Sexuality and Gender

No Neutral Ground for World Vision

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 03/26/2014

[UPDATE: WORLD Magazine reports that World Vision will be reversing their decision.]

The U.S. branch of World Vision has announced that that they “have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on [the issue of their being in a same-sex marriage] alone.”

After reading their statement, along with quotes in this Christianity Today article, here’s how I imagine this might have gone down at World Vision:

  1. World Vision required its employees to be celibate unless married.
  2. World Vision had employees with same-sex attractions who were celibate, as their employee conduct policy required:
    Stearns said World Vision has never asked about sexual orientation when interviewing job candidates. Instead, the organization screens employees for their Christian faith, asking if they can affirm the Apostles' Creed or World Vision's Trinitarian statement of faith.

    Yet World Vision has long had a Christian conduct policy for employees that "holds a very high bar for all manner of conduct," said Stearns. Regarding sexuality activity, World Vision has required abstinence for all single employees, and fidelity for all married employees.
  3. The states that some of those employees lived in began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
  4. Some of those employees got married.
  5. Those employees supposed they were in compliance with World Vision’s requirements. World Vision required marriage; they were married.
  6. World Vision took issue with their behavior and was challenged by the employees: How were they violating the conduct policy? Why was their marriage being treated differently?

Now World Vision was in a pickle. If they officially defined marriage as a man and a woman, which would result in people having to leave the organization, there would undoubtedly be a huge reaction from the media and activist groups. The phrase “That organization that hates gay people” would swallow up their entire public identity, harming their ability to help the poor. They would also lose valued employees, and this seems to have been a bigger concern for them than any fear of outside pressure. As they said in their statement, “The board and I wanted to prevent this divisive issue from tearing World Vision apart and potentially crippling our ability to accomplish our vital kingdom mission of loving and serving the poorest of the poor in the name of Christ.”

But if they didn’t specifically define marriage, they would have no consistent reason to continue to insist that employees refrain from homosexual behavior, as they perhaps believed the Bible called for.

So what to do? I think they intended to choose the path that would cause the least distraction from their mission…and they deceived themselves into thinking a neutral position on this was possible.

Their decision was to not define marriage at all, but to allow the employees and their churches to define the word “marriage” for themselves (which actually renders their requirement of marriage meaningless, just as it would be meaningless to require a belief in Jesus' resurrection while leaving the definition of "resurrection" up to the employees). If a church marries a same-sex couple, World Vision will recognize the marriage as being in line with their conduct policy.

By doing this, they thought they would avoid the debate on the definition of marriage and maintain unity within their organization, saying, “It…allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage,” and, “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate.”

And yet, if you require your employees to either be married or celibate, and you affirm that those who are in same-sex marriages are in compliance with your policy, then you have indeed recognized the validity of same-sex marriage and homosexuality. You’ve entered the debate, and you’ve taken a position.

There was no neutral ground in this situation.

For more on this, Greg discussed World Vision’s decision in the second hour of this week’s show. And if you’re considering whether or not you ought to discontinue your support for World Vision, Matt Anderson has some helpful thoughts over at Mere Orthodoxy.