UPDATED: The prominent Christian relief agency World Vision said this week it will hire Christians who are in same-sex marriages, a dramatic policy change on one of the most divisive social issues facing religious groups. And then, under pressure from the Christian right, the World Vision board reversed that decision, according to an announcement on March 26.
Earlier, Richard Stearns, president of the international humanitarian relief group, had announced the hiring change for the United States in a letter to staff. Stearns said the World Vision board had prayed for years about how to handle the issue as Christian denominations took different stands on recognizing same-sex relationships.
"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 living and serving the poorest of the poor in the name of Christ," Stearns wrote in the letter.
The agency's new hiring policy was first reported by Christianity Today magazine.
Based in Washington state and started by evangelicals, World Vision now has an international operating budget of nearly $1 billion and conducts economic development and emergency relief projects around the world.
Last year, the charity reported receiving 18 percent of its annual funding from the federal government. Federal agencies have for several years faced pressure to require any group that receives federal funding to end any hiring restrictions on gays and lesbians.
Stearns had insisted the humanitarian relief group wasn't responding to any outside lobbying or concerns about government funding.
"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," Stearns said.
But on March 26, the anti-gay National Organizatin for Marriage announced that World Vision's board had reversed the policy.
"The Christian view of marriage clearly holds that it is the union of one man and one woman,” said Brian Brown, NOM president. “It was for this reason that many were dismayed earlier this week by the news that World Vision was compromising its stance upon this Biblical value by a new policy that would recognize the validity of ‘marriage’ between same-sex persons. Today's reversal is cause for celebration and congratulation. World Vision has listened to their supporters and congregations worldwide and chosen to stand by the Christian truth of marriage in spite of what must be immense pressure from the radical same-sex 'marriage' lobby.”