There is much more that can be said about the recent turn of events with World Vision, who has now reversed course. I took to Twitter last night at the goading of Sarah Posner to say a few things about it. Sarah and I don't agree on much (we learned we have 72% cacao chocolate in common!), but I enjoy disagreeing with her so much that I yielded.
And, let's face it, I'm just a sucker for long-winded rants about anything.
Finally, at the risk of overstaying my own welcome at my own blog, I want to excerpt a bit from a comment I wrote in the previous discussion. I think it's important for understanding some of the broader issues at stake in the conservative concerns about World Vision's original decisions. It by no means captures every nuance of the decision, but hopefully clarifies my thinking about this a little more.
"It's not at all obvious to me that the decision to withdraw funding from World Vision entails that there is *more* concern for opposing homosexuality than for helping children. I bet we could find lots of reasons to think that's just not the case among conservative Christians. For one, if we compared the aggregate donations that go to World Vision and other poverty-based organizations to those set up to deliberate oppose "gay marriage," I suspect we'd see conservatives give FAR more toward poverty services.
Second, let's remember that World Vision is as large as it is in part because the very people who now have qualms about continuing to give gave for years. That is, if nothing else, a prima facie sign of a serious commitment to ending poverty. To claim that conscientiously withdrawing support is a sign of no longer caring about children, etc. seems to single out one particular moment in their relationship with the organization and ignore that past history.
But thirdly, and probably most importantly, I think your claim about them caring more about gay marriage rather than children only goes through if they were to give up funding poverty relief COMPLETELY rather than transfer it to a different organization that does equivalent, even if not identical work. There may be reasons why people who started a funding relationship with WV should continue: but if they move to (say) Compassion, that is not a sign that they no longer care about the children they once supported.
In a hypothetical case, suppose that a person decided that Compassion was more effective than World and so transferred their funding. No one could possibly accuse that person of not caring about poverty relief. So the sheer fact that people are ending sponsorships with WV does not entail that they care *more* about stopping gay marriage than they do about poverty at all. I think, to be honest, the claim [that conservatives care more about doctrine than children] only goes through if World Vision is the only sort of organization that does what it does. But it isn't.
The better understanding is, I think, the one I gave in the original post. People give to World Vision because they care about ending poverty *and* contributing to evangelistic work. The disagreement with WV is on the latter half of that formula, not the first half. And so switching organizations on grounds that they have reasons to believe that other organizations will meet both aims better than World Vision simply has no bearing on their commitment to the first half.
I would note that all of this means that I think if a person simply stopped giving money altogether rather than changing the recipient that would be a reason to think that [the interpretation that they care more about doctrine than people] is right. But given that these are people who have (in many cases) given freely and willingly for years, I'm highly dubious that people are going to give up their charitable contributions toward children in need altogether, rather than transfer them.
You can see the whole conversation here (including a rejoinder that I haven't had a chance to respond to yet). I'd also note that this comment was not meant to contradict my argument that conservatives can and in most cases should keep up support for the individual child they have forged a relationship with. Rather, it is simply trying to show that the abstract claim that stopping support for a child entailed a prioritization of doctrine over children is faulty.
Again, that is by no means a comprehensive analysis. I probably won't put that together...ever. But it's a start toward clarity...I hope.
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.