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Bethany Christian Services, the country’s largest evangelical adoption and foster care agency, has announced it will begin placing children with LGBTQ couples.
The Michigan-based agency, which has offices in 32 different states, announced on Monday that it would no longer refuse to place children with same-sex couples and other prospective parents that the agency previously saw as objectionable due to its religious belief that “God’s design for the family is a covenant and lifelong marriage of one man and one woman.”
Bethany said the policy change was approved last month following a decade of internal debate over the issue. An agency spokesperson told Religion News Service that Bethany has already been working with LGBTQ families in about a dozen states.
“This decision implements consistent, inclusive practices for LGBTQ families across our organizations,” Nate Bult, Bethany’s senior vice president of public and government affairs, said. “We’ve had a patchwork approach for the last few years.”
Bethany’s announcement is a significant development, given that child placement agencies and “conscience-clause”-style legislation has been a flashpoint in the culture wars over the past few years. Many faith-based agencies have demanded exemptions from local nondiscrimination laws or have threatened to shutter their doors rather than be forced to place children with same-sex couples.
Bethany previously had its own conflict with the city of Philadelphia, with the city suspending contracts with the agency over its refusal to serve LGBTQ prospective parents. But Bethany later relented, changing its policy in Philadelphia to comply with the city’s nondiscrimination laws. The city of Philadelphia is currently mired in a lawsuit over a similar decision not to renew its contract with Catholic Social Services over CSS’s refusal to serve same-sex couples, with the U.S. Supreme Court expected to issue a decision later this year.
The Trump administration previously overturned Obama-era regulations in order to allow child placement agencies to discriminate against prospective parents on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status — as well as other factors — under the guise of protecting “religious liberty.” But the Biden administration is expected to reverse that rule and return to the Obama-era policy of barring agencies or social service providers from receiving taxpayer money so long as they discriminate based on protected characteristics.
Bult told Religion News Service that while not all of Bethany’s employees may agree with serving same-sex couples, most have been supportive and have known the issue was the subject of internal debates and discussions.
Bethany commissioned Barna Group, a Christian polling firm, to analyze the views of Christians regarding LGBTQ adoptions. That poll found that 55% of Christians said either that sexual “preference” should not determine who can serve as a foster or adoptive parent, or that it was better for children to end up in a same-sex household than remain in foster care. That polling influenced Bethany’s final decision to begin working with same-sex prospective parents.
Barna’s polling also found that 76% of self-identified Christians agreed that it would be better for Christian agencies to comply with secular laws prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination rather than shutting down services.
Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, denounced the decision in a statement, saying Bethany’s actions would “harm already existing efforts to enable faith-based orphan care ministries to serve the vulnerable without capitulating on core Christian convictions.”
But more progressive religious groups praised Bethany’s decision to compromise and work with some same-sex couples.
“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 New York Times. “For too long the public witness of Christianity has been anti-this or anti-that. Today the focus is on serving children in need.”
Children’s Rights, a group that advocates for vulnerable children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, also praised Bethany’s decision, saying it rightly prioritized the needs of children over the personal beliefs of adults.
“We agree wholeheartedly with Bethany Christian Services that ‘serving children should not be controversial,'” Christina Wilson Remlin, the lead counsel for Children’s Rights, said in a statement. “We are delighted by the news that Bethany, one of the nation’s largest adoption and foster care agencies, has decided to prioritize the needs of children and open their doors to recruiting all loving homes.
“Their decision to welcome the ‘the many types of families who exist in our world today,’ means they will no longer reject potential foster and adoptive parents based on those parents’ religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression. This brings their nationwide work in line with the position that the only valid test for parents should be love and safety,” Wilson Remlin added. “Given that LGBTQ couples are vastly more likely to foster and adopt, this is welcome news for children needing loving homes across the country.”
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