Reversal: Its Lesson

Darrell L. Bock's picture

The board of World Vision is to be thanked for its prayerful reconsideration of its earlier decision. Reflecting and turning back is a very biblical concept. The move shows the heart intent of the organization as we live in a complex world full of ethical tension and their ultimate desire to represent Christ well. The criticism that came was because many Christians so love what World Vision stands for and what it seeks to represent in its care for those in need. This is true of the engagement on the entire topic. It is love that motivates critique, not hate. That is what good friends do. They challenge because they seek to love well. And friends also take such critique seriously. So again, thanks for listening to those who spoke out.

Comments

I totally agree, Darrell. It does show that they are still responsive to their evangelical community. Now the kick back from the other community will come, I am guessing. Prayers for them 

Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. You would know that, if you'd read the bible. But you haven't, because you're a stupid old man with a lot of stupid ideas about how the world should work based on what your mommy and daddy taught you in Sunday School. People like You are the reason there is hatred in the world. 

Darrell: You cited Jesus' teachings on divorce as the reason why marriage must be between a man and a woman. I believe that World Vision allows for remarried divorcees to be hired. Why would hiring a married homosexual be a problem and hiring a remarried divorcee not be a problem?

I think Mr. Stearns should be fired for even broaching the subject and allowing his PERSONAL issues about life interfere with the overall ministry.
To even bring the subject up has caused WV a huge distraction.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Two of the above comments show lots of anger. Not sure how that helps us in a very difficult and complex discussion.

 

Samuel, Jesus defined marriage as between a man and a woman in the biblical text in Matthew 19. I did not grow up in the church and go to Sunday school. I said what I said because of biblical texts like Matthew 19 and Romans 1:18-32. No hatred here at all, just a concern that people care for each other well. Not sure you can know who I am simply because you disagree with me.

 

Mark, I have no way of knowing whose views led to the initial decision. I am grateful for the turn in approach and would suggest that even though the discussion was a distraction now there is a solid opportunity to show how forgiveness works. We should honor the return and affirm it. Doing less asks us to operate on a basis different from how God forigves us.

 

As to the policy question, as you likely know Dan, there are exceptions in Matthew's texts to divorce (adultery) that qualify it for some who remarry and Paul adds another (unbeliever desertion). So because I do not know exactly how that policy works and if there are limits ot how it works, beyond this I cannot comment. 

My hope would be that we can discuss these topics without suc a great change in blood pressure. 

 
Dr. Bock.  You say, "The board of World Vision is to be thanked for its prayerful reconsideration of its earlier decision."
 
As much as I'd like to believe this, I'm finding it difficult to do so.  Let me remind you of what they said two days ago in their letter to World Vision employees, explaining their original policy change...
 
"By way of background, our board of directors is recognized as one of the leaders among Christian organizations in the U.S. It includes deeply spiritual and wise believers, among them several pastors, a seminary president, and a professor of theology. Since this policy change involves the sensitive issue of human sexuality, the board spent several years praying about and discussing this issue."
 
So these "deeply  spiritual and wise believers", who are responsible for the direction of World Vision, spend "years" in prayerful consideration before making the first change.  And we're just supposed to accept their contention that the reason they went back on that change was because of an extra two days of prayerful consideration?
 
I can understand how you would want to think the best, and I commend you for it.  But honestly?  Isn't that a bit of  a stretch?

Darrell L. Bock's picture

The fact this took a long time to make the initial decision means they knew how controversial it would be. The fact, when challenged they reversed, means they listened to the critique their friends sent their way is commendable. They could have said, "No, we prayed over years and beleive in principle we made the right decision" and dig in. Instead, they chose to listen. (I am not divine enough to say why). Now I share concerns that people have and had that this initial decision was taken. That was the point of my initial blog. What a lack of judgment that decision reflected, but turning back was not only hard and in one sense embarrassing, it is commendable. There is a wisdom is seeing one has taken a problematic direction and then retrace those steps. My query now is whether the church understands repentance or sets up hurdles greater than the grace we have received and celebrate about the cross. Have you ever made a mistake, even one you thought was thoughtful, only to have a good friend come alongside and say, you really have made a mistake? I have. Are we humble enough to believe a person can change their mind about a judgment they made that they knew was difficult going in? Do we have the heart to allow someone to say, you know I made a mistake and I appreciate your telling me so, and have us believe that? Or have we become so jaded and skeptical that we think the default position is duplicity? No stretch here. I believe the Holy Spirit in community can change hearts and deserves the space to do so. The future will really tell and one thing I am sure of, those who turn should be given the space to land well. What they did in my view was a good start. 

