Two big stories broke this week involving U.S. based religious organizations working internationally.
World Vision Caves to Ferocious Anti-Gay Evangelical Backlash
World Vision’s American arm, a billion-dollar-a-year Christian humanitarian organization that has received hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds – about 18 percent of its budget in 2013 – announced this week that it would allow legally married gay men and lesbians to work there. But, as noted by Elizabeth Drescher here on RD, it reversed its decision two days later after a ferocious backlash from anti-gay conservatives.
When announcing the initial change, World Vision President Richard Stearns told Christianity Today that the “very narrow” policy change was meant to keep the organization OUT of the debate over same-sex marriage by acknowledging that some churches and states now marry same-sex couples. The organization has staff from more than 50 Christian denominations, including some which have sanctioned same-sex marriages or unions. World Vision, he said, is an operational arm of the church, not a theological one.
“It’s been heartbreaking to watch this issue rip through the church,” he said. “It’s tearing churches apart, tearing denominations apart, tearing Christian colleges apart, and even tearing families apart. Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We’ve got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity.”
Stearns noted that World Vision was neutral on other issues on which member churches disagree, such as divorce and remarriage. Being divorced is not a bar to employment at World Vision. All employees would still be required to commit to abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage. In an accurate, if incredibly understated, prediction, Christianity Today noted:
Yet the decision is still likely to be regarded as noteworthy by other evangelical ministries. Aside from World Vision’s influential size—it took in more than a billion dollars in revenue last year, serves an estimated 100 million people in 100 countries, and ranks among America’s top 10 charities overall—World Vision also recently fought for the right of Christian organizations to hire and fire based on faith statements all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court—and won. It also opposed a 2012 attempt by USAID to “strongly encourage” faith-based contractors to stop discriminating against gays and lesbians in order to receive federal funds.
Stearns was aware that the decision might be controversial, but he was hoping that the organization’s mission would be more important:
“I hope if it’s symbolic of anything, it is symbolic of how we can come together even though we disagree. We—meaning other Christians—are not the enemy. We have to find way to come together around our core beliefs to accomplish the mission that Christ has given the church.”
Fat chance. Stearns clearly underestimated the intensity of anti-gay sentiment among conservative American evangelicals. David Badash at The New Civil Rights Movement recaps some of the response:
Calling the policy change to support equality “open rebellion,” the president of the certified anti-gay hate group Family Research Council, Tony Perkins, penned an op-ed stating World Vision had “walked away from one of the greatest legacies in Christian ministry, trading a vision to reach the world for the world’s vision of marriage.”
There’s more. Perkins made it clear that his family would stop supporting World Vision and called on others to do the same. “The church should continue to support Christian aid and humanitarianism, but only through organizations that remain true to the Word of God.” Franklin announced himself “sickened.”
Others piled on. Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said, “At stake if the gospel of Jesus Christ.” He wrote in a blog post that if one accepts what the Bible and church teach about homosexuality, “then refusing to call for repentance is unspeakably cruel and, in fact, devilish…We empower darkness when we refuse to warn of judgement.” Peter LaBarbera, who recently joined Scott Lively to launch a new anti-gay coalition, called the decision a “sellout” and “stunning capitulation to a powerful Sin Movement.” Religious right radio host Janet Porter urged her listeners to call World Vision and urge the group “to stand for God’s word not bow to the homosexual agenda.”
On Wednesday, World Vision’s U.S. board tucked its tail between its legs, called its decision a mistake, and reverted to its original policy “requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.” The board thanked Christians who objected to the decision and asked for their forgiveness.
We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent. We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.
Religious right activist Matt Barber announced himself satisfied. He said he
“will follow the lead of the King of Kings and forgive World Vision for its very brief flirtation with sexual immorality and apostasy on this highly contentious issue. Lord knows that not one of us is righteous and that we all fall short of the glory of God. We also encourage other Christian organizations and individuals to learn from World Vision’s nearly disastrous mistake and to remain faithful to the absolute truth of God’s Word as He remains faithful to us.”
But Benjamin Corey, who blogs at Patheos as “Formerly Fundie” wrote in the midst of the backlash that it caused him “deep sadness.” He wrote that he felt as if fundamentalist and “mainstream” evangelicals had teamed up to push progressive/emergent evangelicals out of the tribe:
“Yesterday shows that the former main stream evangelicals are now going to double down on this issue or anything that even hints of it. Be clear: this actually wasn’t a debate on same sex marriage. This was a debate on whether or not a Christian organization can hire gay Christians from denominations who have a different theological perspective on the issue.”
