The evangelical relief agency World Vision bowed to pressure from religious conservatives and dropped a two-day-old policy to allow the hiring of Christians in same-sex marriages.

The group sent a letter Wednesday to its supporters saying its board had made a mistake and would return to its policy requiring celibacy outside of marriage – which the agency defined as “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," said the letter signed by World Vision president Richard Stearns and board chairman Jim Bere.

Stearns had said Monday that the international humanitarian group’s board had prayed for years on the issue of same-sex marriage, and he tried to reassure employees that they were not “diminishing the authority of Scripture” or “sliding down some slippery slope of compromise.”

But the board’s decision on married LGBT employees drew near-instantaneous criticism from religious conservatives, who threatened to withdraw funding and other support from the group.

Stearns said the board had heard from major evangelical groups and leaders since Monday who had accused them of straying from their core beliefs.

The Federal Way, Washington-based World Vision was founded as an interdenominational service organization and now has an operating budget of more than $1 billion a year.

The group receives 18 percent of its annual budget from the federal government, which prohibits the organization from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

[Image: Two grooms same sex wedding cake via Shutterstock]