World Vision, a large Evangelical Christian charity, caused waves within religious communities when they announced the allowance of married, same-sex employees Tuesday, a decision they are now reversing. The nation’s tenth largest charity, World Vision is located in Washington state where same-sex marriage is legal. The charity’s board hoped to induce unity with the policy change, in a time of divide over homosexuality throughout the church.
The announcement to allow same-sex couples in the company came on Tuesday in a publication of Christianity Today, a popular Evangelical magazine. The company’s president, Howard Stearns said in the interview, the change was “narrow” and that it did not endorse same-sex marriages. World Vision blankets over 50 denominations including Presbyterian, Episcopal and Lutheran, some of which are now accepting same-sex marriage. The announcement went viral but in the way Stearns had hoped.
Many of World Vision’s donors and supporters went to the internet to voice their displeasure. Some prominent Evangelical leaders spoke out on the decision calling it “evil” and a stray from God’s plan. World Vision is a global charity offering humanitarian aid to those in need around the world despite race, religion or creed. The groups is especially popular in America for its “Sponsor a Child” program, wherein a donor financially aids a child in poverty.
Many donors, outraged over the policy change, went to World Vision’s Facebook page writing they had cancelled their sponsorships and urged others to leave the organization. Stearns was taken aback by the magnitude of anger caused by an issue he believes to be equal with evolution or women in clergy. Stearns said matters of theological discussion should be decided upon within the institutions themselves.
Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, criticized what he considered Stearns’ brushing off of liability. He claimed both World Vision and Stearns himself “ducked responsibility…by claiming to defer to churches on doctrinal matters.” He then added, “What if [the person applying] belonged to a church that [allowed] polygamy or incest?”
Less than two days after the announcement to include married, same-sex employees went public, World Vision’s board voted to reverse it. In a statement to sponsors Stearns said, “In [the] board’s effort to unite around the…mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with [our] commitment to the…understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith.”
He went to ask forgiveness, in hopes those who had made the decision to leave World Vision would change their minds. “We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused…our friends,” he said. “We ask that you understand [it] was never the board’s intent [to] reverse…our strong commitment to Biblical authority.”
While members of the Evangelical Church are relieved by the reversal, religious and secular supporters of same-sex marriage are upset by the backtrack World Vision took. The Christian author Jeff Chu who wrote, “Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America“ said on Twitter that anyone who withdrew a child sponsorship “should be required to [write] an explanatory letter to that kid.”
The allowance of same-sex marriage by World Vision was meant to unite Christians on a devise issue, but the uproar of criticism caused the board to immediately reverse the decision. “We shouldn’t have been surprised,” said Stearns, “but we were.”
By Erin P. Friar