Two issues have arisen recently that relate to World Vision’s hiring of Christian staff members — and the impact on our Christian identity.
The first is a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals For the Ninth Circuit that affirmed World Vision’s right to hire only Christian staff in a court case called Spencer vs. World Vision. Read the full court decision here (PDF document).
The second is a letter (PDF document) signed by World Vision and other faith-based organizations and associations that was sent to members of Congress and called for the preservation of the right of religious associations to hire staff who share their core beliefs.
We want to explain how our hiring practices — and the laws that guide them — maintain our Christian identity and our faithfulness to our mission.
Many of the finest charities in the country are faith-based and consider faith as a qualification for hiring some or all of their staff positions. These are great organizations who long have been effective partners with the federal government.
To prevent these groups from competing for opportunities to offer their expertise and high-quality work, simply because of their religious identities, would be, in and of itself, religious discrimination.
Fortunately, World Vision, these organizations, and others continue to offer their humanitarian service to developing communities all over the world without compromising their commitment to their faith-based identities and with respect for those who do not share their views.
World Vision was founded 60 years ago as a Christian humanitarian organization. Motivated by our faith in Jesus Christ, World Vision’s work with the poor and oppressed is a demonstration of God’s unconditional love for all people.
As a Christian organization, World Vision has virtually the same Statement of Faith included in its September 1950 articles of incorporation. While about 20 percent of our worldwide staff are of other faiths, all prospective staff at World Vision U.S. are required to sign that Statement of Faith or, as an alternative, the Apostles’ Creed.
Far from being narrow in scope, the Apostles’ Creed and World Vision’s Statement of Faith reflect the basic theological beliefs shared for millennia by the vast majority of orthodox Christian traditions — Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Pentecostal, evangelical, or Orthodox.
The issues at the center of the Spencer case — the plaintiffs’ denial of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ — are central to Christianity. By definition, a Christian believes that Jesus Christ is the only son of God. World Vision believes one can be a good person, a moral person — even a religious person — without believing this. But World Vision believes that one cannot be a Christian unless one can confess, as the Apostle Peter did in Matthew 16:16 (NIV), “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
To be clear, we hire Christians, imperfect and flawed, not because we think they are superior, but because we believe that any real success will come only through the presence of Christ in each employee’s heart and His power through prayer in each staff member’s mind and hands.
The plaintiffs in this case signed the Statement of Faith when they were hired, but later changed their core beliefs. It was only when these staff members stopped attending World Vision’s weekly chapel services and instead began alternative worship and study sessions at work that the change in their beliefs became obvious. We regret the departure of our former colleagues, and we pray they have been able to find areas of humanitarian service that are compatible with their new beliefs.
World Vision believes that staff commitment to core Christian beliefs as we understand them from the Bible is essential for maintaining our Christian identity. Organizationally, our humanitarian work is done as a reflection of — and an extension of — our Christian faith. We represent Christ in our work.
Hiring people of shared belief is a common practice among charitable institutions, many of whom receive federal funding. A non-profit that advocates for animal rights, for example, would be unlikely to hire a hunter or a non-vegetarian. An environmental organization is unlikely to hire a global warming skeptic. Non-profit organizations are defined by their core mission and motivation. To hire those uncommitted to that mission would be to undermine the organization itself.
World Vision has worked hard to be clear with our donors in our communication and transparent about our Christian identity. We do not want to take donations under false pretences.
Similarly, World Vision always identifies itself as a Christian organization in the communities where we serve, including many where there are few, if any, Christians. World Vision works in many countries where the majority of people follow another religion, including some areas where Christian teaching is not welcome. In all cases, we respect the local culture and abide by local laws.
World Vision is a signatory to the Red Cross Code of Conduct and does not proselytize. That is, we never require aid recipients to listen to a religious message as a condition of our help, nor do we use aid as an inducement for recipients to change religion. We also never discriminate on the basis of religion in giving aid; we serve every child in need that we possibly can, of any faith or none.
More than 80 percent of World Vision’s 40,000 staff members worldwide are Christian.
We work in some countries where there are few Christians with the needed professional qualifications, and in some where it is illegal to hire only Christians. However, in each of the nearly 100 countries where World Vision works, our leadership is Christian.
In the United States, nearly 50 years of federal law has guaranteed that faith-based organizations can consider religion in hiring staff. The 1964 Civil Rights Act explicitly allows religious preference in employment by any “religious association, corporation, educational institution or society.”
Similarly, Congress has never said that faith-based organizations lose their hiring rights if they receive federal grants. Neither have the courts. In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that religious hiring rights do not violate the Constitution’s ban on government preference for religion.
World Vision has been awarded federal grants through competitive bidding based on the quality of its work. Grants are awarded to organizations — whether secular or faith-based — that can make the taxpayers’ money go the furthest, and who can most effectively help children and families in need.
In no case does World Vision use federal funds for religious purposes.