When I read the headline "World Vision: Why We're Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages," my heart leapt for joy. I had never read a news item that meant more to me on a personal level. Then two days later, World Vision U.S. reversed its decision, saying the organization had, in fact, made a mistake. And my heart sunk with severe disappointment.
So why do I, a straight journalist, care about the hiring practices of this Christian international humanitarian organization? Well, I worked at World Vision Canada for nearly 10 years and last week's news brought me back to one incident that still looms large: the time I tried to hire a lesbian at World Vision Canada.
This story is not an easy one for me to tell. I am about to admit one of my biggest regrets. When faced with injustice, I let the fear of losing my job and not being able to provide for my daughter get in the way of doing what was right. I now realize that I would much rather answer the question: "Mama, why don't you have a job?" rather than: "Mama why didn't you do anything?"
The whole thing started as a mundane recruitment about six years ago. As a senior manager, I was hiring for an editorial position. After going through the usual rigmarole of resumes and interviews, I decided on one candidate -- a stellar journalist with years of experience who had volunteered overseas and wanted to make a difference with her career. She seemed ideal and I was excited to work with her.
But that wasn't going to happen.
In the final stages of the recruitment, HR informed me that the candidate had shared she was gay and she wanted to make sure that wouldn't be an issue at a Christian organization. HR took this tidbit to senior leadership and what happened next is now a blur of emails, meetings and conversations that lasted for about a month.
What I do remember is that HR was concerned whether she would fit in with the largely conservative Evangelical culture at the Canadian office. While she was a Christian and highly involved in her church, she would be the first openly gay person among 500 staff members. I didn't back down. I still wanted her for the job.
I remember being questioned by higher-ups over her qualifications. Was she really the best person for the job? What about the other candidates? Would a journalist be happy working in a corporate setting? I stood my ground. She was the best person for the job -- over-qualified in fact.
I remember being told by my boss that senior leadership had suddenly changed the "full-time permanent" position to a contract. I was informed that HR had called the candidate to let her know about the change in status. She still wanted the job.
I remember sitting in a meeting, surrounded by members of senior leadership, my boss and HR, trying to make the case as to why hiring her was the right business decision, that she met all their criteria. I was nervous, but I stood my ground. For me, this had gone from a recruitment to a human rights' issue. I felt like I was fighting against needless judgment, ignorance and intolerance.
The Christian faith in North America isn't exactly renowned for its acceptance. I grew up in the Church and every generation seems to pick a new "issue" to get all hot and bothered over. Divorce wasn't tolerated for awhile. Neither was abortion. Women leaders were a no-no. And now being gay is the mortal sin of the day.
I felt so angry, sad and depressed over the whole situation, but I held on to hope that justice would prevail. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Without telling me, HR called the candidate to let her know that she didn't get the job.
When I got this news, I broke down in tears. I imagined her disappointment. How could people serve injustice with such a decision? How could I be part of such a place?
Then I was called into the office of a senior staff member for a one-on-one meeting. I was so stunned by what I heard that I didn't even know how to respond. He told me that he had made the final decision not to hire this candidate. He had come to the realization that if you're gay, you can't be Christian. And only Christians can work at World Vision, so we couldn't hire her.
I was incensed. After that meeting, I thought about mailing any emails I had about the situation to the candidate so she would know the truth. I felt I should quit my job out of principle. I contemplated going to the press. I debated doing all three.
I did nothing.
I was a single mom at the time, receiving zero child support from my ex. I was scared of quitting or getting fired and not being able to pay for rent, groceries or my daughter's daycare. That fear paralyzed me. I realize now I was just a coward and I failed.
In that same meeting with the senior staff person, he told me that God would protect the organization in this decision not to hire an openly gay person. But in the end, it was my silence that protected them.
Instead of speaking out publicly, I convinced myself that I could make changes from within. I told HR that I didn't want this situation to ever happen to anyone else again. If "fit" was such a concern, then the internal culture needed to change. I demanded that sensitivity training around LGBT rights happen. I was told that it would, but I don't think it ever did.
I left World Vision in 2010. I have spoken to a couple of my former colleagues since the news from the U.S. broke and some reassure me that the situation is better in the Canadian office now. Apparently the board and senior staff are more accepting of gays and lesbians. I sincerely hope they're right.
I know many World Vision staff members who do not agree with the U.S. office's hiring practices or with what happened to the candidate I tried to hire in Canada. I would love it if these open-minded people have become the majority. The organization is dedicated to correcting injustice and the imbalance of power in developing countries. Let's just hope they can do that in their offices as well.
If I could go back, I would have met with the candidate and told her what happened. I would have sought legal counsel and quit my job. Basically, I would have done anything but keep my mouth shut. And that is why I'm writing this piece now. I want anyone who is debating doing something about an injustice issue to know that regret and shame are far worse and longer lasting than the fear.
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