Bethany Christian Services, a child welfare organization approved by the Christian Reformed Church for offerings and support from congregations, recently agreed to allow placing foster children with same-sex couples in its home state of Michigan after a lengthy legal challenge.
Bethany was one of two faith-based agencies sued by the American Civil Liberties Union two years ago. The ACLU, representing a same-sex couple, alleged that Bethany discriminated against LGBTQ families by not allowing them to take in foster children.
When Michigan’s attorney general determined that the state would no longer financially support foster care and adoption agencies that refuse to allow placement of children with same-sex couples, Bethany’s board of directors opted to change its policy rather than risk losing its contract with the state.
“For 75 years, Bethany has focused on serving vulnerable children in Michigan and around the world. We are disappointed with how this settlement agreement has been implemented by the state government,” a Bethany spokesman said. “Nonetheless, Bethany will continue operations in Michigan, in compliance with our legal contract requirements. The mission and beliefs of Bethany Christian Services have not changed. We are focused on demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by serving children in need, and we intend to continue doing so in Michigan.”
Bethany worked with more than 1,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system last year, representing about 8 % of foster care cases in the state.
“The fact of the matter is that the government runs the foster care system. We cannot serve foster children without contracting with the state,” Bethany chief executive officer Chris Palusky wrote in a recent opinion piece for Christianity Today. “So we faced a choice: Continue caring for hurting children in foster care or let our disappointment with government requirements supersede our compassion for kids who have suffered and need a loving family.”
When asked to comment, Steve Timmermans, executive director of the CRC, said, “I believe Bethany made a faithfull decision to stay in the public square, serving the children and adolescents they have been called to serve.” He acknowledged that similar challenges may face other affiliated charitable organizations, schools, and universities. “While there are many in the halls of government working hard to ensure exemptions for religious-based organizations, when those exemptions are not provided, we will face difficult choices. The goal will be to find ways to stay true to our missions in ways that keep us engaged in the world that so desperately needs to see the light of Christ,” Timmermans said.
The decision by Bethany impacts only foster care and foster care adoption in Michigan. The organization’s placement practices in other states, as well as for adoptions outside the U.S., remains unchanged, a Bethany spokesman said. The organization’s overall goal in recruiting families as foster parents also remains the same: to identify, equip, and encourage families in the faith community to live out their Christian commitment by opening their homes to care for children in need.