Facing public backlash and a reported initial six-figure donation loss, evangelical Christian charity World Vision U.S. Wednesday dropped a plan to allow the hiring of employees who are in legal same-sex marriages.
The organization had announced Monday that its board had "modified our Employee Standards of Conduct to allow a Christian in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed" by the charity, citing several churches whose members it employs as having endorsed the practice. And while World Vision U.S. President Richard Stearns at the time told Christianity Today magazine the group was not making "a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support," thousands of donors reportedly felt otherwise.
An unverified Twitter posting, first reported by Religion News Service, said Stearns told a staff meeting the group had lost at least 2,000 child sponsorships since Monday. The charity asks for payments of $35 per month for those sponsorships, which would suggest a potential annual shortfall of at least $840,000. In a telephone briefing late Wednesday, Stearns did not specify an amount for the donation loss but confirmed "a number of sponsors have canceled their donations, and the children we serve will suffer for that."
Stearns added, "We feel pain and a broken heart for the confusion that we've caused for many of our friends and supporters around the country." Part of the charity's error, he said, "was that we did inadequate consultation with supporters and others. If I could have a do-over, I would have had much more consultation with Christian leaders."
One of those leaders, Assemblies of God general superintendent George O. Wood, urged the Pentecostal denomination's 3 million members on Tuesday to shift support away from World Vision after the initial announcement. "The policy change enlists World Vision on the liberal Protestant side of the same-sex marriage debate as opposed to that of Pentecostal and evangelical churches worldwide," Wood said.
While progressive evangelicals applauded the initial policy change, conservative critics quickly denounced it. Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote on his blog: "There’s an entire corps of people out there who make their living off of evangelicals but who are wanting to 'evolve' on the sexuality issue without alienating their base," Moore said. "World Vision is a good thing to have, unless the world is all you can see."
On Wednesday, World Vision leaders were equally quick to try to make amends. The group would return to its policy of sexual abstinence for all unmarried employees, and would only recognize marriages "between a man and a woman," he said.
In reporting the initial move to permit the hiring of people in legal same-sex marriages, The Associated Press noted the scope of World Vision's global activities, as well as a factor that may have influenced its decision — federal funding. "Last year, the charity reported receiving 18 percent of its annual funding from the federal government," the AP reported. "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 insisted the humanitarian relief group wasn't responding to any outside lobbying or concerns about government funding."
Before this week's controversy, monetary shortfalls had already taken a toll on World Vision's operations, which included aid to 2.2 million adults and children in the United States last year. Declining federal grants and other monetary shortfalls led to layoffs in 2013 at its Washington state headquarters and other domestic locations, according to the Tacoma News-Tribune newspaper.
Similar to what he said when announcing the initial policy change, Stearns on Wednesday said he hoped those who disagree with World Vision's present position wouldn't cause a drop in donations. However, he conceded, "no one is obligated to support an organization."