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Can We Please Talk About World Vision Accurately?

 

World Vision continues to feel tremors from its flip-flopping on whether or not to hire people in same-sex marriages. Just last Friday, Jacquelline Fuller, director of corporate giving for Google Inc., resigned from the World Vision board as she “disagreed with the decision to exclude gay employees who marry.” Today news broke that the original decision to include gay employees caused “10,000 kids [to lose] their sponsorships”  — or to phrase this more accurately, 10,000 individuals have dropped their monthly financial commitment to World Vision’s work.

This whole situation is heartbreaking and shows just how dedicated 10,000 people are to their fear of gay couples. But I’d like to call us to a higher standard of accuracy in how we talk about the situation. Namely:

1. World Vision makes $1 billion annually.

With 10,000 dropped sponsors (with each sponsorship being $35 a month), World Vision is down $4 million a year. But their annual income is more than $1 billion. They are one of the 10 largest charities in the U.S., with a budget larger than even Habitat for Humanity and the American Heart Association. (Note, too, that one fifth of that budget comes from U.S. federal tax dollars.) With a $1 billion annual budget, World Vision is plenty rich enough to not let 10,000 bigots jeopardize kids. Their CEO alone makes $370,000 annually.

2. Blame the 10,000 bigots for being bigoted. But if 10,000 kids are actually left in the dust, that’s not just on the bigots.

I’m not saying World Vision is abandoning those kids. I’m saying our rhetoric needs to be accurate: 10,000 dropped sponsorships does not mean 10,000 kids should/will go hungry. If 10,000 kids actually go hungry, that’s on World Vision, too, not just the bigots.

3. This raises the question of just how “forced” World Vision was to reverse their decision to embrace same-sex marriages.

After World Vision reversed its previous decision to hire gay couples, the organization only bothered itself with apologizing to straight white conservative evangelicals. Rich Stearns bent over backwards to assure the Religious Right that he was deeply grieved over the “pain” he caused them. But not once did he apologize for the deep and actual pain he caused his own LGBT* employees — not to mention LGBT* kids and adults around the world that heard the loud message that they were not worth fighting for.

But.

But while Rich Stearns was busy pandering to the bigots, some news sources and progressive Christians unfortunately spoke of the situation as if the organization had to discriminate against gay couples because otherwise the little children would suffer. (And mind you, that was when only 2,000 sponsors dropped their commitments.)

No. That should never have been how we spoke of this situation.

Yes, it’s horrible that bigots would rather little children suffer than gay couples be treated equally. But it’s clearly not the case that World Vision’s annual $1 billon would have been hurt in any significant way by a mere 2,000 — or even 10,000 now — dropped sponsorships.

That’s bullshit.

4. Final note: You aren’t actually sponsoring kids, people!

First, if you were: Child sponsorship is a discredited and harmful charitable and developmental model. This has been widely discussed since the 1980’s.

Second, you are not: World Vision, for their part, has changed how they do “sponsorships” to the point that they are barely even sponsorships. According to their own FAQ page,  “A child does not receive direct cash benefits.” But they use the same public relations and marketing material to draw new donors in. In other words, when 10,000 people drop their sponsorships, that does not mean 10,000 kids suddenly lose their money. That would be a horrible, insecure, and cruel model to use for charity and development — for any organization! So whether you talk positively or negatively about World Vision in the future, please, please remember: you aren’t actually sponsoring kids. Nor should you be.

By the way, if you would like to educate yourself more on why child sponsorship is not the best idea, here are some quickly selected resources:

• New Internationalist Magazine, “Please do not sponsor this child”

• The Guardian, “What is wrong with sponsoring a child?”

• Danny Yee, “Child sponsorship: criticism and problems”

• DNA India, “Evangelical Christianity: Devils in high places”

In conclusion:

I have a lot of problems with World Vision as an organization. I believe they are disingenuous, I believe they blur the line between church and state by receiving federal tax dollars, and I believe they use a damaging model of humanitarianism that is one part white savior complex and two parts using children’s pain for marketing and propaganda. (Update: my complaint about their humanitarianism model applies to many other organizations besides World Vision, by the way. See my comment below.) But I also know and have interacted with wonderful, caring people who donate to World Vision and wonderful, caring people who work for World Vision. I 100% understand that the employees are not the organization and the organization is not representative of all its employees. So while I have tried to keep my opinions to myself over the last week, I feel that there are some minimum issues we all need to unite on: speaking accurately about the situation and not letting a few bigots control the conversation and monopolize how we think about helping both the poor and the marginalized.

