Bethany Christian Services, the largest evangelical Protestant provider of adoption and foster care services in the nation, announced it will serve same-sex couples and other LGBTQ+ parents effective immediately.
The announcement came in an email sent Monday to about 1,500 Bethany staffers around the country, The New York Times reports. “We will now offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today,” Chris Palusky, the organization’s president and CEO, wrote in the email. “We’re taking an ‘all hands on deck’ approach where all are welcome.” The policy was approved unanimously by Bethany’s board in January.
Bethany, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., had for some time refused to place children with LGBTQ+ people, and in 2007 it adopted a position statement asserting that “God’s design for the family is a covenant and lifelong marriage of one man and one woman.” Even before that, there was an unspoken understanding that staff members were supposed to refer LGBTQ+ people to other agencies.
But in recent years, Bethany has let individual offices decide if they will work with prospective parents who are LGBTQ+ if it was necessary to maintain a contract with city or state governments that have bans on anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination. This was the case in Philadelphia, where Bethany decided to end discrimination and keep its contract with the city. Another faith-based group, Catholic Social Services, wouldn’t comply with the nondiscrimination requirement and therefore lost its contract with Philadelphia, so the Catholic group sued. That case has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule in the spring.
So far, Bethany locations in 12 of the 32 states where the organization operates have opted for LGBTQ+ inclusion. Now it will be a national policy. “It got to a point where it became really untenable to have this patchwork of practices,” Nathan Bult, the group’s senior vice president for public and government affairs, told the Times. “Bethany was ready and Christians are ready.”
The new policy stops short of approving same-sex relationships, but it states, “Christians of mutual good faith can reasonably disagree on various doctrinal issues, about which Bethany does not maintain an organizational position.” There are “diverse personal views on sexuality” among the 14 board members, Bult noted. Bethany is not affiliated with an individual denomination but has a generally evangelical Christian worldview.
In addition to placing children with adoptive or foster parents, Bethany provides refugee resettlement and other child welfare services. It also has offices in more than a dozen countries besides the U.S.
The decision to serve LGBTQ+ parents was welcomed in some quarters and not in others. “To use a Christian term, this is good news,” Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, a fellow with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress, told the Times. But Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, released a statement saying Bethany’s action “will harm already existing efforts to enable faith-based orphan care ministries to serve the vulnerable without capitulating on core Christian convictions.”
“We recognize there are people who will not be happy,” Susanne Jordan, a board member and former employee, told the Times. “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.”