World Vision U.S. President Richard Stearns expressed grief over the child sponsorships that were canceled after the organization announced its original policy change on hiring those in same-sex marriages.
After receiving feedback from supporters and faith leaders who were opposed to World Vision's decision to employ Christians who are in same-sex marriages, Stearns said in a press conference call Wednesday that the board decided to reverse its earlier decision and reaffirm the nonprofit's commitment to core biblical principles and the belief that "marriage is an institution created by God, between a man and a woman."
"I can say from a personal standpoint, the last couple of days have been painful. We especially feel pain and a broken heart for the confusion that we caused for many of our faithful friends and partners around the country who saw the policy change as a reversal of World Vision U.S.'s strong commitment to biblical authority, which was not intended to be," Stearns commented.
Although World Vision doesn't have a precise count on the number of child sponsorships that were canceled following Monday's announcement, Stearns confirmed that many supporters had canceled their donations in protest of the board's decision.
"That certainly grieves us," he said, "because the children that we serve will suffer for that. I can't tell you what the cumulative financial impact has been or will be. But I will say that our choice is not about money or income, it's really about a sincere desire for us to do the right thing: to be consistent with our core values, and to respond to the legitimate feedback and counsel that we have received from faith leaders and friends of World Vision."
Outside of public statements from evangelist Franklin Graham, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God – all of whom denounced the policy change – Stearns said World Vision was also contacted by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and the National Religious Broadcasters association.
The organization had also received communications from Joel Osteen Ministries, among others, but he noted that he believes "it's appropriate to keep the heartfelt counsel of these friends confidential."
Openly acknowledging the board's mistake in its original policy change, Stearns said they're asking for forgiveness from partners for their "poor judgment."
"[T]he feedback we've paid special attention to has come from our many trusted partners, supporters, pastors and church leaders, many of whom came to us with sincere concern and love and conviction for not only World Vision, but for this delicate issue that this policy governs," he stated.
"We listened to their counsel, and they tried to point out in a loving way that the kind of policy change that had been made was simply not consistent with our commitment to traditional marriage, and authority of Scripture and how we apply Scripture in our lives."
Stearns asserted that although World Vision had received some affirmations of support from various people regarding Monday's announced policy change to offer employment to those in same-sex marriages, they soon realized they were creating a division among Christians and decided that they could not "defer to a small minority of denominations and churches" that affirm same-sex marriage.
"We have created a division that we did not want to create," he explained. "But in the end, the board concluded that we must really stand on our traditional beliefs – the authority of Scripture and our view of traditional marriage – and we cannot have a conduct policy that is not in alignment with those core truths, the foundational truths that we stand on."
Although World Vision's board had made the decision to ratify the employee conduct policy several months ago, Stearns said their major supporters and partners received a letter about the change on the same day media outlets were breaking the story.
"We have made a mistake, and part of that mistake was we did inadequate consultation with our partners and supporters prior to making a decision of this significance. And if I could have a do-over on one thing, it would have been that I would have done much more consultation with Christian leaders," Stearns said, noting the board will continue consulting with key Christian leaders on this issue.
Stearns also emphasized that while "World Vision U.S. has chosen to stand firmly in the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God. They are to be loved and treated with respect; and we welcome into our employment all sincere Christians who are willing to affirm our statement of faith, and abide by our conduct policy."
He added that all World Vision employees are held to a high standard of Christian conduct that not only governs sexual activity, but other areas of conduct. In its Wednesday statement, the board reverted to World Vision's long-standing policy that requires sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.
Following the board's decision, Stearns said he's hopeful that World Vision's individual and church partners will continue to support the organization's mission to helping at-risk children and provide disaster relief.
"We estimate that our work touches 100 million people annually. These are people who are suffering in poverty. They are people who've been affected by disasters and war. We're working in Syrian refugee camps. We're rebuilding after typhoon Haiyan. And we're helping to prevent sex trafficking of children and girls in a number of countries around the world," he said.
"We would much rather be having a conversation about those things, which is core to our mission, than this issue, which has led [to] a great deal of controversy and confusion among our supporters around the country."