Yes, shame on anyone and everyone that values theological justification for bigotry over the lives and wellbeing of children in poverty and gay couples’ right to marry. For shame, for shame. But shame on the rest of us if we miss the bigger picture and react so quickly we might just make matters worse.

Let’s not let the culture wars present us with false dilemmas between fighting poverty and fighting bigotry.

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18 thoughts on “Can We Please Talk About World Vision Accurately?”

  1. I am still pro-sponsorship (not necessarily every organization, but overall).Or I should rephrase, I am aware that money goes further when people give money directly to aid and not to all all these other various costs, such as shipping, extra staff, internet tracking, etc. The problem is that donors always want proof, and the best way to get middle class donations is something tangible. You’ve seen this on HA as well, People readily give money to a specific person in need; raising money for the uknown peoples is much more difficult.

    Part of that is that we are silly, stupid people. Part of it is that people are by nature tangible. Even in our personal lives, we will work harder when we set one goal instead of a 100 ambigous goals.

    Of course, using child’s poverty to take away a child’s own culture and religion is another issue. But there are plenty of secular organizations too.

    The system needs to be reformed, but I’m not for dismantling it altogether.

    1. The year before I college, when I was immensely interested in human rights activism (I donated monthly to both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch), I came across and read David Rieff’s book, “A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis.” It deeply impacted me and, among other things, made me reconsider the efficacy and actual impact of how we market fundraising campaigns for humanitarianism. So while I agree that direct sponsorships and images of starving children are probably the best way to get middle class donations, I believe that the donation and marketing method creates negative consequences that outweigh what those donations can/will do.

      Ultimately, I’d rather that we focus on self-sustainability for communities, rather than direct sponsorship of individuals. And I’d prefer groups like World Vision be upfront about the fact that they actually *do* focus on communities, and not use individuals’ faces and stories as a “front” for community work. Community work is valuable and I prefer transparent marketing. Yes, it doesn’t raise as much money (and yeah, I see that with HA! 🙂 ), but it’s more real and (I think) valuable in the long run.

      Having said all that: Like any system, there is plenty room to reform from within, and I respect those who are trying to do so.

      1. I think my reaction is that I see that a lot of people are quick to point out the problems but their solution seems to be to do nothing (or this is coming from people who have no intention in getting involved). And that is a really bad solution. I totally believe we are morally obligated to help people outside the western countries (when 2/3rs of the wealth is in Europe and America, and we don’t even represent half the population, something is deeply wrong about this.) This should be as you said done the right way – not as one of priviledge or not looking for sustainable solutions. But just spending our money in the west is wrong too. I’m totally for reforming this, but not bailing out all together. That’s all I’m saying.

  2. And I say that as one who has been to the places that Good Samaritan has actually been to; or as one who has dealt with the fickle Americans mailing tooth brushes with tiny toothpaste which will realistically only last a month so what was the whole point..

  3. I would wonder, if 10,000 people dropped their sponsorship, if they went with another organization that better reflected their values. Of course, that wasn’t pondered. You just wanted to jump on the LGBT* bandwagon of how values “theological justification” is only bigotry against homosexual couples and civil rights. Amazing how one-sided your statement is. And how limited your view. I, for one, do not sponsor……..does that make me bigoted against children in poverty? Especially when I am one of the American poor? There’s a difference, I know, between third-world, second-world, and even in some first-world countries between poor here and poor there. Does that make me a bigot sir?

    1. Bigotry isn’t an issue of whether or not you sponsor children in poverty, nor is it an issue of what organization you do or do not funnel your money into in order to sponsor children in poverty. It is an issue of whether or not you have nonsensical and hypocritical prejudice against a group of people. In the case of the 10,000 people who dropped their sponsorships, this is unequivocally the case. Their money had already been supporting married gay people, even non-Christians, every month they donated. Out of World Vision’s 40,000 employees, only the 1,400 who worked at the U.S. office in Federal Way are required to sign a “statement of faith” and adhere to a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gay marriage. World Vision employs gay people and non-Christians. That 10,000 people would drop their sponsorships just because the 1,400 American employees suddenly were going to be treated slightly more like the other 39,000 employees is ridiculous. There’s no theological or political justification there. It’s pure hypocrisy and it’s motivated by an obsession with singling out gay people as a group. Aka, bigotry.

