World Vision Shennanigans and the Missapropriation of Prayer

Early last week the news broke that World Vision was changing its policies on the hiring of so-called same-sex Christians who were involved in so-called same-sex marriages. That new policy announcement was quickly reversed and Rich Sterns, president of World Vision, issued a letter of apology. Tons of fantastic articles have been written on the whole fiasco to the point that most commentary is not worth repeating, but there was on salient point worth noting that seems to have escaped most people’s notice, and that is the role that prayer played in the initial decision.

In the original letter sent to staff explaining the new policy change, Sterns writes:

By way of background, our board of directors is recognized as one of the leaders among Christian organizations in the U.S. It includes deeply spiritual and wise believers, among them several pastors, a seminary president, and a professor of theology. Since this policy change involves the sensitive issue of human sexuality, the board spent several years praying about and discussing this issue.

Later in the letter he reiterates

Through our many discussions and much prayer, we began to discern some clarity around this issue.

In the Christianity Today article, we further read

World Vision’s board was not unanimous, acknowledged Stearns, but was “overwhelmingly in favor” of the change.

So here’s what we’re dealing with; the board of World Vision, composed of many Christian pastors and leaders, spent years praying about the issue. Through their prayers and as a result of their prayers, they overwhelmingly came to a conclusion and consensus about said issue. In the initial letter they referenced their prayer as a means of reinforcing the godliness and rightness of their decision. They invoked their prayers as a means of reassuring their supporters and partners. They invoked prayer to add weight and credence to their decision. They invoked their prayers as a means of bestowing a supernatural, God-bless affirmation upon their difficult decision. The result of their prayers was that they heard from God and consequently were acting on their revelation.

The prayed.

They heard from God.

They acted.

That would have been all well and good if the conclusion they ended with wasn’t monstrously unbiblical.

It’s like the man who announces that he’s prayed about it, and God told him that he definitely deserves to be happy and so it’s ok to divorce his wife. The man may apologize later for his foolish behavior after being confronted by his friends who straight up tell him “No, He didn’t.” But the fact that he was able to deceive himself so thoroughly as it pertained to his prayers ought to make everyone wary of him, at least for a while,  as they consider “what God was he praying to, how was he praying, who was he hearing from, and how on earth was he understanding and filtering through the response from God?”

In a similar vein I have to consider “how were the board members praying that resulted in them coming to this stunning conclusion?” I choose to give them the benefit of a doubt and believe that they really did spend years praying about this, and that they really did believe that their prayers resulted in “clarity”, which for them took the form of the result of their first letter. It makes one wonder then- were they following their own fleshly inclinations and then mistakenly ascribing it to a divine being? Were they all hearing the so-called “still small voice of god”, merging it with the voices in their heads, and concluding that it was Jesus speaking to them? How on earth did they get from point A to point B, the whole group of them, and come up with their clever scheme?

I don’t have the answers to this.  I suppose it goes without saying that when World Visions entreats people to pray for them and their organization, that they probably don’t want you praying like their board members have been these past few years. I don’t know what they were doing or how they were understanding what they were doing during those prayer meetings, other than that the end results were tragic and served to underscore and expose a major deficiency in their theology of prayer and how they view they understand the scriptures in light of it and in relation to it. It also serves as a reminder and warning to us what happens when that same theology of prayer is not properly grounded in the theology of the Bible.

We can only hope that the same brothers and sisters who corrected and rebuked the board members regarding their initial decision and taught the Board what the Bible teaches about human sexuality and the gospel, will also likewise correct and rebuke them for their misuse and misappropriation of prayer, and lead them to confession and repentance over this issue.

[Contributed by Dustin Germain]

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