© 2014 Robert Osburn

An old African proverb goes something like this: “When the elephants fight, the ants get crushed.”  Translated, this means that the small and weak are especially vulnerable when the big boys thunder their way through society.

I thought about this proverb last week when I learned that the mighty evangelical relief and development organization World Vision announced that it would offer benefits to same sex married couples employed by World Vision USA. They later rescinded the policy change, suggesting they were bowing to evangelical pressure.  But, I would hope they also rescinded the change because of the damage it would do to their international partners.

Richard Stearns, World Vision USA’s president, stated that the policy change only applied to the US branch of World Vision and not to its international affiliates.

Really?  For the president of an international organization to naively imply that World Vision USA’s policy change wouldn’t affect their overseas affiliates seems stunning, and thoughtless at best. (True confession: I, too, have been stunningly thoughtless at times, and so the stone I cast is also denting me.)

As an international educator, I visit Wilberforce Academy mentees in developing nations around the world, and in virtually every country I meet leaders who communicate, one way or the other, that “what you Americans do has huge consequences for our lives.”  The American elephant inevitably tramples on international ants, and for Stearns to imagine that World Vision USA’s dramatic policy shift would not somehow affect their international affiliates…well, it makes me doubt that he’d been listening to people in these nations.

Being big (and oftentimes rich) carries moral and other burdens.  It’s not just that our policies and actions invite others to judge us moral or immoral; no, it’s much more.  What we say and do impacts our allies as well as our enemies for good or for evil.  And in an era of globalization, the “big elephant” affect is magnified. 

Until the policy was rescinded on March 26, for two days in countless countries around the world, the opponents of the local World Vision country affiliates were reminding their countrymen that these affiliates (the ants) are part and parcel of World Vision USA (the elephant).  And I can assure you that the international affiliates were feeling crushed, all because the big elephants, in the country where World Vision was founded and where it receives the large majority of its funding, displayed reckless disregard for their affiliate offices overseas. 

We no longer make policy in a Western bubble.  And the New Testament addresses this quite clearly: We are to give attention to the needs of the weak.  In Romans 14, the strong are to be careful not to cause the weak to stumble.  What is true in the Body of Christ applies just as powerfully to the affairs of nations, and especially when a Christian agency seeks to conduct development in other nations. 

When will elephants start paying attention to the ants?  I hope all of us who work internationally will pay attention to the overseas impact of our policies and actions before endangering our partners and their missions in often-vulnerable settings.