In a major pivot, Bethany Christian Services — a large, faith-based organization based in Michigan — announced this week that it will begin accepting applications from LGBTQ individuals and couples hoping to adopt or become foster parents.
“We will now offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today,” Chris Palusky, Bethany's president, wrote in an email to his staff. “We’re taking an ‘all hands on deck’ approach where all are welcome.”
It's hard to overstate the impact Bethany's will likely have on the raging culture war in the United States with respect to the queer community's right to become parents. Bethany, like many other religiously based adoption and foster care agencies, has long discriminated against the LGBTQ community — and has supported the passage of so-called "religious freedom" bills in states across the country that permit this discrimination even by state-funded child welfare agencies.
The decision by Bethany also comes as the country awaits a major Supreme Court decision, expected this June — the case involves another religious organization, Catholic Social Services, that has also routinely discriminated against our community. Given former President Trump's ability to install three new conservative justice to the court, many legal observers believe the case may not go our way.
Which is why it's all the more impressive that a major evangelical organization — in fact, the largest Protestant adoption and foster care agency in the country — has decided to change its course voluntarily.
The policy change has been slowly building for years. According to the New York Times, 12 local Bethany adoption agencies across the country were already working with LGBTQ applicants, in an effort to comply with local non-discrimination laws. The national board granted local agencies the ability to do so. Now, all of Bethany's local agencies, which are located throughout 32 states, will do the same.
Of course — this sudden change doesn't erase its 77 year anti-LGBTQ history. The organization has not suddenly embraced marriage equality or other pro-LGBTQ policies. And perhaps more to the point for those interested in becoming adoptive for foster parents – it is a far cry to be "willing" to work with LGBTQ people than to actively nurture and support queer people in their dreams to open their homes to children in need. (Please check out our Partners to Fatherhood Directory for adoption and foster care agencies that not only LGBTQ friendly, but affirming — with long track records of success working with our community.)
Time will tell just how inclusive Bethany plans to be. Still, as the "religious freedom" wars rage on in the country, often to our community harm, we must commend the move by Bethany to put their religious beliefs aside for the betterment of the over 400,000 children in our nation's foster care system that need homes.