Update: World Vision has announced they are reversing their decision.
In an exclusive interview, World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns explained to Christianity Today the rationale behind changing this “condition of employment,” whether financial or legal pressures were involved, and whether other Christian organizations with faith-based hiring rules should follow World Vision’s lead.
Stearns asserts that the “very narrow policy change” should be viewed by others as “symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.” He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.
In short, World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently “tearing churches apart” over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.
Given that more churches and states are now permitting same-sex marriages (including World Vision’s home state of Washington), the issue will join divorce/remarriage, baptism, and female pastors among the theological issues that the massive relief and development organization sits out on the sidelines.
World Vision’s board was not unanimous, acknowledged Stearns, but was “overwhelmingly in favor” of the change.
“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,” he said. “It also allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage.”
President of Southern Baptist Seminary, Albert Mohler. wrote yesterday that World Vision is practicing a flawed moral vision:
The distinction between an “operational arm” of the church and a “theological arm” is a fatal misreading of reality. World Vision claims a Christian identity, claims to serve the kingdom of Christ, and claims a theological rationale for its much-needed ministries to the poor and distressed. It cannot surrender theological responsibility when convenient and then claim a Christian identity and a theological mandate for ministry.
Add to this the fact that World Vision claims not to have compromised the authority of Scripture, even as its U.S. president basically throws the Bible into a pit of confusion by suggesting that the Bible is not sufficiently clear on the question of the morality of same-sex sexuality. Stearns insists that he is not compromising biblical authority even as he undermines confidence that the church can understand and trust what the Bible reveals about same-sex sexuality.
The policy shift points back to a basic problem with World Vision’s understanding of the church. No organization can serve on behalf of churches across the vast theological and moral spectrum that would include clearly evangelical denominations, on the one hand, and liberal denominations such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ, on the other. That might work if World Vision were selling church furniture, but not when the mission of the organization claims a biblical mandate.
Furthermore, it is ridiculous to argue that World Vision is not taking sides on the issue. The objective fact is that World Vision will now employ openly-gay employees involved in openly homosexual relationships. There is no rational sense in claiming that this represents neutrality.
I can’t say it better than Mohler. To claim theirs is a position of unity when it is clearly not, and frankly, the vast majority of local churches and denominations reject same-sex marriage, and frankly the Bible is abundantly clear on the matter. The idea that World Vision would even move forward with a policy like this without the full support of their board and then claim unity is asinine as well. Mohler also brings up a good point with parachurch ministries, and it was a tension that I felt as well having served in one for 10 years, it is extremely hard to serve a wide array of denominations and not feel tension on certain issues.
There needs to be a line drawn in the sand, and right now I simply have no idea where that is with World Vision. What won’t they compromise in order to practice unity? And in what world can capitulating on the definition of marriage not be seen as compromise? The ministry has, by default, endorsed same sex marriage through its new employment practice. You can’t reasonably see it in any other way. Unfortunately World Vision will now likely find out how divisive their act of unity really is.