“Stretch out your hand”

Last week, Will wrote some thoughtful notes concerning question around World Vision’s recent news headlines. It seems that the debate is still raging on with faithful people on both sides spouting their opinions. This morning, I stumbled across my childhood pastor’s Facebook page. His latest post was about how proud he was of World Vision for reversing their decision to allow married LGBT people to be employed. I could not help myself from reading all 30 heated comments of praise and anguish that followed.

I am not an evangelical, nor did I ever claim that title growing up. For the most part, I have always been and still remain within the liberal, progressive culture of Christianity. I attend a UCC church and live and move in circles that affirm my 3-year partnership with the woman I love, and my open, lesbian identity. Sometimes I forget, due to lack of exposure, that there are strong, Christian leaders who are using their staunch views of biblical authority to spread and congratulate messages of exclusivity and judgment. For some, World Vision’s admitting they made a “mistake” only 48 hours after announcing that they would support employees who were same-sex married seems like a triumph of truth and biblical witness. Many who see it this way, including my former pastor, can choose to hide behind that vocabulary but what this decision is really about is money, not morality. We live in culture where money drowns out integrity. World Vision reversed their decision because within 24 hours of their announcement 10,000 children lost their sponsorship from evangelicals who no longer agreed with World Vision’s principles. These condemning voices included the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, George Wood, who urged their members to drop their financial support immediately. Other loud voices condemning World Vision included Franklin Graham and John Piper who I would go so far as to say, bullied World Vision into overturning their decision by threatening the worldwide organization with a huge financial deprivation.

Will looked at the man born blind in John 9 as a response to the recent events, but I cant’ help but think about Mark’s account of Jesus in the synagogue when he encounters the man with the withered hand:

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodions against him, how to destroy him.”

In essence, Jesus asked the religious leaders of his day, “Are you more concerned with following the rules or healing the needs of others?” And we ask our evangelical community today, “Are you more concerned with preserving your idea of biblical principles or healing the needs of others?”

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I believe the community backlash that threatened World Vision was speaking out of fear that they might lose their powerful influence. Sadly, caught in the middle of this heated debate over right and wrong are the millions of impoverished families and children World Vision supports. Have we gone so far as to refuse the need of the man with the withered hand because our rules and system of beliefs tells us that we cannot heal on a certain day, or love a certain person, or marry a certain gender? As we continue to move forward in light of World Vision’s decision, let us see every angle with clarity and say that this event is about money and power, not spiritual truth. Our sacred story tells us that Christ healed the man with the withered hand despite the rule that one was not to do work on the Sabbath. Christ sought to restore the man’s hand and so should the church seek to restore the lines that have been drawn between who is worthy and who is unworthy. Jesus did not teach discrimination; in fact the opposite is true. The evangelical church desires to protect their version of biblical authority and Christian marriage by clinging to their rules out of fear, instead of healing the needs of those around them. Despite my former pastor’s Facebook post, World Vision’s overturned decision is not a “win” in the battle to preserve biblical principles, rather it is a shameful act of fear and discrimination of an organization brought to its knees by powerful relgious leaders with hardened hearts.

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