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Father Knows Best: I’m not sure I can still support World Vision

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Do you have a question about life, love, or faith? Submit it online, fill out the form below or email it to melfert@stjohns-cathedral.org.
By Martin Elfert
Hey Rev!

My family has been giving to World Vision for many years through their child sponsorship program. But, as a big supporter of same-sex marriage, I’m not sure I can give to them any more after they reversed their decision to allow same-sex married couples to work in their Washington State location. World Vision is now requiring members of their board to sign a statement that indicates that marriage is between one man and one woman.

World Vision is pushing their organization into anti-marriage equality position that is unrelated to their mission of caring for children in need around the world. This is a domestic political issue, not an issue related to the kids in Africa and Central America, where our sponsored children live.

I want a world more full of love, for everyone, and I’m not sure that World Vision wants that anymore.

– Pondering Ethics

House-ad_SPO_FKB_new_0429139Dear PE:

One of my late mentors was in the habit of responding to my questions with questions of his own. That habit occasionally drove me a little crazy. But it mostly helped me to figure out problems and to reach decisions. I’m going to borrow his strategy and suggest three questions that might help you decide whether or not you want to keep on cutting checks to World Vision.

First — and forgive me if this is obvious, PE, but it’s where I would start if I were in your situation — is there another not-for-profit doing similar work that has a better record on gay rights? Try asking Google what it thinks. And, old-school though it may be, try asking your friends and colleagues if there are charities that they would recommend. If you can help out children in the Third World and help GLBTQ folks here at home find dignity and equality, then you might just have a net win.

Second, consider whether you can do more to help World Vision find a generous position on marriage equality by remaining a stakeholder or by canceling your donation and going elsewhere. There is no question that taking your cash and leaving is a powerful statement — the threat of such action on a large scale is almost assuredly what caused World Vision to reverse its initial decision to employ married gays and lesbians. But it is also a one-time statement. And it is a statement that, should it be emulated by most of the people who feel the way that you do, will mean that World Vision’s donor base will quickly be purged of GLBTQ people and their allies. Is it possible, PE, that you can most effectively advocate for justice and equality by remaining a donor and remaining in conversation?

Last of all, how does the net good that World Vision does weigh against the net harm caused by its policy on same-sex rights? Like you, PE, I support marriage equality and other laws and practices that promote justice for our queer brothers and sisters. But that doesn’t stop me from being troubled when I hear a friend or a colleague imply that an institution’s position on gay marriage is the principal test of whether or not it is ethical. Over the past couple of years, for instance, my Facebook feed has wasted few opportunities to tell me that Starbucks is a marvelous company because it supports marriage equality whereas Chick-Fil-A is an awful company because it does not. My feed’s silence is all but total, however, on the questions of how these companies treat their employees, how they treat their suppliers, how they treat their competitors, how they treat the communities in which they are situated, how they treat the environment, or how they treat the animals that make their products possible. And that makes me wonder: what if World Vision is getting marriage equality wrong but getting a whole lot of other things right?

Walter Wink argues that every institution and every individual is fallen but also that every institution and every individual has the capacity to be redeemed. “Fallen,” Wink says, “does not mean depraved… It simply refers to the fact that our existence is not our essence: we are, none of us, what we are meant to be. We are alienated from God, each other, and our own souls, and cannot find the way back by ourselves. But the situation is not without hope, for what sinks can be made to rise again.”

Notwithstanding World Vision’s enormously disappointing policy decision, it retains the capacity that Wink speaks of to rise again. And thus, PE, maybe all of the questions that I have suggested to you are really one big question: What role can you play in helping it to rise?

About Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.

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