The Gospel Is Not At Stake. It’s Just Not.

I’ll finish up my NEXT Retrospect series tomorrow, because today I want to say something about the World Vision controversy.

If you haven’t been following, World Vision announced earlier this week that it would lift its ban on hiring Christians in legal same gender marriages. Supporters reacted swiftly and vigorously, accusing World Vision of everything from harming children to not believing the Bible to trivializing the cross. Many supporters either threatened to pull child sponsorships directly or speculated that lots of people would (in one of those predictions meant to bring about the thing it predicts).

Amid that wash of evangelical furor, bloggers like Rachel Held Evans defended World Vision and gaped at the pitch of its now disillusioned supporters. Evans even urged people to sponsor a child through World Vision who never had before.

Now World Vision has reversed course and asked for its supporters forgiveness for what it is calling a mistake. 

In a statement that sounds like it was written at gunpoint, World Vision President Richard Stearns said

“What we are affirming today is there are certain beliefs that are so core to our Trinitarian faith that we must take a strong stand on those beliefs. We cannot defer to a small minority of churches and denominations that have taken a different position.”

Clearly, threatening to abandon children in poverty works. An international evangelical aid organization cannot hope to survive if the John Pipers and Franklin Grahams of the world are against it. In a culture that disdains clerical authority, these men function as the closest thing evangelicalism has to a pope, and their public denunciations are utterly damning. They know that.

But they’re wrong. They’re not just wrong in their threats and their contempt for gay people, but they’re wrong in their belief that the gospel is at stake in these disputes over sexuality.

It’s not.

It’s just not.

I’ve written about the gospel here, and what I want to say about it now is that it is both the good news about God’s salvation for all of creation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the good news of liberty for captives and sight for the blind that Jesus himself preached and called “gospel.” Neither of those things are threatened by a posture of acceptance towards same gender romantic relationships.

Is something critical at stake here? Yes. But not the gospel.

Evangelical leaders have chained their understanding of the good news of salvation to an edifice of Biblical literalism. That’s what is at stake in the church’s understanding of same gender affections–the fervent belief that, unless you uncritically import patriarchal, idolatry-fearing, and misogynistic Biblical prohibitions against same-gender sex into a contemporary setting full of committed, faithful same gender romantic relationships, you have no part in Jesus. What’s at stake is a posture that makes the whole of our “Trinitarian faith” hinge upon a context-free interpretation of seven passages of scripture.

Progressives make the same mistake when we claim that the gospel is at stake unless the church unconditionally accept homosexuality. That’s because both evangelicals and progressives have far less power than we think to put the gospel at stake. The gospel is gospel: good news– news. An announcement–that the oppressed are delivered, the last are first, the poor are made rich, the kingdom of God has come near, the dividing lines between Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free have all been overcome in God’s triumph of reconciliation over sin and death. That good news is not at stake in disagreements over homosexuality.

The church’s witness to the gospel is at stake, for sure. And here evangelical leaders have just done serious harm to the church’s witness to the gospel, and not just because they forcibly stomped down the humanity of gay people and held hungry children at gunpoint. But also because, more than the good news of little children being welcome and outcasts brought back in and the sick made well, these leaders have witnessed to the efficacy of bullying and financial threats to get what you want. That’s a witness to something, but it ain’t the gospel.

In reversing its decision, World Vision is equating truth and goodness with the volume of the majority. That, too, is a witness, although, again, not to the gospel.