28 March 2014

World Vision and the self-destruction of Christianity

It's been a wild week in the wacky world of Christianity.  World Vision, one of the largest Christian charities in the US (they aid children in impoverished countries), has long had a policy that unmarried employees have to refrain from sex as a condition of employment.  On Monday, it that it would accept legal gay marriages as valid for the purpose of the policy, allowing non-celibate gay people to be employees so long as they were married.

Conservative Christians predictably went absolutely bonkers (read the comments there too), and some regular donors to World Vision announced that they were halting their contributions.  So fierce was the firestorm that after two days, the chastised charity issued a whimpering and apologetic statement reversing its decision.  Some of the Christian Right welcomed the reversal, but others demanded further displays of contrition, such as the resignation of all board members who had voted for the original change, before World Vision could be declared cleansed of its sin and welcomed back into the fold.

Consider what actually happened here.  The most fervent and fiery segment of American Christendom, Evangelical and Catholic both, decided it could not support an organization dedicated to aiding Third World children if it allowed those loathsome fags (non-celibate ones, anyway) to help with the work.  Rejecting gays and denying any recognition to their relationships, even by a private charitable enterprise and not the law, is that important to them.

The main issue here isn't that the hard-liners won the fight and got World Vision to cave.  The main issue is that, in a high-visibility case, once again Christianity is defining itself by its fervent need to reject and exclude.  Most of the struggles that conservative Christians are waging in the name of "religious freedom" boil down to this -- they're always fighting for the right to not bake a cake for somebody, to not photograph somebody's event, to turn someone away, to refuse service to those people.  The details of each case, and whether they win or lose, are less important than the fact that this is how Christianity is defining itself in the public mind -- as a religion that first and foremost demands the right to reject and exclude certain people.

And what about that celibacy business?  World Vision required unmarried employees -- including heterosexual ones -- to abstain from sex?  I'm a bit surprised that such an intrusion by an employer into what individuals do on their own time is even legal, but that's not the point.  The point is that this is massively weird.  You have a girlfriend, so you're not good enough to help us feed hungry kids in Africa?  Really?  Once again, rejecting and excluding the "sinner" is the highest concern.

And they wonder why mainstream Americans are turning away from Christianity in ever-growing numbers?

Yes, I know the rule against sex outside marriage is in the Bible.  That's the point.  The Bible is full of stuff that makes you look like a complete nutcase if you actually take it seriously in the twenty-first century.  Do they also make their employees sign a promise not to covet their neighbor's ox or wear clothes made of different fabrics?

Christianity, or at least the Christian Right, is trapped in a vicious cycle of increasingly-concentrated crackpottery.  When an institution's extremists grow in influence and visibility within it, moderates tend to downplay their association with it, or depart entirely.  This leaves the extremists as a relatively bigger fish, because the pond is getting smaller.  So they become even more influential and visible, driving away more moderates, and so on.  The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the current cycle, beginning with the rise of the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, has been running during a period when the mainstream culture is evolving in the opposite direction -- indeed, the rise and militancy of the Christian Right has been mostly a reaction to those cultural changes.

The World Vision case suggests that they're already well past the point of no return.  This single step in the direction of the mainstream culture triggered so much fire and brimstone from the true believers that the heretics scuttled trembling back into line in just two days.  (The broader right wing has a similar problem.  The Republican establishment starts making an effort to get the crazies under control, and immediately RedState and Hot Air start calling everybody RINOs and the base nominates Susanne Atanus.)  Fred Phelps may have gone to his grave, but he beckons still, and all -- all save those who abandon the ship entirely -- shall follow.


Blogger Ahab said...

Anecdotally, World Vision has angered plenty of progressive and moderate Christians with its act of moral cowardice. It's an example of a growing divide between fundamentalist Christians and non-fundamentalists.

The World Vision fiasco is not only about enshrining hatred of the "other", but about peer pressure. What does it say about World Vision (and groups like it) when obeying fundamentalist authority figures is more important than standing their moral ground?

28 March, 2014 04:51  
Blogger Tommykey said...

It's another variation of Gresham's Law. As more moderate people fall away from Christianity, the nut jobs form a larger and larger share of what remains until they basically define it.

28 March, 2014 15:08  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ahab: World Vision has angered plenty of progressive and moderate Christians with its act of moral cowardice.

Yes, I've seen some examples. More moderates being driven from the fold, leaving the crazies even more dominant within the Christian Right.

And certainly peer pressure plays a role. They can disguise it with rhetoric, but they're social animals like the rest of us, hungry for acceptance in their own circles.

Tommykey: That's why I think the mainstream could eventually abandon Christianity fairly quickly once it reaches a certain tipping point. They've already abandoned most of the substance of it.

29 March, 2014 10:49  
Blogger Grung_e_Gene said...

Exactly what Ahab and Tommykey wrote. It's also why a moderate reformering like Pope Francis has Richard Dawkins and other Atheists (or anti-theists) worried.

"He’s obviously a nice man, therefore a dangerous man. We don’t want nice men in the Vatican." - Richard Dawkins

29 March, 2014 13:33  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It's true that the new Pope has fooled some liberals, at least for a while -- but I'm not too worried. The dogmas are what define the Church, and they're as ugly as ever.

30 March, 2014 06:57  

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