How evangelicals won a war and lost a generation
Are church teachings on homosexuality driving millennials away from faith?
March 31st, 2014
02:18 PM ET

How evangelicals won a war and lost a generation

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN

(CNN) - On March 24, World Vision announced that the U.S. branch of the popular humanitarian organization would no longer discriminate against employees in same-sex marriages.

It was a decision that surprised many but one that made sense, given the organization’s ecumenical nature.

But on March 26, World Vision President Richard Stearns reversed the decision, stating, “our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake.”

Supporters helped the aid group “see that with more clarity,” Stearns added, “and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

So what happened within those 48 hours to cause such a sudden reversal?

The Evangelical Machine kicked into gear.

Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the decision pointed to “disaster,” and the Assemblies of God denomination encouraged its members to pull their financial support from the organization.

Evangelicals took to Twitter and Facebook to threaten to stop sending money to their sponsored children unless World Vision reversed course.

Within a day of the initial announcement, more than 2,000 children sponsored by World Vision lost their financial support. And with more and more individuals, churches and organizations threatening to do the same, the charity stood to lose millions of dollars in aid that would otherwise reach the poor, sick, hungry and displaced people World Vision serves.

So World Vision reversed course.

Stearns told The New York Times that some people, satisfied with the reversal, have called World Vision headquarters to ask, “Can I have my child back?” as though needy children are expendable bargaining chips in the culture war against gay and lesbian people.

Many of us who grew up evangelical watched with horror as these events unfolded.

As a longtime supporter of World Vision, I encouraged readers of my blog to pick up some of the dropped sponsorships after the initial decision. I then felt betrayed when World Vision backtracked, though I urged my readers not to play the same game but to keep supporting their sponsored children, who are of course at no fault in any of this.

But most of all, the situation put into stark, unsettling relief just how misaligned evangelical priorities have become.

When Christians declare that they would rather withhold aid from people who need it than serve alongside gays and lesbians helping to provide that aid, something is wrong.

There is a disproportionate focus on homosexuality that consistently dehumanizes, stigmatizes and marginalizes gay and lesbian people and, at least in this case, prioritizes the culture war against them over and against the important work of caring for the poor.

Evangelicals insist that they are simply fighting to preserve “biblical marriage,” but if this were actually about “biblical marriage,” then we would also be discussing the charity’s policy around divorce.

But we’re not.

Furthermore, Scripture itself teaches that when we clothe and feed those in need, we clothe and feed Christ himself, and when we withhold care from those in need, we withhold it from Christ himself (Matthew 25:31-46).

Why are the few passages about homosexuality accepted uncritically, without regard to context or culture, but the many about poverty so easily discarded?

As I grieved with my (mostly 20- and 30-something) readers over this ugly and embarrassing situation, I heard a similar refrain over and over again: “I don’t think I’m an evangelical anymore. I want to follow Jesus, but I can’t be a part of this.”

I feel the same way.

Whether it’s over the denial of evolutionary science, continued opposition to gender equality in the church, an unhealthy alliance between religion and politics or the obsession with opposing gay marriage, evangelicalism is losing a generation to the culture wars.

A recent survey from Public Religion Research Institute revealed that nearly one-third of millennials who left their childhood faith did so because of “negative teachings” or “negative treatment” of gay and lesbian people.

Christians can disagree about what the Bible says (or doesn’t say) about same-sex marriage. This is not an issue of orthodoxy. But when we begin using child sponsorships as bargaining tools in our debates, we’ve lost the way of Jesus.

So my question for those evangelicals is this: Is it worth it?

Is a “victory” against gay marriage really worth leaving thousands of needy children without financial support?

Is a “victory” against gay marriage worth losing more young people to cynicism regarding the church?

Is a “victory” against gay marriage worth perpetuating the idea that evangelical Christians are at war with LGBT people?

And is a “victory” against gay marriage worth drowning out that quiet but persistent internal voice that asks, "what if we get this wrong?"

I, for one, am tired of arguing. I’m tired of trying to defend evangelicalism when its leaders behave indefensibly.

I’m going AWOL on evangelicalism's culture wars so I can get back to following Jesus among its many refugees: LGBT people, women called to ministry, artists, science-lovers, misfits, sinners, doubters, thinkers and “the least of these.”

I’m ready to stop waging war and start washing feet.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of "Evolving in Monkey Town" and "A Year of Biblical Womanhood." She blogs at rachelheldevans.com. The views expressed in this column belong to Rachel Held Evans.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Culture wars • Discrimination • Ethics • evangelicals • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Opinion • Same-sex marriage

soundoff (2,141 Responses)
  1. messyjoyful

    Thank you for writing this- and amen sister –

    August 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm |
  2. jpdag05

    It seems a fair point until you remember the distinct lack of similar accusations when our President threatened to withhold funding for various catholic charities if they didn't pay for contraception. If the author is so appalled that money for the poor was used to make a biblical point, surely she should be equally appalled by the actions of President Obama, no?

    April 29, 2014 at 7:45 pm |
    • observer


      Please supply the EXACT QUOTE where President Obama threatened to withhold money for Catholic charities to show you didn't JUST MAKE IT UP.

      April 29, 2014 at 7:49 pm |
      • jpdag05

        My apologies, that was poorly, and over-, stated. Here is what our president did do. He promoted and signed a law which required catholic,(and other), charities to pay for contraceptive and, by some definition, early abortive services or else pay a penalty of $2000 per employee. This sum would have undoubtedly reduced their ability to aid the poor. This is effectively the same thing. Mr. Obama was well aware that 1). these groups were against such practices and 2). Their opposition was strong enough that refusal was a definite possibility, yet he still used the law to require them to accept the practices or else pay hefty fines.

