A New Wineskin for the Gospel?
It’s been weeks since the World Vision scandal happened, but I haven’t been able to work up the heart to write about it until now. It was such a terrible situation that disheartened me like no other culture war scandal has, and I wanted to wait until the visceral reaction had given way to a more studious, thoughtful attitude about everything that happened.
First, let me briefly outline the situation. On March 24, the magazine Christianity Today announced that World Vision USA had decided to amend its employment requirements to allow individuals in same-sex relationships to work for World Vision. They were clear that this was not a theological statement affirming gay marriage, but rather a neutral one that sought to treat married couples consistently. It was a courageous decision, one that the board claimed to have prayed over and considered for years.
And then, of course, the storm erupted. Christians across the nation were outraged at the decision World Vision had made. In the course of two days, the organization received an abundance of hate mail. After all was said and done, approximately 10,000 children lost their sponsorships. Let me say that again. Ten thousand children were dropped from sponsorship so that Christians all over the United States could make a statement about how wrong World Vision’s decision was. This is 10,000 futures altered tragically, 10,000 mouths that will go unfed, 10,000 little boys and girls who will ask why? and have no answer in return.
It fills me with such rage to think about it, to think about how evangelicals have turned children in need into pawns in a culture war, into collateral damage sacrificed on the altar of self-righteous indignation.
The way in which these people rallied to withdraw support from their sponsored children and from World Vision was the worst part of everything that happened, in my opinion. But then, to add insult to injury, World Vision decided to reverse their decision just two days after announcing it! I, along with many others I’m sure, was utterly shocked. Do you remember how I said they had considered their decision prayerfully for years? I don’t care what anyone says, I can’t believe World Vision reversed their decision because they believed it was the right thing to do. Not after they had prayed over their initial decision for so long. No. They had capitulated to the pressures of the conservative right, plain and simple.
Anyway, that is all I’m going to say about that. As I’ve thought about this whole situation over the last several weeks, I’ve realized that dwelling on my disdain for how so many evangelicals reacted won’t make what happened any less painful for everyone involved—for World Vision, for the kids whose needs went unmet, and for the LGBT men and women who undoubtedly felt like pawns themselves.
Instead I want to talk about what happened afterward in the blogosphere. This is where I saw the thread of new beginnings, in places where people understood for the first time just how far evangelicalism has strayed from the Gospel and how deeply immersed in the culture war it has become. Bloggers all over the place, in tones that were (mostly) not aggressive, not antagonistic, but rather heart sore and sad, came to realize that evangelicals no longer represent what they believe to be the Christian faith.
The reactions to World Vision’s announcement and reversal were the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Rachel Held Evans decided that “rather than wearing out my voice in calling for an end to evangelicalism’s culture wars, I think it’s time to focus on finding and creating church among its many refugees.” Micah J. Murray voiced the truth that “a lot of us [are] walking away pretty sure that we’re not evangelicals anymore but not sure what that even means.” Zack Hunt wrote about how the Church is in need of new wineskins: “As the past few years have hinted at, and last week made crystal clear, evangelicalism is an old wineskin that is long past its expiration date.”*
Then, Ben Moberg wrote this piece, which had echoes of a farewell and a new beginning all rolled up in the same blog post. His tone was somber, yet hopeful. Full of expectation for a return to the heart of the Gospel that sheds the legalism and hard lines in the sand that have come to characterize the evangelical world.
So this is the silver lining. This is the redemption that is born out of the awful mess that was the World Vision scandal. It is sad, of course, that it took something like this to spur people of faith everywhere to search out a new way forward, but it is also exciting, in a way. We are on the brink of something new, a reimagining of how we live our lives as disciples of Jesus and followers of the Word, a step away from the constriction of the pharisees and a step toward the Kingdom. For I know that my God is a God of redemption, one who breathes life into the darkest of places, even when those places are of our own making.
* The wineskin is a reference to Matthew 9:16-17.