Advertising

Originally published October 4, 2011 at 9:12 PM | Page modified October 5, 2011 at 9:27 AM

Danny Westneat

Faith in World Vision shaken

It's now been decided that it's OK for World Vision to hire only people who believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes World Vision's experience in Australia destroys any credibility in keeping the policy... Read more
quotes So how will people feel when an Islamic organization says no to hiring Christians? Read more
quotes So World Vision will only hire people who are solid Christians, yet says it... Read more

advertising

It's now been decided that it's OK for World Vision to hire only people who believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

All three or you're fired.

The courts ruled it was legal for the Federal Way-based relief agency to fire three workers because they failed a belief test. The case wrapped up Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court elected not to take it up, ending it in World Vision's favor.

So what our biggest homegrown humanitarian group did was legal. But was it right — or wise? Should we keep sending them our tax dollars?

I think the answer to the first question is clearly "no." The second one is troubling to even ask, considering all the good that World Vision does in the world.

The case involved three workers, all apparently fine employees, who were fired after a corporate investigation found they no longer believed in all three parts of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. They didn't believe Jesus Christ is fully God.

Their attorney says they were still Christians. Just not the sort World Vision prefers. I think this probably means they had become Jehovah's Witnesses or Unitarians or maybe Mormons. Nobody at World Vision would say.

But here's the thing: They were in jobs like shipping, facilities and computer tech. Two had worked there more than a decade. So they were canned not for falling down on their jobs, but for veering off in their beliefs.

I asked World Vision why they need to be so pure.

Dean Owen, a spokesman there, said it's just nonnegotiable.

"We do it because our faith is integral to our work," he said. "That's true whether it's our people overseeing relief programs in more than a hundred countries, or whether it's my friend Chuck, who runs our mailroom."

The mail guy needs to believe in the Trinity, too?

Now, the Catholics somehow manage to run one of the oldest and largest relief agencies in the world, as well as countless charities in and around Seattle, without excluding non-Catholics from most jobs.

Owen went on to say World Vision's Christian-only policy applies just in the U.S. In Pakistan, many of their employees are Muslims. In Australia, aid agencies are barred from using a religious litmus test in hiring, so Owen said World Vision doesn't even know the beliefs of most of its 500 workers there.

"How is that going, not knowing their beliefs?" I asked.

"Well, I haven't heard of any terrible employment problems in our offices in Australia."

"Couldn't that be proof, from within your own organization, that you don't need to do this here?"

"That's one way to look at it," Owen said. "But it's not the way we do."

The law gives religious groups that freedom to exclude. Whether it makes good business sense to do so is another matter.

I think World Vision is only hurting itself. I say that as someone who has donated money to World Vision in the past, as well as boosted their relief fundraising in this column.

One reader who applied to work there — but was denied because he's in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — summed it up in an email to The Seattle Times: "I love the organization, what they do, and that they do it in Christ's name. But I find this to be very sad."

This issue isn't just a private one for World Vision. It gets a couple hundred million dollars a year from taxpayers. These are federal grants that, due to separation of church and state, must be spent with no regard to the religious beliefs of the recipients, or any attempt to convert them or proselytize about faith, period.

World Vision says it scrupulously keeps God out of it when it comes to federal funds.

I've always believed that. Now that I know even the mailroom guy has to swear to the Holy Ghost, I don't know what to believe.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon




Advertising