World Vision U.S. Headquarters in Federal Way, WA

World Vision U.S. Headquarters in Federal Way, WA Wikimedia Commons

I understand World Vision’s original decision to hire Christians in same-sex marriages had nothing to do with the threat of a lawsuit. After all, WV President Richard Stearns told Christianity Today, “There is no lawsuit threatening us.”

But that doesn’t mean that the decision’s reversal in the face of widespread evangelical outrage won’t lead in that direction. Here’s how it could happen.

World Vision is headquartered between Seattle and Tacoma in Washington State, where same-sex marriage has been legal since December 2012. Washington also has a robust law protecting LGBT people against discrimination. Earlier this month, the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle was sued under the law by Mark Zmuda, who was fired from his position as vice-principal of one of its parochial schools after it was discovered that he was married to a another man.

In a post-flip-flop interview yesterday with RNS’ Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Stearns said he expected that some of his organization’s 1,100 employees had same-sex sexual orientation and indicated that he had no objection to that. Sooner or later, and probably sooner, some of them are going to marry their partners and the word will get out. And World Vision will have to fire them.

To be sure, Washington’s anti-discrimination law includes a religious exemption. And WV, which hires only employees prepared to sign its trinitarian profession of faith, may qualify for it. But here another factor could come into play.

To do its good work around the world, WV relies on a significant amount of U.S. government funding — $145 million in 2013 alone. The organization was, in fact, successful in persuading the Obama Administration not to deliver on presidential candidate Obama’s promise to prohibit faith-based organizations from discriminating on religious grounds when hiring staff members to run government-funded programs. To date, so far as anyone knows, no one has filed suit to test whether such hiring discrimination in government-funded programs is legal.

But an actual WV employee fired for marrying a person of he same sex might be tempted to do so. He or she might also sue on the grounds that the organization violated the new federal recognition of same-sex marriage rights. WV, in other words, may have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Categories: Institutions

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

18 Comments

  1. Samuel Johnston

    The trouble with claiming that ethical behavior is based on truths, is that society changes its mind unpredictably, and the individual must conform to the new norm or suffer sanctions. In the living memory of most of the adult population, homosexual activity was considered unacceptable and legal and social sanctions were applied. Now, in the twinkling of an eye, the same behavior is institutionalized and protected by law. Adjusting is wrenching for many.
    Christianity claims to represent eternal truth. Relativism is a view of much of the secular society which logically invalidates this sort of reliable truth.
    Now the government funds, therefore controls, many large Christian social welfare organizations. It is the government that claims the ethical high ground. The power to fund is the power to destroy.
    We live in interesting times.

    • CarrotCakeMan

      You have an odd sense of time, Mr. Johnston. In 1919, In Berlin, Germany, Doctor Magnus Hirschfeld co-founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sex Research), a pioneering private research institute and counseling office. Its library of thousands of books was destroyed by Nazis in May, 1933. Several organizations in the United States were formed in the 1950s to fight for full equality for LGBT Americans. I myself have been out about myself to then fellow students, then coworkers, and always friends, since 1972. I would hardly call efforts going back 95 years to be a “twinkling of an eye.”

      Why should American taxpayers support any organization that violates the basic civil rights of LGBT Americans? A clear majority of Americans, 59% per the Washington Post, support marriage equality.

      If hurting any possible LGBT employees is that important to their core mission, anti-gays should finance their work themselves.

      • samuel Johnston

        Some ancient Greek states had military units composed exclusively of homosexual couples. Every social movement has a beginning, a middle and an end. Your prospective is that of an advocate. For an individual working for change, their work takes a lifetime or more. For most of American society, however, the legal institutionalization of Gay Rights is quite new. Be honest, the Washington Post survey you quote would have had very different results only a few years ago. In terms of revision in social norms, the change has been breathtakingly rapid.
        As for large Christian social welfare organizations, government “support” i.e. funding, is quite new. It surely dilutes the power of religious organizations to implement their own rules pursuant to their public teachings. I merely point out the price of taking the King’s shilling. Like Yeats, I wonder what rough beast…..

        • CarrotCakeMan

          Mr. Johnston wrote, “Your prospective is that of an advocate.”

          No, my perspective is that of an American. I’m not the one who changed subjects, from your first claim that the fight by Americans for full equality for their family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers who are LGBT is so recent to the undeniable fact that support among ALL Americans for LGBT Americans is rising rapidly. No one is forcing these groups to accept taxpayer dollars. Look how the Catholic bishops routinely throw orphans under the bus by terminating Catholic Charities’ involvement in adoption in US States where they may no longer discriminate against same gender American couples with the taxpayer dollars they received to do that public work.

          • samuel Johnston

            “No, my perspective is that of an American”.
            Even the Gods are defeated by stupidity, therefore, I yield.

          • CarrotCakeMan

            It’s sad to see anti-gays stoop, as usual, to personal attacks when we disprove their many deceptions.

          • You know, CC Man, you recently suggested that a possible boycott of World Vision wouldn’t work, just like that old Florida orange juice boycott of decades past didn’t work. So many defeats being handed to us Christians these days, it was likely that WV would become one more.

            But it DID work. WV did reverse its evil decision, and went back to the Bible. They did wind up doing the right thing after all.

          • samuel Johnston

            “It’s sad to see anti-gays stoop, as usual, to personal attacks when we disprove their many deceptions.”

