World Vision, the international Christian-based aid organisation, has made a surprise announcement on one of the most divisive social issues of the day, saying it will employ Christians in the US who are in legal same-sex marriages.
Calling gay marriage one of the stormiest issues that has divided denominations, congregations and families, the humanitarian group’s President Richard Stearns said leaders wanted to prevent it from “tearing World Vision apart and potentially crippling our ability to accomplish our vital kingdom mission of loving and serving the poorest of the poor in the name of Christ”.
The company said its employee-conduct policy had been updated to reflect the change, which came more than a year after a majority of Washingtonians voted to legalise same-sex marriages, now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
The decision, first announced on the website Christianity Today, followed years of prayer and discussion by the board, Mr Stearns said in letter to employees, and added that it in no way suggests an endorsement of same-sex marriage.
World Vision continues to affirm “traditional” marriage as a God-ordained institution, Mr Stearns wrote, but added that leaders also recognised that many of the 50-plus denominations his employees were part of had sanctioned same-sex marriage in recent years.
He said he was not bowing to outside lobbying or any concerns about government funding, but on this divisive issue was choosing to defer to “the authority of local churches” that had been struggling with the matter for some time.
“I want to reassure you that we are not sliding down some slippery slope of compromise, nor are we diminishing the authority of Scripture in our work,” Mr Stearns wrote.
With more than $US1 billion ($A1.10 billion) in revenue, World Vision is the largest global Christian relief organisation, with more than 40,000 employees in 100 countries, including about 1,200 in the US.
More than 15 per cent of its employees worldwide were not Christian, though all its US employees were, and were required upon employment to sign a statement of faith affirming that they believed in the deity of Jesus Christ and the Trinity.
Stearns said the organisation would continue to require all employees sign the statement and would continue to expect them to observe abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage.
The announcement comes as gay-rights advocates across the country continue to gain substantial ground on same-sex marriage and as religious organisations struggle with how to reconcile the apparent conflict with their teachings.
Fourteen federal courts have struck down anti-gay-marriage laws since the US Supreme Court last year ruled that federal agencies could deny benefits to people in same-sex unions.