How Things Work in the World of (Mostly) Rich Western Christians
It seemed like every time I ventured into the wonderful world of social media today, I was greeted by a new salvo from one side or the other of World Vision’s recent yes-we-do, wait, no-we-don’t position on whether or how they will hire gay Christians to work in their organization, with all the predictable bleating and threatening and pulling of support (in response to both decisions) echoing around the corners of evangelical Christian-dom. It was all very sad and pathetic, and mostly it just made me embarrassed to be a Christian.
I got home and I looked at two faces on my fridge. Steban Barrera and Erika Colmenares are twelve and ten respectively. They live in different parts of a poor area south of Bogotá, Colombia. Our family began sponsoring them a few years ago after I returned from a trip to the region they come from. I have not met them, but I hope to some day. Steban likes soccer—I would love to play with him. Erika likes listening to music—I would love to listen with her. I would love to meet their families. I have not seen where they live, but I have seen other houses nearby. There is plenty of corrugated tin, poor drainage, mud and waste. There is plenty of corruption and violence that provides the background noise to daily life. There are many, many obstacles to a life of flourishing and hope for these two kids.
I’m trying to envision how the furor that has erupted over the past week would sound to Steban and Erika’s ears. I’m trying to imagine having to explain the phenomenon of a bunch of (mostly) rich Western Christians using the sponsorship of children (!) as pawns in a theo-political squabble about an organization’s hiring practices to these two beautiful kids. What would I say? What would anyone say? “Well, yes, I know it’s a bit confusing, I know it seems a bit unbelievable that people would stop sending money to children and communities like yours that have great need because they don’t agree with certain behaviours (or because the organization they give money through changed their mind about certain behaviours), but that’s just the way things work. People care very much indeed about the real or imagined sins of those who sin differently than them in the world of (mostly) rich Western Christians.”
I can imagine Erika scratching her head and asking something like, “Well, do they get just as angry about other things? Do they withhold money from Christian organizations that ignore the Bible’s clear teachings about loving enemies and feeding the poor?” I can imagine Steban furrowing his brow and saying, “Surely, they must also stop giving to companies whose employees violate the Bible’s clear prohibitions against lust or anger or greed or failing to love or taming the tongue. But wouldn’t it get very complicated to keep pulling their money whenever a sinner is discovered in the ranks of those offering relief? How will anybody in the world be helped if the (mostly) rich western Christians redirect their money every time someone ignores the Bible’s clear teaching?”
And then I would say…
Well, you see things just work a bit differently in the world of (mostly) rich, western Christians negotiating the weighty burden of how to allocate their discretionary spending in an adversarial and noisy church culture that has little patience for nuanced reflection or measured responses.”
And then I would probably hope to God that Steban and Erika never understood the world of (mostly) rich Western Christians.
I took the photo above in a slum south of Bogotá in 2012. Erika and Steban don’t live here. But many, many children do.