In an effort to encourage “unity” among its church partners, the highly influential evangelical Christian relief and development ministry World Vision has announced it will permit Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed.
In an interview with Christianity Today, Richard Stearns, president of the U.S. branch, called it a “very narrow policy change” that should be regarded as “symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.”
The U.S. branch, based in Federal Way, Wash., has about 1,100 workers. In 2012, Washington became one of the first states to legalize same-sex marriage by a popular vote.
Stearns said the policy still will require employees to confine their sexual activities to within a marriage.
“Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues,” Stearns told the evangelical magazine. “It also allows us to treat all of our employees in the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage.”
The announcement drew strong criticism from other evangelical groups.
“World Vision president Richards Stearns said they will leave the debate over same-sex ‘marriage’ to the churches where he acknowledges it is tearing them apart,” said Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania. “However, the only reason there is any debate among churches on this issue is because those who accept ‘gay’ pastors or allow same-sex ‘marriage’ or blessings cannot read the plain language of Scripture.
Gramley noted that in Matthew 19, Jesus “defines marriage as only between one man and one woman, and I Corinthians 6:9 includes homosexuals in the list of wrongdoers who will not share in the Kingdom of God.”
“One cannot be a true Christian and be involved in a so-called same-sex marriage, thus World Vision has already wavered on its resolve that all employees be followers of Jesus Christ. Compromise and creating division are at the center of this decision,” she said.
Worse, she said, the decision by World Vision to “empower” the homosexual movement will “continue misleading many who turn to the world, rather than the truth of the Gospel, for answers.”
“The leadership of World Vision needs to get their Bibles out and read the warnings about falling into this trap. The word ‘Christian’ needs to be erased from the description of their organization,” Gramley said.
Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said he 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. 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,” Graham said.
Graham noted that World Vision maintains that its decision “is based on unifying the church – which I find offensive – as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church.”
Stearns told CT that the decision was not “an endorsement of same-sex marriage.”
“We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.”
He said there was no pressure, no lawsuit threats and no workers lobbying for the change.
“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,” he said.
World Vision has an estimated $1 billion in revenue annually. However, CT noted the policy change comes as World Vision has reduced its U.S. workforce by 10 percent over the past 15 months as expenses have risen and government grants have decreased.
It’s new position is a lurch away from the path it chose in 2012 when it opposed attempts by a federal agency to “strongly encourage” faith organizations to support homosexuality in order to get federal funding.
But AP reported that other “conservative religious charities” that have taken similar steps have experienced a drop in donations.
Stearns told CT that denominations “disagree on many, many things: on divorce and remarriage, modes of baptism, women in leadership roles in the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.”
“So our practice has always been to defer to the authority and autonomy of local churches and denominational bodies on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles’ Creed and our statement of faith. We unite around our [Trinitarian beliefs], and we have always deferred to the local church on these other matters.”
Commentator Michael Brown wrote: “Now is the time for every church that works with World Vision, every Christian musician and artist that partners with World Vision, and every believer that supports World Vision to inform them that they have made a terrible choice and that they will no longer have your support. And then, without missing a beat, partner together with other fine Christian, humanitarian organizations like Samaritan’s Purse or Food for the Hungry, and continue your compassionate giving.”
Stearns said the organization will continue to require workers to affirm its basic Christian statement of faith.
But Tim Wildmon, president of American Family Association, released a statement that encouraged Christians, including artists and authors “who raise money” for World Vision, to stop.
“There are many other organizations that sponsor children around the world who remain true to the gospel,” he said. “The first chapter of Romans is very clear. World Vision has abandoned the warning of Paul and compromised the integrity of a ministry financially supported by Christians.”
Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth said: “Historically, people embracing sin are not regarded as faithful Christians. Homosexual conduct is clearly proscribed in the Bible as a sin (Romans 1:24-27) but one that can be overcome through Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Many former ‘gays’ and ‘lesbians’ like Anne Paulk have overcome homosexuality through faith in Jesus.”
LaBarbera said Stearns’ “rationale for the policy change is stunningly dishonest and illogical in its double-speak.”
“Stearns would be more forthright in declaring that World Vision has abandoned the Bible as authoritative and is denying ‘Jesus as Lord.’ The same principle applies to individuals and organizations: one cannot embrace and sanctify sin while professing to honor Jesus Christ, who died and rose again so that believers might have victory OVER sin,” he said
“World Vision now puts hundreds of thousands of biblically faithful and compassionate Christians in a bind: they want to keep supporting poor children through WV sponsorships, but they do not want to give their money to a charity that actively undermines God’s Word through its policies. Many Christians will abandon World Vision and children will suffer,” he said.