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How Bethany Christian Services’ Abandonment Of The Faith Will Hurt Foster Children


On March 1, Bethany Christian Services sent shock waves through the adoption and foster care community with its landmark decision to place children with same-sex parents. There staring out from the pages of The New York Times stood the imposing figure of Chris Palusky, president of this historic Christian agency rooted in the Dutch Reformed world of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The news of surrender hit hard. Bethany, the ten-ton gorilla of adoption and foster care, and the place Christians usually turn to first, caved to the pressure of the LGBT lobby.

Of course, everyone knew Bethany had been hit with lawsuits in Philadelphia and Michigan. But Bethany was not alone in the fight to allow Christian relief agencies, including adoption and foster care, to offer care for the vulnerable while also following dictates of their religious convictions. Bethany was but the largest, and most visible, Protestant group.

Everyone’s eyes have been focused on the upcoming June ruling by the Supreme Court, Fulton vs. the City of Philadelphia. Will Catholic Social Services, a vanguard of care in Philadelphia, be able to continue placing children as they always have, in father-mother families? Or will religious convictions be labeled “discrimination” and ministries like theirs cut off at the knees?

Catholic Social Services already helps same-sex couples find placements through 29 other nearby agencies. Like Bethany in the past, they simply request to operate their own ministry according to their conscience. That Bethany has capitulated even before this major verdict was rendered weakens everyone.

Faith-based agencies have counted on Bethany to stand strong. They know that if the Supreme Court decides against Catholic Social Services in June, many of the 8,000 faith-affirming providers and families they serve will be forced out of business.

Can This Be Called Compassion?

Bethany has succumbed to pressure from the left to redefine marriage and parenting. Gone from their website is any reference to the long-accepted binary of male and female. In its place is the all-inclusive, sanitized word “family.”

Bethany frames their historic pivot as “compassion.” Palusky, the organization’s president and CEO, says Bethany now wants “to offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today.”

Implied, somehow, is that same-sex families are being excluded from the privilege of adoption and foster care. That’s not the case. Same-sex couples have always fostered or adopted children through any of myriad state and secular agencies.

The driving force for Bethany has been the threat of losing federal funding. If religious freedom becomes a second-class right, the federal tax dollars large adoption and foster care agencies like Bethany rely on will go away. Bethany read the handwriting on the wall. The bullseye of their surrender is the fear of losing federal monies.

The goal, which easily gets lost in this discussion, is to get as many children into safe and stable homes as possible. The opioid epidemic has produced a huge spike in the number of children needing care.

In the previous administration, the tension between faith-based agencies and secular ones was resolved by a determination to keep everyone at the table, every agency involved. Amy Stephens, a senior advisor for the Administration of Children and Families until 2021, says that “to undermine faith-based agencies by accusing them of “discrimination” for following biblically held beliefs “ultimately hurts foster children and keeps them in an already terrible place.”

This approach of keeping every agency fully onboard produced the first decline in history of “waiting children” who were eligible for adoption. More children found families.

Bethany’s surrender to the aggressive tactics of LGBT activists is a great blow to the effort to care for the country’s most vulnerable children. They become pawns in a social engineering experiment about what constitutes “family” and “parenting.” The demand to mainstream same-sex parenting comes at their expense. If the left cares about children, the worst possible approach is to politicize their placement. This isn’t compassion. It’s a cause for mourning.

Children Will Pay The Price

One great irony here is that Bethany has had the privilege of riding the wave of increased commitment to foster care and adoption among Christian churches for a decade. Saddleback Community Church in California began the trend. It was the first megachurch to make foster care an all-out goal. If church families opened their homes, county welfare agencies could throw away their lists. Other churches followed suit.

Rooted in the first-century biblical admonition to “care for widows and orphans in their distress,” this renewed call to help vulnerable children rings out from many pulpits now. Indeed, the response has been so great that groups like Promise 686 in Atlanta focus entirely on helping churches build “family advocacy ministries” to care for families who foster and adopt.

Promise expected to serve only churches in Georgia. Within three years, though, so many groups sought their help that they now have 33 affiliates in more than 20 states. Ty Bryant, Promise’s vice president, warns that a deluge of needy children is coming, as the pandemic has forced many into lockdown situations in poor placements. The abuse reports are the highest on record. The country can hardly afford to lose agencies and families willing to foster and adopt.

These families have relied on Bethany to have their backs and to stand by Christian principles. Motivated Christian couples have been Bethany’s bread-and-butter supporters. They are the constituency who feels most betrayed.

Darcy Olsen, who directs a major foster care reform effort in Arizona called Generation Justice, says that “without Christians providing foster care, the number of people fostering in this country would drop by half.” She advocates, as many do, that the state should let groups “come as they are.” We need everyone on board.

Capitulation Never Goes Well

Bethany’s surrender will empower the left in its grand march to coerce compliance around its moral code. A fake-unity of sorts is achieved. But it’s the kind that comes from treating partners as enemies if they think differently, then running them out of business.

There’s a high cost to this approach. Those “small platoons” of care and generosity that have marked western societies for centuries will slowly disappear. What will replace them? Only the work of a cumbersome, impersonal nanny-state that regulates every move from a thousand miles away.

If Christian organizations are undermined in the care of children, everyone will lose. Tragically, children will lose the most. The longer a child languishes in the system, packing his little bag for the next foster care placement, the greater his chance of never finding a lasting home. A full 60 percent of teenagers who end up being trafficked for sex were former foster care children. It’s a sin to increase the vulnerability of already vulnerable children.

When the state chooses to undermine faith-based organizations, and when a group like Bethany abandons any meaningful adherence to the word “Christian,” more children end up receiving less care. That’s the actual bottom line.

Bethany may renew their federal contracts. But in the bigger picture, more abandoned children will run the streets.