Who's this child sponsorship about, anyway?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
Photo by Matthew Paul Turner

Photo by Matthew Paul Turner


My sources are confirming that, after pressure from evangelicals, World Vision has decided to reverse their decision on employing gay and lesbian people

I don't know what to say. I really don't.

For those of you who donated, thank you. That money will be put to good use, I assure you. But I am deeply, profoundly sorry that I inadvertently rallied these fundraising efforts in response to a decision that would ultimately be reversed. Though I sincerely hope everyone who sponsored a child or made a donation will continue to support World Vision, I can see how this effort would make you feel betrayed, as though it were launched under false pretense. And I'm so, so sorry for that. I'm as surprised by all this as you are, but I take full responsibility. 

This whole situation has left me feeling frustrated, heartbroken, and lost. I don't think I've ever been more angry at the Church, particularly the evangelical culture in which I was raised and with which I for so long identified. I confess I had not realized the true extent of the disdain evangelicals have for our LGBT people, nor had I expected World Vision to yield to that disdain by reversing its decision under pressure. Honestly, it feels like a betrayal from every side. 

Something has to change. And I'm committed to being a part of that change. But not today. 

Today, I don't know what else to do but grieve with everyone else who feels like a religious refugee today. This sucks, and I'm so, so sorry. 

I hope you take some comfort in the fact that perhaps, as a result of our petty warring, some kids were sponsored today. 




No official numbers have been released yet, but my contacts at World Vision report that thousands of children lost their sponsorships yesterday as evangelicals withdrew funds in protest to World Vision’s policy of employing people in same-sex marriages.  

(Note: I’m so thankful to those who responded to this awful situation yesterday by sponsoring kids or making donations to World Vision. Thank you for that. It’s encouraging!) 

We’ve already discussed how this mass defunding reveals a pervasive problem within evangelicalism of singling out and stigmatizing gay and lesbian people, but today I want to address a common refrain I’ve been hearing from people who have chosen to cut off funding to their sponsored children: 

“We’ll just drop our sponsorship with World Vision and move that money to another organization that better reflects our values.” 

I understand the sentiment, but the truth is, redirecting funds to another organization does not change the fact that a community that was depending on that monthly gift from you will no longer receive it, and a child who once looked forward to your letters will no longer receive them. 

Preston Yancey articulated it well yesterday when he said, "As a World Vision sponsor, you gave your word to a child, not to the organization. That’s what is at stake here." 

Simply swapping out sponsored children as one would trade in an old car reveals the fact that that your sponsorship isn’t really about the child and the community your sponsorship helps; it’s about you. It’s about feeling good about the face on the refrigerator, regardless of whose face it is. 

Removing funds from one organization and putting them into another certainly makes a point. But it makes a point at the expense of already disadvantaged men, women, and children who were counting on that funding for basic necessities.  

And I have to ask: Is that really worth it? 

Obviously, we’re all free to choose to support organizations with models and policies we prefer. Dan and I support humanitarian organizations that don’t always align perfectly with our own viewpoints on politics or theology, but we wouldn’t dream of withdrawing our support unless we really believed that support was doing more harm than good…(which may sometimes be the case, but not, I would argue, in this one). 

When I travelled to Bolivia with World Vision in 2011, I learned a lot about how the sponsorship model works.  What I love about World Vision’s community development model is that it represents what you might call trickle-up economics. When World Vision partners with a community, it begins by identifying and tackling the needs of its most vulnerable members, its children, and then works to address the root causes of those problems  in the community. Sponsorship donations are pooled so that one portion goes directly to a child and his or her specific needs and another goes to the needs of the community.  

In Bolivia, I saw how sponsorship money has funded everything from guinea pig farms, to after-school programs, to hearing aids, to irrigation systems, to marriage counseling, to maternal health initiatives,  to alcoholism support groups, to dams. What starts as a mustard seed—addressing the needs of a single vulnerable child— grows into a tree in which the birds of the air can nest. 

No wonder World Vision is widely recognized as one of the most reputable and effective nonprofit organizations in the world! It’s doing Kingdom work in Kingdom ways: from the ground up. 

(For more on this, check out my posts from Bolivia, “Trickle Up Economics and  Dam Good Story” and “Confessions of a Sponsorship Skeptic.”

Now, I realize sponsorship models aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and there are certainly pros and cons to that approach to fundraising.  I’m not here to try and sell you on child sponsorship if you’re not already sold. 

But make no mistake.  Deliberately cutting off funding to your sponsored child affects that child and her community. If you didn’t think that money was actually making a difference, then why were you sponsoring to begin with? 

So if you like another organization’s politics more than World Vision’s but still want to sponsor children, fine. Sponsor a child from both.

But please, for the love, don’t leave a child and a community that was depending on you in a bind so you can make a point about gay marriage. It’s just not worth it. 

“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” – James 2:15

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