Ted Weis's picture

If Dallas Seminary, not World Vision, was the organization in the news these last few days, I'd be relieved at the reversal, yet wonder in the aftermath if I could continue to trust the institution's leadership. Douglas Wilson observes there's a big difference between fellowship (which comes through forgiveness given unreservedly) and leadership (which must be earned over time through trust). Do you believe there is Holy Spirit "space" between these two aspects in the body of Christ? In other words, if moving forward we should be willing to give World Vision's repentance "the space to land well," is it not reasonable to insist that it to be on a well-defined orthodox runway?

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Is it leadership to recognize when you have made an error? As I have said already, they clearly showed poor judgment initially. I understand that giving people pause. I also understand the hesitation to trust (To wonder is natural but to accpt that as the controlling response is what I am questioning). They did reverse themselves and did said we want to affirm Scripture and marriage. My question is whether people who say I forgive but will not restore (with the quite implied I am not sure they really meant it or really why they did it, not really accepting their reason) have really forgiven. My other query is, does this mirror how God has forgiven us? I am personally quite uncomfortable having that kind of a hidden standard for forgiveness and acceptance. I am reminded of Paul's word in 2 Cor 2:6-7 for a brother being restored (and Paul had to step in): "This punishment on such an individual by the majority is enough for him, so that now instead you should rather forgive and comfort him. This will keep him from being overwhelmed by excessive grief to the point of despair." I think forgiveness and comfort belong together. Forgiveness means I accept what you told me and take you at your word. I also think that is a biblical idea. I prefer to land here than the alternative. If in the future they give cause to show the hesitation is justified, then I would do what you advise.

You speak of WV needing to seek forgiveness?  How hypocritical and tone deaf.  Who was harmed?  Some donors who wanted to maintain political affinity with a trusted organization?  
 
It is an indictment if Christianity that you, a faculty member of a well established seminary, can't recognize the hypocrisy if that.  As a dissolutioned 30-something church dropout, I feel under qualified to be a prophet bringing truth to you.  I just clicked over here because of the mention if your blog on an NPR story.  But the reality is you need a prophet -- someone who could point out the ridiculous and offensive hypocrisy.  
 
Christianity is morally bankrupt.  You lost me when you became angrier about WV hiring some married gay employees than about international poverty.  

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Dave: Not sure I made the comparison you implied I did. I never blogged about a choice between care and gays. In fact, I actually affirmed the work of World Vision for the poor. I simply stated a disagreement with an initial choice on same sex marriage that I argued backed away from biblical moral standards and asked for reconsideration by them. The harm in the original position was a retreat from moral commitments and fidelity the Bible asks us to possess as believers, somethign World Vision came to reaffirm in reconsidering. There is no hypocrisy in asking for maintaining both a biblical concern for those in need and call for faithfulness in our walk. James 1:27 says as much in saying we are to care for orphans and widows and keep ourselves unstained from the world. And James is a prophet.

Darrell -
 
I'd refer to your comments in subject line "Trust and Real Forgiveness".  You say that WV "showed poor judgment initially" and then imply that Christians should "forgive and restore" them for the change of heart (paraphrased).

 

But I am saying that stance is inherently hypocritical.  WV didn't harm anyone with their first action.  But the Christian community sure did harm a lot of harm with the over-reaction.  The community showed that that it cared *a lot* more about keeping married gay employees out than they do about the work of WV.  Christian activists (like this very blog) put pressure on WV, and that was wrong.  The call to "faithfulness in our walk" is all fine and dandy, except when that "faithfulness" is meanspirited and wrong.

 

Bottom line -- The church is *no* position to be granting or witholding "forgiveness".  The church is not the victim here, and it's offensive to turn the tables.  Rather, the church should be in a position of seeking forgiveness.  Of repenting, and asking forgiveness for the hypocrisy of treating LGBT folks like second class people.  Repentance from fighting culture wars that divide, instead of taking a strong moral voice on issues that Jesus cared about (say, poverty).  The church doesn't need to give grace, it needs to ask for it.

