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.