Bethany Christian Services, one of the nation’s biggest adoption and foster care agencies, announced on Monday it would immediately begin working with LGBTQ families, The New York Times reports.
Chris Palusky, Bethany’s president and chief executive, said in an email to 1,500 staff members, “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’s announcement is particularly significant as faith-based organizations have continued to oppose working with same-sex couples who wish to start families. Organizations such as Catholic Social Services have claimed that working with same-sex couples is an infringement upon their religious liberty. Catholic Social Services is currently suing the city of Philadelphia over having their contract suspended for discrimination in refusing to work with same-sex couples.
Monday’s announcement is also a big about-face for Bethany, which has been around for 77 years. The largest Protestant adoption and foster care agency in the U.S., the New York Times notes, “Bethany facilitated 3,406 foster placements and 1,123 adoptions in 2019, and has offices in 32 states.” The organization had an informal policy of referring same-sex couples elsewhere.
After a 2018 incident in which a lesbian couple were told Bethany “has never placed a child with a same-sex couple,” media reports led to Philadelphia suspending contracts with both Catholic Social Services and Bethany’s Philadelphia office. The same year, Bethany passed a resolution that granted local branches to comply with state and local contract requirements pertaining to anti-discrimination.
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, a fellow with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress, commended Bethany, saying, “To use a Christian term, this is good news. For too long the public witness of Christianity has been anti-this or anti-that. Today the focus is on serving children in need.”
Of course, not every person of faith is happy. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement on Monday, “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 will soon begin offering training to all employees. “We’re opening the door to more families and more churches,” board member and former employee Susanne Jordan 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.”
Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.