In an interview with Christianity Today, the president of the United States branch of the evangelical charity World Vision announced that it will change its sexual conduct clauses to include a definition of marriage that does not stipulate opposite sex relationships for its employees. President Richard Stearns announced that this was not an acceptance of gay marriage on the part of the organization, but an acknowledgment of the varying views of the denominations whose members the Christian charity employs. If, on seeking employment, a gay person in a marriage sanctioned by their denomination presents themselves, then they will be eligible for employment regardless of relationship status.
Up until now, World Vision’s policy on LGBT individuals has been one of general acceptance as long as they adhere to sexual morality rules the organization enforces. World Vision requires single individuals to abstain from sex before marriage, regardless of orientation. However, because the decision tacitly accepts the decisions of individual denominations on the issue of gay marriage, LGBT persons in marriage situations will be able to work for the United States World Vision organization.
The World Vision president was careful to communicate, however, that this is not a change in the institution’s fundamental belief on gay marriage. Instead, it is an emphasis of their situation as a parachurch which encompasses many different denominations within its supporters. Rather than alienating some, they have decided to avoid the situation altogether by allowing inclusivity for everyone’s beliefs. It’s not a compromise on a controversial issue. It’s a step taken in order to focus on unity of all Christians.
Stearns also made the point that this was not an issue of caving to legal pressure. As of this moment, World Vision is not involved in litigation regarding LGBT people or the issue of gay marriage or discrimination. The decision was made entirely voluntarily, with the vast majority of the governing board supporting the decision.
The announcement of World Vision’s new gay acceptance policy was made relatively quietly with the publication of the interview in Christianity Today. So far, the news has stayed out of the mainstream media, though the Huffington Post did report it hours after the interview went up. Nevertheless, Christians who pay particular attention to religious news media, especially Christianity Today, one of the largest such news organizations, have been absorbing the news in varying ways.
It is the negative reactions that are getting the most attention, including a later edit to the original interview that included a discussion of Russell Moore’s quickly penned response. Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which serves the Southern Baptist Convention. Because Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant-Evangelical denomination in the United States, they carry a lot of weight with evangelical Christians who may be inclined to support an evangelical charity. Thus, Moore’s condemnation of the change in World Vision policy is possibly problematic for the donation funded organization.
Russell Moore’s response makes clear that he thinks the important point in all this is maintaining the integrity of the Bible’s teachings as he sees it. Gay marriage is wrong and therefore, Christian organizations such as world Vision should not be accepting towards it in any context, even in a context of avoiding taking a stand. For Moore, this move is unacceptable and even an empowerment for “darkness.”
Many evangelical Christians reaction to the news seem to agree with Moore. One such person is Trevin Wax, the editor of The Gospel Project at Lifeway Christian Resources. He posted his rebuttal to twitter just as Moore had, but his message was slightly different. He stated that the World Vision charity announcing the change to the policy to accept legally married gay people as employees is itself a redefinition of marriage, not just a willingness to accept the different Christian denominational beliefs. According to him, evangelical Christians simply will not support a charity allied with marriage revisionists, meaning a drop in donations for World Vision and the children they support. As the title of his response says, he grieves over the fact that children will be hurt by World Vision’s decision, going on to make the argument that gay marriage hurts children, not just be depriving them of needed donations, but by robbing them of opposite sex parents.
Many evangelical persons may withdraw their support for World Vision based solely on this issue, but already others are stepping in to take their place. Twitter users are tweeting their support for World Vision and this announcement of acceptance, encouraging others, Christian or not, to support them as well in order to make up for any deficiency in funding from the evangelical exodus. Most are simply determined not to see children suffer as a result of the decision to legally married gay people as World Vision employees no matter what the reactions of others might be.
By Lydia Webb