May 2014 Church & State | People & Events

A prominent evangelical Christian charity’s hasty reversal on a decision to hire married LGBT individuals has prompted questions about the federal funding it receives for its work.

World Vision, which provides various types of aid to low-income people around the world, announced March 24 that it would hire Christians in same-sex marriages. Just two days later, it rescinded that policy in the face of fierce backlash from the Religious Right.

In a statement to employees on the initial decision to hire members of the LGBT community, World Vision’s president, Richard 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.

“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,” he added.

But Stearns’ reassurances weren’t enough to pacify World Vision’s fundamentalist donors, who immediately launched a coordinated effort to yank their funds from the charity. According to the Salt Lake City Deseret News, World Vision lost approximately 2,000 child sponsorships in a 48-hour period, which suggested a monetary loss of $840,000.

World Vision has an annual operating budget of about $1 billion, but the prospect of losing more donations was apparently too much for it to bear. Stearns announced the change of plans on March 26 and apologized for World Vision’s previous decision.

“The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman,” Stearns announced.

Continued Stearns, “We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.”

The flap is only the most recent saga surrounding World Vision and its hiring policies. In 2010, the charity won a legal battle to continue practicing employment discrimination against non-Christians and LGBT people.

World Vision owes its license to discriminate to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed in 1993. Americans United and its allies originally supported the legislation as an important step toward protecting religious liberty. But since its passage, it has become a tool for extremist groups to demand – and sometimes receive – special rights from the federal government.

In a piece for the Religion Dispatches news site, Sarah Posner wrote, “The Supreme Court let stand the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that World Vision was a religious institution entitled to the same exemption as a church.” That means it can apply a religious test for employment, and refuse to hire LGBT people, even though it received $70 million from the government last fiscal year.