A donor boycott organized by conservative evangelical groups has forced the Christian relief organization World Vision to reverse a policy change that would have allowed the non-profit to hire married gay and lesbian employees.
The backlash began when the multinational charity announced Monday that its American branch would expand hiring to include people in legal same-sex marriages. After announcing the decision, World Vision lost between 3,000 and 3,500 sponsors for needy children across the globe as evangelical groups across the country called for a boycott, according to the group.
The Washington state-based non-profit employs about 1,100 people in America who are required to remain abstinent if single and uphold their Christian principle that marriage is between a man and a woman. On Monday, in an interview with Christianity Today, World Vision President Richard Stearns announced the board would be altering its long-standing employee conduct code to welcome married gays and lesbians. But pockets of the group’s largely Evangelical Christian base were outraged by the new policy. By Wednesday, World Vision had reversed its decision.
“The board acknowledged it made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman,” a World Vision statement read. “We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.”
World Vision President Richard Stearns told Christianity Today that the board’s initial decision to open hiring to gay and lesbian spouses was an effort to promote unity as some of the denominations represented by its members have begun performing and accepting same-sex marriages. But the organization’s decision on the issue had the opposite effect.
Although some Christians applauded the decision, more conservative Evangelical leaders swiftly denounced the organization for going against traditional Christian values. “At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ,” wrote Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “It’s obvious that World Vision does not believe in the Bible,” said Franklin Graham on Family Leadership Council CEO Tony Perkin’s radio show on Monday.
By Tuesday, reports began circulating that thousands had backed out of sponsorships for needy children across the globe. Liberal Christians rallied to try to replace the lost sponsors, while conservatives flooded the organizations call center and email with angry calls and letters.
The reversal, however, seems to have stemmed the tide. Evangelical leaders have been slowly reaffirming their support for World Vision. “Traditional evangelicals have responded with appreciation for World Vision’s affirmation of Christian orthodoxy,” said Institute of Religion and Democracy President Mark Tooley in a Thursday podcast. According to a World Vision spokesperson, since the reversal the angry calls have quieted and sponsorship cancellations have decreased dramatically, though there is no official count of how many sponsors have returned.
More liberal Christians, like Patheos blogger Tony Jones say that though conservatives won this battle, they will lose the war against complete acceptance of gay and lesbian couples. “Twenty years from now,” he wrote Thursday, “WV will be hiring married gay employees in Seattle.”