February 4, 2018 § Leave a comment
If you’re reading this and you’re human, you have rights. In fact, we seem to have certain inherent rights simply because we’re human. These fundamental human rights are different than civil rights, which are established by governments in something like the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. But in general, civil rights are informed by our understanding of human rights.
Regardless of religious belief, there is wide general agreement over the existence of basic human rights. Our nations’ founders argued for them on Biblical principals, asserting in the Declaration of Independence, that equally and self-evidentially, all people “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” Not everyone shares this view of the origin and source of our rights.
Does the Bible inform us about basic human rights? The message of the Gospel begins with the revelation that all have sinned and fall short of God’s standard, rightly deserving eternal separation from God (Romans 3:23). It’s only by God’s mercy and grace and our humble turning to Jesus Christ in faith that we are saved—“not of yourselves lest anyone should boast.” Can we boast about rights? And what, if anything, does the Bible say about them? We won’t find a list of human rights in Scripture, but such rights can be inferred and even identified rather specifically by taking a closer look at:
1) how we are created, and
2) how we are commanded to treat our neighbor.
We can also discover that what many claim in today’s culture to be human rights are most certainly not.
HOW WE ARE CREATED
“…among these are Life…”
God’s word tells us from the beginning that all human beings are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and that God breathed life into Adam and he became a living being (Genesis 2:7). Since God gave us life, it’s reasonable to assume that we have a right to live it.
God also gave mankind a free will, the faculties to make choices, so we have a right to make choices—good vs. evil, true vs. false, God’s desires or our own desires, etc. God wants us to choose Him (Deuteronomy 30:19), but He doesn’t force us to believe in or trust Him, or to make any other particular choice. We have the liberty to think and act at our own discretion.
“…and the Pursuit of Happiness….”
God directed the first humans to be fruitful and multiply, to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:29). This is more than a directive to have babies, but to flourish—set up communities and governments and seek fulfillment in relationships, productivity, and satisfaction in the course of living a purposeful life. So it isn’t too difficult to find a Scriptural basis for the three rights Jefferson penned in the endowments God gave humans.
HOW WE ARE COMMANDED TO TREAT OTHERS
Moral obligations, our God-given sense of right and wrong, can also be grounded scripturally in the law of God written on our hearts (Romans 2:15 and Hebrews 10:16). But moral law deals with the good we are obligated to do, not rights that we have.
As image-bearers of a moral God, all human beings are endowed with moral truth we can’t NOT know.(1) While the reality of “Natural Law,” our basic moral intuition, doesn’t need to be informed by God’s word, He has nonetheless revealed in it detail about what is right and wrong. For most moral obligations, there is a moral agent obligated to some duty, and there is another agent who is a recipient or object of that obligation. Some duties are to God, and some are to other people.
The key to understanding human rights is considering the latter—moral obligations to our fellow man. Wherever God expects a certain kind of treatment toward others, He likewise expects others to receive that treatment. To be clear, any favor sinful humans receive on earth is part of God’s grace, but it’s also a logical necessity that if good is given by one, it’s received by another. Since moral law applies to all human beings equally, all human beings are also equal recipients and therefore have the same “right” to receive it.
The Ten Commandments given to Moses at Sinai (Exodus 20:7-17 or Deuteronomy 5:7-21) are a good example of God detailing His moral law. The first four commandments list obligations in our relationship to God, so they don’t lead to human rights. As Creator of everything, God has all rights that don’t contradict His character. The last five, however, deal with our relationship to other people, and this is where we will find the most obvious picture of human rights.
“Do not murder” prohibits anyone from unjustifiably killing anyone else. As a result, on the other side of it, everyone has the right to not be unjustifiably killed. This evidences the basic human right we all have to value, preserve and defend human life, and I would include in that the inherent dignity that comes with being made in God’s image.
“You shall not commit adultery” means we are obligated to keep sexual activity within our marriage and to abstain if we are single. The people we are forbidden to pursue sexually consequently have the right to not be violated in this way. It also seems those in the marriage have a right to protect the fidelity of the marriage—but of course that right would be limited to those who are married.
