World Vision, Guiding Principles and the Problem with Trial Balloons

World’s Shortsighted Vision

In a move to widen its base and deepen its coffers, World Vision attempted to wade out into one of the most politically and socially charged issues of our time on Monday. The humanitarian organization known for helping starving and uneducated children all around the wold decided to allow “legally married” same-sex couples from the United States to work for the international organization. This decision kindled a quick and pointed response from several large evangelical denomination leaders. By yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon, World Vision had reversed course.

There are several issues I want to explore. The first is the initial announcement. Why did World Vision, an organization focused on humanitarian aid, decide to make this decision public? Hiring standards are not typically discussed outside of the human resources department of an organization. So, we must assume the purpose for this public move was to measure the response, both among the base supporters and non-supporters of World Vision. The reversal and the explanation now ring hollow because it is difficult to make a principled argument when your first attempt was pragmatic.

The second issue with this entire saga is connected with the reversal. I take exception to the “biblical jargon” bandied about now that the uproar has been heard. If Richard Stearn did not anticipate this response from the more conservative supporters of World Vision, then he has to be one of the most naive people on the planet at best. I say at best because the other option is that this was an intentional and calculated decision to see what would happen in the public arena (a trial balloon discussed below).

The argument that the policy was an attempt to stay neutral in the discussion is about as believable as the moon being made out of cheese! For an organization of this size, and for the leader of this organization who has access to other leaders on the world’s stage, not to have consulted with them prior to the announcement is disingenuous. I am not one to be overly critical, but any thinking person would have to recognize the dangers of swimming in these dangerous waters.

So, what does this second decision really mean? It means World vision has opened itself up for attack on at least two fronts. This sentiment is exactly what Mark Tooley from The American Spectator has pointed out.

There are reports that after Monday several thousand World Vision donors, out of a reported more than 400,000, threatened ending their support. There’s also an indication that work with overseas missions partners, working in traditional cultures, was imperiled. The later was probably more persuasive than the former, although both should have been anticipated before Monday. Ironically, Wednesday’s policy may cost World Vision far more dollars than Monday’s.

Angry LGBTQ groups and their allies, who previously were unfocused on World Vision’s internal policy, furiously now may target it for boycott, demanding that government and corporations halt funding. Liberal supporters of Monday’s policy angrily denounced Evangelicals withdrawing support, with one declaring: “It’s astounding to me that Christians would take food from starving children because a gay person might have helped in getting it there.” Will that same professed concern for starving children inhibit liberal demands for corporations and government to defund World Vision? [Source]

The lack of critical thinking and discernment in this decision is mind-boggling. This reality leads me to the next topic in this entire conversation, the issue of guiding principles. What are they and how do they work?

Guiding Principles

The reality of this situation for World Vision is that they have done irreparable damage to themselves. The purpose of guiding principles is to guide you through the decision making process and provide you with a redoubt when the attacks come. In this case, Stearns and World Vision should have taken more time consulting the scriptures rather than the tea leaves of culture. What has happened in the process is that they have lost their “True North.” The reason being, guiding principles must make sense and must be worth the fall out. If the decision made on Monday was one of conviction and principle then why make the change on Wednesday? When I read the following words attributed to Richard Stearns they rang hollow.

“The last couple of days have been painful,” president Richard Stearns told reporters this evening. “We feel pain and a broken heart for the confusion we caused for many friends who saw this policy change as a strong reversal of World Vision’s commitment to biblical authority, which it was not intended to be.”

“Rather than creating more unity [among Christians], we created more division, and that was not the intent,” said Stearns. “Our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake … and we believe that [World Vision supporters] helped us to see that with more clarity … and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

“We listened to [our] friends, we listened to their counsel. They tried to point out in loving ways that the conduct policy change was simply not consistent … with the authority of Scripture and how we apply Scripture to our lives,” said Stearns. “We did inadequate consultation with our supporters. If I could have a do-over on one thing, I would have done much more consultation with Christian leaders.” [Source]

As a supposedly Christian organization, their primary concern should be what they interpret the Scriptures to say, not the supporters or the detractors. It simply does not make sense to me to make a decision like this and not have counted the cost (Luke 14:28ff). If this was a calculated decision, then there was a terrible miscalculation on the part of World Vision and the Board of Directors.

The Problem of Trial Balloons

Wikipedia defines a trial balloon as follows: “A trial balloon is information sent out to the media in order to observe the reaction of an audience. It can be used by companies sending out press releases to judge reaction by customers….” It appears, on this side of the events of the last several days, this is exactly what World Vision did. Rather than doing surveys, focus groups or any number of tactics to gauge the response of this decision, World Vision decided to use the most public and volatile option. Even if they anticipated this reaction (which I highly doubt), World Vision has chosen the secular model of operating rather than the spiritual.

It seems this is the danger of organizations and individuals whose spotlight grows too large. The desire to create a “big tent” is foolish. This is not the way Christians and Christian organizations should make decisions. World Vision’s credibility and integrity is now in question. And they have hurt themselves because of their own choices. The lack of discernment in making this decision and then the reversal after the criticism is evidence of a lack of conviction. I would feel bad for World Vision if I felt this was an honest mistake. However, I don’t. I feel bad for the thousands of children who will be affected as support for World Vision wanes in the aftermath.

My hope is that Richard Stearns, the board of directors and World Vision would seek the God kind of wisdom we all need to navigate the ocean of life. Especially life in the public arena.

About the author

Victor Scott

I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, and author. I am an avid Cubs fan and a lover of Chicago-style Deep Dish pizza.

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