By now, you’ve probably heard at least something about the disastrous and embarrassing outcome of World Vision’s policy change back in March. But in case you haven’t, allow me to give you a quick summary.
A little more than a month ago, the humanitarian organization announced that it would allow for homosexuals to be hired as employees. As you might expect, this caused quite an uproar in the evangelical community. Regardless of your views on homosexuality, however, there’s no denying that what came next was truly disturbing. Evangelicals immediately began to pull their financial support from the organization, which sponsors children in need from around the world. More than 2,000 children lost their sponsorship, and thus the help they would have received otherwise—all because some people didn’t “agree” with World Vision’s stance on employing homosexuals.
Not only that, but two days later when the organization caved and reversed their decision, those same people called to ask if they could have their child back. As Rachel Held Evans writes in her scathing look at these events, it’s almost as if these needy children were seen as nothing more than “expendable bargaining chips in the culture war against gay and lesbian people.” All the while, one thing became very clear.
Somewhere along the way, it became more important in some evangelical circles to agree with someone than to actually serve and love the needy.
The thing is, Jesus never called us to “agree” with anybody.
There is a misconception among many in the church today that you must agree with someone 100% or not at all. This is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, though many would like to think so, the truth is not always entirely black and white. That does not mean morality is relative or that we must decide for ourselves what is right and wrong, but rather that the truth is complicated and multifaceted, and therefore we won’t always have everything 100% down in our heads. There will always be someone who views things slightly different from you, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that.
There is a serious danger in putting such an emphasis on having the “right” theology. This is not to say that understanding one’s faith is a bad thing, because it’s actually very important. But what saves us is not our theology or the number of facts we know dealing with the Bible or how often we read it or how moral we are, but an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. When we put such an emphasis on “agreeing” with someone, it becomes all too easy to forget that. If having the right theology could save us, we would all be in trouble. Think about it—have you ever grown in your faith so that the way you viewed something changed significantly? This happens every day as we draw into a deeper and fuller understanding of what we believe. And yet we will never reach the fullest and deepest understanding. We will always be growing. We will always be learning. And if our salvation was based on what we believed, there is no way any of us would make it.
In Donald Miller’s book Searching for God Knows What, he writes, “To a culture that believes they ‘go to heaven’ based on whether or not they are morally pure, or whether they understand some theological ideas, or they are spiritual, Jesus is completely unnecessary. At best, He is an afterthought, a technicality by which we become morally pure, or a subject of which we know, or a founding father of our woo-woo spirituality.”
Yes, we ought to beware of false teachings. We should view everything in light of Scripture and see how it compares. But we will not be sent to hell for taking one step to the right or the left. And we should never turn our backs to something simply because it’s somewhat debatable or unclear.
A lot of the time, I get the feeling that we are afraid of anything remotely controversial. We want a clean-cut, easy, straightforward teaching that doesn’t rock the boat or cause any disagreement. Oftentimes, any perspective that makes us uncomfortable is ignored completely, regardless of what good might be inherent within it. And that’s a really big problem, because Jesus rocked the boat. Jesus made people uncomfortable. By ignoring any teaching that does this, we’re choosing to remain nice and cozy in our own ideas while turning a blind eye to what could potentially be an invitation to take part in something new and amazing.
For example, I’ve surprised some people in the past by expressing how deeply I respect Rob Bell’s work. They tell me about how he’s a “heretic” (which, by the way, he’s not) or ask me how I can subscribe to a view of the afterlife that’s so contrary to Scripture (because Scripture is never remotely ambiguous about anything, right?). Yet just because I respect Rob Bell does not mean I agree with everything he says. More often than not, I’m forced to seek a middle ground between his teachings and what I see in the world around me. My point here is that this should not be a foreign concept to us as evangelicals. I would argue that a lot of the time, we learn more through disagreeing with something than we do being spoon-fed something we already agree with.
There isn’t one right view that Jesus told us to subscribe to other than to live with an eternal mindset and love one another as he has loved us. If placing your stamp of approval on something keeps you from doing that, then you need to reevaluate what you believe. And if someone’s theology is off—well, so is yours. And that is perfectly okay.
Jesus did not call you to agree with me. He called you to something much, much deeper that is complex and messy and beautiful and eternal. Let’s not allow our silly disagreements get in the way of that.