“You shall not steal” means that not only are we required to respect the property of others, but that everyone has the right to own things and not have those things stolen from them.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” implies that anyone we might lie to has a right to the truth and to be dealt with honestly. This takes a high view of transparency and availability of truthful information to everyone, usually promoted in the context of government(2), but everyone at least claims to value truth.
The tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, or property,” does NOT actually lead to a human right because following or not following the command doesn’t directly affect another person. My unhealthy desire to possess something that belongs to my neighbor ultimately affects me, not my neighbor—unless that desire leads to actual theft or adultery.
I skipped the sixth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” because, while everyone has parents, not everyone is a parent, so the right to receive honor is limited to fathers and mothers—and even then, the honor due is from their own children. Since it isn’t equal or universal in scope, I wouldn’t consider this determinate of a basic human right (rights we have simply because we’re human).
So from the last four commandments, basic human rights—rights God apparently wants all people to have—include the right to life, dignity, sexual integrity, personal property, and honesty.
In Mark 12:30-31, Jesus summarized the principals of the Ten Commandments this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” summarizing the first six, and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” summarizing the last four. Jesus came “not to abolish, but to fulfill” the law (Matthew 5:17), and He took the Old Testament commandments further. For example, in verses 21-22 of Matthew 5, He says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment…”. Jesus equates hatred to murder because the hater essentially wishes death for his neighbor. But this magnifies for us the severity of our sin against God, even sins of the heart against other people. Without the outward result of a murder victim, this doesn’t seem to magnify any rights on our behalf.
This wasn’t a new command, of course. The murder-in-the-heart concept and summary of the commandments regarding our neighbor appear way back in Leviticus 19: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart… You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In context, this passage actually details a lot of practical ways we are to “love” our neighbor that result in basic human rights.
• In verse 9, “gleanings of your harvest… leave…for the poor and the stranger” implies a right to charity.
• In verse 10, “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another” implies a right to honesty.
• In verse 13, “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning” implies a right to civility.
• In verse 14, “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind…” implies a right to decency in our weaknesses.
• In verse 15, “You shall do no injustice in court” implies a right to justice.
• In verse 15, “You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” implies a right to fairness and impartiality.
• In verse 16, “You shall not go around as a slanderer” implies the right to verbal respect.
• In verse 16, “you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor” implies a right to life.
• In verse 17, “You shall not hate” implies a right to not be hated.
• In verse 18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge” implies a right to not be a target of revenge.
And we are required to do the opposite of these things: “…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
How do we love ourselves? We preserve our own life and do things that generally promote our own health and dignity. We seek freedom and happiness and fulfillment. We desire truth and justice. Given how we treat ourselves, we have a rule so true it’s considered golden: “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31). This seems to mean we have a basic human right to be treated in such a way that preserves life, dignity, personal freedom, the pursuit of happiness, fulfillment, truth and justice. In the prohibition of evil, we have a right to freedom from general tyranny and injustice.
Mutual respect for our human rights is of course not guaranteed. The presence of sin in the world virtually guarantees that all of us at some point will see our own rights violated to some extent. This doesn’t escape God’s notice or control, and our duty in those cases is to humbly submit to a righteous and just God who is never absent in trials. But in a general sense, these rights seem to be what God in His grace desires for all human beings to maintain in our dealings with one another. In a sense they mark a standard by which God distinguishes justice from tyranny.
HUMAN RIGHTS THAT ARE SO NOT
Seventy years ago, the United Nations drafted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, listing 30 basic rights for all people of every nation(3). Most can be grounded in the same Biblical foundations. But after looking at what God desires for us to give and receive, we can assess our culture’s claims of what specific human rights are and see if they pass the test.
Sometimes you’ll hear that abortion is a basic human right. The UN Human Rights Commission has wrongly ruled that it is. Based on a particular case in Peru where a hospital refused to terminate a pregnancy that threatened the life of the mother, the Commission declared that human beings have the right to an abortion in any situation.(4) Ironically, the UN puts it this way: “States parties must liberalize restrictive abortion legislation to realize women’s right to life.”(5) Scripture eliminates such confusion by affirming the right to life for all human beings, including the unborn (Psalm 139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:5). Since human beings are revealed in God’s word and affirmed by honest science and logic to be fully human from conception, “You shall not murder” means the unborn also have a right to life, and the absence of any form of the command “You shall abort unwanted pregnancies” excludes the possibility of a right to abortion.