World Vision and those of us who lean my way said “yes– we want everyone working to help the poor and needy and we want to acknowledge diversity in the body.” The others responded with a “Hell no. We’ll pull the support of the children we sponsor before we ever tolerate gay people working here.”
In other parts of the world, World Vision employs thousands of non-Christians. Earlier this month, World Vision’s national director in Uganda, Gilbert Kamanga, said the organization “opposes any law that fails to meet human rights standards and results in stigmatization or discrimination of any group or class of people.”
“Sexual orientation of those we serve or those with whom we collaborate with will not be a consideration during our work. The issue of same-sex relationships will neither prevent us from service children, families and communities around the world, nor obstruct our collaboration with one another and with our partner organizations.
World Congress of Families Puts Moscow Summit on Hold
The World Congress of Families, which has been an enthusiastic backer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, announced that it would suspend planning for its September summit in Moscow in the wake of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea. Just last month, WCF spokespeople were praising Putin as the savior of Christian values and decrying criticism of the Russian strongman as liberal media hysteria. Some WCF allies, including Concerned Women for America, had already pulled out of the planned Moscow meeting. But the WCF wants to be sure people know that it still loves Russia’s anti-gay policies:
The foregoing is not meant to reflect negatively on the Russian people, churches or individuals who have taken a leadership role in the fight to preserve life, marriage, and the natural family at home and as part of the international pro-family movement….
We are proud of the accomplishments of our Russian Partners, and applaud the moves of the Russian people, through their elected representatives, to protect life, the family and the innocence of children. At a time when Western governments are moving backward to a pagan worldview, Russia has taken a leadership role to advance the natural family.
Desmond Tutu: God Weeps Over Church’s Obsession with Sexuality
Bishop Desmond Tutu appeared on the National Public Radio program On Being with Krista Tippett on Sunday. At the end of the interview, Tippett asked Tutu about the divisions within the Anglican Communion on sexuality issues. His comments were a perfect foreshadowing of the explosion around World Vision’s made-and-reversed move on hiring married gay Christians:
“What a shame, I mean, well really, what a disgrace, that the church of God, in the face of so much suffering in the world, in the face of conflict, of corruption, of all of the awful things, what is our obsession? Our obsession is not ministering to a world that is aching. Our obsession is about sexual orientation. I’m sure that the Lord of this church, looking down at us, must weep, and say, ‘just what did I do wrong now?’”
Tutu acknowledged that there are many African Anglicans who disagree with him. So his work of reconciliation continues, Tippett suggested. “No,” he said jokingly, “I’m retired.”
Ukraine, Crimea, and Russia: Gay Muslim Has Several Reasons to Flee
Gay-rights issues and U.S. evangelicals have played a role in the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine. The WCF’s Don Feder has denounced the pro-equality European Union as well as the “Maidan mob” that ousted corrupt former Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych; the group allied itself with anti-EU activists in Ukraine.
This week, NPR’s Rachel Martin interviewed Maxim Kornilov, a Tatar who is among many looking to leave the country given Russia’s history of persecution of the Muslim minority and reports of new threats and persecution since the referendum and annexation. Most ominously, perhaps, are reports of Xs or crosses being used to mark the homes of Tatars, something that was done under Stalin’s orders as a prelude to forcing 200,000 Tatars into exile in Central Asia. Compounding Kornilov’s determination to leave, he said, is the fact that he is gay:
“Another reason that I want to leave Crimea is that I am gay. The life of the LGBT community in Ukraine was not that easy. In Russia it will be much worse, because there is no opportunity to lead an honest and transparent life in Russia, for all people, actually, and especially for the LGBT community.”
As if to confirm Kornilov’s fears, video circulated online of a group of Russian thugs beating members of a St. Patrick’s day flash-mob performance after mistakenly assuming they were pro-gay demonstrators.
UK: Inflammatory Rhetoric in Wake of Mosque Free Speech Controversy
Last week we mentioned a controversy over the BBC’s cancellation of a debate about when being gay might become acceptable within Islam. Dr. Mohammad Nseem, chairman of the mosque that was to host the discussion has lashed out at his critics:
“There are people with homosexual tendency in Muslim countries but they respect the law and control their desire as others do.
“Human beings do have weaknesses and tendencies which are not socially acceptable and so they try to have a control over them and do not give in.
“A compulsive murderer, gambler, paedophile etc. could present the same logic and ask for accommodation by the society. Are we going to accept on the basis of freedom of action?”
