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Codes of Conduct

World Vision and the definition of marriage.

May 19, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 34 • By TERRY EASTLAND
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A failure to be consistent was putting it mildly. Objectively considered, World Vision had violated its own Statement of Faith by failing to accept what the Bible says about marriage, which is that it is the union of a man and a woman.

The World Vision story concerns Christian theology and ethics, the church and its mission, and parachurches (like World Vision) and their operations. But it is also a reminder of how in the right circumstances a particular culture can wield considerable influence. Here, World Vision heard in no uncertain terms from an evangelical culture that was caught unawares, a culture that World Vision is still a part of and indeed that constitutes its “base,” to use a political term. It is a culture that tends to be theologically conservative, accepting of the biblical understanding of marriage, and unwilling to treat same-sex marriage neutrally. “We .  .  . failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners” is how Stearns and Beré obliquely put it.

In stopping World Vision in its tracks, this evangelical culture wielded influence where it plausibly could—just as the nation’s high-tech culture, symbolized by the place name Silicon Valley, which strongly favors same-sex marriage, did in forcing (albeit shamefully) the resignation of Brendan Eich, the chief executive officer of Mozilla. Eich’s sin was that he made a donation in 2008 in support of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. It’s not surprising, by the way, that the one person who quit the World Vision board over the organization’s reversal of policy is the director of corporate giving at Google.

World Vision’s reversal also cuts against the seeming inevitability of same-sex marriage. At the turn of the century, few would have anticipated the decisions over the past decade by legislatures and courts and voters in favor of same-sex marriage. But now a respected religious nonprofit has felt compelled to reinstate as a condition of employment fidelity in marriage defined as the union of husband and wife. This may not be an indicator of anything more; with support for its cause among all Americans now at 54 percent, according to the Pew Research Center, the same-sex marriage movement may be on its way to prevailing. But here, with the change of policy by World Vision and then the abrupt reversal, it saw a setback.

Eric Rassbach of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty observes that same-sex marriage and religious liberty are in tension, with more and more litigation involving them a likely prospect. World Vision has already proven itself one of the strongest defenders of the hiring rights of religious nonprofits and can be expected to keep its lawyers busy. It won’t be surprising to see World Vision on a brief in defense of a religious nonprofit whose hiring policies are said to violate nondiscrimination rules—including ones prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Terry Eastland is an executive editor at The Weekly Standard.

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