Photo Credit: CC
Published March 10, 2021
By Makenzie Jones [contributor to The Tennessee Conservative] –
Knoxville, TN – In a March 1 email announcement, Bethany president and CEO Chris Palusky announced that the organization would now cater to the wider variety of families in the US, including same-sex couples.
This came as a reversal of a 2007 statement that “God’s design for the family is a covenant and lifelong marriage of one man and one woman.” Unanimous approval of the policy reversal came on Jan. 20.
First public reports came from the New York Times.
The new statement does not endorse same-sex relationships, but the Jan. 20 motion does claim that “Christians of mutual good faith can reasonably disagree on various doctrinal issues, about which Bethany does not maintain an organizational position.”
Nathan Bult, Bethany’s senior vice president of public and government affairs, said in a written statement, “Faith in Jesus is at the core of our mission. 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.”
Pulasky confirmed that the organization remains steadfast in the faith.
In the so-called “all hands on deck” approach, Bethany is addressing its mission in relation to the need to put children in loving homes by broadening the connections among various Christians and opening more doors for adoption.
Board member Susanne Jordan recognizes that they will lose donors and general public support from some, but says that Bethany is trying to give an inclusive message to more people. Holding to the goal of supporting children in need, she says, “Serving children should not be controversial.”
The Michigan-based evangelical organization is the largest Protestant adoption and foster agency in the US with offices in 32 states.
Previously, openly gay prospective fosters and adopters were referred to other agencies, but with increasing pressure from government requirements, Bethany had already reversed policy in some places.
As of last year, branches in 12 states were already working with LGBTQ, but these cases were rarely publicized.
In 2018, a same-sex couple reported to the Philadelphia Inquirer that they had attended a Bethany information session, were told that the organization had never placed a child with a same-sex couple, and they were referred to another agency.
The city later suspended Bethany’s contract as well as one with the Catholic Social Services. CSS then sued. The case was heard in November, but no ruling has been reached. However, Bethany quickly complied, and the contract was restored.
Since this situation, some board members have chosen to leave the organization. A whole branch in Mississippi chose to leave after this policy change. Bult says the current employees have “diverse personal views on sexuality,” and that “Bethany was ready, and Christians are ready.”
Bethany backs up the latter part of Bult’s statement, citing a poll that found 32% of self-identified Christians believed sexual orientation should not determine who can foster or adopt, and three-quarters agree that those agencies should comply with government requirements for working with LGBT rather than shutting down.
The change has caused other adoption agencies and Christian groups to respond affirming their stance. Lifeline Christian Services stated, “We believe that marriage is a sacred covenant before God and man between one man and one woman instituted by God from the beginning of Creation.”
Buckner International says that, “Children should be cared for and nurtured by a mother and father who are united in marriage. Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.”
As quoted on his Twitter account, Daniel Akin, the president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary called Bethany’s action a “Very disappointing capitulation to cultural pressure. Children need a dad and a mom in a healthy, biblical home. God’s Word is clear.”
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, expressed concern about how the reversal will harm existing efforts for faith-based orphan care organizations to serve without compromising their values.
Evangelical magazine “World” responded to the Michigan policy change in 2019 with a cover story that the agency had given up, depicting a person at a desk waving a white flag.
In a similar situation with a different outcome, World Vision started hiring Christians in same-sex marriages in 2014, but donor backlash was so severe, the decision was reversed within two days. Bethany’s current president and CEO Palusky was an executive for World Vision at the time.
Bethany announced that staff will receive training in upcoming months. The employees sign a statement of faith based on the Lausanne Covenant, but they are not required to hold to a code of conduct or sexuality restrictions.
In legislation efforts favoring the freedom to adhere to religious values in working with foster and adoption, major providers in Texas, including Buckner International who responded publicly to Bethany, lobbied for and got passed a 2017 law granting the right to use faith-based requirements in placements. Miracle Hill Ministries of South Carolina was granted a waiver in 2019 to refer non-Protestant applicants.
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has pushed the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, which would bar government discrimination against entities that refuse to compromise their beliefs in order to provide services.