UPDATE: World Vision has since reversed this decision. Click here for the full story.
Christian relief organization World Vision has stepped into the same-sex marriage debate, announcing that it will recognize the marriages of gay and lesbian employees effective immediately.
In a letter to employees, World Vision’s U.S. President Rich Stearns emphasized that its decision was not an endorsement of gay marriage. “We have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue,” he wrote. He also noted that gay marriages would only be recognized so long as the employees practiced abstinence before marriage.
Federal Way, Wash.-based World Vision is the second largest organization listed with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, behind The Salvation Army, with 40,000 employees worldwide, including almost 1,200 in the U.S.; it has an annual revenue of $1 billion and was #18 in The NonProfit Times’ 2013 Top 100.
More than 15 percent of World Vision’s employees worldwide are not Christian, though all its U.S. employees are, and they are required upon employment to sign a statement of faith affirming that they believe in Jesus Christ and the Trinity.
Stearns was not immediately available for comment but in an interview with Christianity Today he said that the organization’s board of directors was “overwhelmingly” in favor of the change. He also stressed that the change was not pushed by outside groups.
“There is no lawsuit threatening us,” he said. “There is no employee group lobbying us. This is simply a decision about whether or not you are eligible for employment at World Vision U.S., based on this single issue, and nothing more.”
Washington became one of the first states in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote in 2012. The decision is sure to cause a division in the evangelical community and there were already strong reactions on both sides of the debate.
Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and president of Samaritan’s Purse, said in a statement that he was “shocked” to hear of World Vision’s decision. “The Bible is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said.
Meanwhile, Denver-based pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber was more supportive, issuing the following statement on her Twitter account: “What a day. I think I’ll start tomorrow by giving @WorldVisionUSA a big fat donation. Who’s with me? I hear they are losing donors.”