World Vision, a prominent evangelical Christian charity that conducts humanitarian efforts around the globe, announced this week that it will begin hiring married gays and lesbians at its U.S. branch, so long as they are committed followers of Jesus Christ.

Image source: World Vision

Image source: World Vision

The policy change still requires World Vision’s more than 1,100 U.S. employees to be abstinent outside of marriage, though it broadens employment possibilities for gay Christians looking to work in the faith-based nonprofit realm.

World Vision U.S. President Richard Stearns told Christianity Today Monday that the move is intended to create and foster unity among believers, though he said it should not be viewed as an endorsement of same-sex marriage.

“Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues,” Stearns said. “It also allows us to treat all of our employees the same way: abstinence outside of marriage, and fidelity within marriage.”

Stearns said the organization did not cave to outside pressure to reach the decision, nor is it abandoning its stance on traditional marriage.

“This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage,” he said. “We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.”

At the center of the policy change is the notion that denominations continue to splinter and disagree over the Bible’s stance on same-sex marriage. Since so much disagreement abounds, World Vision has chosen to step out of the debate and to allow churches to make decisions for themselves on the divisive matter.

By opening employment to gays and lesbians, church autonomy is being honored, Stearns said.

“Denominations disagree on many, many things: on divorce and remarriage, modes of baptism, women in leadership roles in the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.,” he told Christianity Today. “So our practice has always been to defer to the authority and autonomy of local churches and denominational bodies on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles’ Creed and our statement of faith.”

Plastic figurines of two females displayed on a table, at the Gay marriage fair,  in Paris,  Saturday, April  27, 2013. Lesbian and gay cake toppers, his-and-his wedding bands, flower-themed tuxedo bow ties: Marketing whizzes have held France's first gay-marriage fair   four days after parliament legalized same-sex wedlock. Wedding planners, photographers and high-end tailors pitched their services at the Paris fair Saturday. Police stood guard outside   a precautionary measure after recent bouts of anti-gay violence by foes of same-sex marriage. The legislation sparked huge protests across France. Credit: AP

AP

While the organization is painting the issue as relatively unremarkable — one that merely broadens employment eligibility — World Vision’s size and scope has distinguished it a leader for other faith-based nonprofits to follow. World Vision brought in more than a billion dollars last year and is one of the top 10 charities in the U.S.

Stearns also recently wrote a letter to the organization’s staff explaining the change-of-heart, noting that World Vision spent numerous years praying about how to handle the issue of human sexuality.

In it, he said the organization’s core values and mission haven’t changed and that all employees must still embrace Jesus Christ as God’s son who died for humanity’s sins.

Read more about World Vision’s policy change here.

(H/T: Huffington Post)

Featured image via World Vision