Friday, April 4, 2014

World Vision and Evangelicalism: An Interview with David King

Last week the U.S. chapter of the international Christian humanitarian organization World Vision made headlines: first when president Rich Stearns confirmed to Christianity Today last Monday that the organization would employ Christians in same-sex marriages, only to reverse the decision two days later, in the wake of torrents of criticism from conservatives, some of whom threatened to withdraw their financial support from World Vision and its well-known child sponsorship program. Yesterday a Google executive resigned from the board of World Vision U.S. in protest, and Rachel Held Evans likely spoke for many progressive evangelicals when she wrote, ”The response to World Vision revealed some major fault lines in the Church, and many of us who grew up evangelical interpreted all the gleeful ‘farewelling’ from evangelical leaders as our final kick out the door.”
As much coverage as the controversy received, I quickly realized just how little I actually knew about World Vision’s history, mission, programs, and religious identity. In case that’s true of our readers, I’m happy to have had the chance to interview David King, assistant professor of church history at Memphis Theological Seminary and an expert on religious humanitarianism and the rise of evangelical relief and development NGOs. This summer, David will join the faculty at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy as assistant professor of Philanthropic and Religious Studies as well as serve as the Karen Lake Buttrey Director of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving. His current book project, stemming from his doctoral dissertation at Emory University, is entitled Seeking to Save the World: The Evolution of World Vision, American Evangelicalism, and Global Humanitarianism; you can sample his work by reading his 2012 article in the journal Religions, “The New Internationalists: World Vision and the Revival of American Evangelical Humanitarianism, 1950–2010.”
In part one of this interview, David summarizes World Vision’s origins, the history of the child sponsorship program that was for many the emotional center of last week’s controversy, and how the organization has changed over time. Tomorrow he’ll consider World Vision in relationship to evangelicalism, and explain why much of the coverage last week missed one key dimension of the story of World Vision

Read the interview here.

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