World Vision, one of the largest humanitarian organizations on the planet, made two surprising announcements this week. On Monday, the evangelical Christian organization announced that for the first time, it would hire employees in same-sex marriages, then on Wednesday, it reversed that decision. Here’s how World Vision President Richard Stearns and Board Chairman Jim Beré explained the reversal:
In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our Iown Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.
We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We as that you understand that this was never the board’s intent. We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen tot he wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.
While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.
World Vision’s appeal to other Christian groups is unsurprising. The outcry from conservatives after the original announcement Monday was swift and severe. The Family Research Council decried the decision in its daily email Tuesday, describing it as a “rebellion” against Christ and a “very public divorce from biblical truth.” Tony Perkins made it clear that employing gay, lesbian, and bi people who are married was a dealbreaker for his family’s support of World Vision:
Our family has supported the work of World Vision, with one of my daughters actually participating in one of the group’s “30 Hour Famines” this past weekend. But we cannot and will not support an organization that exalts the approval of the world over the authority of the Word. In the end when Christians desire the praise of man over the glory of God: they earn neither. The church should continue to support Christian aid and humanitarianism, but only through organizations that remain true to the word of God.
The message from these conservatives is clear: discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation is a higher priority than humanitarian work. An organization that serves the needy can only be supported if it promises it will never provide a salary to to someone in a same-sex marriage. That pressure was enough for World Vision to cave.
But this is a telling admission about conservatives’ intentions. During the struggle over Arizona’s “religious liberty” bill, its proponents specifically tried to claim the opposite — that the legislation had nothing to do with anti-gay discrimination. Tony Perkins, for example, chided liberals for “cranking out one distortion after the next” in order to “scare people into opposing a reasonable bill.” Like its sponsors, Perkins ironically then used examples of photographers and bakers who need to be “protected” from having to serve same-sex couples to make his case for the bill. While unsuccessfully using this guise of “religious liberty” to try to get away with discrimination in the public sphere, these groups felt no need to sugarcoat their response to World Vision: No discrimination? No support.
Stearns described the original World View decision as “symbolic not of compromise but of unity,” pointing out that there are many churches that embrace marriage equality. Likewise, many churches take different positions on divorce, baptism, and female pastors — none of which inform the charity’s employment policies. Evangelicals and Pentecostals made it clear this week, however, that they will not consider any compromise when it comes to extending jobs to Christians who are also gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
As if maintaining anti-gay discrimination weren’t enough, the American Family Association’s Tim Wildmon believes World Vision’s leadership should also be fired — “all those who made this decision to equate homosexual ‘marriage’ with a man and a woman being married.”