Conformity vs. Tolerance: World Vision, Mozilla, and a New World

Posted on April 5, 2014 by


Recently, we have witnessed two high-profile instances of how different communities have mobilized their supporters to produce conformity over the issue of gay marriage. World Vision, a Christian ministry that assists refugees, decided to change their employee policies regarding homosexuality. The ministry said it was leaving theological disagreements to churches while attempting to remain focused on its own goals. The backlash was swift and predictable. Christian conservatives contacted World Vision in large numbers, expressing their concern. The Board of World Vision released a statement announcing a reversal. In response to the reversal, one World Vision Board Member, Google executive Jacqueline Fuller, resigned her position.

Mozilla, the technology company most identified with its popular Firefox browser, also went through a public trial as Ok Cupid, a dating site, pressured the company’s CEO, Brandon Eich, to resign due to his previous support for traditional marriage. Eich obliged his mounting critics on Thursday and OK Cupid registered its pleasure at the news. Eich was outed for his personal financial support for Proposition 8, an amendment to California’s state constitution that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Though Prop. 8’s ultimate fate awaits a decisive Supreme Court ruling (the Court previously determined that one party in a previous case did not have standing to bring the suit in support of the amendment), Eich’s support for the act was enough to elicit serious opposition. Eich has never been accused of discriminating against homosexuals, nor did he intend, as far as we know, to change Mozilla’s policies, which were fully tolerant of homosexuals.

It is tempting to draw a strong link between the two events and equate them. One might argue, for example, that both cases involve an organization making work decisions based on their own preferences. The conservative in me thinks this is indeed true. Organizations ought to be able to hire and fire people for many reasons. These entities are not the government. They can discriminate and still be within the law. If Mozilla wants to fire its CEO due to his politics, that is Mozilla’s business. If Wold Vision refuses to hire those in homosexual relationships, that is World Vision’s right to do so. In both cases, the organizations were responding to constituent and “market” pressures. Mozilla was unwilling to withstand the tech community’s moral conceptions, while World Vision chose not to stare down the Christian Right. I am not arguing this is good, mind you, but that both organizations are operating within their rights. As we should all know, however, just because something is legal does not make it correct or good or decent.

There are differences here that should not be ignored. World Vision is a religious organization. Whether you agree or disagree with those principles, World Vision can credibly argue that its religious beliefs define its mission. If employees do not adhere to those beliefs, World Vision has to be able to act. There is no obvious reason why Mozilla should be concerned about Eich’s personal politics and there is no reason to think that Eich’s politics were contradictory to Mozilla’s mission. Also, World Vision changed a policy and reversed, while Eich was compliant with Mozilla’s policies, but the company made an exception for Eich based on public pressure.

I tend to view Eich’s situation as political since his donation made him a target. The emerging left, however, sees Eich’s politics in quite moral terms. In general, I agree with the contention. Eich’s choice reflects a moral calculus. At the same time, I wish the left would recognize that World Vision’s choices are also moral and should be respected. I understand that the left sees World Vision’s traditionalism as immoral, and therefore not worthy of respect. In this way, very simply, the New Left, defined by sexual liberty, seeks to impose its moral conceptions upon the rest of society, just like the supposedly vile Christian Right has been trying to do for more than a quarter of a century. We have come full circle.

What to think of all this?

  1. We are nearing the point where most of society defines polite company by agreement on this issue. Those who disagree are simply not welcome. Academic, mainstream media, political, and corporate cultures are quickly becoming unified on this and those out of step should expect marginalization.
  2. We need to significantly reconsider our conceptions of tolerance. While it is difficult to separate the moral and the political, and it should be, we must be willing to extend personal and professional tolerance whenever it makes sense to do so. It is unreasonable to expect tolerance where it does not belong. Religious organizations should not be made to violate their own beliefs to fit cultural norms, just as political entities should not be expected to employ people from another party.
  3. This is not a newsflash, naturally, but the internet allows for a focused outrage that is effective and powerful and unaccountable. The internet has no inherent tolerance, but relies on the tolerance of who use it.
  4. I frankly despise the politicization of all of life. It leads, precisely, to this sort of intolerance. This is not a spawn of the right, however, but of the left, which has embraced the totalizing nature of politics. What I eat, what I wear, what I listen to, and now, which browser I use,. are all political statements for the New Left. These choices, in their eyes, define my suitability. Not only is this dull, but it reveals a narrow, ill-considered life that is bereft of anything but the naked and unadulterated pursuit of political power and it is essentially totalitarian. Sometimes, I just want to eat a burger, open up my browser, and surf the internet and NOT make a political statement.