Parachurch organizations, according to Wikipedia, are, “Christian faith-based organizations that work outside of and across denominations to engage in social welfare and evangelism, usually independent of church oversight.” Parachurch organizations range in mission, vision, and focus. When they are operating well, parachurch organizations can partner with local churches, joining forces with them to work together. They can encourage and support one another, uniting towards one goal and accomplishing much together. When they are at their worst, parachurch organizations can detract from the mission and ministry of the local church, taking away financial support as well as moving away from a spirit of collaboration, seemingly working in opposition to the local church.
The other day, news broke that Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, one of America’s largest Christian charities, has announced that the organization is now, “allowing gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be hired as well as gay Christians who follow their policy of abstinence outside of marriage.” Stearns, in a letter to his employees, stated, “I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue. We have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on this issue alone.”
This is an incredibly “hot button” issue within the church in America, it has been for years, and I expect that it will be for more years to come. Many within conservative circles of the church have questioned Stearns’ decision for World Vision, some going so far as to say that immediate action should be taken to withdraw financial support from the organization. Others are applauding the move by Stearns, excited at this latest “win” for the LGBT community within the church and most likely expecting that this is just another step towards the eventual full acceptance of same-sex marriage within the church.
I find it interesting that Stearns, in his letter, wrote that this is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. If this isn’t an endorsement of same-sex marriage in word, it is in action. While he may not be coming right out and saying that World Vision supports same-sex marriage, the actions of the organization are stating just that and it seems that everyone, other than Stearns himself, seems to understand this or at least interprets the actions this way.
And herein lies a prime example of a parachurch organization working in opposition to some within the local church. By making this decision, Stearns and, subsequently, World Vision are not remaining neutral, despite what it seems that he is inferring in his letter. This decision seems to be a statement that World Vision should not be making such specific decisions, deferring instead to the authority of local churches. In deferring to the authority of local churches though, is World Vision not going contrary to that authority if that authority chooses to act in opposition to this latest policy of World Vision?
As I mentioned, this issue continues to divide many within the church. Much has been written about this issue from a biblical and theological standpoint, too much to list here. If the purpose and mission of parachurch organizations like World Vision is to act outside of and across denominational lines in a truly ecumenical fashion, it would seem that this would be the right move for World Vision. After all, the greater Kingdom work that is being done by World Vision is important, isn’t it? Providing clean water and other essentials to people in destitute countries is important? But in making this decision, I think that they are quickly realizing that it is far from a neutral decision. This decision will be just as polarizing, and already has been, as the issue itself has been within the church.
It seems that we are at an impasse within the church, the dividing lines are being drawn, many are choosing sides. A house divided against itself cannot stand. The mission of the church in the world is to make disciples of Christ, teaching them to obey everything that Christ has commanded. Many will say that Jesus never spoke of this issue while others will argue that his specific exclusion of this topic does not mean that he did not address it at all. Regardless of where we fall on this issue, I hope that we can acknowledge that what may appear as neutrality on volatile issues like this can rarely be as neutral as we think. If we are part of parachurch organizations, the decisions that we make, even if they are seemingly neutral will have a ripple effect within the church universal.
I’m still not completely sure what I feel about the decision of Stearns and World Vision. How about you?