      And no, if you don’t sponsor a poor kid, that doesn’t make you bigoted. That’s not the definition of bigotry. That’s a complete non-sequitur.

  4. In 2013, Dr. Bruce Wydick, a professor of economics at the University of San Francisco published an independent study on Compassion’s program (Sponsorship) and found that children who participate in our sponsorship program are more likely to stay in school longer, more likely to attend university, more likely to have salaried employment as adults and more likely to be community and church leaders than those children who do not participate in our program. He also determined that one of the key factors in helping these children achieve…is hope. For children who live in poverty, hope is a rare commodity. But it provides a tipping point for children in Compassion’s program. It’s the difference between “I will always live in poverty just as my parents and my grandparents did” to “I can be the one who breaks this cycle.” We’ve seen this hope manifest itself in the lives of children all across the developing world. Children who are now teachers, pastors, nurses, counselors, even politicians fighting political corruption within their own governments.

    1. Kevin — what is Compassion trying to cash in on WV’s bad press posting on blogs like this. Hope not. I’m familiar with the study and there are many that show the opposite. Lastly, for those in the know, Compassion and World Vision benefit off each other in many ADPs. A child sponsored by compassion may for instance benefit from a WV water project.

  5. Good points. One thing, though – World Vision is quite clear and up-front on its website that sponsor donations go to the whole community, not directly to the child or its family. Nevertheless, sponsors are put into personal contact with the particular child they are sponsoring. They exchange letters (and e-mails, if feasible), and are welcomed to visit their child as well. Sponsors are also permitted to make special gifts directly to their child, over and above the standard monthly donation. So the idea that “you’re not actually sponsoring a child” only applies to the financial aspect– and the sponsor is clearly told that his or her monthly donation does help the child, by and through helping the child’s entire community.

  6. I think it depends on what you are commenting on. Although 10,000 children did not actually lose their sponsorship, I think it is still relevant to frame it that way if you are criticizing the evangelical reaction, since I would think that a significant if not majority of the 10,000 or so lost donors thought they were pulling direct sponsorship, or even if they didn’t they still terminated a relationship with their donee. They looked at the picture of the little kid on the fridge and thought, ‘Sorry, enforcing my ideology is more important than you.’ This is the shocking part for me. In a direct clash between poor kids and pathological hatred, poor kids lost.

  7. I have been sponsoring compassion children since 1980. I was recently able to go to Uganda and visit my child and others. Our group on a day off went on a safari and it turned out the boat driver who was possibly in his fifties was a former compassion student. He was quite friendly to our group and seemed grateful to compassion program although he didn’t look Rich to me. There is more to the program than handing out money. They help provide a moral foundation which is very important for success in life. Having role models that point you in the right direction. I saw a lot of Africans who appeared extremely honest that were provided good employment by the program. Compassion not only provides education and mentoring for the children but is a support system for there families and probably the community as well. You can dig lots of wells and buy all the material stuff you want for a community but if that community is not provided with a capable moral group to keep that going then you have waisted your time and money. Many things cannot be measured with a study.

    John

  8. I read on the Unicef website that the CEO made more than a million per year. Then someone else said it was just someone putting in false info. .So, I dropped it.
    I was a big fan of the Christmas books where you could order gifts for villages. For many years I found that sending medical supplies was assuring.
    Now, I’m not so sure. So, I have taken to going out in my car and giving money to the homeless, either personally or to the food source with the person with me. No booze bought and the money goes to the food source. Another large business that I work with does this every Sat. in Hamilton, Ontario.
    No tax receipts but who cares?? The person gets the 10 or 15 dollars for a meal.
    Salvation Army is very good. I have worked with them from a distance and checked with the people helped and they (S. A) were honest every time.

  9. So dropping World Vision because one disagrees wiith same sex marriage automatically classifies one as a bigot. Interesting. Apparently different points of view are not to be tolerated. Would I lose that classification as bigot if I told you that instead my donation would go to South American Zika babies whose fathers deserted their mothers?

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