The right to die, as in a right to assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia, has been proffered as a fundamental right everyone should have. This notion fails the same test as abortion. Every human being is an image-bearer of our Creator with intrinsic value and dignity, and furthermore we are not our own. We belong to God. Death, though nothing to be feared for the Christian, is still the enemy and a result of sin in the world. If we are forbidden by God to kill others without justification, we are also forbidden to kill ourselves. Therefore self-inflicted death, as a right, is also wrong.
The right to marriage equality is perhaps the most confused proposition in our modern times. First, marriage by definition is something scripture defines and human history affirms as the union of a man and a woman. LGBT advocates of “marriage equality” aren’t really demanding the right to marriage, but a very different kind of relationship. Second, given the above truth, marriage equality already exists in the reality that everyone is already free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex they choose. Same-sex couples can’t constitute a marriage any more than a circle can be square. Third, marriage in the traditional sense is arguably not even a human right. God created it but has not required it for everyone, so marriage doesn’t quit fit in this category.
There are others of course, but in these 3 we can at least see how God’s created order and His commands reveal that some “rights” are so called simply because people just really wish they had rights to do certain things.
From the Bible we can humbly but confidently find a foundation for human rights rooted in freedoms granted at creation and the desired outcomes from God’s commands for how we treat our neighbors. God gave us life, free will, and freedom to flourish, so we have a right to exercise those. God wants us to love our neighbor, so they have a right to receive that love in a variety of ways.
Notice that God clearly presents love as a command, and not expressly as a right. While we can justify human rights Biblically, our first thought should be to choose the freedom God’s one and only Son offers, and to be the obedient giver of the good that God desires others to receive. Micah 6:8 declares that “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Our rights do include justice, but our salvation depends on God’s mercy and our humble trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Incidentally, we also have a basic human right to choose to follow Him, the most important one we could exercise.
1) What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide (J. Budziszewski)
2) Rule of Law – Right to the Truth (UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner)
3) United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights
4) United Nations Committee Affirms Abortion as a Human Right (HuffPost)
5) OHCHR Center for Reproductive Rights
January 25, 2018 § Leave a comment
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told Rachael Denhollander: “You made all of these voices matter. You are the bravest person I have ever had in my courtroom.”
Rachael was the first of more than 150 victims of Larry Nassar to come forward. Nassar made a career of sexually assaulting young women and girls he was paid to “treat” as the USA Gymnastics national team osteopathic physician. The full victim impact statement she made at Nassar’s sentencing Wednesday is tough to read, but it’s worth reading. But I wanted to call particular attention to the part of it included in the post, after a word about bravery.
So much of what gets labeled “brave” in our culture today isn’t so brave either because it doesn’t reflect goodness or it doesn’t reflect truth. A musician or celebrity coming out as a lesbian is called brave, but her declaration isn’t good. A politician or athlete coming out as a woman is called brave, but his declaration isn’t true. Gutsy foolishness maybe, but bravery doesn’t quite fit.
All of Nassar’s victims are brave, but what sets Rachael’s testimony apart is that not only did she describe Larry Nassar’s evil, but she explained it, then offered Nassar hope in light of it. She provided an objective basis for good and evil and her desire that Nassar come to terms with his own sin. She calls for justice to the full extent of earthly law, but she also calls Nassar to repentance and forgiveness in “the gospel of Christ. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.” Where hatred would be expected, Rachael boldly appealed to the Bible and answered with Christ’s love and forgiveness in a testimony of the gospel.
Good. True. Brave.
“In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.
You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.
If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.
The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.
Throughout this process, I have clung to a quote by C.S. Lewis, where he says, my argument against God was that the universe seems so cruel and unjust. But how did I get this idea of just, unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he first has some idea of straight. What was I comparing the universe to when I called it unjust?
Larry, I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. And I know it was evil and wicked because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else’s perception, and this means I can speak the truth about my abuse without minimization or mitigation. And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you. Because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good.
When a person can harm another human being, especially a child, without true guilt, they have lost the ability to truly love. Larry, you have shut yourself off from every truly beautiful and good thing in this world that could have and should have brought you joy and fulfillment, and I pity you for it. You could have had everything you pretended to be. Every woman who stood up here truly loved you as an innocent child, real genuine love for you, and it did not satisfy.
