Bethany Christian Services, one of the country’s largest adoption and foster care agencies, announced on March 1 that it will place children in LGBTQ+ homes. This is a major turning point, both for the faith-based organization and the battle between faith-based agencies and what the New York Times describes as a “longstanding opposition to working with same-sex couples.” Bethany published its announcement to employees in an email signed by the organization’s president and chief executive Chris Palusky, who wrote, “We will now offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today. We’re taking an ‘all hands on deck’ approach where all are welcome.”
Bethany, which operates in 32 states across the United States, has facilitated over 3,400 foster placements and 1,100 adoptions. Now, in light of the recently-passed Equality Act that aims to “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation,” LGBTQ+ couples will be included in those statistics. Bethany’s response to new legislation stands out from those of other faith-based organizations, caught in a cultural battle over sexuality, religious freedom, parenthood, family structure and theology. Catholic Social Services, for example, has taken requirements to work with LGBTQ+ clients to court, suing the City of Philadelphia in the Supreme Court in November. A ruling for their case is expected before the end of June.
Bethany’s statement stands out against its own previous responses, too. Since 2007, the organization has stated that “God’s design for the family is a covenant and lifelong marriage of one man and one woman” and until recently had an unofficial practice of referring gay couples to other agencies. In response to a Michigan state settlement announced last month, which prevents faith-based agencies from refusing to place children in LGBTQ+ households for religious reasons, Bethany stated they were “disappointed” but would “continue operations in Michigan, in compliance with our legal contract requirements.” So while their recent statement does not endorse same-sex relationships, it places them in a new position fully compliant and cooperative with federal and state requirements and cultural shifts.
“It’s a huge step when any faith organization decides to make the active choice to be affirming of LGBTQ+ people, and it’s not something to be taken lightly,” said Katie Moran (’22), president of Hope’s LGBTQ+ student organization, Prism, which aims to provide an open space for any LBGTQ+ persons and allies to develop community and promote inclusion at Hope College. “A lot of LGBTQ+ folks have religious trauma from their churches and faith leaders, so when faith organizations take these steps toward being affirming, we can truly start a healing process for those of us who have been harmed by the faith we loved and trusted. It’s definitely not the only thing they need to be doing, and there’s more that needs to be done to repair those relationships, but I’m hopeful that symbolically it marks a shift in the church to be affirming of LGTBQ+ folks as more and more churches and other faith organizations decide to be welcoming.”
As might be expected, responses to Bethany’s decision have been extremely varied. Many evangelical leaders have criticized the agency, such as Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler, who reprimanded them for deciding to “meet the demands of the moral revolutionaries” who are forcing everyone to “pivot and absolutely surrender to the demands of the LGBTQ community.” Similarly, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly condemned Bethany over Twitter, writing that “Bethany Christian services should not have to choose between holding their deeply held religious convictions and serving children and families. No government should tell any ministry how to run their ministry, let alone violate deeply held biblical principles.” Meanwhile, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel tweeted that having more nondiscriminatory adoption agencies results in “more children adopted into loving, nurturing ‘forever’ homes. Thank you to Bethany Christian Services.” Reverend Jennifer Butler, the CEO of Faith in Public Life, wrote in the Religious News Service that “if Bethany Christian Services’ new policy of nondiscrimination sticks and spreads, the compassionate face of the church will shine brighter. It’s a sign that brighter days are ahead for the church and the country.”
Surrounded by both admonition and support, Bethany Christian Services’ Senior Vice President Nathan Bult said in a statement to The Christian Post that while “discussion about doctrine is important,” the organization is not losing focus on its “sole job” to evaluate a family’s capacity to provide a safe and stable environment for a foster child.
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