesus (whatever that means), as long as they don’t go making decisions out of generosity and experience that start to challenge that domestic political policy line.

I think this is a lesson for the local church and organization as well. If your supporters think that they are buying you as a means to convey their theology and politics to the world, then the (lack of) trust involved in that relationship will be very different from a relationship where they are buying into a program/ministry that is rooted in following its own theology/praxis model — especially in cases where there is lots of praxis involved to bring richness to that experience. It is probably easier to do the former, as it usually involves only telling your constituents as little as possible to get them to donate (because the less they know, the more likely they are to find commonality and buy in — and the videos of starving children, because emotional appeal works). In the latter model they need to know how your organizational values might shape and challenge their faith/theology/experience. This requires a great deal more relationship and likely a smaller scale. This is trouble for people wishing to build or maintain mega-ministries (large transnational denominations, international para-church orgs, etc), but it is little surprise to those who have been doing the work “on the ground,” so to speak, already.

So my ministry and organizational friends, choose your bedfellows wisely… as their wallets may force you to lose your humanity someday.


P.S. To anyone who would pull finding from their sponsored child due to the fact that an organization you’ve supported right along decides to treat their gay staff members with equal social respect and dignity does not a neighbor make — to the starving kid you claim you deeply love and “sponsor” nor to your gay neighbors. This can’t be covered up by some notion of “love the sinner, hate the sin” or draped in some discussion about how this is part of the “holy conversation” that we must have around LGBT issues. You’re penalizing and further marginalizing a *child* — one with whom you’ve exchanged letters and photographs — because you want to penalize gay people and the people who might treat them humanely. That kind of vengeful behavior is not any kind of “Christian principle” that I recognize. I doubt you’d be ok with someone withholding food from your child in order to make some political point. Nope, you’d find that abhorrent and wrong on many levels. So do I.