Thursday, March 27, 2014

Children as Casualties

Quick summary for those who aren't familiar with all this: In the space of two days, World Vision USA has managed to piss off pretty much every single spectrum of American Christianity. And in that, one group of people in particular is almost certain to suffer: The children helped by World Vision.

It all started when they announced that they would be modifying their hiring policies to allow practicing homosexuals in committed "marriage" relationships to be employees of World Vision. Previously, their hiring guidelines had included celibacy for single employees, and monogamy/faithfulness for married employees, all in an effort to reflect their company-wide Christian identity.

And this decision angered and/or saddened a lot of people. The Gospel Coalition did a couple of posts about it, and Matthew Lee Anderson over at Mere Orthodoxy wrote a slightly different take on it.

And then, seemingly in response to all the flak, World Vision USA reversed course, saying "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." Obviously, this angered/saddened even more people, with Rachel Held Evans putting together a particularly grieving post.

And those are just the people the who make a living writing about things like this. When you get to the other people, the people who comment on stories like these, it gets ugly. The comments sectionson these posts invariably descend into name-calling and accusations of hatred/wishy-washiness/worldiness/hatred again. (And while this most certainly includes "fundamental" Christians, many of the most vitriolic comments come from the commentators over at RHE, that bastion of tolerance and free thought). As a result of this flip-flop, the divide is deeper than ever.

But in all of this, as traditional Christians pondered whether to withdraw support in the face of the original decision, and as "progressive Christians" ponder whether to withdraw support in the wake of the reversal, one group of people has incredible potential to be hurt: The kids.

I have to be honest: I don't think the question of actively withdrawing support should ever have come up, from anyone even remotely close to "mainstream" Christianity. 

Simply not renewing support when the time comes, and transitioning to another program? Sure.

Continuing to support, but with a letter to WV explaining your grief at their decision? Heck yeah.

But actively withdrawing support, especially en masse and immediately? No. Because no matter who picks up the slack, no matter whether you immediately begin funding another organization, I have to think that your lack of support would make an impact in the life of a child who had nothing to do with the decision. I don't think that ever should have been on the table, and I'm saddened that it wasn't condemned by those who write blogs that people actually read.

Was World Vision's original decision in error? Definitely. Was it a serious error? Yes. is it something that we should just "agree to disagree" on? No. That way lies apathy and death. Sin is sin, and sin is serious...and condoning it is serious as well.

And yet...considering the fact that the Church has already caused such suffering with its (past and, in too many places, current) terrible treatment of this issue...considering the fact that actively withdrawing support would likely directly impact the life of a child who had done nothing wrong...considering that it would be so easy to affect a smooth transition so as to eliminate that negative impact...we should not have said what we said. And we definitely shouldn't have allowed 10,000 people to drop their sponsorships without saying one word against it.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Talitha Cumi

"While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing[e] what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”  And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James.  They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement." Mark 5:35-42 

Talitha cumi. Little girl, arise. We went over the corresponding passage in Luke today in church, and the pastor jumped over to Mark just for these two words. Talitha cumi. Rather than the Greek which Jesus likely often taught in, he changes to Aramaic when speaking to this small Jewish child.

Pastor Scott suggested that these were likely the words which her parents would have used to wake her each morning. I have no idea how true that is, but it seems right. Scott talked about how these were the words that had woken her from sleep since she was born, but how they took on a new meaning and power when spoken by Christ.

And as he spoke, a scene came together in my mind.

Jairus, a devout Jew, a ruler of the synagogue, is off on a mission of last resort, to bring the rising-but controversial rabbi Jesus to his home. His wife stays behind, at the bedside of her dying daughter. And as her daughter slips further and further into the sickness, the mother whispers, "Talitha cumi." Little girl, arise! Wake up! Please, please wake up...

Where is Jairus? Where is the rabbi? The sickness grows worse, and again she whispers, "Talitha cumi." But her girl lies still, un-moving and un-hearing.

She waits, but there is no word of her husband. Perhaps Jairus could not find the rabbi. Perhaps the rabbi refused to come. And then she realizes that her daughter, her only daughter, is no longer breathing, and she begs, choking through the tears, "Talitha cumi!" And her daughter lies there, as though sleeping, but not, and there are no words that will wake her.

The Bible is full of pieces of stories, of which we often only hear one part, one moment in time, when Jesus breaks into the story to make it right. But in order to fully appreciate that moment, I think we often need to step back and look at the rest of the story. This was not an object lesson or a Sunday-morning sermon to Jairus or his wife: This was the moment that their little girl came back from the dead. Something worth remembering, I think.