(Photo: The Becket Fund)
In 2010, a federal appeals court ruled that the humanitarian organization World Vision could continue its H.R. policy of only hiring Christians. The verdict came following a 2007 lawsuit, where three former employees had challenged the measure.
In September 2012, Hobby Lobby's owners filed a lawsuit against Health and Human Services in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, asserting its religious right to resist implementing the Obamacare contraception mandate. Lawyers for the arts and crafts company, which is owned by a Christian family, will go before the Supreme Court at the end of March.
How should Christian organizations remain faithful to their mission in an increasingly pluralistic country?
According to Peter Greer, the CEO and President of the Christian microfinance non-profit Hope International, and recent co-author of Mission Drift, the answer lies in an organization understanding what and why it believes what it purports to believe.
"I think organizations that have ambiguity of purpose are going to find themselves in an increasingly complex conversation because if you have clarity and purpose, then that can allow you to make hiring decisions, if you are you are very clear with what the purpose of the organization is," Greer told The Christian Post.
"The more ambiguity you have in purpose and them more ambiguity you have in process, of why you exist, there is no shortage of companies and organizations and businesses that are going to have even more challenges in the years to come," he added.
Greer predicted that organizations that consistently lived out their values would not only have less difficulty in figuring out how to act, but potentially would also have an easier time establishing trustworthiness if they were forced to defend their rights in the public square or court system.
"Hobby Lobby does an amazing job taking care of their employees and paying them far more than the minimum wage," he said. "Because there has been consistency of purpose, I believe that's a really important piece of giving credibility to the underlying beliefs that matter to the people that founded this company."
Greer also praised Christian refugee advocacy group World Relief for being upfront with its Christian policies, adding that its CEO had told him that if he had not been so blatant with its faith-based identity, it would have found it difficult to assert why a Christian-only hiring policy was so important.
"Is it right for organizations to have an overt mission, to making hiring decisions based on whether or not people adhere to that mission? If you're unclear with your purpose, then I would say, no there is no right to make hiring decisions based on that," he said. "But conversely, if you know why exist, if the church exists to see disciples of Jesus Christ and to share the message of Christ then having a church that would hire someone who would not believe that or live that out would be incongruent with their mission."
One of the other advantages of organizations' demonstrating transparency with regards to purpose, was that it could dispell fears from secular groups that their Christian partners may harbor a covert intention to proselytize.
"I actually think it makes it easier the clearer you are of purpose and identity and intent. In some ways, it takes the [concerns] of 'Hey, is there a hidden agenda here? Is there something else?' and says 'Here's actually who we are. Here's why we exist. Here's what we exist to do and hey, we still have wonderful, areas of commonality and we'd love to partner together,'" he said.
Greer mentioned the Luis Palau Association's partnership with the Portland public system (which notably started under the city's openly gay mayor) as one area where this commitment to clarity had helped Christians learn where their interest could intersect with the government's.
"[Yet] they have not watered down their purpose or their organization or their intent," said Greer.
Unless groups are willing to continue to show a relentless intentionality to staying on target with their mission, Greer said it is likely that "mission drift" will continue.
"I think that more non-profit organizations that have not gone through the difficult process of clarifying who they are and why they exist—there will be an increase in the drift that will happen," he said.
As Hope's leader, Greer seeks to buck that trend. To that end, he has sought to not limit his vision-casting to a five or 10 year plan; instead, he's interested in the "50 year plan" or "the 100 year vision."
"Far after I'm gone, far after our current leadership is gone, what do we hope still remains? And out of that, what are the decisions we need to be making today to ensure that 50 years, 100 years from now, this organization is still doing what it was created to do?" he said.