“You are the light of the world.” If those words are true, then in the midst of the darkness, we can be seen. In fact, we might be all that is seen. Even when we cannot see people watching us, even when we do not feel the eyes of others on us, we are visible. More so than we would probably like to be.
But maybe we step in front of our own light, casting a long shadow over the good news of the Gospel.
World Vision recently announced a change to their employee handbook so that those who are in a same-sex marriage can be hired by the organization. Predictably, people took sides. Some tweeted out “Farewell, World Vision,” and began to blame World Vision and the decision for future suffering of children as people pull their support. Others celebrated the decision of World Vision, while still others rushed to encourage people not to stop supporting the children who so desperately need help.
I’ve talked about my position on same-sex marriage before, but this time I am more deeply concerned about how the world sees us. We are in danger of making children pawns in a theological and doctrinal dispute. Whether you agree with World Vision’s decision or not, let us all agree that helping a child who is hungry, who needs clean water, who needs education, who needs healthcare is not a theological question. Religion that is pure helps those who cannot help themselves – especially children. And when we threaten to withhold charity from those children because an organization changes its policy on same-sex marriage, the world looks at us and sees a group of people who are willing to sacrifice children on the altar of doctrine. It doesn’t matter if you blame World Vision for making the change or conservative Christians for making such a big deal about it. We can point fingers and displace blame while arguing about fault or truth that is at stake, but to a world who does not share our theological views, they see people fighting about who can help hungry children.
So I ask, is that what we want them to see? Are we stepping in front of our own light? Is that the best use of any capital of trust we have with society? I’m not sure that it is…
The world is quickly changing around evangelicalism and, if we do not figure out a new way of being the world, it will quickly become ineffective. With so many people threatening to pull their support from World Vision we can clearly see how evangelicalism thinks about being in the world: We work with those who think and believe like us. If that is true, and I think it is hard to argue otherwise, evangelicals will quickly sequester themselves from the world by only working with themselves, effectively diminishing their ability to impact the world around them with the light of the gospel.
Change is coming, so we must learn how to change.
That is the story of the church. The church has never arrived, but is always arriving. We always had to wrestle with how to be in the world and not of the world. The Jewish church of Acts 15 had to figure it out once Gentiles began to live in light of the gospel. The church had to continually figure out how believers who believed differently about Sabbath and food sacrificed to idols would relate to one another. And in all those struggles, never once did Paul write, “Farewell, Corinthian Church.” We have to learn to let our light shine as we disagree with one another.
It is possible.
Let us not forget, in the midst of our passionate conversations, that while we may speak theoretically – there is little theoretical about this. People are involved. Real children need real support to survive in the world. World Vision is hiring real people married to other real people. We may not see the faces of those people in our discussions, but they have faces and they do not deserve to be pawns.
In the end, Christendom is dying. Quickly. The values of evangelicals will be shared by less and less people of the surrounding culture. Within the evangelical tribe itself, diversity of thought will grow until evangelicalism is either shattered into a million pieces, or it learns how to find unity in diversity. But my guess is, our current model of how to be in the world is losing its effectiveness and, in order for it to be raised to new life in a more effective model, it may have to die.