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Good Christians: Bad Christians – Originally published on Aug. 26, 2009

January 2nd, 2011 Posted by Thought Tools 1 comment

Sunday’s paper had a complimentary article about Richard Stearns, head of the Christian World Vision organization, known for tackling issues of worldwide poverty. It described Mr. Stearns’ transformation as a young man from agnosticism to committed Christianity and how his religious principles spurred him to leave a successful corporate position and use his skills for non-profit charity work.

Why then did I feel insulted after reading this article? Quite frankly, I felt that my Christian friends, quite a few of whom work for and support World Vision, were being given a back-handed compliment.

In the months following 9/11, the New York Times ran obituaries for every victim of the World Trade Center destruction. In the usual style of obituaries, they accentuated how loved the person was and in what ways he or she contributed to the world.

One of those obituaries was so bigoted and foolish that I read it a few times to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding. Unfortunately I didn’t cut it out so I can’t quote it exactly, but the insulting message that was conveyed was that John Doe was a charitable, generous man despite the fact that he was an active Republican.

Perhaps if I hadn’t seen that obituary or a continual stream over the years of subtler but incredibly smug assertions that conservative Christian or Republican equals mean-spirited, I wouldn’t have had any reaction other than finding this Sunday’s article interesting. But experience has left me with sensitized antennae.

So, it was disturbing to me that after paraphrasing Mr. Stearns’ book as saying that Christians have focused overly much on personal salvation and judging others rather than caring for the poor (and his book certainly might say this – though I do wonder if the emphasis is that of the article’s author rather than the book’s – I would have given more credence to a direct quote) the author of the Sunday piece quotes “the Rev. Jim Wallis, a liberal evangelical leader” as saying for years that a change like that was coming. A quote later in the article from James Wellman, associate professor of American religion at the University of Washington says “younger evangelicals, in particular, are more internationally savvy and less addicted to the culture wars of previous generations.”

The message I heard? There are those “good Christians” who give charity and fight world hunger and then there are those “bad Christians” who are sticklers for theology and have a pesky habit of refusing to adjust their values to the latest liberal moral agenda. Richard Stearns is one of the “good Christians” though to be fair, the article does mention that World Vision employees (perhaps, the reader might be led to ask by the tone of the article, over Mr. Stearns’ objections?) sign an article of faith that includes a code of conduct that disallows both adulterous and homosexual behavior.

I don’t know Mr. Stearns nor have I read his book. But, as I said, I know many of his employees. They are charitable, humanitarian people. Their charitable spirit and adamantly conservative social views stem from one and the same place – their belief in God and His Bible. I know that they would not rank Rev. Wallis as a pastor they are comfortable having speak for them.

I have the unusual experience for an observant Jew of having spent time with men like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Dobson as well as thousands of less well known Christians. It may not fit into the prejudiced stereotypes of liberal America, but these people give their money, time and effort helping human beings of all colors and nationalities around the world. They also attend pro-life rallies and vote their values. They spend their vacations going on missions providing dental and medical care or sweat equity building homes in South America and Asia. They also oppose homosexual marriage. This is not an either/or situation. My guess is that many, and perhaps overwhelming numbers, of the kindhearted and generous folk who cause organizations like World Vision to flourish are those whom a biased media frequently denigrates without ever bothering to actually get to know them. That “bad Christian” group might possibly even include Mr. Stearns himself.

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One comment

Lisa Kiessling says:

I haven’t read the article of which you are speaking, but from what you wrote about it, I have to ask, are the MANY people that support World Vision by donating on a monthly basis to support World Vision children “bad Christians”? Most of them are working in corporate America – they haven’t left high paying jobs to go fight world hunger, but it is their money that is doing the actual work of fighting world hunger. Mr. Stearns might have left corporate America to fight against world hunger, but without the “bad Christians” who stayed behind making money, World Vision wouldn’t exist. Mr. Stearns probably makes less money than he would in corporate America, but so do all the people giving away portions of their income on a monthly basis to support their vision.

One might ask the question, if Mr. Stearns was making so much more money in corporate America, would the starving people of the world be better off if he went back to corporate America, made the grossly excessive amount of money that it sounds like he made, and donate the money he made to fight world hunger? World Vision is a great organization (in my opinion), so I’m not denigrating Mr. Stearns. However, there are mutiple non-profit organizations out there whose mission is to fight world hunger. Would the starving of the world be better off if, instead of starting yet another agency, if more people would stay in corporate jobs that made them a ton of money so they would have more to donate to existing organizations? Even though World Vision spends less than 12% of their donations on adminsitration and fund raising (according to the recent report I received in the mail), would starving people be better off if they consolidated with other, similar, organizations that had similar administrative costs. Such a consolidation would mean that less would be spent on administration and more would go to those in need.

Thank you Susan, for reminding us to remember to say a grateful THANK YOU to those “bad Christians” who are the ones who stay in greedy, corporate America so that they have money to donate to feed those starving people. We could all walk away from such work to donate our time to feeding those who are starving, however . . . . who would then donate the money to fund the work? I can admire the work Mr. Stearns, and others like him, do without feeling the need to denigrate those who stay behind to do the “dirty work” of earning the money to support their causes. THANK YOU greedy Americans for sticking with your profit making jobs and careers so that there is money to support the many, and varied, charities that Americans support.

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