When World Vision Drops Me

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I got the news that World Vision had reversed its’ policy on employing gay and lesbians right after I got done with work. I was outside the school where I aid elementary age kids, special needs kids, and though I sometimes struggle with feelings of inadequacy in my job, I am actually a pretty awesome paraprofessional. Turns out, I’m pretty great at caring for kids in need.

 

And I was in my car when I got the news and I sped away, lest any of my little guys climbing the bus would see me, should I start to cry.

 

Before I headed home where I would find my mom, on the phone with another mom of a gay kid, telling her, “We will not respond the way they did. I refuse to be like them. We will be like Jesus, instead.” Before I got the text message from my brother, a very simple and needed, “I Love You.” I pulled over and parked in a vacant lot.

 

I turned off my ignition and I didn’t cry. I just sat there. Breathing. Stunned and struck by betrayal and pain and anger, wave after wave of it, and I couldn’t form a coherent thought or calm my heart. But in the midst of it, a memory came to me of a conversation I once had with Jay Bakker.

 

Jay, if you don’t know of him, was born into Christian Royalty. His parents were televangelists and their faces were amongst the most well-known and adored in Christian culture. Then the scandal. His dad had an affair, resigned, and then went to prison for fraud, leading Christians to banish the Bakker family outright. And for years, Jay would never step foot in a church.

 

Jay and I bonded over coffee in our shared experiences of feeling orphaned by the faith that raised us. And we also bonded over a shared hero, a man who, in a very real way, saved us.

 

That man is Brennan Manning. I will say it today and tomorrow and every day for the rest of my life that no one has left a larger impression on my faith than this man. Besides Jesus, he is the one I am most looking forward to meet in Heaven.

 

Jay was also swept off his feet by the Ragamuffin himself, and when Jay was set to publish his first big book, Son of a Preacher Man, Brennan agreed to write the forward. It was Jay’s dream come true.

 

Not long after, Jay heard from a representative of Brennan that he decided to pull out. He was afraid of the backlash he might receive by associating with the Bakker family. To this day, Jay says that that was the greatest let down, it left him completely disillusioned.

 

Don’t idolize your heroes, he told me. They will inevitably let you down. They’re human, too.

 

Years later, Jay was asked to pen an endorsement of Brennan’s book, and in the years between, they built a relationship based on forgiveness and trust and love. There was restoration. And Jay was brimming over with grace.

 

What Brennan had done was deny the Jesus in Jay. What he did was wrong and unfair and deeply hurtful. He ditched Jay when Jay most needed him, ran straight off the road off the gospel.

 

And yet, at the same time, in the Midwest, a teenager was reading Brennan’s books and his life would never be the same. A teenager would read these words, “God loves you just as you are and not as you should be.” And it would be enough, just that line, to give me the strength to move forward.

 

Though I understand that World Vision essentially had a gun to its head after evangelical leaders incited a mass backlash of dropped funds, it doesn’t make what they did right. Their reversal hurts more than anything I read from the evangelicals ranting. It was the kiss of Judas. And in the end, this was simply wrong and ungodly and deeply defeating.

 

I read Richard Stearns apology to conservatives through gritted teeth, because it is that bad. Richard Stearns, the man I praised the other day, disqualified me in a way against serving alongside him, and begged the forgiveness from those like Graham, Burk, Moore and Piper. And it does really hurt, this abrupt abandonment, this puncture of what was so much hope and pride and encouragement. Suddenly, reversed.

 

But, and not many years ago, it was Richard Stearns who shook up my faith in the best possible way. I read his book The Hole in Our Gospel, twice, and I recommended it to every person I knew. It was and still is one of the best Christian books I have ever read.

 

And who can understand the vehemence of yesterday upon him and his? Who can completely throw out he, Stearns, who left a life of luxury, to serve the world’s poor? Who can deny that World Vision is a rarity in Christianity, a group of folks whose sole purpose is to give the gospel hands and feet, bringing bread and water and mercy? Who can look at those pictures of kids being fed, of kids writing letters, those going to school and becoming kingdom builders themselves and write off an organization that is doing such beautiful work?

 

The truth is, friends, I am sitting in a coffee shop and writing this, and my teeth are still gritted, because I am writing things I am not feeling. But I believe, wholeheartedly, that there will come a day when I will. I know I will.

 

And when it comes to forgiveness, I take something like that very seriously. If it’s not flowing through my veins, then it’s not really there and I refuse to pretend it is. So I’ll say it true, as it is, right now:

 

I am not ready to forgive those that held starving children as ransom because of who I am and I am not ready to forgive Richard Stearns for this profoundly deep betrayal. I am not ready to forgive either of them for the devastating message they have sent to gay children everywhere.