I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love and safety and tenderness and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joys, and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious. And that is a joy you have cut yourself off from ever experiencing, and I pity you for it.”
Rachael closes her statement with an ernest appeal to the judge for the maximum penalty allowed because “what was done to them matters.” Indeed, they matter because both our value and God’s justice are “a straight line.”
June 17, 2015 § Leave a comment
God’s patience is just as real as His wrath.
“So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on [others] and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
Romans 2:3-4 NIV
“The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
2 Peter 3:9
On the rare occasion when I manage to exhibit patience, I am usually waiting for something that serves my own interests. I think of patience as a virtue, but what I am patiently expecting is an answer to a question, a turn through the intersection, a check in the mail, or some other form of self-gratification.
Deferring our own gratification is virtuous, but consider what God defers. His patience means more time and opportunity for the sinner’s repentance and redemption. God wants us to be able to enjoy Him forever. In light of such kindness, the virtue of our patience pales in comparison to God’s selfless forbearance. He waits for us to discover how much we need rescue, and His offer is our eternal salvation.
The depth of doom we avoid by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is equaled only by the height of joy Christians will forever enjoy, because “He is patient with you.”
July 11, 2014 § 2 Comments
It’s not unusual for conservatives and progressives to feel as if the other side has lost their mind as issue after issue rolls through the political, social or economic landscape. But there seems to be a truly special brand of disconnect forming in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby that sets a new bar for liberal insanity. Sensational reactions on any side of an issue are commonplace, but the degree of outrage, bad arguments and ignorance expressed by progressive media and political figures against Hobby Lobby and the Court’s decision for religious liberty has in my opinion reached a new level.
On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of David and Barbara Green and their family business, Hobby Lobby (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.), affirming that individuals do not lose their religious freedom when they open a family business. This victory upheld a 2013 ruling for Hobby Lobby by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The focus of the Green’s opposition comes down the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate in Obama’s Affordable Care Act forcing the company to pay for 4 potentially life-terminating contraceptives through the company’s health insurance plan, forms of birth control that could end a pregnancy rather than preventing one. The Green’s religious convictions, rooted in historic Biblical understanding that all life, even life in the womb, is sacred, collided with the HHS-mandated abortifacients. So they, and Conestoga Wood, another Christian-owned family business, took their case to court.
In short, the court allowed these businesses to exclude coverage for just 4 out of 20 contraceptives on the plan, contraceptives that are relatively inexpensive and could be purchased elsewhere. It wasn’t over a broad category of medicine, or an expensive, potentially life-saving treatment method. Hobby Lobby just didn’t want to pay for 4 drugs on the menu that can cause an abortion. The other 16 were fine.
Since the ruling, the left has reacted in sensational ways that demonstrate vast ignorance and what seems like apathy for sound reason. Some examples:
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (and wife of the President who signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law two decades ago), doesn’t appear to understand the ruling she opposes: “It is very troubling that a sales clerk at Hobby Lobby who needs contraception, which is pretty expensive, is not going to get that service through her employer’s health-care plan because her employer doesn’t think she should be using contraception.” Opinions about birth-control are not at issue. Being forced to pay for abortifacients was the issue.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s voiced concern about the Hobby Lobby win was that “women’s lives are not determined by virtue of five white men.” He means the 5 conservative justices who decided the case. The Senate majority leader of the United States apparently thinks the color of the judges’ skin has a moral bearing on the decision, AND he is obviously unaware that only 4 of them are white.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi doesn’t seem to understand what the Hobby Lobby case was about, recently tweeting “Allowing CEOs to limit the medical procedures available to employees is a gross violation of workers’ religious rights.” How contraceptives qualify as medical procedures and how this decision hinders religious rights we may never hear an explanation for. And then there’s this, from a briefing at the Capitol: “That court decision was a frightening one, that five men should get down to the specifics of whether a woman should use a diaphragm and [whether] she should pay for it herself or her boss. It’s not her boss’ business. His business is whatever his business is, but it’s not what contraception she uses.” Pelosi expects it to be a boss’ business to pay for 20 contraceptives, yet it isn’t a boss’ business if he doesn’t want to pay for 4 of them? This is self-defeating logic. Also, Pelosi’s perspective of “five men” deciding for “women” is an effort to frame this case as a “war on women,” an obvious straw man fallacy.
