Update, March 26:
World Vision has reversed its decision to allow the employment of married LGBT people. See HuffPost Religion's latest coverage here.
World Vision President Richard Stearns told Christianity Today that his organization, one of America's largest Christian charities, will be changing its employment policies with regard to LGBT individuals.
The organization previously required its some 1,100 employees at the American branch to abide by a policy that required fidelity within marriage and abstinence outside of marriage, and only recognized heterosexual marriages. However, now World Vision is allowing gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be hired as well as gay Christians who follow their policy of abstinence outside of marriage.
World Vision's senior director for media contacts, Cynthia Colin, shared a letter from Stearns to World Vision employees with The Huffington Post. Stearns explained, "I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue. We have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on this issue alone."
Stearns hopes to inspire Christian unity by changing the employment policy to be more inclusive of gay Christians. He told Christianity Today that the decision was "symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity."
World Vision won a Supreme Court battle which protected its right to hire and fire employees that disagree with its theological tenets in 2010, and while it will still require its staff to abide by its religious policies, it won't discriminate against employees that are gay. This means that employees are still required to believe in Christ.
"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 told CT. "It also allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage."
Stearns made it clear that the decision had been made without external pressure, and that the board was "overwhelmingly in favor" of the new policy. He explained in his letter, "I want to reassure you that we are not sliding down some slippery slope of compromise, nor are we diminishing the authority of Scripture in our work. We have always affirmed traditional marriage as a God-ordained institution. Nothing in our work around the world with children and families will change. We are the same World Vision you have always believed in."
Response to World Vision's decision has been mixed. Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, came out with fighting words to warn against the "deception" of World Vision's explanation behind its move towards acceptance.
"But here’s what’s at stake. This isn’t, as the World Vision statement (incredibly!) puts it, the equivalent of a big tent on baptism, church polity, and so forth. At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ," he wrote in a blog post on his website. "We empower darkness when we refuse to warn of judgment. We empower the darkness when we refuse to offer forgiveness through the blood of the cross."
The staff of World Vision draws from over 50 Christian denominations, some of which have allowed same-sex marriage within the church, included the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Stearns cited the multi-denominational nature of World Vision employees as a reason for the switch.
In Stearns' letter to his employees, he wrote:
Each of us has his or her own views on a wide range of potentially divisive issues, and the board and I are not asking anyone to change their personal views. We are asking, rather, that you not let your differences on this issue or others distract us from our work. We are asking you to unite around our sacred and urgent mission in the world and to treat those who don’t share your exact views with respect. If we cannot love one another, how will we show Christ’s love to the world?