World Vision Has Struggled Since About-Face on Homosexual Marriage, But Is Now Moving Toward Shoring Up Its Evangelical Base

Richard Stearns, president, World Vision U.S.
Richard Stearns, president, World Vision U.S.

World Vision tested evangelical boundaries three months ago when it announced it would allow its employees to be in same-sex marriages. The policy was short-lived; the relief group reversed it within 48 hours after supporters threatened to pull donations.

In the past, World Vision has requested that it be known as a Christian humanitarian organization, not necessarily an evangelical one, because many on staff are not from an evangelical background. But now, in the wake of the controversy, the board of the $1 billion relief group appears to be steering the ship in a more evangelical direction in an attempt to shore up the base of its support.

Most telling: World Vision is asking board members to formally affirm a statement that marriage is between a man and a woman. And new appointments to the World Vision board include big names from the evangelical community.

Jacquelline Fuller, director of corporate giving at Google, and John Park, another Google employee, left the board after the dust-up. Three other board members rotated off due to term limits. Rich Stearns remains as president, despite some initial chatter that he could be fired for the controversy.

The Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Jerry White, president emeritus of the Christian ministry Navigators, have both agreed to join the board. The new board chair is Joan Singleton, vice president of Milton Hershey School, who replaced James F. Bere Jr.

World Vision was founded in 1950 by Bob Pierce, who also founded Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse and helped spur evangelicals to social action. Employees must be members of a local church, affirm a statement of faith and/or affirm the Apostles’ Creed and sign a conduct policy that includes abstinence outside of marriage.

World Vision has always had an evangelical donor base, but many Americans did not know it was a religious organization — much like many people don’t realize that the Salvation Army is actually a church. World Vision’s best-known program allows donors to sponsor an individual child overseas for a monthly fee, with letters and photos of those kids sent to supporters.

The March dust-up over gay employees moved a divisive cultural issue to the forefront of the evangelical community, forcing both the organization and evangelicals to decide where the boundaries fell on same-sex marriage.

“I think they were a little premature, knowing where most evangelicals were on the issue,” said the Rev. Richard Cizik, who was forced to resign in 2008 by the National Association of Evangelicals after he told NPR he accepted same-sex civil unions. “They not only retreated, but now they’re establishing their bona fides.”

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Sarah Pulliam Bailey

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