A response to Jen Hatmaker on the World Vision announcement

Jen Hatmaker’s remarks about the World Vision announcement include some sharp criticism of what I wrote about it on Monday. I take her comments seriously, and I hope to give an answer to at least some of the concerns she raises.

I should stipulate that I am not a regular reader of Hatmaker’s blog. Nevertheless, I come across her writings from time to time and have even linked to some of her material on this blog. From the limited sample that I have read, I have found her to be a stimulating writer. More than once, I have laughed out loud at her wit and humor, which I really appreciate.

From what I’ve read, I have also gotten the impression that she is to the left of me theologically. The last time I interacted with her was a couple years ago over the issue of homosexuality. She had argued that Christians ought to mute their voices on the morality of homosexuality and go “into the basement.” I thought then (and I still think now) that this advice was wrong-headed, and I voiced my disagreement at the time. That exchange leads me to expect that we are going to come down in different places on these issues. Such is the case with the World Vision announcement.

As I said, Hatmaker read my World Vision response and didn’t like what she saw. Here’s how she responded in her own words:

Consensus is impossible here. So we go to the next level: how do we deal with explosive issues like gay marriage without destroying people, specifically involving this World Vision announcement?

Reactionary, emotional attacks are not helpful. Denny Burk decrying the “collapse of Christianity at World Vision” under a “false prophet who comes to you in sheep’s clothing…but inside is a ravenous wolf” is exactly the sort of emotional jargon that whips Christians into a frenzy and incites us to crucify one another. Burk declared that we would know false teachers by their fruits: “In other words, what they do will often reveal far more about who they are than what they say.” Then he absurdly called as his witness this singular policy change to demonstrate what Stearns does – not serving 100 million vulnerable people in nearly 100 countries. Somehow this marriage concession had neutered decades of faithful work with the world’s poor.

We do not need any more inflammatory soldiers in the culture wars; we need more thought leaders who are slower to publicly condemn their faithful brothers and sisters and quicker to invite reason and dialogue to the table. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).

Hatmaker objects to my tone calling it “reactionary” and “emotional” and intended to “whip Christians into a frenzy” so that they will destroy one another. I have no desire for Christians to destroy one another, nor is that the intention of my post. May aim mainly is to provoke Christians to think biblically about what is at stake. The language of “false prophet” and “ravenous wolf” are Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, not mine. He often reserved his strongest rhetoric for false teachers who would lead the faithful astray (e.g., Matt. 3:7; 12:34; 23:15). This is the way Jesus talks about those who distort and deny His word. Rather than decrying Jesus’ rhetoric, I think it would be more helpful for Hatmaker to explain why Jesus’ teaching doesn’t apply in this case. President Stearns claims that gay marriage is compatible with “following Jesus.” That to me is precisely the kind of thing that Jesus warned us so gravely about.

Hatmaker says that—when weighed in the balance—World Vision’s charitable work mitigates any alleged moral deficiency in their stance on marriage. I would simply respond that Jesus does not allow His disciples to pick and choose which of His commands are important to obey and which ones are not. Taking care of the needy is great, noble, necessary work. We must not flag in zeal for such work. But that work doesn’t somehow eliminate the treachery of rebelling against Jesus’ words about sexual morality and marriage (Matt. 5:27-32; 19:3-9; Mark 7:21). We must hold on to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, not just the ones we judge to be most important (Matt. 4:4).

Hatmaker says that we need more “thought leaders” who are slow to “condemn their faithful brothers and sisters.” I confess that I don’t come to this discussion primarily as a “thought leader.” I come to it as a pastor. The Bible says that pastors have a responsibility not just to teach the truth but also to “refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). My concern is that too many “thought leaders” are treating biblical sexual morality as if it were adiaphora—an optional add-on that Christians are free to negotiate on their own terms. But that is fundamentally not true. Nor is it loving or helpful to people to suggest that it is true. Our pastoral love and concern for people requires that we speak clearly about what’s at stake (Eph. 4:14-15).

