Thursday, March 27, 2014

World Vision, Gay Marriage, and Trinitarian Theology

In the name of the Father, Son, and Marriage Between a Man and a Woman, Amen?

While I have been known to swim within the gray waters when it comes to the same-sex marriage debate, one thing I can say with confidence: neither gay nor straight marriage are central to Trinitarian theology.

That said, when World Vision decided to welcome and employ those who were in same-sex marriages, I was impressed by a large Christian NGO's willingness to move beyond the debate and work to rally around Jesus' invitation for peacemaking and advocacy on behalf of our poorest and hungriest neighbors. There were brilliant and beautiful articles written in efforts to underscore how it was possible for an Evangelical Christian organization to move past partisan divides and differences in theological opinions as we together labor on behalf of our most vulnerable and malnourished brothers and sisters, many who are children.

"It's been heartbreaking to watch this issue rip through the church," he said. "It's tearing churches apart, tearing denominations apart, tearing Christian colleges apart, and even tearing families apart. Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We've got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity."

Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, U.S.A (cited in interview by Christianity Today)

World Vision was taking an ethical, financial, and pragmatic risk. That is, until they decided they would not.

One of the most well-known Christian relief organizations recanted after being confronted by numerous individual and denominational donors who expressed distain for their supposed open and affirming stance. As a number of bloggers, journalists, and grassroots advocates rightly expressed, the poor and hungry became pawns within yet another spite-filled and slanderous debate. Conservatives and progressives are both at fault.

I cannot say I am surprised by World Vision's flip-flopping, but I am grieved by how quickly they caved in response to financial backers and child sponsors who cannot handle the employment of those whose sexual orientation they disapprove.

Let's be clear, World Vision is doing incredible things all around the globe and I remain grateful for their witness to the good news of Jesus.

Nonetheless, World Vision's rationale for their 180° belly flop is sadly flawed and simply wrong.

"What we are affirming today is there are certain beliefs that are so core to our Trinitarian faith that we must take a strong stand on those beliefs...We cannot defer to a small minority of churches and denominations that have taken a different position."

Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, USA (48 hours later in another Christianty Today interview)

Definition of marriage as core to orthodox, Trinitarian confessions is an unfortunate and illogical theological union by those who should know far better. Trinitarian theology is about God and how God relates to the world: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Yes, same-sex marriage is an important, relevant, even a theological conversation for both church and state, individuals and denominations. No, gay or straight marriages are not core matters of what makes for uniquely Trinitarian theology.

Despite belief to the contrary, Scripture does not paint a black and white portrait of marriage. One does not need to read far into the pages of ancient narratives to discover the plural nature of marriages by our biblical heroes, the leniency related to how far up the family tree it was permitted to marry, or even what happened when your spouse passed away.

Answer: marry your husband's closest male relative. Yikes.

This is not to suggest the aforementioned as appropriate biblical models, it's simply to note marriage as a contextual witness of covenant fidelity that God has allowed to evolve over time. Moreover, when Jesus was confronted about marriage, a mind-boggling trap by antagonistic Sadducees opposed to a theology of resurrection, the Messiah's retort down-graded the institution as superfluous compared to the redefinition of relationships within God's kingdom.

"For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Matthew 22:30)

It's as though Jesus was saying, everything's about to change so quit your bickering. Your marriage debate is causing you to miss the point of the economy of God and God's coming kingdom.

When we lump the definition of marriage into our core Trinitarian confessions, we are guilty of just the same. We may need to be reminded of what the triune nature of God is really about:

"Trinitarian doctrine describes God in terms of shared life and love rather than in terms of domineering power. God loves in freedom, lives in communion, and wills creatures to live in a new community of mutual love and service. God is self-sharing, other-regarding, community-forming love."

Daniel Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding 73*

Again, Trinitarian theology is about God and how God relates to the world: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

When this becomes our core, versus any stance on marriage, then and only then can we set aside both conservative and progressive positions on marriage and draw back to the forefront of our witness a unified concern and incarnated love for God's children who live on less than $2 a day.

This kind of love is to be our primary orientation.**

This kind of love is deeply Trinitarian.

This is the love of which we need to be known by the world.



*See God as Unified and Missional Theology: Trinitarian Theology as Missional Theology

**A great read: Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community by Andrew Marin

Great Pieces by Thoughtful Bloggers:

Let's Talk About What Happened Yesterday at World Vision by Tony Jones

Rachel Held Evans on World Vision

Kristen Howerton on World Vision

Jen Hatmaker, "Where I Stand"