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Inclusion Policy From Bethany Christian Services Opens Agency’s Services to Same-sex Couples Across the U.S.

Bethany Christian Services is in Grand Rapids, Mich., Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018.
Bethany Christian Services is in Grand Rapids, Mich., Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018.
Photo by Paul Sancya

The Banner has a subscription with the Associated Press to republish religion and faith content from AP, RNS, and The Conversation. This story from Religion News Service was first published there March 1. It has been edited for length, with details of the Christian Reformed Church context (last two paragraphs) added.

Bethany Christian Services, the largest Protestant adoption and foster care agency in the United States, will begin serving LGBTQ couples, a significant change for the evangelical ministry.

Bethany, which is based in Grand Rapids, Mich., with offices in 32 states, announced the change in an email to employees on Monday (March 1). Its board of directors approved the policy change back in January after nearly a decade of internal discussion.

An agency spokesperson said it has already been working with LGBTQ families in about 12 states.

2019 story: Bethany Christian Services Changes Foster Placement Policy in Michigan

“This decision implements consistent, inclusive practices for LGBTQ families across our organizations,” said Nate Bult, Bethany’s senior vice president of public and government affairs. “We’ve had a patchwork approach for the last few years.”

Many faith-based adoption and foster agencies have come under increasing pressure over the past decade as city, state, and federal authorities have added LGBTQ non-discrimination policies.

Bethany was among them. In 2018, the city of Philadelphia suspended contracts with Bethany for a period of time. The agency then decided to change its policy in Philadelphia and serve LGBTQ couples.

In Fulton v. Philadelphia, the Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year on whether religious child placement agencies can discriminate against LGBTQ couples. In that case, the city of Philadelphia demanded that Catholic Social Services comply with its requirements, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. When the agency refused to do so, the city opted not to renew its contract. Catholic Social Services then sued.

In an issued statement responding to questions about its “practice of inclusivity,” Bethany said “Why not wait for the upcoming Supreme Court decision? First, the inclusivity we want to offer is much broader than the LGBTQ+ focused case the Court will decide. And second, we believe eliminating exclusivity should happen as a matter of the heart, not a mandate from the government.”

Bult said that while not all of Bethany’s 1,500 employees might agree with the inclusive approach, most have been supportive and have known the agency is examining the issue.

“Faith in Jesus is at the core of our mission,” Bult said. “But we are not claiming a position on the various doctrinal issues about which Christians may disagree.”

In making its decision, Bethany commissioned Barna Group, a Christian polling firm, to survey the views of Christians about LGBTQ adoptions. Barna found 55% of Christians said either that sexual preference should not determine who can foster or adopt, or that it was better for children to be in an LGBTQ home than in foster care.

The survey also found that 76% of self-identified Christians agree, at least somewhat, that it would be better for Christian agencies to comply with government requirements pertaining to the LGBTQ community rather than shut down. (The survey was taken last year among 667 self-identified Christians.)

Bethany Christian Services, though not directly affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church, is one of many “accredited nondenominational organizations” that synod (the broadest assembly of the church) annually approves to recommend to member churches for financial support. Each year organizations on the list submit updated financial information and information regarding any significant programmatic changes; every three years they must submit a more detailed re-application.

CRCNA executive director Colin Watson Sr. confirmed the "long-standing, Christian organization … has its own board and is not accountable to CRCNA's synod or other governance. As such, their decisions have no bearing on the positions of the CRCNA or any influence on our governing bodies. Other than that, we really do not have any official comment to make. "

By Yonat Shimron for Religion News Service, with files from Alissa Vernon

© 2021 Religion News Service

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