For a mere 48 hours this week, World Vision stood up for the legal rights of gay people to be married and to work for its international humanitarian mission. Finally, here was an example of how a faith-based charity could respond and adapt to a controversial social issue such as same-sex marriage.
What a disappointment on Wednesday to see this venerable global relief organization buckle under pressure from its conservative faction. As The Seattle Times’ Lornet Turnbull reports in this Thursday news story, World Vision apologized profusely to its supporters as it re-implemented its policy of refusing to employ gay Christians in same-sex marriages.
One would think that most people could overlook a minor HR rule and coalesce around World Vision’s human rights causes. Every year, the Federal Way-based Christian agency helps 400 million people around the world struggling with poverty, natural disasters, and sex trafficking.
Instead, the backlash was swift and sometimes mean-spirited.
Read this Huffington Post story by Kristen Howerton, which highlights some of the comments people made on World Vision’s Facebook page. Some donors opposed to same-sex marriage boasted of dropping their adoptions of impoverished children in developing countries. Really? Is this what Jesus would do?
World Vision’s initial announcement in a Christianity Today story on Monday was a practical step toward recognizing shifting public opinions. There is increased tolerance for same-sex marriages among some of the 50 denominations represented within the organization.
The Seattle Times wrote about the development in this Tuesday news story, also by Turnbull. To many, World Vision became an instant model for other faith-based organizations. Its leaders found a way to walk that fine line between biblical teachings and modern realities. The decision to allow local offices to employ gay and married Christians did not change the organization’s official stance on the issue — World Vision still defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
World Relief President Richard Stearns’ public apology for flip-flopping seems genuine. The organization will not likely face the kind of fallout Susan G. Komen did after that foundation’s top leaders outraged supporters in 2012 by briefly withdrawing financial support for Planned Parenthood clinics to perform cancer screenings.
In this case, World Vision disappointed many with its initial announcement — and many more when it denounced a noble change in position.
Same-sex marriage is quickly losing its luster as a political wedge issue. According to a new poll featured in The Christian Science Monitor, 55 percent of respondents said they now support same-sex marriage rights.
The poll, conducted for a gay rights organization, found that support for same-sex marriage is highest among young adults, with 75 percent approval among those ages 18 to 29. Among that group, 58 percent said they are strongly in favor, compared with 13 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds identified as strongly opposed.
The only age group with a majority opposed to such recognition is those 65 years and older. Among that group, 55 percent said they disagree with gay marriage.
Pollsters said they are impressed by the speed with which public opinion in America is changing on the highly contentious issue.
“This is moving faster than any issue we’ve ever tracked,” said Alex Lundry of the market research firm TargetPoint. “This is the future talking to us.”
As tempers settle, people should not forget World Vision’s mission to assist millions of people around the world.
Blogger Rachel Held Evans, the author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” apologized to her readers this week for coming out so soon to praise World Vision. She had encouraged people to donate or sponsor a child before the policy reversal. But thanks to Evans for also re-posting a thoughtful comment from a gay reader named Dan who was prompted to help a boy in the Democratic Republic of Congo after World Vision’s original decision. “(N)one of this is the the fault of the child I sponsored,” he wrote. “I’m not going to un-sponsor because they reversed their decision. It’s ultimately about the child’s welfare.” Hear, hear.
Whether the issue is abortion, gay rights, or birth control access — a conversation is afoot. Faith-based nonprofits must continue to reconcile old beliefs with legal rights and the realities of today’s world.