 

Frankly, I shouldn't be so personally invested and upset.  I haven't called myself  a Christian for over 10 years (the question of whether I want to follow Jesus may be more nuanced).  I'm not a part of your community, and I'm not likely to change your thinking.  But let me leave you with a truth.  If church intellectual and cultural leaders like you don't repent on this issue, people like me are *out*.  I'm the tip of the iceberg.  I posted a status update on Facebook last night saying "It is official.  Christianity is morally bankrupt. Conclusive evidence: when anger over maried gay employees exceeds anger over starving children."  Within about 30 minutes, it had gotten 20+ likes and comments in agreement.  You know who those folks who were hitting 'like' and agreeing were?  People in their 20s and 30s who I grew up with in Sunday School.  Lots of whom are still in the church.  But this issue is one that will push a generation out.  I'm worked up over it because deep down, I still really love the church, and it makes me so angry to see the hypocrisy.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

When Scripture as divine revelation is violated, forgiveness is (to be) sought. It is to be givien when there is a turn back to it. Everything you say has not said one word about the moral discussion on the table. WV did harm to the moral stand of the community when it said what Scripture teaches, which they acknowledged, does not matter for our policy. That makes for community damage. So you are wrong that no one was impacted. That remark reflects an individualized view of things. In fact, the reaction on both sides shows how invested groups are in this conversation. When WV reversed itself it was for this very reason that you have left unaddressed as if it is irrelevant to the discussion.

I happen to agree with you on certain parts of this discussion. One has to be careful about making this a "war" issue or singling out this area for special attention. One also should not pit ministering to poverty versus discussion issues tied to gays. Some have done this. If you follow my responses to them, it is a tact I reject.

Nor is this about about treating gays as second class citizens. It is about asking core moral questions (on which people do disagree) about activity within a self proclaimed Christian organization that says it seeks to honor God and Scripture (so more factors than citizenship at large). The engagement on tthe topic actually is a sign of respect for gays saying their moral choice (even if it is seen as a wrong one) matters enough to discuss and challenge versus simply ignoring it or arguing it is a neutral, irrelevant social choice. It also was asking WV to live consistently on the basis of standards it said it had set for itself and accepted.

Now we disagree on whether this is a moral issue or not (apparently). That impacts for sure our distinct assessment of the situation.

One other point, the church is not about simply attracting as many people as it can to be accepted and popular, it is about asking questions and pursuing life that flourishes and is humane in its pursuit of relationships in light of Scripture and what is healthy in relationships. The church believes God made man male and femaie for a reason, has argued that marriage is between a man and a woman for a reason that shows the completioness and symmetry of the creation when a man and woman form a family. It is a definition of marriage Jesus himself affirmed in Matthew 19 in citing Genesis 2 in discussion marriage and divorce. I am well aware many in the world feel differently, either thinks Scripture does not matter or is wrong, and have exercised their choice to live differently. The question of the church accepting that judgment and simply living by the world's ethical standard is why the original decision by WV was expressed as a betrayal of Christian commitments. 

DaveD_PDX's picture

I do appreciate that you specifically rejected the tact of pitting this issue against serving the poor.  Not everyone in the Christian community made that distinction, but I find common ground with you there. I have not been a WV supporter for quite some time, but I'm tempted to go ahead and send some support their way even though I disagree with their position now. I think they are in a tough position as an organization, but they are a force for good.

 

Regarding "the moral discussion on the table," I'm sure you have spent more time analyzing and debating what the bible has to say on homosexuality generally.  I'm unlikely to agree with your conclusions.  So I won't debate the merits by challenging your scripture references.

 

*But* I do want to point out 2 areas of color.

 

First, you talk about your engagement on the topic as being a "sign of respect" in the "moral choice" at hand. But if by "moral choice" you are talking about a person attracted to the same sex, the evidence shows it isn't really a choice.  As a bible scholar you're welcome to bring your expertise on what the bible has to say to the conversationg (even if I disagree with you as a layman), but when it comes to social science, I'm not likely to trust a DTS professor as an authoritative source.

 

Second, I'd like to call your attention to the bold part of this quote:

 

"It is about asking core moral questions (on which people do disagree) about activity within a self proclaimed Christian organization that says it seeks to honor God and Scripture (so more factors than citizenship at large)."