It was apparent that Lahore, the Muslim drag queen featured in the programme, “does not know his religion and has not got much links with it,” Naseem said.
“He would have, otherwise, known that it is prohibited in Islam. If he wants to persue [sic] his inclination then he is free to leave Islam and follow any ideology that suits him,” Naseem continued.
Naseem did draw a distinction between religious acceptance and civil equality: “Not being able to accept them in religion should not be confused with denying them their human rights such as their right to have education, employment, housing and respect.”
Asia: Christian Pastors Among LGBTI-Supporting Honorees at Asia Pink Awards
Earlier this month in Singapore, the Asian gay men’s magazine Element hosted the first-ever Asia Pink Awards, which honored 15 LGBTI activists from around the region. In addition to pop culture figures, HIV and equality activists, and human rights lawyers, religious leaders were among the honorees.
Another local hero is Reverend Dr Yap Kim Hao, a bishop and now pastoral adviser to a gay-friendly Singaporean church. He pledged ‘to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with LGBT people until the day they are no longer discriminated against.’
Gay Malaysian pastor Rev O Young, who held the first publicized gay wedding in his country was another man of faith honored.
Vatican: Italian Archbishop Calls for New Pro-LGBT Culture in Church
Archbishop Italo Castellani of Lucca, Italy, called for a cultural revolution within the church in a conversation with reporters earlier this month.
“If all the flowers were the same, fields would lose their beauty.
“Gay. Well, I must confess, when I use this word it seems that there is an intrinsic judgment yet. I struggle to use it. Therefore, we need a cultural transition, because difference is wealth. What matters above all is the dignity of the person.”
And Sister Joan Chittister, a longtime progressive voice in the American Catholic Church, wrote a column in National Catholic Reporter last week contrasting two general approaches to religion: “Here’s the problem with religion. You never know which religion you’re going to meet: the ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you’ kind or the ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’ kind.”
Chittister’s column takes on supporters of the “freedom to discriminate” law that was passed in Arizona but vetoed by the governor after a national controversy. “After more than a century of segregation,” she writes, “people across the country stood up to refuse another century of shunnings in the name of God.” But she warns against complancency as there are other movements to write “moral” discrimination into law.
“After all, the next time, you may be what someone considers ‘morally offensive to their deeply held religious convictions.’ Just as were Jews, Catholics and blacks to the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. Or gypsies to the Nazis. Or now, homosexuals in Uganda. All of them by very religious people, they tell us. The other kind.”
Dominican Republic: Vatican Official Backs Down in Diplomatic Standoff with Gay Ambassador
We previously noted that a diplomatic event in the Dominican Republic was cancelled after the Vatican’s ambassador and dean of the diplomatic corps Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo told U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster that he would not be allowed to attend with his husband. The Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers reports that some religious leaders continue to object to his ambassadorship. But Andrés Duque reports this week on Blabbeando that Brewster and his husband met with Dominican President Danilo Medina and his wife at the previously postponed diplomatic reception:
The event sparked a diplomatic row earlier this year when Vatican envoy to the Dominican Republic Jude Thaddeus Okolo - in charge of the event – sent a private letter to all diplomats announcing that ambassador Brewster’s husband would not be invited claiming that to do so would violate the Dominican constitution which bans same-sex marriages. Diplomats reacted in anger and refused to attend the event unless Mr. Satawake was extended an invitation.
After postponing the event, the Vatican envoy must have gotten the message because the event finally took place earlier today with the attendance of Mr. Satawake while still being officiated by Bishop Okolo.
Meanwhile, Duque reports, Dominican Vice President Margarita Cedeño was forced to withdraw proposed changes to the country’s “Family Code” which would have “championed ‘traditional Catholic family models’” in legislation. “The bill drew withering criticism from left and right with newspaper 7 Dias calling it “a Trojan horse launched by the most extreme wing of conservative Dominican ideology.”
The paper said the proposed language championed heterosexual marriages above all mentioning single parent households only twice and only when talking about welfare recipients.
Proposed changes to the family code would also have narrowed down and eliminated reasons why a couple should be granted a divorce except for one single expansion: In the case a partner demonstrates “homosexual or lesbian conduct.”
The proposed language also drew criticism from left an right for lowering the age at which someone was allowed to marry from 18 years of age to 16 in the case of boys and 14 in the case of girls.
Georgia: Orthodox Priest Threatens LGBT Activists
Anti-gay Orthodox priests and other clerics are warning of violence if LGBT rights activists try to publicly recognize an international anti-homophobia day on May 17; last year a small silent demonstration by LGBT rights supporters was attacked by a crowd of thousands, which included Orthodox priests, according to Democracy & Freedom Watch.
