International poverty ministry World Vision announced Monday that its American branch will allow the hiring of people in same-sex marriages who profess to be Christian. World Vision president Richard Stearns pleaded for unity Monday in his lone public announcement through the website of Christianity Today, and evangelical response has been swift and poignant.
Stearns denied that his ministry was under any legal pressure from homosexual-rights groups or the federal government, from whom World Vision gets millions of dollars in public grants. World Vision has 1,100 employees in the United States and took in more than $1 billion last year.
“Our motives are pure,” Stearns said. “This is not us compromising.”
He added that homosexuality has become a divisive issue that must be left to the local church, along with other “theological” issues like baptism, women’s leadership roles, and divorce.
“Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue,” said Stearns, calling it a “very narrow” change. “We’ve got to focus on our mission.”
Evangelical leaders, though, said compromising the mission is exactly what World Vision has done.
“Don’t say, ‘Hath God said?’ and then tell us you’re doing it to advance the gospel and the unity of the church,” wrote Russell Moore, alluding to the serpent’s temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1). Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, was among the first to respond Monday.
The new conduct standard implies practicing homosexuals can be “following an acceptable Christian lifestyle,” pastor and author John Piper wrote Tuesday. That position, he said, is not a neutral one: “World Vision has trivialized perdition and the cross.”
Some of World Vision’s international humanitarian partners echoed Piper, including Samaritan’s Purse president Franklin Graham, who said in a statement, “World Vision maintains that their decision is based on unifying the church—which I find offensive—as if supporting sin and sinful behavior can unite the church.”
Evangelical leaders broadly condemned the change, but Christians differed on whether their disapproval of World Vision should lead them to withhold donations. Pastor John Sheeley of Geneva Baptist Church in Geneva, Ga., whose church has participated in World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine campaign, told me, “As a pastor and a Christian I will never support World Vision again.”
Other Christians and churches, though, sponsor individual children and have developed relationships with them. “I held her hands,” Nish Weiseth wrote of visiting her sponsored child in Bolivia. “I touched her face and ran my fingers through her dark hair with my very own fingertips.”
Weiseth, a self-described “liberal, post-evangelical Christian,” argued on social media that withdrawing a sponsorship doesn’t hurt World Vision. “When you withdraw your sponsorship,” she wrote, “the person who pays the price is an undeserving child.”
Some say World Vision’s policy change was inevitable.
“Parachurch organizations are not the church, so don’t be mad when they act like it,” Anthony Bradley, an associate professor of theology and ethics at The King’s College, wrote on Facebook. He added that Christians who care about divisive issues should give to organizations that profess a specific denomination and that evangelicals with high expectations of nondenominational groups “should strap in because World Vision is the first [of] many … that will go this direction.”