Thursday, March 27, 2014

A SWNID Spotting: What to Think and Why to Think It about World Vision's Same-Sex Marriage Apology

At the request of gentle readers, we are roused from hibernation to go all SWNID on l'affaire Vision Mondial. Hence, below are ten observations about WV's (not West Virginia's) action and retraction on same-sex marriage. What follows is pedantic, some of it sounding like we are scolding people for not doing their required reading, which we are in fact doing. Those who religiously follow our alter ego in his pathetic social-media posts, all of them lame imitations of noble blogging, will have already read what's here, except for a couple of light revisions for what we hope is clarity. Note well that in the rest of this post, we abandon the SWNIDish style of using the first-person plural inappropriately to refer to the SWNIDish self regally.

1. We should always be careful about bifurcating narratives that pit money against principles. Yes, plenty of true stories are about the conflict between these. But let's be clear: anyone in a responsible position, even responsible only for oneself, ignores financial considerations at one's own peril, usually thereby also imperiling others and, in the case of an organization, the organizational mission. No one who leads a family, let alone a large organization, takes a breath without thinking about its financial impact.

2. [scolding about required reading] As I've noted previously in my brief and infrequent comments in social media on the WV affair, WV faced tremendous pressure to adhere to USAID standards introduced in 2011 that give preference in issuing grants to organizations with nondiscriminatory policies about sexual orientation in hiring. This has clearly been a matter of concern for WV since 2011, since WV, a big recipient of USAID grants, asked USAID for clarifying language, which it never received from USAID or other agents of the US executive branch. [those of you who don't hang on my every word are just missing out]

3. About half of WV's revenue comes from private donations, and we can assume that much of it comes from individual donors, and we can assume that most of that comes from evangelicals. And about half comes from grants, much of that from USAID and other governmental and international organizations that also favor nondiscrimination in hiring in regard to sexual orientation. So the money cuts maybe two ways. WV's financial situation, if compared to two geological entities, is a rock and a hard place.

4. WV's brief "stand" was not taken on the "principle" that they were committed to what is euphemistically and popularly called "marriage equality" but on the "principle" that they won't take a stand where the church universal (mostly the Western, evangelical, Protestant church) is divided. Maybe they were hedging. Or maybe they were serious. Or both. More on this below.

5. For what it's worth, I have observed in myself and others a tendency for those with organizational authority to become insulated from larger, organizationally relevant realities as their attention is captured by immediate organizational concerns, especially those that they believe they can or must manage. How that generalization might apply here is this: the CEO and board of WV have surely faced two attention-capturing matters since 2011: the policy of USAID and the clamor for marriage equality, the latter including some voices in the Christian community. How the insulation works is this: paying so much attention to such things, I don't attend to other relevant factors and so misoverestimate the importance of the things I'm looking at while misunderestimating the importance of the things I'm not looking at. I've paid a price for having done this myself in the past, and I've paid a price for naively assuming that others who had my trust were not doing it. The habit of knowing and questioning one's assumptions is about the hardest habit to acquire.

6. The fact is that despite the considerable noise on the subject in the last couple of years, the Church Universal is hardly divided on the same-sex marriage issue. Even American and European Protestants outside of evangelicalism have not spoken with an organizationally united voice on this subject. If one gets outside the modern Western echo-chamber and listens to global and historic voices--which comprise most of our "great cloud of witnesses"--it speaks loudly and clearly, if inconveniently, on this issue. This may well be the very thing that WV's leadership misunderestimated, having misoverestimated the division of the church and the strength of the revisionist voices on this matter, perhaps unconsciously inclined to do so because doing so offered a way of resolving their dilemma with USAID.

7. So I take seriously and find credible (more credible than many backtracking explanations I've been compelled to accept in other situations in the past, including a couple of my own) WV's statement that it came quickly to realize that its position was out of step and divisive for the Church Universal, which was the very opposite of its intention. I take seriously the idea that people whom the WV leadership respected called members of the WV leadership and respectfully told them that they'd messed up.

8. What disturbs me now is the Manichean tendency of some in the Christian community who advocate same-sex marriage to offer simplistic narratives of the noble, enlightened, principled people against the ignoble, ignorant brokers of power who remind many of their narrow-minded parents. If (and this is a powerful urge in scholarship, where originality and the challenging of authority are the coin of the realm) one wants to take a "principled" Christian stand against the consensus of the faithful globally and through the ages (we like ancient and global Christians when we talk about liturgy, spiritual disciplines, poverty and courage, not so much when we talk about dogma), you may be right to do so. After all, is it not true that in the modern, Western Christian community there are those who advocate such historically un-Christian notions as Arianism, unitariansism, panentheism, universalism, and other matters that Scripture and tradition anathematize? Do we put everything in theological paralysis as a result, meekly shaking our heads that no one can affirm anything about anything theologically because there are "just too many conflicting interpretations"? Or do we justify every revisionist "Christian" position that comes out of scholarly monograph or popular blog? Or do we resolve to stand with the consensus of the faithful until compelled to dissent? I say, for heaven's sake, one should dissent only after taking an extra large dose of self-awareness, seeking large doses of wise counsel, and giving large doses of consideration to all the reasons, even the ugly ones, for which those many witnesses who disagree with the revisionist position do indeed disagree.

9. Yes, you need to know this for the final.

10. Thou shalt not covet.