A model response

World Vision admits that its articles were squirrelly

Issue: "Smoking guns," March 6, 1999

One of World's callings is to be a watchman on the walls, pointing out unbiblical tendencies (as chapter 33 of Ezekiel proposes) so that our readers will be warned. We are far from perfect and we miss lots of problems and we don't yet have the resources to deal with others. But when we spot an avowedly Christian group acting in biblically questionable ways, we normally contact a representative of the organization and ask simply, "Why are you doing this?" Just as we count on our readers to point out our failings to us.

The response we hope for is not a fight but an admission of what's right, according to the Bible. "We made a mistake" normally works better than stonewalling or attempts at deception. So I am happy to report the way that Bryant Myers, executive publisher of World Vision's magazine Together, reacted when I confronted him with evidence of the non-Christian worldviews featured prominently in the January-March, 1999, issue of his publication.

A bit of background: World Vision, as many of our readers know, is a mighty organization that has done some mighty fine things for poor people around the world. It receives funding from evangelicals who support the organization as a way to give people not only physical but spiritual bread. The masthead of Together, which is sent free of charge to development workers in poorer countries, emphasizes service "in the name of Jesus Christ."

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I was very curious, therefore, when the lead article in the January-March issue, "Toward a spirituality based on justice and ecology," stressed not Christ but other names. The article first hammered "the Religious Right and large corporations in America" that "manipulate racist feelings." It then criticized "religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalism feeds frightened people easy answers to daunting questions. It offers people both a boundary to limit their compassionate concern and a convenient scapegoat."

The article then went on to argue that Christians need a new way of thinking about the environment: "At a basic level, we not only depend on nature, we are nature." We need not only to save a river but to "experience a deep kinship with the river." We need to "discard the components of our traditions that work against a symbiotic relationship with the earth." We need to "practice rituals to honor the natural world," such as the following: "At a recent retreat for environmental activists, participants shared a Native American tree-planting ritual, a Buddhist meditation practice, a Black Baptist revival meeting and a Pagan full-moon celebration.... Each tradition had a powerful way to express reverence for the earth and sharpen our awareness of our place in creation."

Another article in the same issue, "Make room in the kingdom for trees," observed that "Trees speak, of course, in the same way that humans do, through wind passing over vocal cords or membranes like leaves." Of course. The author then described his "close friendship with a tall eastern cottonwood living in the park across the street from my house. I call him 'Grandfather.'"

Man and tree, it seems, feel each other through the bark, "our only means of touching." They communicate: "We shared a lot together, Grandfather and I. He knew pain and relinquishment.... I still go to him, sometimes with worries about the future or concerns about my children, and he tells me of all the catkins he produces each spring. They're carried away by the wind, mowed over by tractors ... he's learned to wait-and to live in blind hope that the wind has carried a single seed to a distant place where his life will go on."

Would some of World Vision's theologically orthodox funders agree that "We must recognize trees as sharing an intimate, even sacramental relation with us in the Body of Christ"? That "We must honor wood, whether cut or uncut"? Or would the funders recognize this as pantheism and idolatry, not Christianity?

Happily, World Vision's Bryant Myers allayed my concerns that the magazine represented a new company line: Because of personnel changes, he said, the "normal checks and balances" for assessing articles were not in place, and the issue "went through without any editorial review." Mr. Myers said of the issue, "When I read it, I was horrified. This is hugely embarrassing: It's not World Vision's position, it's not what we'd want to put out. Now we've imposed another set of controls."

I will be reading future issues of Together, of course, but Mr. Myers is an honorable man, and when he says, "We've made a big mistake, we're really sorry, and we've taken steps to make sure that it does not happen again," there's not much more that needs to be said at this point.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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