In an email announcement to approximately 1,500 members of its staff, Bethany Christian Services — one of the largest evangelical adoption and foster care agencies in the United States — said that it will be altering its previous policy and begin officially providing services to L.G.B.T.Q. parents.
The email was signed by Chris Palusky, Bethany’s president and chief executive. As reported by The New York Times, the letter states, “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.”
There have been mixed reactions to the news about the policy shift, especially as some similar groups begin to see legal pressure to serve same-sex couples. As reported by The New York Times, “Bethany’s informal policy [of referring same-sex couples to other agencies] became increasingly challenging for the organization in recent years, as various states and municipalities began requiring agencies to accept applications from L.G.B.T.Q. couples in order to maintain their government contracts.”
Some faith-based agencies have gone to court over the newly-imposed specifications that they be required to bring on same-sex couples as clients.
As reported by The New York Times, “Catholic Social Services sued the City of Philadelphia over its contract suspension, a case that the Supreme Court heard in November. A ruling is expected by the end of June. Bethany, by contrast, has generally opted to comply. In Philadelphia, the branch changed its policy to work with gay parents, and the city restored its contract.”
The national board of the agency reportedly provided guidance allowing local boards to be able to follow the local and state requirements for their contracts. The organization reportedly confirmed that Bethany branches in 12 states were already working with L.G.B.T.Q. families as of last year.
The organization has been around for 77 years and ranks as the largest Protestant adoption and foster agency in the country. According to the Times, “Bethany facilitated 3,406 foster placements and 1,123 adoptions in 2019, and has offices in 32 states. (The organization also works in refugee placement, and offers other services related to child and family welfare.)”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, released a statement on Monday, saying, “I am disappointed in this decision, as are many…This move will harm already existing efforts to enable faith-based orphan care ministries to serve the vulnerable without capitulating on core Christian convictions.”
Bethany plans to offer training to its employees over the next few months. “We’re opening the door to more families and more churches,” Susanne Jordan, a board member and former employee, said. “We recognize there are people who will not be happy. We may lose some donors. But the message we’re trying to give is inviting people alongside of us. Serving children should not be controversial.”
The new policy was approved by Bethany’s 14-member national board on January 21, and reportedly states that “Christians of mutual good faith can reasonably disagree on various doctrinal issues, about which Bethany does not maintain an organizational position.”
However, for the past 14 years — since 2007 — the organization had a position statement that said, “God’s design for the family is a covenant and lifelong marriage of one man and one woman.”