World Vision Reverses: Won’t Recognize Employee Gay Marriage

Just two days after announcing that it would recognize same-sex marriages of employees, World Vision reversed its decision, calling it a mistake that was made without enough consultation with its partners.

In a message to supporters yesterday, the Federal Way, Wash.-based charity announced it reversed its recent decision to change its “national employment conduct policy.”

“The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman,” wrote Richard Stearns, World Vision U.S. president, and Jim Beré, chairman of the World Vision U.S. board, in a “Dear friends,” letter.

“We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness,” they wrote, referring to their “trusted partners.”

In the 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 own Statement of Faith…and also failed to seek 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.”

Stearns had sent a letter to employees just days ago announcing that the billion-dollar charity would recognize same-sex marriages of its employees – as long as they practice abstinence before marriage – but not describing it as an endorsement of gay marriage.

Any decision regarding same-sex marriage was sure to bring criticism and support but World Vision was the largest Evangelical organization to date that made it. The initial decision drew surprise and some rebukes from fellow Evangelical organizations.

World Vision is the second largest organization listed with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), second only to The Salvation Army. Of its 40,000 employees worldwide, World Vision has almost 1,200 in the United States. More than 15 percent of its employees worldwide are not Christian but all of its U.S. employees are; they are required to sign a statement of faith affirming their belief in Jesus and the Trinity.

World Vision ranked No. 18 on The NonProfit Times’ 2013  NPT 100, with total revenue of $1.009 billion — including $826 million in public support — in the latest fiscal year, ending 2012.

In an interview with Christianity Today, Stearns said the board “overwhelmingly” was in favor of the change, which was not pushed by outside groups or employees, or under any threat of litigation, only a decision about whether one is eligible for employment at the charity, based on this single issue. Washington was one of the first states in the union to legalize same-sex marriage when voters approved a referendum in 2012.

“Grateful for World Vision’s reversal. Fearful they will be left with serious trust issues on both sides of the issue,” R.C. Sproul Jr., a teaching fellow at Ligonier Ministries and a professor at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Fla., said via Twitter.

Although neither of the recent decisions were posted to the World Vision USA’s Facebook page, users flooded it with comments and reviews, a mix of criticism and support:

  • “You’re [sic] new hiring policy will cause lots of kids to lose their sponsorship. Next time choose God’s word over political correctness.”
  • “To World Vision…I hope you read your comments and see just how much unity you have created.”
  • “C’mon on, World Vision USA. You were taking a historically significant step. You were leading as you should. Now you’re back-pedaling and begging forgiveness? How can you so quickly doubt your prayerfully considered choice? I was so inspired and encouraged by your leadership and now I’m heart-broken over your reversal.”
  • “I can see that your board has got their priorities right – money talked, and you not only listened you obeyed.”
  • “I was beginning the process of informing all the churches and individuals I’ve recruited to help WV over the past 20 years to have them pull their support…. Thank you for showing the wisdom, humility and courage that we longed to see from groups like Boy Scouts of America. Heal well, rebuild our trust by making sure you never come this close again, and continue on with your important work.”