World Vision USA is one of the largest charities in the world -- with more revenue than Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and OxFam America combined.
Their mission is tackling the causes of poverty and injustice around the world. With revenue of more than one billion dollars, they are the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization.
While nearly 20 percent of their funding is paid by U.S. tax payers through government grants, if you're a married American who happens to be gay, you can't work at World Vision. And if you're an LGBT person in a developing country in need of assistance, World Vision isn't factoring your challenges into their definition of injustice.
But that seemed to be shifting, when the president of World Vision USA, Richard Stearns, announced that their board voted "overwhelming in favor" of eliminating the pre-existing ban on hiring individuals in same-sex marriages. It was a rare moment in a world where far too often evangelical Christians are presented as monolithically anti-LGBT. For those of us who advocate for LGBT equality, often working alongside Christians, it was a moment that seemed almost too good to be true.
And then it was. Stearns proclaimed that the board had reversed its decision, asking its "trusted partners and Christian leaders" for their forgiveness. Stunningly, a billion-dollar industry crumbled to the will of donors who threatened to stop their support of poor children if gay married couples were allowed to be hired. Simply put, the organization let itself be bullied by those who want to help children in need only if they can be sure no LGBT people are part of the equation. This sends a chilling message to LGBT people everywhere -- especially those in need of the kind of aid World Vision provides. LGBT people are disproportionately impacted by poverty and injustice, often forced to the very margins of society. Our relationships are criminal in 80 countries. And for the many LGBT people who are also Christian, it reinforces the myth that religious communities don't welcome them. It tells their family and friends that they're free to reject their LGBT sons and daughters. That that's the "Christian thing to do."
The first move provided a sigh of relief. The second move meant a pang of deep sorrow.
At a time when Pope Francis is asking, "Who am I to Judge?," World Vision USA has decided they can judge -- with impunity and at great cost to those who need them the most. Their reversal is not just sad but sends a catastrophic message to LGBT people, our family and friends around the world. If World Vision USA can't get their own employment policies in order -- accepting married gay Americans into their family -- donors should recognize that the organization has a long road to travel before they're able to fully commit their mission of tackling injustice around the world.
Even with the reversal by World Vision USA, there is reason for enthusiasm. It's because people of faith have been speaking up for marriage equality -- particularly in Washington State where World Vision is headquartered and same-sex marriages are now legal -- that World Vision USA even thought to make a change. We are also seeing international religious leaders changing the global conversation about LGBT people and faith -- including luminaries like Bishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa, Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo from Uganda, the Dalai Lama from Tibet, and, yes, Pope Francis from Argentina.
World Vision got this one wrong but they cannot stop the momentum for change.