It’s a story that has all the ingredients: sex, faith, money and politics. On Monday, World Vision, a US Christian charity that raises money to sponsor needy children around the world, announced a policy change whereby it would henceforth allow couples in committed same-sex marriages to serve on its staff (while maintaining its existing rule requiring sexual abstinence outside of marriage.)
There has been much debate over the reasons behind this decision. I don’t really want to get into those here; if you want to know the reasons given by the organisation itself, read the article linked above.
The announcement sparked two fairly predictable reactions. On the one hand, it was warmly welcomed by Christians sympathetic to the LGBT community. On the other hand, it was roundly condemned by conservative evangelicals, with one well-known voice from that camp tweeting “Farewell, World Vision”, suggesting that this previously widely respected charity had wandered off the map of acceptable Christian practice and openly embraced heresy.
Over the ensuing two days, much ink was spilt on both sides of the debate. The main source of controversy was not just the decision itself but its knock-on effects: many existing sponsors (some reports say as many as two thousand) decided to withdraw their sponsorship, inviting the accusation that they were more concerned about sexual ethics than about caring for the poor and needy.
Then yesterday, before the dust even began to settle, World Vision announced that it was performing a U-turn by withdrawing its policy change. Again, speculation as to the whys and wherefores of this surprising reversal was rife, with much sound and fury and throwing up of hands in horror (and, it has to be said, a degree of apparent smugness among those who had been quick to condemn the original decision).
I could get into a discussion about what all of this means for the US evangelical church, but I’m neither equipped nor inclined to go there. In fact, all of the above is really just background for what I really want to talk about, which is this: how we respond to what we perceive as sin in our midst.
What I’ve found deeply upsetting about the whole World Vision debacle is not so much the decision that World Vision made, nor even whether or not people agreed with it. It’s how Christians expressed their disagreement, often in incredibly unchristlike ways. How does the church hope to have any possibility of inviting unbelievers into the knowledge of God’s incredible, all-surpassing love if it can’t even demonstrate basic respect within its own ranks?
It seems to me that, for many Christians, the most important thing is not to give even the merest suggestion that they might be “condoning” sin. So rather than take the risk of being seen to condone sin, they would rather judge and divide, and publicly announce “farewell” to an organisation that has made a moral decision with which they disagree.
But ask yourself this: was Jesus worried about appearing to condone sin? Of course he wasn’t. If he’d been concerned that people might mistakenly think he was tacitly approving sin, do you honestly think he would have spent so much time hanging out with ruffians, prostitutes and tax collectors? I submit to you that Jesus didn’t give a hoot whether people thought he might be condoning sin. You might say his insouciance in this earned him a bad reputation, but if it did, that was only among the religious morality police. Sinners loved him.
I’m not questioning whether or not God hates sin; I think we can take that as a given. I’m not even taking a dogmatic position here on whether or not homosexual practice is sin; that’s a debate for another time. What I’m calling out is our often appalling response to behaviour that we consider sinful.
It seems to me that our response to sin in others is often You must stop doing that because it’s morally wrong and offensive to God. Whereas I tend to think Jesus’ response is more along the lines of You must stop doing that because you’re hurting yourself and those around you. This is not to say that sin isn’t offensive to God in and of itself; it’s just to say that God has decided not to be offended by it. You could even say God doesn’t have a problem with sin (though I know a statement like that is bound to attract the wolves); we’re the ones who have a problem with it.
Even if you firmly consider homosexual practice to be sinful, the bottom line is this: we’re all sinners in need of healing. Those of us whose brokenness is primarily manifested through same-sex relationships are really no different from those of us whose brokenness is primarily manifested through lying, anger, envy, pride, gluttony, or any other sin you care to mention. It’s just that for cultural and perhaps other reasons we’ve decided to make homosexuality the sin above all sins.
Again, the point I’m not trying to make here is that Christians should be okay with homosexuality; the point I’m making is that Christians should be okay with homosexuals.
As I said, we’re all sinners in need of healing. And that’s the key: what we need is healing, not judgement. If Jesus tells me I’m a dirty sinner and the only way I can accept him is by changing, that doesn’t help me change; if anything, it just increases my shame and makes me more likely to engage in compulsive self-destructive behaviour to self-medicate.
But here’s the thing: Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved. That being the case, how does Jesus speak to my sin? I think this is what he says: he tells me he knows I’m broken but he loves me and forgives me anyway. And hearing this from Jesus creates a heart response of gratitude in me that makes me much more likely to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as he works to transform me in all areas, including but not limited to my broken sexuality.
I’m really not sure how to wrap this up, so let’s try this: Christians often say that we need to show the world both truth and love. The trouble is, we often seem to very quickly veer from truth into condemnation and judgement. So how about we major on loving and leave the judging to God?
(You may also be interested in a post I published back in September 2013, shortly after the UK Parliament adopted same-sex marriage legislation.)
[ Image: Bolton ]