            Please refresh my memory. What have I said that would lead a reasonable person to consider it anti gay or deceptive? Perhaps you should look up the term advocate. My position on sex is simple. Unless the sex is exploitive or harmful (meaning physically dangerous), it is a private matter, and of no concern to me. I have no use for those who are paranoid, or mean spirited towards strangers or folks whose only offense is that they are different, but I have never liked in-your-face cause mongering, whether religious or social. It always smacks of aggression and self righteousness.

          • @ CarrotCakeMan

            I took it as samuel johnston conceding your point and admitting to be misinformed.

  2. “Sooner or later, and probably sooner, some of them are going to marry their partners and the word will get out. And World Vision will have to fire them.”

    Actually, they really don’t have to fire them.

    That’s the absurdity of this whole issue. A person is a person worthy of employment unless s/he gets married or is discovered to be married. So now s/he is now unworthy of employment. So s/he must be fired because of…

    1. S/he is married.

    2. S/he was presumably doing his/her job.

    No offense, do you wonder why LGBT people truly believe that Christians are inherently anti-gay and that they hate our families?

    And when this is pointed out, people like me receive all sorts of reinforcement for my above message. “We’re not haters. We love you enough to tell you that you are living an unhealthy lifestyle and your ‘marriage’ isn’t actually real and we’ll bring that home by making quote marks around that word. Check out these scriptures for evidence while we cancel out 5,000 child sponsorships because theoretically you or someone like you might apply for employment at World Vision!”

    Meanwhile, World Vision is perfectly capable of employing gay people and married gay people outside of the USA and their mission is still plugging along.

    • There is no middle ground on this issue, Jon. Some may wish there was, but it doesn’t exist.

      What you’re currently involved in is either right or wrong, it’s either within or else outside of the will of God. The Bible clearly points out that it’s the latter (Matt. 19:4-5, 1 Cor 6:9-11). The thing is wrong, as in totally wrong. And it’s influencing other people to do wrong and accept wrong as well.

      As the 1 Cor reference clearly shows; it’s something that’s NOT compatible with Jesus Christ at all. Jesus’s response to the Corinthian homosexuals (and other folks of course) was to save them, cleanse them, heal them, and deliver them from all sins including homosexual behavior. If that makes Jesus “anti-gay”, then so be it.

      So what is World Vision supposed to do? Cave in? Re-write the Scriptures? Blackmail all those Christian supporters to tacitly support gay marriage lest they starve the children? Pretend that the Christian New Testament is neutral about homosexual behavior? Pretend that Jesus didn’t do what he did in 1 Cor 6:9-11?

      The WV board apparently thought so. But that didn’t work, as both Christian leaders and Christian laity rose up and fought back. They fought the evil in the only manner available to them, and won an important battle. (For now, anyway.)
      .
      It’s not about attacking you or disrespecting you. It’s not about hating you or your friends or acquaintances. But the movement that you’re a part of — the gay marriage crusade — is not compatible with Christianity (or with World Vision) at all.

      • You are right. There is no middle ground. There are people who understand civil liberties and those who want to discriminate.

        There are people who believe Christians should not discriminate against others, who understand the concept of “loving thy neighbor” and “not paying attention to the mote in their brother’s eye”. People who take responsibility for their actions and how it affects others.

        There are other Christians who look for excuses to act maliciously and use the Bible as a pretext for their bigoted behavior. As if it excuses their actions. Who pretend the Bible magically supports all of their views.

        “It’s not about attacking you or disrespecting you. ”

        Bullcrap.

        It is nothing but attacking and disrespecting people like CCM or Jon. Its about trying to deny them basic human dignity and consideration. You just look for a pretense for it because you lack the courage to stand behind your views.

      • I see Anthony is peddling 1 Cor. 6:9 as part of his self-serving persecution schtick again. Please, Anthony, please: repent of your unbiblical lifestyle, that is, your idolatry and lying. Please listen: Jesus is knocking. Will you let him in? Will you, Anthony? Please do, and then maybe you’ll “go and sin no more.”

  3. James Montaney

    I watched in fascination and helpless dismay as the World Vision debacle of the century recently unfolded. I am sure media and PR industry professionals will refer to Waffle Visions blunder for decades as a textbook “how not to do PR and Media relations”. Many that witnessed the poorly managed announcement were stunned by the announcement, more were shocked by the complete lack of any crisis management plan or foresight. I was most appalled by the even tackier flip flop announcement the following day. However, I was not surprised by either announcement. WV currently suffers from a senior level smug arrogance that in difficult issues, needs no one, no rank and file conversations or general consensus, no dialog with partners, no professional excellence, just your money. (and lots of it) WV leadership is arrogant. WV needs to engage the public, the donors, and WV employees with soul searching honesty if there is any hope of rebuilding a meaningful relationship with any of them. WV also needs to address the churches and religious power brokers that so ruthlessly and contemptuously held WV hostage for trying to get something right. And thank you Evangelicals for showing everyone just how ruthless and ugly you can be when someone chooses not to embrace your favorite brand of hate. I sponsored children thru World Vision for decades and have visited several WV projects across Africa. In most cases I was impressed with both the work I saw and the people I met overseas. I also had the opportunity to examine and chronicle the culture and ethos of WV in Federal Way for several years. I found a culture of blatant cronyism, profound corruption and unethical senior level decision making, wickedly self-serving visionless scoundrels shaping things they lacked any qualifications to shape. Ugliness of every kind was lurking just below the surface under a shoddy cheap Jesus mask. Most of you have probably watched WV’s annual financial slide. Make no mistake, World Vision is crumbling from within. This debacle was not an accident, key decision makers have systematically run out or discarded over a hundred years of award winning media and PR talent. This is currently the best they can do. It will not be the courts that ultimately diminish them, it will be their own vanity.

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