One of the biggest adoption agencies in the U.S., Bethany Christian Services, has agreed to start working with LGBTQ parents to help place children in homes, after a previous policy statement that said they don’t work with potential parents who are same-sex couples.
“We will now offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today,” said Chris Palusky, president of the organization, in an email to about 1500 staff members. “We’re taking an ‘all hands on deck’ approach where all are welcome.”
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The Protestant adoption agency has long refused to work with same-sex couples, although their policy was only officially stated in 2007 when Bethany adopted a position statement that said, “God’s design for the family is a covenant and lifelong marriage of one man and one woman.”
But in January, the organization adopted a new policy statement that says: “Christians of mutual good faith can reasonably disagree on various doctrinal issues, about which Bethany does not maintain an organizational position.” It also eliminated the 2007 statement.
The organization is huge, with offices in 32 states. It facilitated over 1100 adoption and 3400 foster placements in 2019.
In 2018, the organization was caught refusing to work with a lesbian couple who wanted to be foster parents in Philadelphia. The city investigated and suspended their contract with Bethany until they agreed to comply with the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. Catholic Social Services (CSS), another Philadelphia adoption agency that refused to work with LGBTQ people, also faced consequences for discrimination.
Bethany agreed to comply, but CSS challenged the city’s non-discrimination ordinance in court. They took their case to the Supreme Court and a ruling is expected later this year.
But Bethany faced backlash; the organization’s Mississippi branch even left the national organization over the decision in Philadelphia.
In 2019, the organization agreed to work with LGBTQ parents in Michigan when that state said that it would end contracts with adoption agencies that discriminate.
“It got to a point where it became really untenable to have this patchwork of practices,” said Bethany Senior Vice President Nathan Bult. “Bethany was ready and Christians are ready.”
Some in the organization also worry that the new policy will make it harder to recruit potential parents in conservative churches.
“We’re opening the door to more families and more churches,” board member Susanne Jordan told the NY Times. “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.”
Religious adoption agencies have become one of the primary battlefields for LGBTQ equality over the last several years, as Christian conservatives argue that they should not be required to treat LGBTQ people equally since their religious ideology teaches that LGBTQ people are not equal. Christian conservatives often cite the threat of adoption agencies closing their doors as a reason to oppose anti-discrimination legislation like the Equality Act.
But Bethany is showing that even Christian adoption agencies can learn how to stop discriminating against LGBTQ people.
“To use a Christian term, this is good news,” said Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons of the Center for American Progress. “For too long the public witness of Christianity has been anti-this or anti-that. Today the focus is on serving children in need.”
But some Christians are denouncing the decision, including Southern Baptist Convention President Russell Moore.
“I am disappointed in this decision, as are many,” he said in a statement. “This move will harm already existing efforts to enable faith-based orphan care ministries to serve the vulnerable without capitulating on core Christian convictions.”