 

I'm glad you point aut that people disagree.  Could we also agree that many of these people who disagree are reasonable Christians, who feel strongly that God commands them to take a stand?  I know we do not see eye to eye on the substance of this issue, but I'm willing to extend you the benefit of the doubt that (a) you are not trying to be mean-spirited, (b) you hold your belief firmly, and (c) your belief is based on your understanding of how you want to live as a Christian.  Maybe you could extend those same benefits of the doubt to some others in your own community.  (as for me, a and b are true, but probably not c).

 

Having said that, when there is genuine disagreement within the community, wouldn't you think that organizations like WV that work with a large part of the community on both sides of the issue should practice a big tent approach that works together on areas of shared agreement (providing food to poor kids) and not getting worked up over areas where there is not agreement (whether or not the organization employs people in a same-sex marriage)?

 

Finally, I'll close by saying I agree that Christianity should not be "about simply attracting as many people as it can to be accepted and popular".  I'd hope not.  As a jaded former member of your community, I can agree wholeheartedly that the church can and should step up and take unpopular stands on moral issues of the day.  My point about people leaving over it remains true though, so you'd better hope that you're right and this issue is worth it in the grand scheme of God's Kingdom.  On that same line of thought, I submit that we probably could find some common ground agreement on some areas where the church can/should/is taking a stand.  Extreme poverty; Sexual Trafficking / modern-day slavery; Maybe even some common ground on supporting strong families and communities, if we're careful not to define those families/communities in a divisive way.  But by choosing to focus on (by writing blogs about, reading Christianity Today articles about, etc) the highly divisive social issues, the church is completely losing its' credibility and ability to take a stand on the other issues.  So maybe you think the church should not live by a poll and cater the the changing social mores of my generation;  but you'd better be honest with yourself that what you're actually doing in practice is saying that you care more about the supposed integrity of the "faithfullness in our walk" on this divisive social issue than you do about bringing about the things that we can all agree should be in God's Kingdom.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Dave:

 

Great chat and I love your spirit. It is a pleasure to have a discussion with someone who is willing to engage in a transparent and clear manner. There is so much we agree on.

I am quite aware the issue of choice is discussed in same sex discussions and that such preferences are not merely nor only a matter of choice. We have even posted podcasts on our Table podcast site  at the Seminary that make this point. I like to compare it to the issue of how heterosexuals engage on topics tied to lust. People may have and do have inclinations in this direction, but we still have the question of how we deal with that inclination as a moral issue. By choice, I did not mean that acts are merely a matter of choice, but that how to view the area and how we process it as a topic is a choice. Moral sphere may have prevented that ambiguity from entering into how you read what I said. Sorry for the lack of clarity, but I am glad for the lack of clarity and your making the point on choice because it allows now this distinction to be made clear. 

We also have worked through the biblical texts and evidence in detail, both pro and con. We are aware of how things are read in the biblical debate. I say more about this area below.

On the issue of disagreement: Here the conversation is interesting and complex. The alternate reading you are raising within the community is really of very recent vintage (no one really debates this point) and in most cases (and I am being charitable as I can be) involves ignoring certain texts, or redefining terms in very minority ways, or simply rejecting what the texts say. Yes, some sincerely disagree but very much on terms that are core about how to or not to work with revelation.

I reject the "big tent" argument because WV ought to be driven by what it regards as its moral convictions about what Scripture and a faithful walk call for as a model (Something they affirmed on both ends of the decision). I do accept there is a tension here and a choice and that this nicely articulates what WV was likely wrestling with originally and eventually.

Of course, because you and I disagree on the moral dimension, whether the church is losing credibility or is standing for what it believes in that makes it distinct from the world, this is the other place where we likely agree to differ. Yes, I better have this right (a point that can be turned around in the moral realm question for you as well). So I reject that the choice is between I care more about faithfulness of the walk than what we all agree is about the kingdom, because the kingdom's moral integrity and direction is very much a part of the kingdom story and where it hopes to take people. What God has joined together should not be torn asunder.

Believe me I have thought about these things a great deal. As a minister who cares about people I am very slow to desire to confront or challenge people. I hope and pray for the best for them and from them.

So thanks for the thoughtful exchange. It is appreciated, even if there are areas where we disagree. 