It isn’t about race, sex, or birth-control, but every US citizen’s right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. This means we can not only go to church Sunday morning, but we can live out our faith and our deepest convictions in our everyday lives. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act sought to affirm the First Amendment of the Constitution and what our country’s Founders sought to establish, a union where differing religious expression could exist without government interference. That’s more or less why America happened; we didn’t have that freedom under British rule. When the House passed RFRA unanimously in 1993, the Senate passed it 97-3, and democratic President Clinton signed it into law, it became a reinforcement of a core American principal. RFRA doesn’t completely prohibit government interference in religious expression, but puts a specific limit on it. The government must have a compelling interest in interfering with religion, and if it has compelling interest, it must interfere in the least restrictive way possible. The Supreme Court found that the HHS requirement failed to do this in the case of Hobby Lobby and Conastoga Wood.
Seeing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a new and formidable enemy, the left’s answer to RFRA was to quickly introduce The Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act (even the name is a straw man) in an effort to effectively reverse the Hobby Lobby decision. Businesses like Hobby Lobby would be forced to cover all forms of contraception regardless of their own religious objections. This post is too early to see how that goes, but it forever misses the mark. As Representative James Lankford, R-Okla points out, “Hobby Lobby never argued against the ability for women to access contraceptives—they simply do not believe in being forced by the federal government to cover abortifacients.”
In some personal conversations I’ve had over this, I’ve heard the Pandora’s Box concern, that this case is a slippery slope to employer’s to discriminate freely on the basis of whatever an employer deems a religious restriction. The paranoia-laden “what ifs” a friend forwarded to me from an Upworthy post include the fact that “some religions don’t believe in medical intervention,” or eating meat, or might not want to provide HIV medicine to gays. Extreme fringe beliefs such as these are incomparable to the widely held concern for human life, in or out of the womb, so this kind of abuse of freedom is not likely as imminent danger. More importantly, the government would have a compelling interest in medical intervention, treating disease and preventing epidemics, so proponents of such cases would probably lose in court.
On Twitter I fielded a barrage of challenges that reflected quite a bit of confusion on the issue.
LiberalTweeter: “businesses are not people. Workers deserve contraception coverage.”
Me: “Businesses are made of workers, who are people, who actually do get contraceptive coverage.”
LiberalTweeter: “a business shouldn’t get to dictate which contraceptives their employees can choose.”
Me: “A business can choose to not pay for 4 harmful contraceptives out of 20. Employees still have choice.”
“Besides, there are many kinds/brands of contraceptives and Obamacare only covers 20. Sounds like it’s already dictated.”
LiberalTweeter: “why can’t the employee decide her OWN healthcare?”
Me: “She can get whatever coverage she wants, and she can pay for it too. Same as any other plan, ever.”
LiberalTweeter: “why should some woman be deprived of having it covered by the health plan that they PAY FOR WITH THEIR LABOR?”
Me: “What about the many other contraceptives & meds not covered by HHS or ANY plan? By your logic, EVERYONE is deprived.”
LiberalTweeter: “why are they bullying gay people to death?”
That’s where I gave up.
On Katie Yoder’s blog at Newsbusters.org, she has compiled a list of the Ten Most Hysterical Hobby Lobby Reactions, which is a great summary and picture of the scope of bad reasoning from the opposition to the ruling. Liberal media has labeled Hobby Lobby and Supreme Court justices tyrannical, segregationist, Taliban-like, religious extremists who are endangering the lives of woman, among other absurd comparisons. If “contraception is not my boss’ business,” why should your boss pay for it? The breadth of wrong-headedness is staggering.
I didn’t want this post to be just a rant. I do want us to earnestly pray for our country, our government, and our neighbors who have fallen into the confusion of the day. Ignorance and bad arguments are not new coming from liberal culture, but it seems to have hit a new level. It used to be that those caught in red herrings, non-sequiters and self-contradiction would try to cover up their poor form, but it doesn’t seem as if the left cares anymore. Maybe it seems to show up more because I’ve paid more attention to this case than other issues. Or maybe ignorance breeds more ignorance.
