Last week, the Christian charity World Vision announced that it would hire people involved in same-sex marriages. In response, several prominent evangelical leaders threatened to pull support from their very popular child sponsorship programs, which provides children in rural poverty with access to food, water, shelter, and education. More good information can be found in the linked articles.
I was on the World Vision website yesterday. I was wondering if a child sponsorship program might work for our schools in Costa Rica, and they have one of the best ones. Then today I read this and this, and I wish I could say I were more surprised. One of my favorite internet forums is called “Not the Onion,” which collects headlines that look like they should be satirical Onion headlines, but are hilariously or depressingly true. This story falls under that category: I would expect to see “Evangelicals Starve Children to Get Back at Gays,” on the front page, alongside “Drugs Win Drug War,” and “Archeological Dig Uncovers Ancient Race of Skeleton People.” The religious obsession has descended into self-parody.
I don’t have much more outrage to throw on the pile. What’s the point, really? There can’t be much of a middle ground. Either this looks exactly as heinous and childish as it is, or it’s a brave defense of Biblical values. It’s also exactly the kind of thing which could only happen when your politics are personal and your philanthropy is by proxy.
“That they all may be one,” Jesus prayed before his crucifixion. That’s what he wanted for his disciples, for his Church, for his Kingdom. It’s our only hope, and our greatest failure. Our worst temptation and our ugliest hour is always this kind of thing: the setting up of an idol which stands between us and the rest of God’s children. The heresies, the issues, the excuses to hate, the specifics change, but dynamic is always the same. Find the belief, the viewpoint, the idol which comforts you by telling you that you’re righteous and that some Other is sinning. Let the division spread, until the people who disagree with you aren’t brothers and sisters to be lived with, they’re enemies to be defeated. And when we can lock ourselves in and bombard ourselves with the idol: with the television we choose, the internet we choose, the books, the articles, the church we choose, the indoctrination is easier, the lines are clearer, the divides run deeper.
It’s our ability to segregate ourselves with people who agree with us that creates this monomania. We’ve maximized choice: if you want it, there’s a news station, a magazine, and author, a website, a church, filled with people who already agree with you. If you’re not careful, your worldview can become so obvious. Until you meet the one person who shatters everything. The queer person, the atheist, the homeless man, the illegal immigrant, who makes it impossible to think what you always thought. And I think that’s why Jesus didn’t set up shop in Jerusalem, in the temple, and teach to whoever who would come. He tramped around in the dirt, pissing off the righteous by hanging with the sinner, pissing off the sinners by hanging with the righteous.
I think the only way to inject any sanity into this debate is to get outside. To meet enough people different from us until we can put faces behind these debates. Until we can get past the point where the threat of gay marriage is more real than the suffering of a child. We condemn gays in straight-only churches, we discuss gang violence and illegal immigration from inside white, wealthy neighborhoods. Jesus shared food with the Pharisees before he criticized, them, befriended a tax collector before he lectured on wealth, accepted a prostitute into his inner circle before he preached on marriage. And so his final prayer wasn’t that they all abstained from fornication, or that they all worshiped in any certain way, or that they all believed anything. His final prayer was that “they all may be one,” these people, all, different, all sinners, all beloved, were first in his mind when he prepared for his death.
So get up, go, get out, to a shift in a soup kitchen, to a friend’s church or synagogue or mosque, to another side out town, to a different country. Have a human face, one you know, a person you would pick up from the airport or call on their birthday, before you get caught in an argument. Even if we’ve never threatened to pull support from children because somewhere along the line a queer person might handle our charity, we’re all guilty of locking ourselves into a worldview and thinking of people as less than people, as pawns in some great struggle of liberal against conservative, Christian against atheist against Muslim, East against West, whatever against whatever. All these concepts are ultimately our children: politics, nations, religion itself, we made every one. But we are God’s children, and the more we invest in the world of people, especially people different than us, the less likely we are to get our priorities so hopelessly confused.