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World Vision USA’s gay marriage U-turn is callous and cowardly

Gay Rights

A demonstration in Britain against severe anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda, where World Vision also operates. Peter Tatchell Foundation under a Creative Commons Licence

They say most wedding preparations come with a good dose of drama.

It’s certainly been quite a week over at World Vision USA .  First it was on; then it was off.  Now it looks terminal.

The child-sponsorship charity had decided to hire married gay people, not in agreement with gay marriage, but because the policy would be consistent with its posture on other ‘divisive issues’ such as divorce and women priests.

But in the face of reports of widespread horror at the move among its donors, the evangelical Christian organization promptly reversed the policy, saying its Board had made a ‘mistake’ for which it asked for ‘forgiveness.’  It’s back to the policy of celibacy for all singletons and faithfulness in marriage – but only between a man and woman – for all World Vision USA staffers. 

Within 48 hours this hugely powerful, influential organization has turned the clock back to a form of a self-obsessed medieval barbarism that beggars belief.  I guess no-one at World Vision USA has ever met a suicidal gay teen who labours under the heavy weight of guilt and shame that this $1billion a year business foists upon them.

Many in the aid industry already feel queasy about the organization’s known habit of proselytizing in poor countries.

Its anti-gay marriage stance may be the insidious tip of an iceberg. In a deeply poignant, personal account about the impact of evangelicals in his country, Dr Frank Mugisha wrote recently, ‘There is no question that the well-funded US evangelical movement has aided economic development in Uganda, building and running many hospitals, schools and orphanages. But there is also no doubt … that they have relentlessly stoked a loathing and disgust of sexual minorities.’

We know from our work as an international health charity that stigma and discrimination make vulnerable patients less likely to seek healthcare, sometimes seriously harming their well-being. With an estimated 1.5 million people living with HIV in Uganda, this is one country that can ill afford to force its gay population underground. World Vision, incidentally, has a significant HIV/AIDS programmatic presence in Uganda.

In February Uganda’s president signed into law a bill that imposes severe sentences on people accused of ‘homosexual acts’ and ‘homosexual propaganda’.

‘This is a victory for the family of Uganda, a victory for the future of our children,’ said David Bahati, the Ugandan MP who introduced the Bill.

There were street celebrations and a local newspaper immediately published pictures of Uganda’s ‘Top 200 gays’. But this sort of incitement to hatred does not come without consequences. Extreme violence is common against LGBT people in Uganda, with one of the most high-profile cases being that of David Kato, an openly gay activist, who was cudgelled to death with a hammer in 2011.

‘If I were a gay 13-year-old in Uganda today, I probably wouldn’t tell anyone,’ said Dr Mugisha.

In the church schools I attended as a boy I was nurtured with Bible stories of love, respect and justice.

There was one about ‘come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest’.

Will you, World Vision?

Leigh Daynes is Executive Director of the health charity Doctors of the World UK, part of the international Médecins du Monde network. In this opinion piece he writes in a personal capacity.

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