As to condemning “faithful brothers and sisters,” Hatmaker assumes too much. We must ask, “Who really are our brothers and sisters?” Jesus says that His brothers and sisters are those who do his Father’s will (Mark 3:33). Those who don’t do His Father’s will are not His brothers and sisters. For this reason, I really question whether I can call someone “brother” or “sister” who is openly and unrepentantly defying Jesus’ words. I have the same question about anyone who is openly and unrepentantly non-committal about Jesus’ words. If Jesus’ words about the radical nature of discipleship are true, then these really are the stakes. We serve no one if we obscure that truth (Matt. 6:24).

Hatmaker claims that “consensus is impossible” on the issue of gay marriage. She claims that Christians have always disagreed with one another about a variety of issues, and thus we should get used to the fact that Christians are going to continue to disagree about homosexuality. We must insist, however, that the Bible’s teaching on sexuality is not as indeterminate as Hatmaker suggests. The entire 2,000-year history of the church has spoken with unanimity on the morality of homosexual behavior. It is astonishing that Hatmaker and others would stand against that consensus with, “We can’t really be sure whether the Bible limits sexual activity to the covenant of marriage.” We can be sure, and we must.

The bottom line is this. There is much more at stake here than Hatmaker suggests. Neutrality on this issue is a farce, and eventually all will have to take a stand one way or the other. The gatekeepers of cultural respectability will insist on it. I wonder how long Hatmaker thinks she can remain “in the basement,” concealing her views on homosexuality and gay marriage. The window of opportunity for such obfuscation seems to be closing rapidly.


Postscript: I have noticed that some people are concerned that opposing World Vision’s new policy somehow implies that donors must immediately cut off their donations to World Vision. I am sure that someone somewhere has made such an argument, but I have not. In general, I agree with Matt Anderson that there may be a number of ways for faithful Christian donors to respond to this announcement that stop short of an immediate withdrawal of support. Having said that, I also agree with Kevin DeYoung that donors should not approach this announcement with moral indifference. At some point, Christians are right to reassess future giving if World Vision remains on its current course.


  • Kevin Cuthbertson

    I simply read what you posted of hers but her tone and writing seemed to be the exact thing of which she was accusing you.

    • Angela Hogan

      I saw the same thing. “Don’t be so sure of yourself, people…only, DO listen to ME.” Not hard to see through, I’m afraid. Denny is absolutely right. I can’t believe she would even suggest that the church has not had unanimity on this issue through the centuries. If you use her logic, because there have been disagreements on a variety of theological issues over time, no one can have assurance on anything and have no right to make propositional statements regarding biblical teaching of any kind. So much for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”–according to Hatmaker, if we can’t find something everyone agrees on, we shouldn’t say anything at all. In that case, ignore my comments, AND HERS, as well, ha.

      My last observation is one I always notice in these cases–bad theology always breeds more bad theology. You never find someone who is out-of-bounds by evangelical standards in only ONE area–you inevitably find two, three, or more, because these things always lead to more twisting. Theologies are linked and you can’t mess with one part without it affecting other areas. I’m sure that if Hatmaker believes homosexuality is ok, there are certainly other areas in which she would not fit in a conservative theological mold. That’s her prerogative–but conservative evangelicals can also be aware and read her thoughts with a grain of salt instead of hook, line, and sinker.

      Angela Hogan

  • Jeanie Schwagerman

    I appreciate your follow up. I have followed her on facebook and ceased doing so. I think we need to examine how and why we are building the kingdom of God. Hatmakers building the kingdom is contrary to what scripture says and I fear what many believe to be building kingdom building. For the record, my brother works for World Vision in Zimbabwe and has been with them for many years. He is the director in that area. He is a great guy with a great heart. I love him dearly.. So I am pulled in this, however, I am not surprised on Richard Stearns stand. I have read his book and he is a business man and social issues is something he is very passionate about so much so that I think that his way of building the kingdom of God.

