David King Offers Historical and International Perspectives on World Vision and Recent Controversies Over Its Marriage Policies



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Brantley Gasaway

No doubt many readers of this blog have followed the recent controversy surrounding World Vision, the global Christian relief, development and advocacy organization best known for its child sponsorship programs. For those of you who missed it, the American branch of World Vision initially stated that Christians in same-sex marriages would become eligible for employment before reversing this decision two days later after backlash from many supporters and prominent conservative evangelical leaders such as Franklin Graham, Al Mohler, and John Piper. For details, see the coverage by Christianity Today (here) and the New York Times (here).

David King
Over at his regularly engaging blog, The Pietist SchoolmanBethel University's Chris Gehrz beat me to the punch by hosting a two-part interview with David King that offers historical perspective on World Vision and a better understanding of this imbroglio. David, who is leaving Memphis Theological Seminary this summer to become assistant professor of Philanthropic and Religious Studies at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (IUPUI) and the Karen Lake Buttrey Director of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is completing a book project entitled Seeking to Save the World: the Evolution of World Vision, American Evangelicalism, and Global Humanitarianism

I'd encourage you to read all of the interview--part one (here) and part two (here)--for Chris's questions and David's answers cover a wide range of issues that include the development of evangelical humanitarianism; how the controversy illuminates debates about definitions of "evangelicalism;" and the place of American evangelicals within the global movement. At the conclusion of the interview, for example, David reflects on the international consequences of the controversy:

W(orld) V(ision) US’ policy last week also created publicity headaches for other World Vision offices. A number of other World Vision offices – particularly Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. all released statements distancing themselves from WVUS’ policy…Canada and Australia, for instance, have laws that do not allow discrimination in terms of religious commitment or sexual orientation. WV Australia went on record to be clear they do not ask questions about sexual orientation or marriage status in interviews. While they remain Christian organizations, the way they see their Christian identity shaping their work and their office culture may be quite different. Again, this question of how religious identity shapes an organization is a fascinating question that looks quite different in various contexts.

In this case, World Vision U.S. serves as the exception among other western countries, and its strong evangelical U.S. donor base plays an important role, but WVUS may also find important allies among other World Vision offices in Africa, for instance, in contrast to fellow western countries. To me, World Vision International serves as a microcosm in many ways of the shifts in the global church that world Christianity scholars like Lamin Sanneh and Philip Jenkins have been describing to us for decades now.

World Vision is a highly influential organization that gives us insight into how Christians engage global need. Particularly among American evangelicals, it is at the leading edge of shaping popular culture and professional practice of religiously-based relief and development. Last week’s episode demonstrates that evangelical fault lines remain deep, but World Vision points to a number of other shifting dynamics as well.

Thanks to David and Chris for providing more light than heat on World Vision U.S.'s recent controversial policy decisions.

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