When church historians review the 2014 World Vision wars over gay marriage, they will ponder several puzzling statements by the man caught in the crossfire.
"We do know this is an emotional issue in the American church," said World Vision U.S. President Richard Stearns, in the recent Christianity Today interview that revealed his organization's decision months earlier to employ Christians in same-sex marriages. "I'm hoping not to lose supporters over the change. We're hoping that they understand that what we've done is focused on church unity and our mission."
Not quite. The evangelical establishment immediately exploded, expressing outrage and disappointment with the influential charity -- America's 10th largest in a recent Forbes list. Thousands of conservatives cancelled donations while liberal evangelicals were just as eager to pledge support.
World Vision U.S. quickly retreated, and Stearns told The New York Times he had "made a mistake in judgment," in part because his board sincerely thought this policy change would help it "avoid divisive debates."
Avoid divisive debates?
The "brokenhearted" board quickly released a statement seeking forgiveness and promised to return to its "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 new policy on same-sex marriage, it added, had not been consistent with the charity's faith statement affirming the Bible as the "inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God."
The stakes were high, both for World Vision -- with a billion-dollar budget and branches in 100 nations -- and for other nondenominational groups that admire its structure and methods. The bottom line: It's getting harder to work with broad coalitions when culture wars keep rocking churches as well as local, state and national governments.