  • Steve Potts

    Denny, thank you for your clarity on this matter. One of the things the debate about homosexuality does in the providence of God is to push people to either loyalty to the Word of God or rebellion against it. There really is no middle ground, such as is suggested by countless compromisers and false teachers in the so-called “mainline” denominations and some Christian organizations. Certainly homosexuality isn’t the most important issue facing the church, but it is a major point where our evil culture is pushing hard on the church to capitulate to wickedness. It is one of the fronts in an intense battle and the lines are falling here and there. If believers don’t stand firm against World Vision, many other organizations will likewise follow their lead to the eternal harm of thousands.

    • James Bradshaw

      What issues of morality can folks disagree over and still claim the title of “Christian”, in your estimation?

      Divorce and remarriage?
      Racial segregation and human slavery?

      Before you answer, you might investigate the positions the early church fathers and reformers held on all of these topics.

      • Tiffany

        If it is in contrast to scripture it is sin, regardless of reformers or early church fathers. The Bible is specific about homosexuality, and that is where the debate ends.

    • Lauren Bertrand

      Steve Potts, no doubt many other organizations WILL follow the lead of World Vision–probably at least 2 or 3 more will “capitulate” before June 1 of this year (and we can expect each to get a separate article on this blog).

      Obviously we are as entitled to our opinions as we are to disagree with others’. And Hatmaker does seem to be demonstrating Proverbs 18:2 as much as Burk. But it is beyond unfair to World Vision and the United Methodist Church, etc etc to assume that they have not thought this over, as many posters on his blog have. It is quite likely that the leadership at World Vision agonized over the decision…and, having finally articulated a clear response, have simply chosen differently than the Southern Baptist Convention. And yes, they have decided that there is middle ground, just as the SBC has generally determined to be the case with the consumption of alcohol. We all just cherry pick where we feel compromise is permissible.

      • Ian Shaw

        You seriously just made the claim that a denomination’s or convention’s decision/consensus about whether or not homosexuality is not against God’s law to be equal to the same consensus about alcohol consumption?

        Claiming consumption of alcohol is a sin is unbiblical, and just legalism. Claiming consumption of alcohol to drunkeness is a sin and is biblical. Having a glass of wine with dinner does not affect your salvation as a Christian. Engaging in homosexuality does effect your salvation if you claim to be a Christian and are unrepentant of it.

        At this point, I’m leaving this blog for the day. Not going to get into this can of worms.

  • Christi Ramares

    Thank you, Denny! I can’t put my thoughts into words so easily, but your posts have helped me tremendously! We have been in a hard place about the BSA decision, and this produces similar issues. Thanks for putting your thoughts out there.

  • Brett Cody

    Thank you, Denny! Excellent, thoughtful response. Personally, I don’t feel whipped into a frenzy–just encouraged to stand with you on the Word!

  • demerwebb

    Thanks so much for this, Denny. I just read Hatmaker’s article this morning and was dismayed by what I read and was hoping you’d respond. In an attempt to be cool-headed and even-handed she actually has taken a side and has drawn a line in the sand. While our culture has been dominated by sexual sin long before the gay marriage debate, it seems like this issue, more than others, is really going to reveal which god we serve. This issue will cause a shrinkage in the “church” in America more than anything else we’ve ever seen. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  • andreaeiken

    This hurts my heart –> “For this reason, I really question whether I can call someone “brother” or “sister” who is openly and unrepentantly defying Jesus’ words.”

    People that are openly and unrepentantly defying Jesus’ words need love and support the MOST.

    • mrsgore81

      I don’t usually parlay in comments sections, but I just want to encourage you because this is something I have dealt with in the past.

      What appears to be unloving (not calling someone “brother” or “sister” who is openly and unrepentantly defying Jesus’ words) can actually be an act of genuine love and compassion…

      we are commanded to treat those who refuse to repent and align themselves with the Word as nonbelievers and to love them by sharing the gospel with them. Matthew 18:15-17. To call them “brother” and “sister” would be not only disingenuous, but would be harmful to them.

      (this goes both ways, by the way – I really believe this when it comes to loving others but I also expect my church body to hold me accountable and to “love” me with the truth of God’s Word, even when it hurts. This is true love!)

    • Kevin Furniss

      I don’t believe that Denny is saying that we shouldn’t love them. He is saying that he isn’t sure he can refer to them as a “brother” or “sister” in Christ because believers do not “openly and unrepentantly defy the words of Jesus.” We can certainly still love them. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are living outside of the will of God and are most likely not a child of God.

