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World Vision, Gay Marriage, and Breaking Off Sponsorship

These are kids reading sponsor mail at our Children’s HopeChest CarePoint in Uganda.  The girl in the middle is Miriam, and I got to squeal happily as her sponsor hugged her for the first time.

Yesterday World Vision announced a change in its policy for U.S. staff members, allowing for employment of individuals in legal same-sex marriages.  They wrote a letter to staff, Christianity Today wrote this article, and then a level five hurricane of crap broke loose on Twitter.

I went to bed energetically thumb-typing into the notes section of my phone, because in general I try not to spew directly onto social media.  Since I woke up still feeling like someone placed an anvil on my chest, I need to share some thoughts.  Orphan care is a subject that tends to make me really passionate and foam at the mouth, but this morning, there’s no foam.  Only major humility, massive quantities of love, and a deep, deep ache.

Just yesterday I was working on a post about the importance of child sponsorship and what it can do for breaking the cycle of poverty and destruction.  Sponsorship is an incredible gift to both sponsors and children, because not only does it provide money for things like food, clothing, medical care, education, and discipleship, but it offers relationship.  As sponsors, we get to write to our kids and let them know how much we care, how we root for them, and how we love them.  Our longterm support is girded by relationship.

I’ve had the opportunity to go a step further and visit my kids, wrap my arms around them, visit their homes, and ooh and aah as they proudly show me their schoolwork.

This is me with one of my kids, Esther, who's showing me her recent exam. This year she moved up to high school. She is the bomb diggity and I adore her.

I count watching children meet their sponsors as the sweetest, most sacred of moments.  I don’t sponsor with World Vision, but in almost 100% of my conversations about sponsorship, someone tells me that they do sponsor through World Vision.

It’s a big organization doing a lot of good in the world for a lot of kids and communities, and because of its recognition that different denominations have different beliefs about marriage, prominent evangelical leaders are coming out and renouncing it.  People are declaring that they’re dropping their sponsorships.

All I want to say today is, “Oh, please don’t drop your sponsorship!”

As a sponsorship coordinator, I’ve experienced people needing to drop their sponsorship for many reasons.  Sometimes the sponsor loses a job, or becomes a single parent and can’t continue, or a medical issue with a child here at home prevents them from affording the sponsorship.  It’s always sad, and the sponsors always struggle, and we hug (Sometimes I hug non-huggers with my thoughts.).

This is different.  The only change in circumstance here is a policy change.  For anyone thinking of canceling sponsorship due to a differing opinion in the U.S. staff guide, here’s what you’re basically saying to your child:

Because I have a doctrinal disagreement with fellow Christians, I’m choosing to break off my relationship with you.  You can no longer count on my love and support because of the way I feel about some marriages in the U.S. staff.  And I’m making this decision because of my devotion to Jesus!

Growing up, I attended a church that met in a warehouse.  In our big cement block room sitting on metal folding chairs, we sang song lyrics off the wall, cast by an overhead projector.  I’ll never forget one of the songs we used to sing, because the worship leaders seemed like hippies at Woodstock dancing around a fire.  I seem to remember tambourines.  All they needed were some love beads.

And they’ll know we are Christians

By our love

By our love

And they’ll know we are Christians

By our love

Tell that to the kids losing their sponsorships.

The song is based on John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you’re my disciples, if you love one another.”  Is that what’s happening here?

These kids aren’t pawns.  They’ve been victimized and exploited enough without Christians using them in some kind of epic doctrinal battle to the death.  Everyone loses this battle.  Mostly the kids.

Christians, this isn’t right.  We can do better.  When did following Jesus become about what we’re against?

Sigh.  With all my heart I want people to see what we’re for.  I’m a Christian.  I’m for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the lonely, and big long hugs that last for days.  I believe that Jesus loves me and loves you and I’m for you feeling His love by my hands and feet serving you.  I’m for straining toward unity, stretching for it, pleading for it.  I’m for gentleness and faithfulness.

Lately, it feels more like “Farewell” this, and “You’re dead to me” that.

Now some people are calling for another boycott, and this time we’re boycotting what?  Poor children?

I know, I understand, that’s not what people are really doing.  I know, friends, that anyone withdrawing sponsorship isn’t doing it because of the kids, but from a heartfelt conviction.  I don’t want to debate that conviction here.  People with various beliefs are welcome here and I don’t want to attack anyone, because I don’t want to encourage attacking.  I want to boycott attacks of all kinds.  (See what I did there?)

This is me sitting down next to you and just asking you to consider maintaining your sponsorship.  I believe so strongly in the good we can do together, as people of various doctrines, for the sake of the children.

Have our doctrinal battles landed us here, with the world watching the wealthy believers decide whether or not they support children aided by gay couples?  It’s the grossest display of our indulgence and gluttony that we can sit here with bellies filled and all the Bible studies spread before us and decide to break off a relationship with a child who’s come to depend on us, whose next belly filling is our spiritual whim.

These kids pray for us.  They pray for God to bless us.  Us, the people with all the money and food and school and doctors.  I know this because they tell me in the letters I receive.

Before you decide to end your sponsorship because World Vision is making room for the marriage doctrines of some denominations, please think about the child you sponsor.  Not the glossy photo.  Not the little description.  The flesh and blood child.  Please, with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart, please.

“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” Proverbs 29:7.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on World Vision’s policy change and what you believe about continuing sponsorship.  Let’s keep the discussion sponsorship-specific, because I think by now we’ve all heard the various viewpoints about same-sex marriage and don’t need to battle that out here.  Seriously, I will hide under my desk.


image from Donna Page Photography