Associated Press, April 3, 2014: Last week, World Vision U.S. was at the center of an uproar after confirming it would hire employees in gay marriages. … Some prominent evangelical leaders condemned the decision, and several thousand donors canceled their child sponsorships over the new policy. Within two days, the charity backtracked, causing a separate backlash, this time from evangelicals and others who supported recognition for married gay employees.
One morning last week, my husband and I decided to sponsor a World Vision child, but not for the reasons you might think. We talked about it in the car on our way to drop him off at work.
Over the cries of our 6-week-old and the whines of our 4-year-old -- “Dad, you promised to tell me a story from when you were a little boy!” -- we agreed to send money to a kid somewhere in the world who needs books to read, clothes to wear and goats to raise and eat.
Our decision is simple and humanitarian, but it will seem political to some. After recent events, World Vision is now a pariah to many on both sides of the political divide. Conservatives disapprove of the nonprofit’s initial decision to allow married gays to be on staff, while liberals disapprove of its second decision to do an about-face and affirm traditional marriage.
Both sides might accuse me of being unprincipled for now becoming a World Vision sponsor. After all, I should vote with my wallet, they might say. I must choose a side. I must stand in solidarity with either the embattled left or the embattled right.
Yet officials at World Vision tell me that, as of last week, about 10,000 kids were at risk of losing support, as people on both sides of the argument dropped their sponsorships. My husband and I are choosing to stand with those kids. We’re hunkered down in the crossfire clutching only one of the thousands who need help.
I understand the significance of the marriage debate. What could be more important than underscoring (for the right) or expanding (for the left) the established boundaries of family and society?
This is: helping children.
If 10,000 kids were victims of an earthquake, they would make headlines around the world, and Christians would rally support with bake sales, fund drives and mission trips. (In fact, World Vision is already at work helping to assess damage from the earthquake in Chile.)
World Vision, however, isn’t dealing with a natural disaster but a man-made one. The impact is not as immediate -- World Vision will take measures to cover the losses for now -- but eventually it will be felt, and thousands of kids will be harmed. We ought to step into that gap, the one that no one wants to touch. And regardless of who’s at fault, we ought to step in together.
Instead, we’re too busy engaged in culture wars. We’re too busy firing shots to think prudently. By all means, let’s continue the fight -- it has massive implications for the future of our country -- but let’s take it to a more appropriate theater. Let’s take it to some other front where kids aren’t in the combat zone, at risk of becoming cheap collateral damage.
When World Vision President Richard Stearns came out with his first statement, he was perhaps naive to think that he or anyone else could hold a centrist position. We have to take a side, really -- hopefully, in a spirit of sympathy and civility toward the other. (And yes, that is possible, and yes, I have seen it practiced by both conservatives and liberals.) But surely we can hold our respective convictions and even fight for those convictions without harming kids in developing countries.
Some argue that we should send our money elsewhere. But supporting other organizations -- whether pro-left or pro-right -- won’t help the World Vision children who lost sponsorships. Doing so would be like sending aid to India after a tsunami hit Japan.
Boycotts, of course, are typically an acceptable method of political warfare. People do it all the time. But in this case we’re dealing with a relief organization. If we do battle on this front, we undermine our core humanitarian values by leaving innocent civilians in the cross hairs.
The question is, are we willing to set aside our principles, at least temporarily, on the issues that divide us for the sake of a principle that we share in common -- alleviating poverty? Can the adults on both sides step in on behalf of the disenfranchised children, even if it’s only a stopgap measure?
Even as I write this, I wonder if my bleeding heart has got the better of me and I can’t see the forest for the trees. For me, however, the trees are not nameless abstractions. They are children that I grew up with as a Quaker missionary kid in rural Kenya.
They’re also people with whom I went to college, one in particular named Moses Pulei, whose World Vision sponsorship equipped him with school supplies, guaranteed food during famine and provided a flock of sheep to his father.
“My World Vision sponsorship allowed me to go to school, get health care, clean water and even food,” Pulei told me last week. “Without it, I would not have survived some of the difficult times I experienced as a child. It was profoundly important to my life.”
I hope the same for our new sponsor child, a 10-year-old named Bathsheba who, incidentally, comes from Kenya as well. (My 4-year-old has plans to send her a drawing of a bathtub as well as a homemade fly swatter crafted from ribbon and rock.)
Pulei, who has taught theology at Whitworth University and worked for World Vision in Africa, said the dropped sponsorships are only punishing the children.
“These are innocent children who do not understand why a person who wrote letters and expressed their love in the name of Christ would suddenly stop helping,” he said. “This will be a disaster for thousands of children who were promised a better life.”
I have no interest in being caught in the crossfire of an ideological fight. I understand people’s reasons; really I do. Some of you feel betrayed, either by World Vision’s first position or by their retraction of that position.
But let’s not abandon the children of World Vision. If you dropped a sponsorship, consider reacquiring it. If you’re not involved, get involved. Get your church involved, too, even your denomination.
Even as we negotiate our very real differences, let’s respond to this situation as if it were a natural disaster. Let’s take care of the momentous need right in front of us: children with names and faces, with particular birthdays living in particular places.
Jesus said, “When you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me” (Matthew 25:40 NLT). If both the left and the right can agree on our Christian call to help those who represent Christ in our midst, then all of us need to step in and support those 10,000 Christs who lost sponsorships.