This week we saw a damning public display of discrimination in the name of Jesus. Slow clap for World Vision. As would be expected, I have a few thoughts.
First, the events of this week are shameful. From World Vision–a spineless reversal motivated by money. From conservatives–the retraction of perhaps millions of dollars to “help” those who are poor. From liberals–using people who are poor to make political statements. Shame on all of you.
As you may already know, I think the Christians who, in the name of God, insist on bigotry and discrimination against gay people are on the wrong side of history and theology. This week’s shameful Christian outcry against a policy of non-discrimination and World Vision’s subsequent retraction is horrifying to me. In no way am I endorsing their behavior.
But I am thrilled that this all went down. I have never been a fan of World Vision. Their model is untested, with little objective empirical data to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs. They objectify poor children and market them to support their efforts at development. The dignity, agency, autonomy, and power inherent in every human being is flattened into a pathetic picture of a helpless (black) child who can do nothing without help from the great (Western) savior. Such an image is good for raising funds, shitty for actually fixing the problem. And the events of this week demonstrate this.
If supporting a poor child is merely a marketing strategy when you make a PR slip that commodified child can be easily replaced by another commodified child from another organization.
But I did not need this week’s events to know that World Vision, a Christian aid and development agency, exists for itself. Their longstanding practice of giving away the Super Bowl loser t-shirts is roundly criticized by anyone who knows what good aid looks like. It looks good to Charity Navigator (often a specious measurement tool) because World Vision can claim that they received a $2 million dollar gift (100,000 t-shirts with a “market value” of $20 each) and then distribute that gift relatively cheaply. But… is the gift really worth $2 million? Those shirts are useless, with no value whatsoever in the US (the NFL prohibits the sale of said t-shirts). The NFL can continue to overproduce things that are unnecessary (do we really need our Superbowl Champion t-shirts the day after the Super Bowl?) and look like really good guys by giving a $2 million donation. World Vision looks like an effective charity with low overhead, rich white men pat themselves on the back. Win-win, right? Except that no one really needs a Super Bowl loser t-shirt in Africa. Yes, World Vision has helped give us the impression that these are helpless, useless poor people with no idea how to clothe themselves. But that is just absurd.
They further lost credibility last year when they actively lobbied against food aid reform. Current policy is that food aid be grown in the US and shipped overseas on US vessels. The inherent waste and ineffectiveness of such an approach is obvious. But it is good for US farmers and shipping companies. And World Vision. So when President Obama proposed that as much as 25% of our food aid be locally sourced, World Vision stood in the way. Even though as many as 10 million more people could have been fed by such a policy.
So now you know why I am glad. I hope they lose millions more and that those millions go to more reputable organizations like Church World Service, Episcopal Relief and Development, Lutheran World Relief, and other such agencies that respect the dignity and agency of people, regardless of their economic status or sexual orientation.