        Long story short, he put his idea of what is right ahead of the ability of these charities to help the poor; which is the heart of the author's objection to the actions of "evangelicals."

        April 30, 2014 at 12:18 am |
        • observer


          Same result if churches had to pay their FAIR SHARE of taxes. The burden is put onto others including all the non-believers, but you probably don't consider that.

          April 30, 2014 at 12:29 am |
        • jpdag05

          You act as if tax exemption were some special privilege of churches. Non-Profits don't pay taxes in general, religious or otherwise. Their members, of course, do pay taxes, but this has very little to do with the topic at hand. If the author wishes to fault evangelicals for holding to principles to the detriment of particular charities, then she should acknowledge that this practice is widespread in our communities; practiced even by our commander in chief.

          April 30, 2014 at 1:43 am |
  3. holacem

    Very sensitive and controversial article. I just want to say, is World Vision the only "christian" organization that help children? Do you know how many organizations are in US to help children? A lot. If we are Christians we supposedly support Christian organization which offering "Christian values," specially when addressing children needs. If you are not Christian then support other organization that do not support Christian values, but if one is Christian I think that I will support Christian organization and I think World Vision is becoming more a political organization that is loosing their purpose to be. If I am wrong, why suddenly changed their position? I think something is wrong with World Vision and there are a lot of organizations that help children with "Christian orthodox values." I will support them. Moreover, I think that if Christians are loosing their "basic Christian values", then we are not Christians any more. Your article is wrong, we are not loosing generations of young people, we are loosing them, when we offer not values or we are not clear in our understanding of what is Christianity. The church is growing but not in the Western world, is growing in the Majority World, the Western church is loosing young people because they do not offer clear values, we need to return to the basic beliefs. I prefer not to be Christian if we are not clear in our values and beliefs.

    April 27, 2014 at 10:54 pm |
    • observer


      World Vision tried to ACTUALLY PRACTICE the Golden Rule so it's understandable that many Christians are unhappy with them.

      April 27, 2014 at 11:02 pm |
    • aslamproductions

      You know I was reading your response and it seems very logical etc… the only problem is, It is not "loosing". The correct spelling is "losing" Please study up on your English. Also stop trying to defend a religion which is full of nonsense, inconsistent dogma, and a breedign ground for hate. There are no TRUE Christians, it is all an illusion. The world without religion would definitley be a better place for all humanity.

      April 28, 2014 at 2:50 am |
    • aslamproductions

      English 101: "The rope is loose." "You will lose the game" "You are a loser"

      April 28, 2014 at 2:52 am |
  4. thatinthebible

    Ever notice how it seems as if every time the subject of religion, God, faith, or any subject even remotely related to them comes up, the conversation always appears to be so "black and white?" It's almost always going to be the so-called Believers vs. the so-called Atheists. Never any middle ground. Very interesting...

    I blog at http://isthatinthebible.com

    I really like the idea of taking any random current local, national, or international news event and just seeing what the Bible has to say about that particular subject; if anything.

    April 20, 2014 at 11:45 pm |
  5. highplainsparson

    Were you assuming that those dropping sponsorship through World Witness were not transferring their donations to another organization helping children, before the policy reversal took place?

    April 18, 2014 at 3:24 pm |
  6. aslamproductions

    Of course people are going to turn their backs on evangelism. They preach hatred and do nothing but judge others. How "christian" is that? Besides the fact the Chrisitanity is all nonsense, based on the Ancient Egyptian Cult of Horus. The sooner people wake up and shed all religion the better. We will have a world of science, rationality, and peace.

    April 17, 2014 at 7:57 pm |
  7. dwigg75

    And the proper response to this article just came out. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/04/03/millennials-and-the-false-gospel-of-nice/

    April 15, 2014 at 1:15 pm |
  8. kahlers12

    Reblogged this on thewaythetruthandthelife.

    April 12, 2014 at 9:35 pm |
  9. Joseph W. Egan

    Good riddance to this grand heretic. As a long-time observer of RHE, I can testify that she appears to have but two agendas: undermining the Bible and enriching herself by selling books. I really do hope she someday repents and ends her vicious crusade against the Truth of Christ, but I have my doubts that will ever happen.

    April 12, 2014 at 9:52 am |
    • midwest rail

      "... and enriching herself by selling books."
      You mean like Joel Osteen or Rick Warren ?

      April 12, 2014 at 9:54 am |
  10. frankbeattys

    Notice that not allowing gays to serve did not have as high of a cost in reduced charity. Why not criticize gays for giving less to charity than Christians????. Gay marriage states give less to charity as a percentage of their income than the average in the USA. The charity is proportional to the percentage of Christians in each state. I always hear about how the only charity that Christians give to is the church and that is why Christians are said to give more to charity, but the above article points to Christians giving to World Vision. We need an article discussing why gays give less to charity to begin with so that they are not able to threaten to cut off funding to World Vision . And we all know that 75 million people died from HIV/AIDS.

    April 12, 2014 at 7:02 am |
    • midwest rail

      Is that you, Scott Lively ? Good grief.

      April 12, 2014 at 8:05 am |
    • aslamproductions

      I think the answer is obvious, don't you? Why donate to an organization that hates them?

      April 17, 2014 at 7:53 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.