"Cut the baby in two." That was wise King Solomon's faux order to determine the real mother in the dispute of two mothers over an infant. By her scream, "please don't kill my son" the real mother offered up her rights and revealed that her love for her baby exceeded her desire to win the dispute and the child. World Vision, the billion dollar Christian humanitarian aid organization, faced a similar dispute last week. It announced a change in its policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage to work there, and then after a huge negative backlash from conservative Christians, reversed their decision.
In the process support from pro- and anti-gay marriage forces was threatened.
Like the baby, World Vision's beneficiaries, Africa's poor and many others are endangered by two warring sides of a dispute. It's not the first time those in dire need have suffered collateral damage from the theological warfare of the pretty-well-off.
Whatever your views on gay marriage, let's be clear about one thing: while Christ was silent on the topic of homosexuality and gay marriage, he was strenuously, endlessly vocal on our responsibility to take care of the poor and the excluded. As World Vision's President Richard Kearns communicated so brilliantly in his book Hole in the Gospel, if you take a scissors and cut out all of Jesus' instructions and admonitions to take care of those less fortunate, there would be a huge hole in the gospel.
It would be the height of arrogance and avoidance to conclude that we are relieved of our obligation to give just because we don't agree 100 percent with those churches or groups who care for those in need on the other side of the world. As Anne Lamott has famously said, "you know you have created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do." It turns a vast and heavenly faith into a tribal, competitive and small club -- and turns it into a verb.
Christians don't have to guess about what was most important to Christ. When he was asked about the greatest commandment he said (Matthew 22:36--40) "Love God... and love your neighbor as yourself." Then he said, "All law and all prophesy hang on these." He could have answered with one of his famous questions to dodge the issue but instead he established priority -- one is more important than the other. His message was that our law or religious instruction is designed to support our relationships, not destroy them. He did not say, "Follow the law at all costs and if that destroys relationships, then so be it." Rather, he instructed us to use the law as a means to love and relationship. When we draw lines in the sand to separate us from other believers and from the poor we purport to serve, we are like two people on the side of a swimming pool fighting over doctrine while a child goes under for the third time.
As a former CEO, I can only imagine how gut-wrenching these last few days have been for Kearns and the others at World Vision. It surely must have felt like cutting the baby in half: being charged with betraying the gospel by one side and with inflicting pain and social poverty on gay people by the other.
To disagree is human, to exclude based on conformity to your view of the truth is shaky, judgmental ground. The idea of a strict litmus test that requires others to believe as I do, or I will separate myself seems out of touch with the Christ who was criticized harshly for hanging out with people who were so different from him and his "tribe." Author Bob Goff has said, "Jesus didn't hold people accountable; He just held them close -- because it works better." There is a difference between loving accountability and judgmental accountability.
The challenge is not how to get us all in a large pile where we all agree -- seeking so-called doctrinal purity. The question is how to carry out God's instruction and work to love and include in spite of differences that will not go away. Henri Nouwen said, "Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives." Our litmus test should not be about getting to the same views but rather in spite of disagreement, can we love God and each other enough to do his work even with those with whom we disagree and even dislike. He gave us his highest commandment not because he thought we would come to agreement, but because he knew how desperately we would need love and relationship, precisely because of our disunity.
Cutting contributions to human aid organizations, spitting on our adversaries, threatening to withhold support, separating ourselves from the opposition: These are a 21st century version of preferring a dead baby over a lost argument.
Follow Robert Hall on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@RobertEHall1