 

But I can do grace. I can reach into the deep pockets of all that I have left and let it be a balm on my heart, let it tend to me until that moment comes when, as Anne Lamott says, “it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back.” I can give and give and give even as I’m pissed off and hurt because although they don’t deserve this, neither do I.

 

And my rage isn’t wrong, because this isn’t right. And so I will channel it all into doing my job here as a blogger, as a believer, loving gay kids and talking about the Jesus that wouldn’t change them for the world.

 

And though a Christian nonprofit embracing me, if just for a moment, is quite an event of subversion, I know in my own little world, the most radical act I can take is to say this: Yes, I love Jesus, too, and you’re my brother, and the Love of God makes us both enough.  It might be offensive to you, infuriating perhaps, it might even tempt you into dropping a kid off the face of the earth and blame it on me, but here’s the truth:

 

My chains are gone. I’ve been set free. My God my savior, has ransomed me.

 

And like a flood, his mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace. 

When Evangelicals Turn Against Children to Spite Me

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On the Moberg couch this evening, my mom was scrolling through her news app and saw the announcement that World Vision was now hiring gay married people.

 

“That’s so great!” She said.

 

“Pretty brave,” my dad added.

 

And for a moment, I thought, I should write a piece defending the decision, because they might get backlash… but wait, no, evangelicals wouldn’t go there. How could they?

 

And perhaps it was this assumption that left me blindsided by the likes of the Gospel Coalition, Franklin Graham, John Piper, and Russell Moore.

 

This isn’t a carefully edited a post, nor a pretty one. It is a stream of consciousness. My feelings that are erupting out of my heart right now.

 

I’ve been sitting in a swell of sad for a couple hours, because this is what I’m hearing: No, you aren’t even worthy to serve hungry children. You are so deeply unwanted that I will let a child die if it keeps you away from me. From us. From the body of Christ. I will spare no life if it keeps you far away.

 

I don’t know how to explain how crushing and infuriating this is. Could words describe this night of speaking the truth over myself: God is love, Jesus is love, This I know is true. Can I even express what it feels like to know that my existence is the reason children are losing their livelihoods? Possibly dying? Falling from protection and into the hands of trafficking?

 

No and I shouldn’t have to.

 

I am tired, friends, so tired of being hit. I am tired of being the most galvanizing symbol for evangelical Christians. It is awaking a lot of old demons in me and the stab feels so much deeper when it’s your own faith attacking you. But who am I kidding? It is usually my own faith attacking me. And I am now at a breaking point, as I am sure is true for many others.

 

I’m done with evangelicalism.

 

I am done being patient with Piper.

I am done pretending I can engage with the SBC.

I am done hoping Franklin ends up more like his dad.

I am done listening to Denny Burk and his blowhards at the Gospel Coalition.

I am done with each and every one of the tweeters out there bragging about dropping their sponsorship of a child in need, just because they hate me.

 

I am done fleeing from and returning to this perpetually abusive house of faith. I am stopping the cycle. I am empty of strength.

 

And I am clinging closer to Jesus than ever before.

 

Thank God our God is our God.

 

Often when I am blindsided by blog posts and vicious tweets, a part of me starts to mistake it all for the voice of God. I start panicking, start clutching my heart, and the old lies of you’re a mistake and ya, God hates you come crawling up from their graves. But then the guard of grace wakes up and bats the monsters away. That guard, of course, is Jesus.

 

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” John 15:9

 

I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:33 (MSG)

 

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” Matthew 5:3-12 (MSG)

 

And now Paul comes in like a brother:

 

“None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” Romans 8:38-39 (MSG)

 

And why not, my favorite passage of scripture:

 

My beloved spoke and said to me,
    “Arise, my darling,
    my beautiful one, come with me.

11 

See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.

12 

Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.

13 

The fig tree forms its early fruit;
    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
    my beautiful one, come with me.” Song of Songs 2:10-13

 

And of course, let’s let Brennan Manning take the floor too:

 

My life is a witness to vulgar grace- a grace that amazes as it offends. A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten til five. A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck towards the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands or buts. A grace that raises bloodshot eyes to a dying thief’s request- “Please, remember me”- and assures him, “You bet!” A grace that is the pleasure of the Father, fleshed out in the carpenter Messiah, Jesus Christ, who left His Father’s side not for heaven’s sake but for our sakes, yours and mine. This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.

 

And thank God for Richard Stearns, a man whose book, the Hole in Our Gospel, dramatically, beautifully, reassembled my faith. Thank God for this man who, when the gatekeepers deny, thrusts open the door and pulls up a chair. Who walks in the love of Jesus in all spheres of life.

 

Thank God. Thank God. Thank God.

 

Thank God for the constancy of the sun and the fleetingness of the storm.

 

Amen.