On Monday Christianity Today reported on a shift in World Vision's employment policy with regard to sexual morality. World Vision is a Christian organization dedicated to serving impoverished children and has always held a pretty rigid code of morality for employees. Specifically, employees are not to engage in sex outside marriage. But recently the organization decided that it would not discriminate against Christians in legal same-sex marriages in terms of employment. World Vision did not take a public stance on homosexuality or same-sex marriage itself, choosing instead to remain neutral on what World Vision President Richard Stearns describes as a divisive issue among Christians.
"It's easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there," Stearns said. "This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate." He added, "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."
News of this policy change spread like wildfire, with many Christians applauding World Vision's decision. Still others were quick to denounce World Vision, threatening to drop the children they sponsor though the organization. Several Christian leaders were vocal about their disapproval. Justin Taylor of the Gospel Coalition; Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Denny Burk, a professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (and apparently the self-appointed gatekeeper of Christendom) had condemning responses up within hours of the news.
This response is disheartening to me on many levels, firstly because I don't believe that World Vision really even took a stance on gay marriage. They are an aid organization dedicated to ending child hunger. In my opinion, their employee mandates are what I would expect for church employment, if a bit rigid for a nonprofit working on poverty issues. My view is that as Christians, we should be willing to partner with anyone wanting to advance our call to help the poor. You have 13 sexual partners each week, but you want to help me build a school in Haiti? All right. Get your work shoes on. Of course, it is Word Vision's prerogative to hold the standards that they do, but for me to lend support, they are irrelevant. I don't live in a world where I require everyone I do business with to follow my exact moral code.
But I'm also dismayed because I suspect that none of this would have been front-page news or worthy of outrage if World Vision had simply removed their rules about employee sexual conduct in general. For whatever reason, same-sex "sin" is the issue that Christians get riled up about. If World Vision had said, "Hey, we're not going to put restrictions on the sex lives of our employees, period," I really doubt that World Vision would be getting Rob Belled right now. People probably wouldn't care, because there are plenty of Christian organizations that don't require every employee to sign behavioral contracts. Call me cynical, but I really suspect that this is more about the idea of gay employees than it is about issues of purity amongst World Vision employees.
More alarming than the frustrating homophobia, though, is the fact that people are willing to make starving children the victims of a socioreligious debate. Check out some of the comments on World Vision's Facebook page:
Disgusted by your cowardice. How can you recognize a "marriage" that is not even recognized by God? This is disgraceful, and I am deeply saddened that I will no longer be able to support my child of 8 years because of your misguidance. You lost way more Christians today than you will gain in homosexuals. So so sad.
Tragic and unwise decision today. I hate that I have to pull my sponsorship but I will as soon as your phones open tomorrow since I can't do it online. The loss of support for kids and people around the world is the responsibility of those who made this tragic decision, not those who were given no choice but to pull their support.
WV, my wife and I will be pulling our contributions because of your stance in homosexuality. I am very saddened for the poor people you have compromised. The gospel cannot be taught by an organization who contradicts such a clear position in the bible.
These responses are so sad to me. We've sponsored children through World Vision for over 10 years, and anyone who sponsors a child knows that World Vision creates a very personable relationship between the sponsor and the child.
We currently sponsor Santiague, who is 15 and lives in Haiti, and Dalvin, who is 7 and lives in Uganda. Santiague lives with his parents, three brothers, and two sisters. His parents struggle to provide for the family. His mother and father are farm laborers, but they aren't able to meet their family's needs. With our help, Santiague is in school, and his community is provided with seeds and training on new farming methods. Dalvin lives in a community gravely affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and has lost his parents. He lives with his sister and grandmother. Our sponsorship helps meet his basic needs and also provides health-care improvement for the entire community. It has been a blessing to get updates over the years and watch them thrive.
It is unfathomable to me that people would choose to punish and drop the child they sponsor over a difference in doctrine -- or, in this case, an organization's decision to allow for differences. I visited the World Vision Facebook page and was so incensed by the number of people announcing their dropped support of sponsored kids. As my friend Nish said on Twitter, "Wanna piss me off? Pick debatable doctrine over giving a child food, water, healthcare, safety and education."
Is children's access to food, water, and education trumped by keeping gay people out of a job at a nonprofit? If we want to serve people, we should not make distinctions about whom we serve, and we should not deny those we serve out of disunity or division. It's astounding to me that Christians would take food from starving children because a gay person might have helped in getting it there.
I'm concerned that children who are served by World Vision will suffer, and I'd hate to see that happen. I'm also concerned that the exiling of Word Vision from certain Christian circles will further erode the divide between believers who are at odds over the issue of same-sex marriage, when their entire purpose was to avoid the division inherent in this issue. Are we really ready to excommunicate one another over this issue? I'm so tired of Christians trying to remove a seat from the table to keep away people who have different views on this.
I'm also just so, so dismayed that this is yet another instance in which Christians are telling the world that their feelings about gay people are stronger than their compassion, that their anger over gay employees is greater than their anger over starving children.
I am thankful that this does not represent all of us. I would love to see people who are concerned about this pick up the slack from the Christians who are dropping their children over this. I've decided today to sponsor another child. Will you consider it?
Follow Kristen Howerton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kristenhowerton