Georgia’s treaty with the EU, the Association Agreement, has become entangled in this debate, as Orthodox activists see it as promoting gay rights. The treaty, which is expected to be signed by June this year, will include criteria like guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities.
Basil Akhvlediani, archpriest at Akaurta Sioni Church, criticized gay-rights advocates for turning to the international community for support, saying “EU and NATO membership can be considered suicide.”
Adventist: LGBT Summit Follow-Up
In our last recap, we mentioned the summit on LGBT issues that was convened by the global leadership of the Seventh Day Adventists in South Africa last week. As a commenter noted in response, the church’s Director of Legislative Affairs Dwayne Leslie wrote critically about Uganda’s anti-gay law last week in the Huffington Post. He called the law “astonishingly severe” and “abhorrent,” and affirmed recent comments by Adventist President Ted Wilson in favor of strong separation between church and state. Love, wrote Leslie, is always the answer in how to deal with disagreement.
But you could forgive LGBT-affirming people for not finding Wilson’s opening remarks at the summit to be terribly loving. According to a report of the speech from Spectrum, an independent Adventist magazine, Wilson made it clear that the purpose of the conference was to talk about “brokenness.” It’s not just gay people that are broken, he said. Everyone is. But gay people are definitely broken and some, those with distorted views, won’t admit it. They should be corrected with “love language,” Wilson said. “We must have the courage to speak against homosexual behavior with clarity and tact.”
Nepal: Sexuality and Gender Diversity to be Taught in Schools
Nepal’s education board has included sexuality and gender diversity into the health curriculum for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.
Guidelines for instructors emphasize that these topics need to be taught in a way such that students learn to be respectful and sensitive towards transgender and homosexual communities.
Sunil Babu Pant, former legislator and a prominent LGBT rights advocate in Nepal says, “This is a huge achievement for Nepal. It took 5 years for this to happen, but we are happy that education is inclusive now. The new generation will have less of sexuality and gender related prejudices and more acceptance of sexual and gender diversity and lives.”
Pant, along with the Blue Diamond Society, a rights organization that he founded has been at the forefront in championing the LGBT rights movement in Nepal and had played a key role in the Supreme Court of Nepal’s 2007 verdict nullifying discriminatory laws against the LGBT community.
India: New Political Party Puts LGBT Equality at Top of Agenda
Andrew Potts reports for Gay Star News that the Aam Aadmi Party is putting gay rights front and center as it seeks to win votes in upcoming elections for the country’s lower house.
India’s fledgling Aam Aadmi Party is betting that championing the rights of women and minorities and fighting against corruption will be winning issues for voters as the party seeks to elect its first lawmakers in the nation’s parliament.
Aam Aadmi was established only 18 months ago but won 28 of the 70 seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly in 2013 – making them the second largest party in the National Capital Territory of Delhi (the Indian equivalent of Washington DC) and allowing them to form a minority government with the Indian National Congress Party.
Aam Aadmi have announced that the re-legalization of homosexuality will be a priority in its election manifesto – to be released later this week.
Ethiopia: Politicians Push to Make Homosexuality Non-Pardonable
Pink News reported this week that legislation to add homosexuality to a list of offences considered non-pardonable under the country’s amnesty law, a measure endorsed last week by the country’s Council of Ministers. A vote is scheduled for next week. Same-sex sexual activity is already punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Chile: Bachelet Administration Says It Will Send Marriage Bill to Parliament
Recently inaugurated president Michelle Bachelet campaigned on a pro-equality platform. Her Justice Minister José Antonio Gómez announced that the government will send a marriage equality bill to parliament.
Gibraltar: Parliament Passes Civil Unions Bill
The parliament of Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory off the southern tip of Spain, voted to extend legal civil unions to same-sex couples and open the door to adoption by gays and lesbians. Marriages and civil unions held in other countries will also be recognized. A representative of the Equality Rights Group said he hoped that Spain’s ongoing assertion of sovereignty over Gibraltar would not prevent the country from recognizing the civil unions, since Spain itself has adopted marriage equality.
European Parliament Video on Lingering LGBT Prejudice
The European Parliament released a video presenting the results of a major survey of LGBT people on the continent. “In Europe the dark clouds of prejudice still loom over many of those who dare to display a difference in sexual orientation.” Almost half of LGBT people said they suffered discrimination or harassment on a regular basis. The problem is worst in schools.