This has been a week for people getting really upset on the Internet. I mean, even more than usual.
On Monday, World Vision, the massive Christian relief organization, told Christianity Today that they would “no longer define marriage as between a man and a woman in its [US] employee conduct manual.”
And then on Tuesday, SCOTUS began hearing oral arguments in the cases of Sibelius v. Conestoga Wood and Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby on the question of birth control.
And so, the Christian Internet has gone a little wild.
Southern Baptist blogger Denny Burk tweeted a “farewell” (from Christendom in general?) to World Vision. Gospel Coalition blogger Trevin Wax declaring that the day of the announcement was a day to “grieve for the children” who will no longer be served “as evangelicals lose trust in and withdraw support from World Vision in the future.”
On the other hand, evangelical blogger and writer Nish Weiseth passionately urged people to continue supporting World Vision and to remember “these are real kids, you know.” Mainline pastor and author Katherine Willis Pershey, who has sponsored a child through World Vision for several years, wrote on the Christian Century blog that she was
“touched that a major evangelical organization would affirm the faith and witness of mainline Christians, let alone seek unity with us.”
Willis Pershey noted that while World Vision is “generally evangelical, and that we [her family] are generally not,” whatever theological differences she may have with the organization are “immaterial” to the substantive issue, which she takes as an unquestioned good: she and her family have been helping to support the well-being and education of a little girl in Haiti.
Some Christians are predicting dire consequences for the future of religious liberty if the Court rules against Hobby Lobby et al, while others, like Rev. Cheryl B. Anderson writing for RNS, argue that “bad theology” lies behind opposition to the contraception mandate.
From where I sit — literally, at my desk in my home in one of the poorest countries on the planet — the two issues are interestingly related. World Vision operates many different projects in this country, and, as I’ve written elsewhere, I’ve stood in clinics and watched women get injections of Depo-Provera from boxes bearing the US-AID logo.
(To the dismay of a few on the conservative end of the spectrum, World Vision supports family planning efforts such as improved access to contraception, some of which people — such as the owners of Hobby Lobby — consider to be “abortive” in nature, although the scientific basis for this claim is shaky.)
Nevertheless, I think I am able to understand, at least in part, the concerns from both sides of the table.
Some people earnestly believe that World Vision allowing same-sex employees equals their complete loss of Christian faith, because it requires them to reject (or at least remain neutral on) the literal sense of Scripture, and for some people, a reading of Scripture that is ‘progressive’ threatens the foundation of faith. To do business (or charity) with them seems risky: a compromise of what they believe constitutes the true gospel.
And if you earnestly believe, as many people do, that life begins at the moment of fertilization, and that if the possible (but unlikely) prevention of implantation of a fertilized egg is exactly equal to the murder of a human being, then, yes, it makes sense why you’d be frustrated if the government asked you to pay for what you clearly understand to be an “abortion pill.”
If, also, you have seen extreme poverty in the developing and I mean really have seen it, it makes sense why you’d have trouble believing that anyone would stop supporting an organization bringing relief and development to these people over their neutral — but for some people not-neutral — stance on marriage.
If you have seen some of the women in some of these countries — unbelievably young yet with many children already, HIV positive yet not on anti-retroviral therapy, gums white with anemia — lining up to get birth control that they could never, ever, afford, since they can’t really afford adequate nutrition…
…and the children they have are just as likely to be malnourished and to be stunted in their growth as not (Malawi’s rate of growth stunting is about 50%) — you might have trouble seeing the remote chance of a fertilized egg not implanting as a compelling reason not to give the woman a Depo-Provera shot and spare her a sixth or seventh pregnancy.
(Especially since her partner will most likely neither use a condom nor respect her right to abstain if she wishes.)
And you might be tempted to point out how that kind of access would benefit women in the USA who are poor, and for whom a child (or another child) would represent an almost unbearable financial, physical, emotional, or spiritual burden — and you may wonder just how “substantial” Hobby Lobby’s “burden” is in comparison.
I don’t know if the two sides in these contentious cases will ever manage to reach a point of agreement, since even “let’s agree-to-disagree” is itself often regarded as an unbearable “compromise.”
I’m not even sure I can say “we all can agree” about anything — not even about, say, the goodness of a World Vision clean water project in a Guatemalan village.
But for the sake of our nation (and our world) — and the people in this whole, diverse, wild, human family, I hope we can learn to exchange civil words about what we believe is at stake.
Words like, “May you fare well, friend, even if we differ,” instead of “farewell.”