World Vision continues to feel tremors from its flip-flopping on whether or not to hire people in same-sex marriages. Just last Friday, Jacquelline Fuller, director of corporate giving for Google Inc., resigned from the World Vision board as she “disagreed with the decision to exclude gay employees who marry.” Today news broke that the original decision to include gay employees caused “10,000 kids [to lose] their sponsorships” — or to phrase this more accurately, 10,000 individuals have dropped their monthly financial commitment to World Vision’s work.
This whole situation is heartbreaking and shows just how dedicated 10,000 people are to their fear of gay couples. But I’d like to call us to a higher standard of accuracy in how we talk about the situation. Namely:
1. World Vision makes $1 billion annually.
With 10,000 dropped sponsors (with each sponsorship being $35 a month), World Vision is down $4 million a year. But their annual income is more than $1 billion. They are one of the 10 largest charities in the U.S., with a budget larger than even Habitat for Humanity and the American Heart Association. (Note, too, that one fifth of that budget comes from U.S. federal tax dollars.) With a $1 billion annual budget, World Vision is plenty rich enough to not let 10,000 bigots jeopardize kids. Their CEO alone makes $370,000 annually.
2. Blame the 10,000 bigots for being bigoted. But if 10,000 kids are actually left in the dust, that’s not just on the bigots.
I’m not saying World Vision is abandoning those kids. I’m saying our rhetoric needs to be accurate: 10,000 dropped sponsorships does not mean 10,000 kids should/will go hungry. If 10,000 kids actually go hungry, that’s on World Vision, too, not just the bigots.
3. This raises the question of just how “forced” World Vision was to reverse their decision to embrace same-sex marriages.
After World Vision reversed its previous decision to hire gay couples, the organization only bothered itself with apologizing to straight white conservative evangelicals. Rich Stearns bent over backwards to assure the Religious Right that he was deeply grieved over the “pain” he caused them. But not once did he apologize for the deep and actual pain he caused his own LGBT* employees — not to mention LGBT* kids and adults around the world that heard the loud message that they were not worth fighting for.
But while Rich Stearns was busy pandering to the bigots, some news sources and progressive Christians unfortunately spoke of the situation as if the organization had to discriminate against gay couples because otherwise the little children would suffer. (And mind you, that was when only 2,000 sponsors dropped their commitments.)
No. That should never have been how we spoke of this situation.
Yes, it’s horrible that bigots would rather little children suffer than gay couples be treated equally. But it’s clearly not the case that World Vision’s annual $1 billon would have been hurt in any significant way by a mere 2,000 — or even 10,000 now — dropped sponsorships.
4. Final note: You aren’t actually sponsoring kids, people!
First, if you were: Child sponsorship is a discredited and harmful charitable and developmental model. This has been widely discussed since the 1980’s.
Second, you are not: World Vision, for their part, has changed how they do “sponsorships” to the point that they are barely even sponsorships. According to their own FAQ page, “A child does not receive direct cash benefits.” But they use the same public relations and marketing material to draw new donors in. In other words, when 10,000 people drop their sponsorships, that does not mean 10,000 kids suddenly lose their money. That would be a horrible, insecure, and cruel model to use for charity and development — for any organization! So whether you talk positively or negatively about World Vision in the future, please, please remember: you aren’t actually sponsoring kids. Nor should you be.
By the way, if you would like to educate yourself more on why child sponsorship is not the best idea, here are some quickly selected resources:
• New Internationalist Magazine, “Please do not sponsor this child”
• The Guardian, “What is wrong with sponsoring a child?”
• Danny Yee, “Child sponsorship: criticism and problems”
• DNA India, “Evangelical Christianity: Devils in high places”
I have a lot of problems with World Vision as an organization. I believe they are disingenuous, I believe they blur the line between church and state by receiving federal tax dollars, and I believe they use a damaging model of humanitarianism that is one part white savior complex and two parts using children’s pain for marketing and propaganda. (Update: my complaint about their humanitarianism model applies to many other organizations besides World Vision, by the way. See my comment below.) But I also know and have interacted with wonderful, caring people who donate to World Vision and wonderful, caring people who work for World Vision. I 100% understand that the employees are not the organization and the organization is not representative of all its employees. So while I have tried to keep my opinions to myself over the last week, I feel that there are some minimum issues we all need to unite on: speaking accurately about the situation and not letting a few bigots control the conversation and monopolize how we think about helping both the poor and the marginalized.
Yes, shame on anyone and everyone that values theological justification for bigotry over the lives and wellbeing of children in poverty and gay couples’ right to marry. For shame, for shame. But shame on the rest of us if we miss the bigger picture and react so quickly we might just make matters worse.
Let’s not let the culture wars present us with false dilemmas between fighting poverty and fighting bigotry.