    • David Powell

      Absolutely. They need to hear the Gospel, because they are probably lost. They do not need Christians sweeping things under the rug and blindly affirming every self-titled Christian as a brother or sister.

    • carolanne46

      Love, yes. Support, no. Unless by support you mean to lovingly and compassionately come alongside them to help them “be conformed to the image of His Son.” In no way can the follower of Christ “support” a brother or sister who is actively and determinedly teaching in opposition to God’s revealed Word and will.

    • Jim Harrison

      Andrea, you seem to be confusing two different issues. Our obligation to love someone has absolutely no bearing upon whether or not someone is in Christ, and therefore a brother or sister. One who is openly and unrepentantly pursuing sin and disobedience ought not to be comforted in their sin. The statement you quote is absolutely correct. There is such a thing as a false profession, and one of the evidences of false profession is a life lived in pursuit of unrighteousness.

      As for loving and supporting one who is “openly and unrepentantly defying Jesus”, I fear from the tone of your statement that you have an unbiblical understanding of what that love looks like. Love toward one who professes Christ and yet openly and unrepentantly pursues sin, is to 1) exercise church discipline and 2) withdraw from fellowship.

      This is precisely what Paul says in 1 Cor. 5:11: “But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler– not even to eat with such a one.”

      The intent of such an action is love. The intent is their repentance and restoration to fellowship with both the Lord and His church. What such people need is someone who will love them enough to confront them with their sin, call them to repentance, and seek to turn them from the destruction which will result from their pursuit of sin.

      Your “hurting heart” helps no one. Obedience to the word of God will.

  • Timothy Dukeman

    I greatly appreciate your clarity and boldness on this issue. Your last post was wonderful. “The Collapse of Christianity at World Vision” is a perfect summary of the situation.

    Richard Stearns and World Vision are, as you point out, wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    What possible situation would allow a Christian to knowingly give money to a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Further if I have a choice between a charity that promotes abominations as World Vision does and a charity that upholds God’s design for marriage, do I not have an obligation to choose the latter?

  • Debbie Dodson

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to hers. And thank you for so eloquently voicing why my heart actually hurt reading her response to World Vision’s decision (and I too follow her on Twitter and read her blogs, and have always enjoyed both). And I agree (and if I’m being honest, dread) that “The window of opportunity for such obfuscation seems to be closing rapidly.”

  • Frank

    I think Jen’s blog was more about the tone in which Christians engage each other rather than a statement on doctrine. I don’t believe she ever said that “when weighed in the balance—World Vision’s charitable work mitigates any alleged moral deficiency in their stance on marriage” (quoting you not her). What I took her to mean was that WVs stance did not “neuter” decades of faithful work with the poor. You also included this quote “It is astonishing that Hatmaker and others would stand against that consensus with, ‘We can’t really be sure whether the Bible limits sexual activity to the covenant of marriage.'” Can you tell me where Jen said that?

    I think there are 2 separate discussion going on her and that they are getting muddled together. The first is on doctrine and what we hold to be true. In that I would agree with you that we cannot separate giving aid with sharing the gospel. The hope we offer in missions is eternal and not just temporal. We also, as you said, cannot separate righteousness from justice. James 1:27 is widows and orphans AND keeping yourself pure. In this I would agree with Jen that WV was at best naive and quite possible intellectually dishonest in thinking that a doctrinal stand does not matter.

    A broader discussion however, is how do we engage those with whom we disagree doctrinally. I think that is what was being addressed in the blog. And I will also say that while I agreed with much that Jen said, I did cringe when I saw her call out a specific person because it smacked of exactly what she was condemning.

  • Kelly Ellis

    With all of this, my concern is why people are choosing this as their cross to bear? What about the multitude of other companies that support other “hot button” Christian value issues that we turn our heads from and pretend to be unaware? If this issue is something to make a stance on then “Christians” should also be taking a stance against Starbucks and Apple. We should be refusing to shop at certain stores and using our money only to glorify our convictions. Why is it this organization, the one that supports needy children, getting all of the backlash when we have supported others for years? It’s the consistent hypocrisy that separates many from the church. And this is just another great example of hypocrisy in action. As you sit in front of your mac, sipping a Starbucks latte in your new Gap yoga pants can you really honestly say that World Vision is the organization to boycott?

