The aid group sent a letter to supporters saying the board had made a mistake and was returning to its policy requiring celibacy outside of marriage "and faithfulness within the Bible covenant of marriage between a man and a woman."
"We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness," the agency said in the letter, signed by World Vision president Richard Stearns and board chairman Jim Bere.
Based in Washington state and started by evangelicals, World Vision has an international operating budget of nearly $1 billion and conducts economic development and emergency relief projects.
The agency had announced Monday that its board had prayed for years about whether to hire Christians in same-sex marriages as churches took different stands on recognizing gay relationships. World Vision staff come from dozens of denominations with varied views on the issue. The board had said World Vision would still require celibacy outside of marriage and would require employees to affirm that they follow Christ, but would change policy in the U.S. as a way to avoid the divisive debates that have torn apart churches.
But the change drew widespread condemnation, with many donors posting on the agency's Facebook page that they would no longer fund the sponsor-a-child programs that are central to World Vision's fundraising and education.
Darrell Bock, a New Testament scholar at Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog that the new hiring policy was an "act was a betrayal of the nature of the Christian community" and "a denial of how Jesus defined marriage as between a man and a woman when he was asked about divorce."
Evangelical supporters of hiring Christians with same-sex spouses also rallied, increasing their donations and urging others to do the same.
However, World Vision reversed course.
"In our board's effort to unite around the church's shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.'s commitment to the traditional understanding of biblical marriage and our own statement of faith, which says, 'We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God,'" Stearns and Bere wrote. "We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board's intent."
A few other conservative religious charities have tried to change hiring policies to recognize gay relationships, prompting controversy and a drop in donations, but World Vision was the largest and most prominent by far to take the step.