Or maybe Matthew 7:13 is truer than ever: “…wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” The narrow road is too small for a bandwagon. And traffic on that broad road is getting heavier all the time.
March 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
On Monday, March 24th, World Vision International made a policy change and announced it via Christianity Today: “World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages.” If you’re not familiar with World Vision, they are one of the world’s largest Christian relief organizations, dedicated to working with children, families and their communities in nearly 100 countries to address the causes of poverty and injustice.
Below is an email I sent to World Vision President Richard Stearns the following day, followed by a string of brief responses, and ending with the announcement of a reversal of their decision. The quoted portions in my email are from his policy change announcement.
Dear Mr. Stearns,
I greatly respect the work World Vision is doing, and my wife and I have been supporters for nearly a decade. I was very disappointed to learn of your recent policy change to employ openly gay employees in openly homosexual relationships. This reflects a grave dishonesty and inconsistency for a organization that claims a “mission of building the kingdom” from the same Bible that lists homosexuals among many types of sinners who “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
I realize your focus is liberating children and families from poverty and injustice, and you view this issue as divisive and a distraction from that mission. It is divisive (all issues are) and may be distracting, but why do we have this responsibility to these children and families in the first place? Christians should hold to this mission because all people are made in the image of God. We get this understanding of God-given value and worth from the same Bible, in fact the same 2 chapters, that also tells us, clearly—albeit some in your base of support are not seeing so clearly—who we all are in terms of sexuality. The confusion over Gen. 2:24, Rom. 1:26,27 and 1 Cor. 6 lies in the presuppositions of the reader, not in the Word of God.
Your announcement noted that World Vision “will continue to expect abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage for all staff.” Why? That’s a divisive theological issue for many who may not see Biblical issues on sex so clearly. I don’t think it’s possible for you to “have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but…defer to the authority of local churches on this issue.” You have obviously made a ruling and thereby your endorsement. If you claim to operate on a theological mission you have a theological responsibility, even when it’s inconvenient in light of the culture. There is no meaningful distinction between being an “operational arm” and a “theological arm” of the church. Christians, organizationally and personally, can’t confirm sinners in their (and our own) sin. Sin is the very reason the world is plagued with poverty and injustice.
World Vision is in a great position to make this shift. Most sponsors who hold an uncompromising view of scriptural authority will not find a decision to move their funding to another organization easy, because we don’t want to leave any child (we sponsor two through World Vision) without support. I am as yet undecided what we will do if this policy remains in force. My purpose of this letter is to ask you to reconsider, for one, to alleviate your supporters from having to make that decision. But more importantly, I pray that you will clarify whose kingdom you are building, and which world your vision is for, by reversing course in your policy before it becomes impossible.
Thank you for hearing my appeal. I believe it to be truth spoken in love.
Dear Mike – thank you for your note. We are listening. This has been a very difficult day for us. Rich
Richard Stearns, President
Rich, thank you for listening, and for all that you do for the cause of Christ. I hope I wasn’t too harsh. Praying for your wisdom and courage (we all need it).
Dear Mike – thank you for your input. I wanted you to know that our board met this morning and we reversed our decision. Please see attached for more information. In Christ, Rich
Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.
We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.
In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.
We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent. We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.
While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.
Please know that World Vision continues to serve all people in our ministry around the world. We pray that you will continue to join with us in our mission to be “an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God.”
Sincerely in Christ,
Richard Stearns, President
Wonderful! Thank you, Rich. I’m sure there will still be consequential fall-out by some, but I will be praying with ernest that the distractions will be minimal so you can get back to what you were called to do. I do appreciate all that you do and may the Lord bless you in your ministry, brother!
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6,7)
Clearly World Vision wrestled with Monday’s decision as soon as they made it. Reversing course was indeed the right thing to do and I’m glad they did, even if the reversal was motivated by potential financial loss from evangelicals. There’s no doubt that the initial policy change, even if it only lasted for two days, cost them sponsors and supporters, some who may never return. There are always consequences to bad decisions, even after we correct our course. Yet there is the grace from the God we serve, and He provides the courage to carry on in a world that would rather we give up the fight.