Update: Since this post was first published, World Vision has reversed their decision to allow people in same-sex marriages to work there.
As the debate continues over the announcement that World Vision will no longer fire someone for being in a same-sex marriage, here are a few things I’d like to share for your consideration. I spent four years working for World Vision; these observations are based on my direct experience with them, both as a former employee and as a donor.
I believe those of us who are Christian have to find ways to come together, despite our differences on same-sex marriage. The reaction to World Vision is just another reminder of the damage our division is causing. If you disagree with World Vision’s decision, you may not change your mind based on anything I share. But I hope it will help you as you consider your response, especially if you sponsor a child through World Vision.
1. This was not a rushed decision.
It’s been over three years since I worked at World Vision, and I can tell you people were wrestling with this when I was there.
Part of me wishes World Vision had changed their employee policy sooner. They lost good people by waiting until 2014. But I also respect World Vision for proceeding with deliberation.
Those of us who want the church to be more welcoming to gays and lesbians are not naïve about the fact that for many evangelicals, it’s a hard pill to swallow — or that we are challenging beliefs and assumptions long held by the church. (Which is not to say beliefs should never be challenged simply because they’re long held.)
In any case, the leaders of World Vision US spent considerable time thinking through, wrestling with, and, yes, praying about their decision.
2. The public explanation they’ve shared is for real.
The explanation World Vision gave Christianity Today is that they are deferring, as they always have, to churches and denominations “on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles’ Creed and our statement of faith.” In other words, where there’s disagreement among Christians on second-order issues, World Vision chooses to remain nonpartisan.
So what happens when Christians start disagreeing about same-sex marriage? Well, World Vision decided that wasn’t its fight. Hence the claim, derided by their critics, that they are taking a neutral stance.
Whether you agree or not with their rationale, I can tell you it’s honest.
It’s important to remember that World Vision is not an “evangelical organization.” They are a Christian organization. This nuance is easy to overlook, because in the US at least, World Vision’s donor base is predominantly evangelical. But globally, World Vision serves the whole church — evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox. Which is why they’ve chosen the simplest expression of historic Christian orthodoxy, the Apostles’ Creed, as their measure of faith.
So again, the question is: what do you do when individuals and churches of good faith — even whole denominations — reevaluate their position on same-sex unions?
I realize that some who want to make homosexuality a litmus test of orthodoxy will balk at the phrase “good faith” here. But there are plenty of us in these churches and denominations who confess the Nicene Creed every week and mean it.
Bottom line, this was the question World Vision began wrestling with several years ago. Around 2009, there was an open forum to answer employee questions about hiring practices and the employee code of conduct. A lot of discussion centered on World Vision’s policy toward gays, specifically in light of the fact that several Christian groups were starting to bless same-sex unions, or at least open their doors to gay and lesbian members. Interestingly, the conversation wasn’t about political pressure; it was about how we respond to an increasingly divided church.
Speaking of which…
3. This was not about caving to outside pressure.
About 20% of World Vision’s US funding comes in the form of government grants. When President Obama took office in 2009, a handful of liberals pressured him to end public grants to religious groups like World Vision. Progressive Christian leaders like Jim Wallis leveraged their influence with the president to make sure that didn’t happen.
Still, it sparked a debate over the hiring practices of religious groups that receive government funding. World Vision claims the right to restrict employment to professing Christians. They’ve always said they would walk away from public funding before giving up their religious hiring rights. And they mean it. In 2009, World Vision was getting ready for the very real possibility of losing all government funding. They were drawing up contingency plans for how to run the organization on $200 million less annually. (And yes, those plans involved significant job cuts.)
They weren’t blinking.
In the end, World Vision prevailed. The Obama administration was persuaded to continue making grants to religious organizations. World Vision also fought and won a court challenge to its religious hiring practices.
All of which is to say, World Vision has shown resolve when it comes to hiring Christian employees. Those who believe their decision not to fire gays was some sort of capitulation to public pressure don’t know the organization very well.
4. This decision is costing World Vision…and the people they serve.
On Twitter yesterday, Micah J. Murray shared a report that up to 2,000 child sponsors had cancelled because of World Vision’s announcement. I don’t know how accurate this figure is, though I’ve heard something similar. Also, it’s not clear is whether this represents a net loss of sponsors or just a higher than normal cancellation rate. (World Vision US has 1.2 million sponsored kids; they process cancellations for all kinds of reasons every day.) If it was the latter, it’s also unclear how much was offset by new sponsorships coming in.
[Update: More recent figures suggest World Vision has lost 10,000 child sponsorships over this.]
Assuming the 2,000 figure is accurate, that amounts to just under two-tenths of one percent of all kids sponsored through World Vision US. But this was never about percentages. This is about real lives. It’s about kids in impoverished communities who just became pawns in our culture war. It’s about gay and lesbian Christians and the message they’re being sent that they “aren’t even worthy to serve hungry children,” that they “are so deeply unwanted” that some people are willing to let kids die just to make sure they don’t get a job serving the poor in the name of Christ.
We can do better than that. For ourselves, for our gay and lesbian neighbors, and for impoverished kids and their communities.