But not before Christian leaders engage in heated debate online
COMMENTARY | Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, announced this week that the Christian aid organization would allow the hiring of employees who are in a same-sex marriage. Then, on Wednesday, Stearns and Jim Bere, chairman of the World Vision U.S. Board, released a letter stating the new policy had been reversed.
“The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman,” the letter says.
“We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.”
Stearns told Christianity Today on March 24 that World Vision was making the move to hire people in legal same-sex marriages as a way to defer to the leadership of local churches, and to promote unity within the church as a whole.
“It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there,” Stearns said then. “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.
“…This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We’re an operational arm of the global church, we’re not a theological arm of the church.”
But after many Christians decried the decision, World Vision changed course.
“World Vision has done the right thing,” tweeted Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore. “Now, let’s all work for a holistic gospel presence, addressing both temporal and eternal needs. Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy agency, was one of the first to post analysis about World Vision’s earlier move. Denny Burk, a professor at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., also blogged his objections.
“Stearns says that ‘every employee’ must be a ‘follower of Jesus Christ’ even as he affirms that some of his employees will be living in open immorality,” Burk wrote at dennyburk.com. “What does this mean? It can only mean that he believes being a ‘follower of Jesus Christ’ is somehow compatible with being in a same-sex marriage…. Following Christ is not a choose-your-own-adventure story. King Jesus defines the terms of our discipleship. He is very clear that there is a narrow path that leads to life and a broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). The path of sexual immorality – including same-sex immorality – goes along the broad path (Mark 7:21; Rom. 1:26-27). Thus it is impossible to be a ‘follower of Christ’ while endorsing or participating in a same-sex marriage.”
Burk’s post drew criticism from popular blogger and author Jen Hatmaker, who wrote about the dangers of “reactionary, emotional attacks” in the wake of World Vision’s decision to hire employees in same-sex marriages. It’s an issue on which the church will never reach a consensus, she said.
“We do not need any more inflammatory soldiers in the culture wars; we need more thought leaders who are slower to publicly condemn their faithful brothers and sisters and quicker to invite reason and dialogue to the table. ‘A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion’ (Proverbs 18:2).” she wrote.
Burk then posted a response to Hatmaker: “I have no desire for Christians to destroy one another, nor is that the intention of my post. My aim mainly is to provoke Christians to think biblically about what is at stake.
“…Taking care of the needy is great, noble, necessary work. We must not flag in zeal for such work. But that work doesn’t somehow eliminate the treachery of rebelling against Jesus’ words about sexual morality and marriage (Matt. 5:27-32; 19:3-9; Mark 7:21). We must hold on to every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, not just the ones we judge to be most important (Matt. 4:4).”