    • David Powell

      We expect the world, worldly people, and worldly corporations to be, in fact, “worldly.” World Vision claims to be a Christian organization. Before they reneged, they were misrepresenting biblical Christianity, so the only response from biblical Christians was to bring it to light. Apples and oranges.

  • Matt Martin

    Hatmaker nailed it. Denny’s theological bullying is getting out of hand at times. Disagreement and debate can be good. But to start acting like God by determining who’s in and who’s out based on one issue is nothing more than being a egotistical jerk.

    • David Powell

      Denny did not say that World Vision had become a pagan organization. His point was that the move they made was out of step with orthodox Christianity. It is the duty of other Christians to urge one another on in faithfulness to the Scriptures. And, lo and behold, World Vision has come around. Praise God.

  • Todd Berglum

    Well, for one thing, Jesus was Christ and you’re not. So, that may explain how he can use the words “false prophet” and “ravenous wolf” in a way that you shouldn’t. Additionally, this is primarily a matter of hermeneutics. Because of that, folks on the left and the right will never reach a consensus on this matter. I think you’re literalist approach is methodologically flawed. There’s very little evidence that the early church or Jews of the Second Temple period read Scripture the way you do. Of course, you’ll respond that I read Scripture the wrong way. I’d like to think we both respect the text as God’s Word, but I’m sure you’ll disagree once more.

    I appreciate you responding to Jenn, but believe her to be right about your tone. This isn’t the first time you’ve sounded the alarms on an issue without hesitation. Similar responses from DeYoung, Taylor, and the rest of the TGC blogging crew only reinforce a certain mass hysteria which, if you’re being honest, triggers the visceral reaction from “the left” which you so decry. I read more posts on this blog about homosexuality than I do exegesis of the biblical text. From a professor of biblical studies, I expect something different. Your blog, your choice! And shame on me. But this strikes at the heart of the matter for me. Let me see evidence that you’re engaging the biblical text on a sustained basis and not rushing there to prop up arguments against the cultural tide. I see very little on this blog that I would call pastoral. Very little. I see a strong reactionary tendency, and a proclivity for name calling, however veiled it may be. When someone responds in kind, you accuse them of improper understanding or failing to read the text the way you do – which just happens to be the right way! Imagine that. Again, a little charity and patience would go a long way. Don’t be careless on twitter. You’d be amazed how many folks read what you hastily posts.

  • Kevin Furniss

    Thanks for your leadership in this issue Denny! I am a distance student at SBTS and always enjoy your take on important issues and how to approach them from a Biblical perspective. Keep fighting the good fight!

  • Chris Ryan

    When I read the accusations yesterday I didn’t realize that World Vision worked with many non-evangelical denominations–and already had many non-evangelical employees–who don’t view gay marriage as sinful. Once you’ve made the decision to open employment to non-evangelicals (which they’d already done) you can’t then discriminate against employees who may be in SSMs. I think the only way for WV to make this work would be to restrict themselves to working STRICTLY with evangelicals.

  • A.Rice

    Wait…so if I do a LOT of good works I don’t have to worry too much about Scripture interpretation? Works based….I see…

  • Jim Carroll

    I think you might find it interesting to go over to and check out the blog entry by Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. The particular entry is titled “We Will Not Give Obama His Pinch of Incense” and is specifically regarding the Obama Administration’s Healthcare Mandate, but the sentiment is applicable here, too. World Vision has thrown a pinch of incense into the altar of Right Thinking — and apparently done it more than once. We must be firm but loving — we love ALL of God’s creation, including those who identify as gays, but absolutely, positively, no more incense.

