More than 2,000 of the 1.2 million children sponsored by World Vision U.S. had been dropped between CT's first reporting of the decision and Tuesday afternoon, according to a tweet by Ryan Reed (he credited his wife, who works at World Vision, with the information; the tweet has since been deleted). But it was not clear whether those numbers were a net loss or had been offset by new donors, said former World Vision staffer Ben Irwin.
"Assuming the '2,000' figure is accurate, that amounts to just under two-tenths of one percent of all kids sponsored through World Vision U.S.," Irwin wrote. "But this was never about percentages. This is about real lives. It's about kids in impoverished communities who just became pawns in our culture war."
Approximately $567 million of World Vision's more than $1 billion budget comes from private contributions, according to its 2012 annual report.
Some supporters took on additional sponsorships in support of the decision. Kristen Howerton, a professor of psychology for Vanguard University and popular blogger, organized a fundraiser with the goal of getting 100 children supported to help make up the difference. She accomplished her goal in a day.
She said she made the decision after seeing hundreds of comments on social media from people vowing to drop their support. "I think people's reactions have been pretty swift in condemning World Vision in placing them outside the fold of evangelical Christianity," she said.
Matthew Lee Anderson reflected on whether and how evangelicals should stop supporting World Vision financially. Esther Fleece reflected on her experience at Focus on the Family when TOM'S Shoes ended a partnership over Focus's stance on homosexuality.
"We can disagree with each other and still serve people in urgent need. The days of boycotting everything are over, but that doesn't mean Christian convictions are," she wrote for On Faith. "Correct theology is loving people, and no Bible-believing Christian is going to withhold service from a person in need who disagrees with his or her interpretation of Scripture."
John Huffman, who was a World Vision board member for 26 years, is a fervent supporter of the work Stearns has done. He told CT his "high point" on the board was hiring Stearns, and this was the first time the two men had disagreed. But Huffman called the previous decision to change the employment policy "unwise" on every front. "It lacks of wisdom in terms of biblical, theological, moral, cultural, and strategic implications to the organization," he said.
Strategically, it would have alienated many evangelicals, which make up the majority of World Vision supporters. Given that World Vision has kept such a strong evangelical identity, it's unlikely to attract people from the other side of the fence, said Huffman, who is [full disclosure] board chair for Christianity Today as well as Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
"I don't think it's going to help the institution," he told CT before today's reversal announcement. "I don't think there are going to be other people on this organization that are going to be attracted." (After today's announcement, Huffman told CT, "I'm very relieved and very grateful for the decision of the board to reverse their position.")
Dearborn said that World Vision U.S.'s relationship with its partner organizations also played a role in today's decision. "There's an effort on the part of World Vision U.S. not only to be subject to the authority of Scripture, but also to be sensitive to being a member of an international partnership," he said. "There are 50-some World Visions in the world. Especially in Africa and Asia, the position World Vision just rescinded would have been troublesome."
Stearns reached out to those partners in World Vision's announcement of the reversal, asking for forgiveness:
We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.
Some critics were quick to extend it. "World Vision has done the right thing," tweeted Moore after the reversal. "Now, let's all work for a holistic gospel presence, addressing both temporal and eternal needs."
"Remember, World Vision may stand to lose more money (in corporate and government sponsorships) by taking this stand," tweeted Denny Burk. "It's really remarkable."
To Stanley Carlson-Thies, president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, World Vision's controversial decision was a good opportunity for similar organizations to consider their own stances.
"I think it's probably good that other organizations have to face that decision, because it's all around us," he told CT before the reversal. "I would hope that organizations use this as an opportunity to think about their own policy, not just follow the leader."
[Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the reversal letter was approved by the "entire" board. Stearns mispoke during a joint interview with reporters.]
Here is the full text of World Vision's announcement today: