Image Source: World Vision
Written by: Ben Menghini
“When all is said and done, the increase of this love of God and neighbor remains the purpose and the hope of our preaching of the Gospel, of all our church organization and activity, of all our ministry, of all our efforts to train for the ministry, of Christianity itself.” –H. Richard Niebuhr
On Monday, March 24 World Vision International, a Christian ministry that provides humanitarian aid, made a major announcement. After asserting that they were not taking a theological position one way or the other, President Kevin Jenkins revealed that the non profit, which is based in Seattle, WA, would for the first time welcome married homosexuals as employees. Predictably, the decision provoked a passionate response from many American evangelicals (who make up a major part of World Vision’s support). Some of the most extreme, as well as vocal, responses condemned World Vision as apostate, and blamed gays and lesbians for the withdrawn support (because if gay people didn’t exist we wouldn’t have to voluntarily watch children suffer). There are such dramatic overstatements of the situation as “World Vision betrays the Gospel!” On the other side many expressed their support of World Vision’s decision, reminding supporters that real lives were at stake, and anticipating the backlash some set up campaigns seeking sponsors to replace those withdrawing their support. Indeed, in possibly the most repulsive misarticulation of the Gospel I can remember, thousands withdrew their support and dropped their sponsorship of children in need claiming that they were standing up for biblical values. Then on Wednesday afternoon, World Vision pulled an abrupt about face, returning to their former policy and issuing an apology. Now, after a culture battle no one saw coming that left no one unharmed, there are a lot of pieces to pick up.
There is a lot to be said about the Christian posture toward LGBTQ individuals and the many ways that Christians have used this World Vision incident to make them feel shunned, worthless, invalidated, burdensome, or even tried to make them look guilty, but I will cover that in a post next Monday. For anyone who cannot wait to talk about this, spend some time studying what Jesus actually said about homosexuality.
Instead I think it is more appropriate to begin by putting our emphasis where the bible puts its emphasis: on the poor. The bible says far more about care for the poor, the alien, widow, and the orphan, and in much clearer words, than what it vaguely says on homosexuality. Helpful here is the reformation doctrine of sola scriptura, correctly understood. It means “scripture alone” and it took shape as the reformers were breaking with the Catholic Church. Crassly put, it says that we pile our own shit on top of what the bible actually has to say, and so we distort it to say things that it does not say (see Rev. Matt Miofsky for a more eloquent articulation). This is the accusation Martin Luther leveled against the selling of indulgences. The same is true about what we think the bible says about the poor, or about homosexuality. We bring so much of our own baggage into our reading of scripture, that we forget what it actually has to say. So let’s take a look at what the bible actually has to say about the poor, and our responsibility to them:
Proverbs 19:17 says “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full,” and in Proverbs 28:27 it says “Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse.” In Proverbs 14:31 it says “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him,” it seems to be rather good advice to be on the side of the poor. In Deuteronomy 10 Moses is explaining the essence of the law and says “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The essence of the law is to be like the God who rescues, and to remember that you were once in need of rescue. We all were once poor in some way, and because God has rescued us we now seek to rescue others. Indeed the book of the Psalms constantly praises God as one who rescues the poor, and the king who serves God must a servant to the poor as well.
In Luke 4 Jesus makes this his mission statement quoting Isaiah: “‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,’” and in his sermon on the mount he declared “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” It is in Matthew 25:31-46 that he says:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
In the letter of James we are told very precisely what it means to be rich and poor. In 1:27 he says “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” In chapter 2 we are reminded “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?… Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” In chapter 5 he offers harsh words for those who are wealthy and do not care for the marginalized: “Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” Even the Apostle John wonders about the implications of refusing to serve the poor, saying in his first letter “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
There is much in the bible about supporting the poor that I left out, but even from this sampling it becomes obvious that Jesus, and the entire narrative of scripture, is deeply concerned for those in need. It makes it then that much more infuriating to see Christians withdrawing their sponsorship of children in need because an organization is willing to hire gay people, and claiming that their decision is based on the bible. Nothing could be further from the message of scripture. Every single person who dropped their support for World Vision in the name of biblical values is a fool, plain and simple. It is an absolutely despicable and indefensible action which will put those in need through pointless and preventable suffering. They should be so ashamed of themselves, as surely Jesus is.
For those who think they are “brave” for taking an “unpopular position,” and feel they are persecuted, I have a hard truth for you. You are not brave, you are a coward. People who are brave are on the side of the marginalized, the oppressed, and yes especially the poor. Those who are brave stand by their commitments. Cowards let their preferences get in the way of helping those in need, cowards abandon poor children trapped in poverty and unable to fend for themselves on a whim. So let me offer this counter narrative to the one running through many evangelical circles: Those who have neglected the poor have betrayed the gospel! And unlike Russell Moore, Trevin Wax, Matt Kennedy, and others, I actually have the hard scriptural evidence to back up that claim.
Ben Menghini comes from a Reformed Presbyterian background, but has strong Neo-Anabaptist and Post-Liberal leanings. He also has strong Dark-Chocolate leanings. He received his bachelor’s degree in History and Religion from Greenville College in 2012, where he contributed articles on church and theology to the college newspaper. He currently works part time as the administrative assistant and chief of staff at New Covenant United Methodist Church, and as a chaplain in St. Louis, MO. He studies Historical Theology at Eden Theological Seminary.