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Leading Christian adoption agency changes policy, will now work with same-sex couples nationwide

Family_adoption_Motortion_Films_Shutterstock.jpg Credit: Motortion Films/Shutterstock

A leading Christian adoption agency will now work with same-sex couples looking to foster or adopt children, in a change of its nationwide policy reported on Monday.

Bethany Christian Services, which is the largest Protestant adoption and foster care agency in the United States, has updated its inclusivity policy on matching children with same-sex couples. The new “nationwide policy of inclusivity” will “serve all families across Bethany's core service lines.” 

In addition, the new policy also removes the agency’s 2007 statement that “God’s design for the family is a covenant and lifelong marriage of one man and one woman,” according to the New York Times.

After a 2019 lawsuit, Bethany Christian Services began placing children with same-sex couples in 12 states, including in Michigan. Its updated policy extends this practice to all of its locations in the United States. Meanwhile, Catholic adoption agencies in several states have closed rather than comply with mandates that they work with same-sex couples.

Bethany said that it “recognizes that Christians of mutual good faith can reasonably disagree on various doctrinal issues, about which Bethany does not maintain an organizational position.” 

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In an email to its employees, Bethany said that its new policy was approved by the agency’s board of directors in January, after about a decade of discernment on the issue. 

The agency’s headquarters is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and it has offices in 32 U.S. states as well as seven countries in Europe, South and Central America, and Africa.

Nathan Bult, the senior vice president of public and government affairs at Bethany, told CNA in a statement that “faith in Jesus is the core of our mission,” and that “Bethany Christian Services has never wavered from our mission of demonstrating the love and compassion of Jesus to Children and families.” 

“We help families stay together, we reunify families who are separated, and we help vulnerable children find safe, stable homes when they cannot remain in their own,” said Bult. 

Placing children in stable homes is the key to Bethany’s mission despite any doctrinal concerns, Bult said. 

“We acknowledge that discussions about doctrine are important, but our sole job is to determine if a family can provide a safe, stable environment for children,” said the statement. 

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“Unlike many other child and family welfare organizations, Bethany is committed to partnering with churches to find as many families for vulnerable children as possible, and we seek to place children with families that share our mission,” the organization stated. “We believe that Christians with diverse beliefs can unify around our mission of demonstrating the love and compassion of Jesus. It's an ambitious mission, and we can only accomplish it together.”

In 2018, the city of Philadelphia suspended its contracts with both Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Social Services of the archdiocese, due to their refusal to work with same-sex couples. The city had enacted a nondiscrimination ordinance, and also oversees the entire foster care system.

No same-sex couple had approached Catholic Social Services for foster care placement. There are numerous foster care agencies in Philadelphia that will work with same-sex couples.

Shortly after suspending these contracts, the city put out a call for additional foster homes due to increased demand for services. 

While Bethany Christian amended its policy and began working with same-sex couples, Catholic Social Services maintained that it could not do so according to the Church’s teaching on the family.

Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, two foster mothers from Philadelphia who worked with Catholic Social Services, sued the city of Philadelphia over the severed contract. 

The Supreme Court heard arguments in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia back in November, and is expected to decide on the case later in 2021. 

Catholic Charities in several states have had to end their adoption and foster care programs, due to state and local mandates that agencies work with same-sex couples. 

In 2010, Catholic Charities D.C. shuttered its adoption program because of the city’s law redefining marriage, and in subsequent years Catholic adoption programs stopped in other states such as New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

Legislation repealing faith-based exemptions for adoption and foster care agencies passed the Virginia house of delegates in February, and is under consideration in the state senate.

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