On Monday, Christianity Today reported that, World Vision US, one of America's largest Christian charities, made a groundbreaking announcement that they will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed at the organisation.
World Vision's board was not unanimous, Richard Stearns, the US director acknowledged, but was "overwhelmingly in favour" of the change. "Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues," he said. "It also allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage."
Cyberspace went wild. This was a huge step forward for equality, that gay Christians, who can now make a commitment of love and fidelity recognised in their state, would no longer be excluded from working for an organisation that serves the poor in developing countries. One would think that making the world a better place for the poor and needy, trumped a person's beliefs about homosexuality.
Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders and denominations railed against World Vision US for moving away from 'biblical teaching'. The Christian Post ran the headline, The Apostasy of World Vision Embracing Gay Marriage. Some denominations, like the Assemblies of God suggested their constituents withdraw their financial support. The result was immediate as 1,000's cancelled their monthly donations to feed the 1.2 million starving children sponsored by World Vision U.S.
Within 48 hours, World Vision US had reversed its decision.
In a letter to World Vision US supporters, Richard Stearns announced the back-flip saying. "Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our employment conduct policy". "We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness." "We are broken-hearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority".
Right wing Christian websites clapped their hand with glee and release articles such as "World Vision Repents, Asks Forgiveness for Sin of ‘Blessing’ Sodomy-Based ‘Marriage’"and
Watch this space. It will be volatile.
World Vision US has failed to realise a number of other factors.
Firstly, World Vision US supporters are not all faith people. Many are just good people who believe supporting the poor in developing countries is an honourable thing. But all of these people will have an out, proud gay or lesbian brother, sister, niece, nephew, aunt, uncle, parent or grandparent, grandchild, friend or work colleague. They will not be happy with the reversal and withdraw support.
Secondly, some of World Vision US's supporters are Christians who attend churches which have moved on from outdated concepts about sexual orientation and now welcome LGBT into their churches. Some ordain them. They would have rejoiced at the first decision and be appalled by the second.
And thirdly they have once again alienated the youth who already are leaving churches and rejecting traditional Christianity as being anti-gay. (Read Gays Linked to Lack of Revival). Does World Vision US, really expect these young people will be their next generation of supporters and workers?
One thing that always amazes me in these situations is that people of the book (conservative, evangelical Christians) fail to see the huge gulf that exists between following Jesus example and the attitudes and behaviours of the Pharisees, once again being played out in the 21st century. Had they lived in Jesus' times, it's not hard to see which side they would have stood when Jesus healed people on the Sabbath. The religious leaders of the day kept strict laws about what one could and couldn't do on the Sabbath and Jesus broke these. But he was operating by a higher law. THE LAW OF LOVE, which asks the question "What would love do?"
Just in case it's not really clear. They would not be standing on the side of compassion and rejoicing that people had been healed of their illnesses. (Mark 3:1-6 & Luke 13:10-17). They would be so incensed that Jesus had crossed over their religious boundaries they also would have planned to kill Him. Much like some evangelical Christians trying to kill the work of World Vision US by withdrawing their support and in the end allowing children in developing countries to die. Why would they do such a cruel thing? Because World Vision US crossed a boundary, saying legally married same sex couples in our organizations should receive the same entitlements that heterosexual couples receive.
Essentially, what World Vision US has done to gay and lesbian couples, and their families and friends is say "Hope you enjoyed your 48 hours of equality. Now go back to the back of the bus where you belong"
This has been the saddest 48 hours of modern Christian history. Richard Stearns has asked his supporters to forgive him. Possibly he should be asking God for the same thing. And apologise to the LGBT community for the deep hurt inflicted on them.
Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International provides education, training and consultancy services to churches, denominations and Christian organisations who seek greater understanding of LGBT issues and working with the community. Obviously, at this stage, World Vision US is not one of our clients.
PLEASE NOTE: The above article refers to World Vision US.
PLEASE NOTE: The above article refers to World Vision US.
© Anthony Venn-Brown
Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.