Less than a day after World Vision U.S. president Rich Stearns announced that the billion-dollar charity’s board had voted not to discriminate against potential employees in legal same-sex marriages, he released a second statement announcing that the board had changed its mind.
World Vision’s initial decision was made, Stearns told Christianity Today, in hopes of promoting unity among Christians who hold differing opinions on that subject but are united in fighting poverty: “World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently ‘tearing churches apart’ over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches on theological issues, and focus instead on uniting Christians around serving the poor.”
That didn’t fly with hard right evangelicals, World Vision was quickly blasted with a flurry of jabs from prominent Southern Baptists, Samaritan’s Purse president Franklin Graham, retired megachurch pastor John Piper, and others. Conservative bloggers called for donors to boycott the charity, and many apparently heeded the call, either cancelling their sponsorships or threatening to do so.
Money talks, and the World Vision board, which had been “overwhelmingly in favor” of the move to end discrimination against gays, listened. A public statement from Stearns and board chair Jim Beré said board members “acknowledged they made a mistake” and reverted to the previous policy requiring abstinence for singles and allowing marriage only between “a man and a woman.”
The statement cited World Vision’s Statement of Faith, which begins with the statement “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.”
While some people find wiggle room in that statement, for most folks referring to the Bible as inspired, infallible, and authoritative is equivalent to saying it must be interpreted literally, with no room for an understanding of context and the differences between ancient and modern cultures. While the notion of homosexual orientation is largely absent from the Bible, there are a few scriptures that disparage same-sex activity, and that’s enough for literalists to claim biblical authority for declaring all same-sex relationships, even the totally loving and committed kind, as eternally verboten.
Western culture, by and large, has moved beyond the view that same-sex relationships must be condemned out of hand, and readers who take a more progressive view of the Bible find adequate scriptural grounds for a more accepting stance toward gay and lesbian relationships.
The crowd on the right packs a bigger punch than the crowd on the left, however, and World Vision’s brave move, as incremental as it was, fell victim to a hard right cross.
With right-eous warriors standing guard, it’s unlikely to get off the mat any time soon.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.