Evangelical organizations that partner with Uncle Sam to deliver humanitarian aid overseas are voicing concern and outrage over a new federal policy that "strongly encourages" all contractors to develop anti-discrimination policies covering employees' sexual orientation.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) issued the policy statement—which has received little publicity—in October, a week after the Supreme Court let stand an appellate court ruling that favored World Vision's faith-based hiring policies.

The high court left in place an August 2010 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals against three former employees fired after World Vision concluded that they did not believe that Jesus Christ is fully God.

All World Vision U.S. employees must sign a statement of faith and agree to a standard of conduct that limits sexuality to "a God-ordained covenant between a man and a woman," said senior vice president Kent Hill. "For a government agency to 'strongly encourage' us to abandon such core beliefs in our hiring policies is offensive and uncalled for," he said. Last year the 1,200-employee charity received nearly $200 million in government grants—19 percent of its total budget.

In December, President Barack Obama elevated the rights and treatment of LGBT people abroad as a priority in U.S. foreign policy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared in a Geneva speech that "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights."

That emphasis, combined with the new USAID policy, has caught the attention of faith-based organizations that believe their religious liberty could be challenged, said Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance. "When you put all those things together, there is significant concern," he said.

Hill said the 1964 Civil Rights Act provides faith-based organizations with legal protections that ensure they can remain faithful to their religious beliefs. "The new USAID contract language does not trump the [act] or the First Amendment," he said.

USAID press officer Drew Bailey denied any effort to impose on religious beliefs. "The LGBT anti-discrimination policy is not binding," he said. "Nothing in the policy precludes our continuing strong partnerships with religious organizations or otherwise affects contracting or grant decisions. We have strong, productive relationships with many faith-based organizations, and [they] will not be adversely affected by this policy."

But the new policy could be a first step toward making such guidelines mandatory, say critics such as Chad Hayward, executive director of the Accord Network (formerly AERDO).

Hayward, a USAID appointee during George W. Bush's presidency, also said the policy "might have a more chilling effect" on USAID funding recommendations. "If anyone on that [closed-door] panel already has an anti-faith bias," he said, "this language could be used to steer the panel against funding that organization."

Paul Bonicelli, executive vice president of Regent University and a USAID administrator during the Bush administration, echoed that warning. "While there is concern that this will become a mandate," he said, "the damage is already done because organizations fear that they will be tacitly ruled out of competition for funding or simply not called upon."

Related Elsewhere:

Previous Christianity Today articles on international missions include:

Tsunami Aftermath: Second Chances in Japan | One year after disaster, sacrificial giving gains churches new credibility. (March 9, 2012)
Counterterrorism Laws Hamper Humanitarian Aid | The red tape preventing relief. (January 16, 2012)
A Fresh Call for U.S. Missionaries | Americans should focus less on 'Western guilt' and more on sharing the gospel. (November 9, 2011)
The Messy Business of Clean Water in Africa | Drilling for truth in the Central African Republic. (October 26, 2011)

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