The decision wasn't reached because of prayer, it was reached in response to financial coersion. You are a hypocrite. Where is your outrage regarding divorced, remarried persons working for this group?  That is what jesus was talking about in the passage you have applied in a context wholly outside of the context of that passage. You interpret scripture like a pharisee. And, you are clearly not a follower of Christ. For shame.  

Darrell L. Bock's picture

The passage from Matthew 19 being discussed applies to all the areas you note. It defines marriage in terms of a man and woman in order to get to the topic of divorce. This is not an either/or passage, but a both/and. Marriage is defined and so divorce is addressed. Jesus cannot make his point without defining what marriage is. It may be uncomfortable for you to see this, but it is the scope of this text. It is hard for you to know how I discuss divorce and remarriage since I did not cover it in any of these posts. 

Darrell: Appreciate you engaging with the comments here. I think Christians talking with each other (instead of past each other) is the best option here.
My question is this: Can we simply create room to disagree on homosexuality and not make agreement on this issue a prerequisite for unity or acceptance? Like, there are a variety of areas where Christians disagree on what it means to live a commited Christian life -- finances, pacificism vs self defense, etc. Yet a pacifist doesn't look at a soldier and claim the soldier can't be a follower of Christ (even though the pacifist feels Christians should not kill) and the person working at a homeless ministry doesn't look at the Christian with a yacht and claim they can't be a follower of Christ (even though the person working for the homeless feels that Christians should be radically generous.) This is despite the fact that Jesus (and the Bible as a whole) spent far more time discussing issues of peace and generosity than sexuality.
With issues like these, there's an understanding that our interpretations of what it means to follow Jesus are different, and that your pursuit of Jesus can be authentic even if it looks different from mine. But for homosexuality there doesn't seem to be this room for disagreement. Conservatives argue that a liberal understanding of homosexuality's permissiveness means the rejection of Biblical authority and thereby calls into question the person's entire Christian witness, and liberals argue that a conservative understanding of homosexuality means that you are bigoted and unloving (and thereby again calls into question the sincerity of your Christian faith.)
I would love to see this be something that people can disagree on, where people follow their convictions on homosexuality as it pertains to their own life, but where they don't assume that someone else's convictions on homosexuality disqualify them from being an authentic and loving Christ follower. Do you think we could ever get there (and do you think that is a good direction to move towards?)

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Dan: Appreciate your response and the fair and complex question you raise. The question is complex because we are not only discussing how we act as individuals, but as communities and organizations as the WV issue this week shows. How organizations handle the question of how they are structured and affirm their moral commitments is about how that organization leads and what values it communicates. The choice is one that asks how organizations lead and what tone they set for others. This may explain the reaction we saw this week. Much was at stake for everyone in the approach taken.

Your core premise asking we bring the decible level down on this discussion in terms of how we disagree and what we think of each other is appropriate in my view. I can think someone is wrong about something or them me without suggesting as some have done that there is something automatically severely distorted or insincere about why the view is taken. 

In the end, I do think this issue is neither about my view nor that of another who disagrees. It is about what divine revelation teaches and pursuing that understanding as well as we all can (whcih also means seriously discussing it, pro and con).

I think there is one point you make that needs pondering. Why is there so little raised about this area in Scripture? It may not be a matter of relative importance. War and peace are treated because there was/is so much fallenness and war in the world. (And war sometimes is regretably necessary. Governments do exist to defend and Scripture assumes this of its corporate structure. Rom 13 says as much). The lack of mention in this area of sexuality may be because it was virtually a given. There is not a clear single positive text in Scripture about an LGBT relationship. Those that are suggested have to work very hard to even come close to being an affirming text. All texts that even approach the topic directly (however they do it), do it negatively, even quite so (unlike the issue of women or slavery, where female discipleship and the value of freedom are affirmed). So I am not as certain that one can make the kind of cross section equation your overall question very fairly raises.  

Dr. Bock,
Just wanted to say thank you for your initial blogs, and your responses to these comments. I have a lot of respect for how you handle the harsh criticism you have received on here - I believe that shows your heart for the Lord. Thank you for modeling how the Christian community should respond to difficult issues and harsh criticism without it turning into an ugly boxing match! As a pastor, it just reafirms why I continually recommend your blog to so many in my church. Thank you, and God Bless!

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Travis: Thank you for writing the word of encouragement. One of the reasons I engage so publically is to show one can have these discussions with honesty and respect, even in the midst of disagreement. We have lost that ability and need to get it back.

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