World Vision USA admits 'mistake' on marriage policy, asks donors 'to forgive'

After two days of criticism from Christians and evangelical leaders, World Vision USA has reversed its policy shift and confirmed it will not go ahead with employing people in same-sex marriages.

The U-turn on the company's employee code of conduct will now no longer define same-sex marriage as acceptable within the parameters of "abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage".

The president of World Vision, Rich Stearns, said: "The decision we've made is based on biblical principles.

"We believe we made a mistake. We're asking [donors] to forgive and understand our poor judgement in the original decision."

The wide ranging criticism for the new decision apparently triggered a drop in donor support, suggesting potentially serious financial consequences of accepting same-sex married employees, as approximately $567 million of World Vision's $1 billion revenue comes from private donations.

One tweeter, Ryan Reed, whose account has since been removed, was quoted by RNS saying: "My wife works for WV. In today's staff meeting Stearns announced that so far 2,000 kids dropped."

With child sponsorships running at $35 per month, in the course of one year World Vision could have lost $840,000.

George O Wood, the General Superintendent of the rapidly growing Assemblies of God had even urged his church members to redirect their support away from World Vision, instead suggesting they donate to "Pentecostal and evangelical charities that maintain Biblical standards of sexual morality".

Mr Wood also then responded to critics who questioned the priorities of his chruch. Quoted in Breaking Christian News, Mr Wood said: "Unfortunately, some voices in the media have portrayed the Assemblies of God's concern about same-sex marriage as a lack of concern for the poor. This is not true.

"Partnering with national Assemblies of God churches, our missionaries worldwide are engaged in helping orphans, widows, and the victims of human trafficking.

"They dig wells for those without access to adequate water and provide mosquito nets to those in danger of malaria. They provide food and education for children in Latin America, Africa, and Asia."

Praising World Vision's change in direction, Mr Wood said: "The controversy with World Vision has been resolved. Let us, therefore, move forward together in service to the last, the lost, and the least who are loved by Jesus Christ."

The original policy shift to accept employees in same-sex marriages had been based on the principle that, as a parachurch organisation with a multi-denominational workforce, World Vision would defer to churches on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Unlike some other branches of World Vision, the US based branch employs Christians exclusively. There are over 50 denominations represented, some of whom such as the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have chosen to bless same-sex marriages.

However, in the light of the scale of the backlash against the change, Mr Stearns has said: "I think what we are affirming is there are certain beliefs that are so core to our Trinitarian stance, we cannot defer to frankly a small minority of churches that have taken a different position."

Franklin Graham, the son of noted US evangelist Billy Graham and head of the Christian humanitarian organisation 'Samaritan's Purse', had called the original shift "ungodly", while the president of the Southern Baptists' Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, had called it "devilish".

Reports suggest that the board of World Vision's US branch voted overwhelmingly in the initial shift, and then overwhelmingly again to shift back.

Speaking about how the initial decision was reached, Mr Stearns said: "We hadn't vetted this issue with people who could've given us really valuable input at the beginning.

"In retrospect, I can see why this was so controversial for many of our supporters and partners around the country. If I could have a do over, it would've been that I would've done more consultation with Christian leaders.

"What we found was we created more division instead of more unity, and that was not the intent of the board or myself."

In a letter sent out to the organisation's partners, Mr Stearns takes a humble and apologetic stance, asking for forgiveness from those who felt betrayed by the change in stance.

Despite the criticisms of many, Mr Stearns attempted to make it clear that the organisation's view was not intended as homophobic: "While World Vision US stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect."

"Please know that World Vision continues to serve all people in our ministry around the world.

"We pray that you will continue to join with us in our mission to be 'an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God'."