Sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and two homosexual couples for deciding not to place orphans with same-sex couples, Bethany Christian Services was forced to change its policy in a settlement. No longer will they refer these couples to other non-religious organizations, but they must comply with the state’s rules since they are under contract.
Like Michigan’s attorney general, a lesbian and former gay issues activist, most people will celebrate this as real progress. In their mind, Christian charities are only using their religion as a cover for bigotry. If they can compel these organizations to eliminate this supposed hate and continue offering social work, it’s a win-win: LGBT people and the state government are vindicated, and the charity will continue serving children instead of shutting down, as they did in Philadelphia when the city banned Catholic adoption agencies for declining to place children with gay and unmarried couples.
Those who see matters from the Christian perspective will rightly lament this development. Not only does it mark a major setback for religious freedom, but it further enables anti-Christian groups to go after other Christian charities.
Following the logic of the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, they can claim that Christian sexual morality discriminates against LGBT couples, and any person, organization, or business who abides by this morality is violating the law of the land. If religious freedom exemptions exist, the government can still cancel their contracts and virtually ban Christian charities from working in local communities.
A Sorry Loss of Assistance for the Most Vulnerable
Facing this hostility and loss of freedom, many Christian charities will stop providing services, leaving many people without assistance and reinforcing an American legal system that makes abortion far easier and cheaper than adoption. LGBT activists evidently see themselves as the real victims in this case, not the abused and neglected children in need of a home.
By forcing all charities to conform to their values, they bring about more harm than reform. One can only wonder how much more good could be done if these groups devoted their time, energy, and resources to offering services to those in need instead of trying to destroy religious organizations in court.
Those who don’t understand Christianity—which includes far too many on the left—like to maintain that Christians can just change their stance on sexuality without any problems. They think it’s only a matter of eliminating an irrational prejudice against a certain group of people. If Christianity is all about love, and gay people love one another, can Christians really argue against gay couples adopting children? Times have changed, and so should morality. This seems like an easy enough change to make.
Except that it isn’t. Christ makes it crystal clear that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman, not a term for people who really love each other and seek legal recognition. Furthermore, God the Father makes it crystal clear that homosexual activity is a sin. What is also crystal clear is that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—commands people to love sinners and those in need (in other words, everyone) and not to foster any kind of hate. Hence the preponderance of Christians in charitable projects.
Which Teachings of Christ Can We Ignore? None of Them
When anyone asks Christians to tweak their theology to be more inclusive and ignore certain teachings, they are really asking them to change their whole faith. If God the Father or God the Son were wrong about marriage or homosexuality, what else are they wrong about?
If charity only means “being inclusive” instead of seeking the good of others, then maybe doing nothing and posting rainbow flags on social media is the most charitable thing a person can do. And if seeking the good is still important, is it really that good to give a child to a couple potentially unfit for parenthood? If loving one’s neighbors equates to letting them do whatever they want and refusing to judge, why does the Bible include so many judgments and rules?
If gay couples are essentially the same as straight couples in their relationship and capacity to care for children, why does God, who created the universe, not allow people of the same sex to create children naturally? Finally, is it wise to encourage Christians to define themselves by their sexuality rather than their relationship with God?
With so many issues raised by defining love and marriage differently, any Christian organization that compromises on this question necessarily forfeits its Christian identity. Bethany Christian Services now serves Michigan; it does not serve Christ. It has transformed from a Christian charity into another social service subsidized by the state and a dwindling pool of private donors.
Over time, Bethany Christian Services will go the way of other charities subverted by government and progressive activists—it will lose support among actual Christians, become thoroughly secularized, and end up perpetuating the problems it was originally designed to combat. Saturated with secular values, it will promote the behaviors and attitudes that lead to unparented children and abusive adults and discourage the virtues that empower family life.
Since it already compromised itself once, it will continue to do so, favoring fundraising and a public image over actually helping victims. Meanwhile, it will become less effective and more corrupt. This is how so many Catholic charities today end up distributing contraceptives, facilitating abortions, lobbying for open borders, endorsing anti-Christian ideologies like socialism, laundering money, and of course, embezzling countless millions of dollars.
These charities, thankfully, represent a minority among the many good charities that hold fast to Christian doctrine, but they harm Catholic culture as a whole. While there are many priests (and bishops) ready to denounce intolerance, lacking compassion, stressing over orthodoxy, or being miserly and uncharitable, there are very few priests (and almost no bishops) willing to preach against abortion, divorce, addiction, or respecting the laws and customs of a country. In all too many cases, they are accomplices or enablers of these sins.
One might attribute these scandals to the Catholic Church’s large charitable reach. Being by far the largest charitable organization in the world for so many centuries, mixing with bad actors is unavoidable. Nevertheless, many of these problems stem directly from the church’s collaboration with the government. As soon as the government becomes a customer, it will always impose its values on the provider, no matter what rights the Constitution guarantees.
Occasionally, Catholic organizations will push back—again, imagine what the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Obama administration could have done with the millions wasted in litigation—but many of them swallow the poison pill of government funding and hope no one finds out.
A Certain Fate from Compromise
The consequence of a Christian charity changing its policies to match government-endorsed anti-religious views is not the possible outcome of a slippery slope; the decline is certain. When an organization compromises its values, it initiates a vicious sequence: without clear values or principles, the purpose becomes confused; a confused purpose then puts into question the identity of the organization; without an identity, the organization’s mission becomes incoherent and often counterproductive; and when this happens, those people who benefited from the organization are either neglected or actively harmed. This has been the fate of all too many liberal Christian churches that have adopted modern values prioritizing “inclusivity” and permissiveness over discipline and sacrifice.
The only way to prevent this sequence is for government and individuals to respect people’s beliefs and values in the first place. If someone wants to spread his values—Christian or not—through charity, he should do so by competing, not compelling. If the LGBT community wants to help gay couples adopt, they can start their own adoption agencies. If militant atheists want to indoctrinate kids with secular humanist values and hire liberal activists for teachers, they can build their own schools. If technocratic plutocrats want to provide contraceptives and iPads instead of food and medicine to starving families in the third world, they can do so without taxpayer or church assistance.
If any of these groups discriminate against Christians because serving them conflicts with their values or mission, they should be free to do so. And they should count on Christians to respond with their own charitable activity, and a limited, tolerant government to do nothing except uphold the law.
Not only would this reflect true social justice for all parties involved, but it would also lead to a healthy renewal of philanthropy in society and direct people’s efforts towards helping people in need. Charity starts with values, and safeguarding those values is the only way to safeguard charity.