Will an organization receiving U.S. government funds get away with discriminatory hiring practices?

March 28

World Vision U.S., a Christian nonprofit organization, announced Monday it would change its hiring policy to now include gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages. By Wednesday, they changed their minds:

Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our national employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

World Vision U.S. is not explicit on its jobs page that they won’t hire LGBT applicants, but its equal-opportunity statement reads:

World Vision U.S. is both an equal-opportunity employer and a faith-based religious organization. We conduct hiring without regard to race, color, ancestry, national origin, citizenship, age, sex, marital status, parental status, membership in any labor organization, political ideology, or disability of an otherwise-qualified individual.

What is noticeably absent in the second sentence’s long list of identities/statuses? Sexual orientation. Apparently, in America, you can hire with regard to sexual orientation and still qualify as an equal-opportunity employer — even if you have millions of dollars in contracts with the American government.

How much government money does World Vision U.S. receive?

Based on data from ForeignAssistance.gov (see this table and map), the best estimate is that in fiscal year 2013, USAID awarded World Vision $145 million in funding. Development scholar Ed Carr points out the hypocrisy of government funding going to World Vision U.S. despite their discrimination against married LGBT job applicants while at the same time the Obama administration says it will review foreign aid in Uganda because of the recent passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The Washington Post reported that $6.4 million designated for the Interreligious Council of Uganda (which supported the Anti-Homosexuality Bill) has already been “shifted away.” Will the U.S. government use similar tactics to pressure an American organization with discriminatory hiring practices? The defunding of the Interreligious Council of Uganda was equivalent to 4 percent of what was reported to have been obligated by USAID to World Vision U.S. in 2013.

Interestingly, following World Vision U.S.’s reversal, World Vision Canada released a statement, distinguishing their hiring practices from their American counterparts:

Despite the changes in the World Vision United States hiring policy this week, World Vision Canada’s approach has remained consistent. Canada’s legal environment is quite different from that of the United States. We comply with provincial laws on this matter which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Why are these two sister organizations in neighboring countries so different?

Judging from 2007 Pew Research Global Attitudes Project (Pew GAP) data, the general population in Canada is more accepting of homosexuality than the general U.S. population.


(Data: Pew Global Attitudes Project 2007; Figure: Kim Yi Dionne/The Monkey Cage)

However, it’s likely not the general population that is making donations to World Vision U.S., and probably also not likely the people withdrawing (or threatening to withdraw) their donations from World Vision U.S. after Monday’s initial announcement that they would begin providing equal opportunities to Christian job applicants in legal same-sex marriages.

We can’t know the demographic breakdown of World Vision U.S. donors, but if we just look specifically at Christians in the Pew GAP data (using them as a proxy to measure what we think World Vision donors might be like), there are even more noticeable differences between America and Canada in attitudes toward homosexuality: Christians in Canada are more accepting of homosexuality than Christians in America. Pew GAP data from America further breaks down the Christian demographic into whether people identified as “Born Again”. Even lower proportions of American Born Again Christians were accepting of homosexuality.


(Data: Pew Global Attitudes Project 2007; Figure: Kim Yi Dionne/The Monkey Cage)

Why prioritize the opinions of proviate donors if it puts government contracts at risk?

Though the amount USAID has obligated to World Vision U.S. is no small change, it is only a fraction of what World Vision U.S. receives through private cash contributions. According to World Vision U.S.’s 2013 financial report, they received $599 million in private cash contributions, compared to $179 million in public grants.

How does this compare to World Vision Canada? First, World Vision Canada doesn’t operate on the same scale as their American counterpart. The 2013 World Vision Canada financial report documented $269,720 in cash donations and $43,492 in government and other grants. But, as a proportion of its revenue, World Vision Canada is more reliant on private cash donations than her American counterpart. Whereas public grants for World Vision U.S. was equivalent to 30 percent of private cash donations, for World Vision Canada, these grants amounted to only 16 percent of their cash donations.

Though support for same-sex marriage is “accelerating” in the United States, in some subpopulations — notably among evangelical Christians — attitudes have become more negative over time, according to analysis of General Social Survey data between 1988 and 2010. It is likely this is the population that matters more for World Vision U.S. when it’s making decisions about who to hire.

If the U.S. government does not hold private organizations in the United States to the same standards it applies to foreign governments and organizations in awarding funding, then the move by World Vision U.S. was strategically smart, even if disappointing to many.

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David Lay Williams | March 28