World Vision, one of the largest Christian charities in the U.S., recently announced a policy change that has sent shock waves through the evangelical community. On March 24th, World Vision's U.S. branch announced that it will employ Christians in legal same-sex marriages, according to Religion News Service. The organization's employee conduct manual will no longer define marriage as between a man and woman, and will acknowledge same-sex marriage as compatible with its requirement of “abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage” among employees.
An official statement from World Vision explained that conflicts over LGBTQ rights in the Christian community have been "tearing apart the Body of Christ", and that the World Vision board does not want such tensions to impair its mission. The statement stressed that it has not endorsed same-sex marriage, but has merely deferred to local churches on the matter.
"But since World Vision is a multi-denominational organization that welcomes employees from more than 50 denominations, and since a number of these denominations in recent years have sanctioned same-sex marriage for Christians, the board -- in keeping with our practice of deferring to church authority in the lives of our staff, and desiring to treat all of our employees equally -- chose to adjust our policy. Thus, the board has modified our Employee Standards of Conduct to allow a Christian in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed at World Vision.In an interview with Christianity Today, World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns explained that the policy change represented Christian unity, not compromise. Stearns also insisted that the decision was not influenced by activists, employee groups, or legal pressure. "We're not caving to some kind of pressure. We're not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us," he told Christianity Today. "This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We're an operational arm of the global church, we're not a theological arm of the church."
I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue. We have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on this issue alone ..."
World Vision's decision, while not momentous or controversial, is still a step forward. When a large Christian charity makes a public decision not to discriminate against employees in same-sex marriages, it sets a positive precedent for the faith community. Homophobia should never impede charitable work, something that World Vision has come to understand. While I still disagree with some of World Vision's employee policies, I feel that this decision was an enlightened step in the right direction.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) applauded the policy change. Ross Murray, GLAAD director of news, praised World Vision's decision to focus on charitable world rather than exclusion.
"While this shift may be considered insignificant by some, it demonstrates a recognition that more Christian denominations recognize LGBT people and marriage equality. It also asserts that LGBT discrimination is not a core component of World Vision's Christian identity. The organization chose to focus on its mission to bring relief to people worldwide, as opposed to spending its energy keeping out those who wish to help support that mission."Unfortunately, voices from the Religious Right quickly slammed the decision. Anti-gay figures such as Peter LaBarbera, Linda Harvey, and Bryan Fischer took to Twitter to lambaste World Vision for its anti-discrimination stance, as documented by Truth Wins Out.
Reactions from right-leaning Christian leaders were swift. During an interview with the American Family Association, Liberty Counsel's Matt Barber spoke of World Vision's decision in venomous terms. He cited a warning in Revelations 13 in which people would need the mark of the beast to engage in commerce. At the 1:28 mark of the Right Wing Watch video above, Barber claimed that Stearns would have to explain himself to God someday.
"I'm more concerned with World Vision. I mean, I'm concerned for Richard Stearns. I'm concerned for his relationship with Christ. He's going to have to answer to God for this, and so are the people who are facilitating this within World Vision. To do things in the name of Christ that God calls an abomination, I wouldn't want to be standing before God and having to explain myself."Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, blasted World Vision's decision in a March 24th online statement.
"I was shocked today to hear of World Vision’s decision to hire employees in same-sex marriages. The Bible is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman.Bethlehem College & Seminary chancellor John Piper was also unhappy about World Vision's move. In a March 25th post at Desiring God, he claimed that World Vision's decision "trivializes perdition" by failing to lump same-sex intimacy together with other sins.
My dear friend, Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, would be heartbroken. He was an evangelist who believed in the inspired Word of God.
World Vision maintains that their decision is based on unifying the church – which I find offensive – as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church.
From the Old Testament to the New Testament, the Scriptures consistently teach that marriage is between a man and woman and any other marriage relationship is sin."
"...to treat regular homosexual intercourse as less dangerous than fornication, adultery, greed, theft, and drunkenness is to treat perdition as if it were a small thing, or not really coming. The same text that imperils active fornicators and adulterers and thieves and coveters, also imperils those who practice homosexuality."Piper argued that World Vision's decision placed it firmly in the liberal Christian camp, which would allow "worldliness" to weaken the organization from within.
"...World Vision has aligned itself with liberal Christians who choose not to renounce homosexual practice. Culturally, historically, and biblically this is a huge step toward the powerlessness and growing irrelevance of the mainline liberal establishment. You cannot undermine biblical authority, and trivialize perdition and its blood-bought remedy, and expect to maintain a vibrant spiritual base. It isn’t going to happen.Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote in a March 24th commentary piece that World Vision's decision was wrongheaded. He claimed that Christians "empower darkness" when they refuse to warn others about sinful behavior invoking judgment.
This means that, without repentance and change, World Vision will go the way of worldliness and weakness. A great superstructure will remain for a season, but the Christian soul will disappear. And who will suffer most? The poor."
"At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If sexual activity outside of a biblical definition of marriage is morally neutral, then, yes, we should avoid making an issue of it. If, though, what the Bible clearly teaches and what the church has held for 2000 years is true, then refusing to call for repentance is unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish ... We empower darkness when we refuse to warn of judgment. We empower the darkness when we refuse to offer forgiveness through the blood of the cross."R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, criticized World Vision's alleged "flawed moral vision" in a March 25th commentary piece at his website. Mohler stressed that same-sex intimacy is sinful, accusing World Vision of failing to name sin.
"The leader of World Vision U.S. now claims that the Bible is not sufficiently clear on the sinfulness of same-sex sexuality and relationships, but he also claims a “mission of building the kingdom.” The Apostle Paul makes homosexuality a kingdom issue, and he does so in the clearest of terms ... The worst aspect of the World Vision U.S. policy shift is the fact that it will mislead the world about the reality of sin and the urgent need of salvation. Willingly recognizing same-sex marriage and validating openly homosexual employees in their homosexuality is a grave and tragic act that confirms sinners in their sin — and that is an act that violates the gospel of Christ."
Mohler insisted that a Christian organization's operations and theology cannot be kept separate, chiding World Vision for allegedly throwing off theological responsibility.
"The distinction between an “operational arm” of the church and a “theological arm” is a fatal misreading of reality. World Vision claims a Christian identity, claims to serve the kingdom of Christ, and claims a theological rationale for its much-needed ministries to the poor and distressed. It cannot surrender theological responsibility when convenient and then claim a Christian identity and a theological mandate for ministry."
As LGBTQ rights gain momentum, Christian congregations slowly welcome LGBTQ persons, and Christian organizations such as World Vision adjust their stance on same-sex relationships, the Religious Right grows angry and bewildered. As more Christians choose unity and service over bigotry, the Religious Right's homophobia will become an increasing outlier.
3/26/14 EDIT: World Vision reversed its decision, unfortunately. More here.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Sojourners: World Vision and the State of American Evangelicalism
Zach Hoag at the Nuance: Farewell, Gospel Coalition
Rage Against the Minivan: On World Vision, gay marriage, and taking a stand on the backs of starving children