  • Chris Jones

    Dr. Burk,
    For 2,000 years Christians have believed that Jesus commanded His followers to love their enemies and that participating in armed conflict is sinful. Since your denomination supports military violence, do you really have any moral ground to stand on? As a mennonite I do not condemn you because I know I know in part and will not know fully until the return of Jesus. Based on what I have read on your blog, I have no reason to doubt that you are seeking to love God with all of your being and to love your neighbor. Though I think you are mistaken on the command of Jesus to love your enemy. I think the same grace should be extended to thoughtful and committed Christians who have studied the cultural background of the 1st century and have concluded (rightly or wrongly) that gay marriage is not in conflict with scripture. We all have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

  • Esther O'Reilly

    Not at all surprised. Hatmaker has always been cut from the same cloth as Held Evans, Merritt and co. Still saddens me that all those writers have such a cult following. The state of the evangelical church would be much more secure if so many people didn’t believe, for reasons unknown, that these people are moral/theological “thinkers” of any merit (pun unintended).

  • Hey, Jude

    I had never heard of you until Jen Hatmaker attacked you in her post. In the past, I have loved her writing so much, but her post on World Vision showed me how non-scriptural she is. It seems that the Hatmaker’s brand of religion is just ‘Prosperity Gospel for Hippies’ — it’s all about Peace & Love, man. Just as some parishioners want to hear that God “wants them to be happy, healthy & wealthy,” the Hatmaker’s followers want everything to be about love and forgot about the wages of sin. I have encouraged my friends to switch to Samaritian’s Purse as an alternative to World Vision.

  • Cindy Chang

    Thanks for this thoughtful, eloquent, & Biblically based response! Her blog can be at turns amusing, alarming, or thought-provoking. When someone names Rachel Held Evans as ‘a dear friend’ you can bet alarm bells start ringing, & the salt trucks start dumping. Grateful for the WV about-face, but not willing to trust them with God’s shekels. Maybe with a new leadership team….

  • bobbistowellbrown

    Thanks for this Denny. It is better that we tell others the truth now because of Hebrews 10:30 “For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

  • Bridget Platt

    The issue with World Vision should not be so shocking to anyone. We stopped supporting them years ago when it was obvious they were just another social justice outreach program with no real sharing of the gospel. Why is everyone so shocked about this? Look at their mission (specifically “what we do”). And I quote, “We provide emergency assistance to children and families affected by natural disasters and civil conflict, work with communities to develop long-term solutions to alleviate poverty, and advocate for justice on behalf of the poor.” Where’s the gospel?

    It’s long been clear that while World Vision cares for the temporal, physical needs of people world-wide (and this is a wonderful thing), they do not care for the eternal, spiritual needs of people world-wide. And for that reason, we pulled out years and years ago.

  • Hannah Lewis

    I went and looked at the World Vision UK twitter page and they’re not on board with the descriminatory hiring practices of the US office either. One of the World Vision UK tweets actually read “We haven’t had a policy on SSM in the UK because it doesn’t affect our work”. Truer words…

  • Melissa

    I read Hatmaker’s blog and, although I didn’t agree with her 100%, I took her basic point to be that the response to WV’s initial decision from the evangelical community was overly harsh, to the point of certain people (ah-hem) claiming the “Collapse of Christianity” at WV, and that WV no longer believes the Bible. I applaud WV’s reversal, but I also encourage all of us to practice James 1:19. We need to stop beating each other up on these issues and approach disagreements with a firm but loving conviction. Being theologically correct doesn’t excuse rudeness.

  • Christopher Sanchez

    As always, well reasoned and thoughtful in your thoroughly biblical response. Hatmaker’s position is on this issue predictable as is her outrage at the response of so many evangelical Christians who saw the World Vision announcement for what it was: claiming Christian identity when convenient and avoiding theological responsibility in the face of certain adversity. Thank you for your initial post on the WV announcement and this response to Hatmaker.

  • Scott Gross

    Hatmaker has basically shown her compromising views with the ‘good’ outweighs the ‘bad’ scenario with World Vision. Sounds like ‘works’ to me. This emergent garbage NEEDS to be called out and I’m not sorry that offends some. The Truth is offensive to the enemy. Great response Mr. Burk. I believe you are promoting Truth in love.

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