The Council of Delegates of the Christian Reformed Church decided at its May 2021 meeting to recommend to synod that it take Bethany Christian Services off the list of benevolent organizations recommended for offerings from CRC congregations. The decision was a result of Bethany’s new policy to open its services, including adoption and the placement of foster children, to same-sex couples across the United States. Bethany is the largest Christian adoption agency in the U.S. Because Synod 2021 is canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council will receive its own recommendation at the June meeting in lieu of synod.
Religion News Service reported in March that Bethany’s board of directors approved the policy change in January after nearly a decade of internal discussion. It had already been working with LGBTQ families in about 12 states, including in Michigan where the change was implemented after a lengthy court case in 2019. Then Bethany’s chief executive officer wrote in Christianity Today that it faced a choice of continuing to care for hurting children or let disappointment with government requirements supersede compassion for kids.
Bethany has been around for 75 years and has deep roots in the Christian Reformed community. Several Council delegates spoke fondly of their own experiences with Bethany, either fostering or adopting children, but that didn’t mean they wanted Bethany to stay on the list.
Drew Sweetman, Classis Muskegon, said he and his wife have adopted through Bethany. But he favored taking Bethany off the list because it goes against the CRC’s position on homosexuality.
Tyler Wagenmaker, Classis Zeeland, also values the work Bethany does. “I also think about the role of this list,” he said. “There are certain principles the denomination has and the agencies have to line up with our values and positions.”
Jei Wilson, Classis Chicago South, disagreed. “Is love going to win out?” he asked. He said he would be inclined to keep Bethany on the list because of the urgency of the problems the organization deals with.
Jeanne Engelhard, Classis Grand Rapids East, said Bethany does far more good than this particular issue.
Andy De Ruyter, Classis British Columbia North-West, reminded delegates that congregations and individuals can make up their own minds about supporting causes.
Council voted 23-21 to recommend synod take Bethany off the list.
Criteria to approve organizations recommended for offerings comes from the Council’s governance handbook. The Council may only recommend organizations that are closely allied with the CRCNA’s ecclesiastical tasks and “ought for good reason to be recommended to the entire denomination for support.” Endorsement also requires that an organization’s financial and administrative management are sound.
An organization not on the list can still receive offerings from churches. It just means that the congregation’s deacons will have to do their own due diligence.