Non-Christians need not apply
World Vision hires only Christians under its $250 million in US government
foreign aid grants. Obama promised to change that. So why hasn't he?
By Krista J. Kapralos
Published: January 11, 2010 06:30 ET
BAMAKO, Mali — For a year and a half, Bara Kassambara kept his mouth shut.
Every day, all of his coworkers paused for prayer time. There were frequent
Bible studies, and constant talk about Jesus. Kassambara attended the
required events, but otherwise quietly focused on his work: bringing clean
water to rural Mali.
“I think many people at World Vision just believed that I was a
Christian,” said Kassambara, a Muslim in a predominantly Islamic country.
Fluent in English and with years of development work on his resume, World
Vision hired Kassambara to work on the West Africa Water Initiative — a
project to provide safe drinking water to stave off water-borne diseases
that run rampant in the region.
It was a rare hire for World Vision, Kassambara said; he only got the job
because it was a temporary position. When World Vision stepped down as lead
agency on the project in late 2008, Kassambara took a similar job with
“The goal of World Vision is clearly written: to promote Christianity
worldwide,” Kassambara said. “I knew this was going on. I knew the rules
of the game. If their goal is to promote Christianity, why should they hire
World Vision, based outside of Seattle, is one of the largest recipients of
development grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the
federal government’s foreign aid arm. The organization received $281
million in U.S. grants in 2008, up from $220 million in 2007 and $261
million in 2006, according to World Vision documents. Those grants,
amounting to about a quarter of the organization’s total U.S. budget, came
in the form of both cash and food.
The organization employs about 40,000 people worldwide.
Charity Navigator, which ranks charities based on efficiency, lists World
Vision as a “super-sized charity,” with $1.1 billion in expenses in 2008,
and gave it four stars — the best possible ranking. Throughout Mali,
Christians and Muslims alike praise World Vision for bringing food and clean
water to hungry people — the organization "extends assistance to all
people, regardless of their religious beliefs," according to its website.
Malians credit the organization with staving off starvation and helping
rural villages develop agriculture. If the group ever leaves Mali, people
there say they would be devastated.
World Vision officials say the organization does not proselytize, just that
they decline to separate their work from their faith. "We do want to be
witnesses to Jesus Christ by life, word, deed and sign,” said Torrey Olsen,
World Vision’s Senior Director for Christian Engagement. That wouldn’t be
possible, he said, unless the organization’s workers were Christians.
Under U.S. law, World Vision points to civil rights protections that allow
religious organizations to hire employees based on their faith. This is an
uncontroversial protection of religious freedom, given that churches
obviously need Christian staff to carry out their missions, just as
synagogues need Jews and Mosques Muslims.
But such religious institutions are typically funded by their followers. The
controversial question is whether it’s a violation of the First Amendment
to exclude on the basis of religion when U.S. taxpayers are footing the
bill, a practice that became increasingly common during the Clinton and
George W. Bush administrations.
As a candidate, President Barack Obama promised to end such discrimination.
So far, he has not.
And so for now in Mali, World Vision’s hiring practices mean that for many
of the best qualified candidates, most jobs are off-limits.
Kassambara said he didn’t deny being a Muslim when asked, but kept quiet
about his faith because a job with a stable, well-funded employer like World
Vision is a rarity in this landlocked nation, one of the world’s poorest.
There are few decent jobs here, and the government struggles to keep its
most educated citizens from moving abroad.
World Vision only hires non-Christians if a qualified Christian can’t be
found. According to its website, “World Vision U.S. has the right to, and
does, hire only candidates who agree with World Vision’s Statement of Faith
and/or the Apostle’s Creed,” referring to an oft-quoted Christian
Fabiano Franz, World Vision’s national director for Mali, said that jobs
held by non-Christians are considered temporary. “There’s no encouragement
for a career here if you’re not a Christian,” he said.
Franz argued that separation of church and state is an American concept that
doesn’t translate well to many other cultures. In Mali, and in other
countries throughout the world, he said, faith is integrated into daily
life. An attempt to separate faith and practice in Mali, he said, would be
foreign and confusing to those receiving aid. “If you’re a committed
Christian, you shouldn’t have this separation between your faith and your
work,” he said.
“We’re very clear from the beginning about hiring Christians,” Franz
said. “It’s not a surprise, so it’s not discrimination.”
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This article was supported by a grant from the International Center for