World Vision, a high-profile evangelical humanitarian organization that seeks to alleviate poverty and injustice internationally, indicated last week that it would hire Christians who were in same-sex marriages, provided they were committed to fidelity in their relationship. Two days later, it reversed that decision after receiving a barrage of criticism from evangelical leaders.
It was refreshing to see the expression of humility and repentance by World Vision: “We’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake,” President Richard Stearns wrote. Evangelicals are relieved that World Vision has come to its senses on the issue, but of course not everyone is happy about the reversal. The Huffington Post says the decision was forced upon World Vision by the “orthodoxy police,” and that the result is “bad for everyone.”
So what really is the problem here? Why was there such a backlash to World Vision’s initial policy change? Isn’t it true that Jesus seems to be more concerned about helping the poor, which is World Vision’s mission, than about people’s sexual orientation?
Kevin DeYoung has written an excellent blog explaining why he believes the issue of homosexuality is not the same as secondary issues like baptism or the millennium. Yet there is one important detail that I would like to add: the reason evangelicals should be so concerned about this issue is because homosexuality distorts the picture of the Gospel that marriage was intended to portray.
In Eph. 5:25-33, Paul gives instruction to husbands and wives. He quotes Gen. 2:24, which says “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife.” This is a description of heterosexual marriage. And then Paul says something remarkable in v. 32: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” In other words, the relationship between a husband and a wife “refers” to the way Jesus has loved the church and given himself for her. Heterosexual marriage is intended by God to be a walking, talking illustration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A distortion of traditional, heterosexual marriage, therefore, leads to a distortion of the Gospel.
In his excellent book, Is God Anti-Gay?, Sam Allberry says this: “Human marriage is a reflection of this supreme, heavenly marriage between Christ and his people. It is one of the reasons why Christians are resistant to allowing marriage to be defined in such a way as to include gay couples. A man and a man, or a woman and a woman, cannot reflect the union of Christ and the church, instead only reflecting Christ and Christ or church and church.”
I should point out that heterosexual sin also distorts the Gospel, and should be regarded as equally serious to Christians. But in any case, this is why we can’t say homosexuality is “just another sin.” And it’s why World Vision, as an evangelical Christian organization, should be applauded for reversing its decision.