World Vision, Pragmatism and the Fallen Powers

A week has passed. The dust has settled. Has it? And everything’s back to the way it was. Leaving last week’s hiring practices debacle behind, what will come of World Vision’s children?
Some of us have checked out of evangelicalism. Others have hardened our stance. Others have provided new ways forward, like these words from Richard Beck:
If “evangelicalism” isn’t a church, but a web of institutions, then does it make any sense to say one is “leaving evangelicalism”?
If evangelicalism isn’t really a church then there is nothing, ecclesiastically, we can “walk away from.” To be sure, we can walk away from toxic institutions that identify as “evangelical,” but that’s not walking away from the church.
In biblical language, we aren’t fighting against “the church.” Or walking away from the church. We are fighting against principalities and powers and walking away from principalities and powers.
There is no centre to evangelicalism. It is dispersed and multifaceted. And institutions who ally themselves with that label (as with and institution and any label) will have different characters. Different “angels,” if we take the imagery from Revelation. The powers are simultaneously good, fallen, and redeemed. This goes as much for evangelicalism as any other corner of the church.
And it also goes for World Vision. They are not without blemish.
So much of the rhetoric this past week has been about the children (the children!). Don’t make the children suffer. Get back on the train. If you’re going to let the issue of a hiring policy agnostic towards sexual orientation get in the way, then what about this:
What if I told you World Vision is also killing children. Would you care?
Maybe not actually. But they are working in partnership with Barrick Gold, a Canadian mining company that does not have a strong history of showing regard for local populations. How does that fit into our matrix? No organisation is purely good. World Vision does good work in many places. And yet, it is not perfect.
While WV Canada may have dodged the bullet on their hiring practices last week, questions must be asked.
Then again, we should always be asking questions when we’re giving to NGOs. We can believe the hype. We can swallow the marketing. But what’s going on just below the surface?
In this particular case, I wonder: is this partnership with Barrick Goldbeneficial, on the whole, to the local population? Does it have any ill-effects? How many eggs were cracked in the making of this child-sponsorship omelette? Is this pragmatic approach the only option in a complex situation? Could life-giving community development work happen without mining money?
I don’t know all of the answers to these questions. Even prior to answers, these questions muddy the waters some. If it’s all about the children. If it’s all about local communities, then we need to wrestle just as deeply with the implications of our favourite NGOs working hand-in-hand with organisations who have a history of putting local, indigenous communities at risk.
And we have a responsibility to listen to those local voices who have experience at the hands of these corporations. Back in February 2012, a WV project in Peru financed jointly by our Canadian development agency and Barrick Gold received this response from Miguel Palacin Quispe, General Coordinator of the Andean Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Organizations:
“Unfortunately, Canadian mining companies have a bad track record in our countries, where companies such as Barrick Gold are the source of many conflicts because of the dispossession of lands, destruction of water sources, and the ignoring of international rights (ILO Convention 169, the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, among others), that lead to multiple environmental and social impacts on our communities.
The solution is not to mediate and negotiate based on what has already been done, and no ‘social works’ carried out with the mining companies can compensate for the damage done, particularly in the face of rights having been violated.
So for these reasons we ask that you, World Vision Canada/Barrick Gold/CIDA, refuse to take any part in this development policy, and instead that you take responsibility to ensure that Canadian companies respect, and demand that States respect, the rights of the indigenous peoples affected before anyone seeks mining concessions in our countries.”
What do we do with that? What do we do with words spoken from, and on behalf of indigenous organisations in communities affected by companies like Barrick Gold? How often do we ask deep questions before we send our monthly donation? And what do we do with such strong statements of distrust from local, indigenous leaders? Do we play the paternalistic colonial card (we know best)? Do we ignore the voice completely? Or do we reach out, to find out what can be done in the face of damage done, and the violation of basic human rights?


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