April 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A large foster care agency run by Christian evangelicals announced last month that it will begin to serve LGBTQ people nationwide, marking a major shift in policy.

The Michigan-based Bethany Chris­tian Services announced the shift on March 1. In an email to the agency’s employees, Chris Palusky, the organization’s president, wrote, “We will now offer services with the love and compassion of Jesus to the many types of families who exist in our world today. We’re taking an all hands on deck’ approach where all are welcome.”      

The New York Times called the announcement “a significant departure” for Bethany. The group, which is 77 years old, is the largest Protestant adoption and foster agency in the United States, with offices in 32 states.

State and local governments often contract with private adoption and foster care agencies, meaning that Bethany was often working on behalf of the government even as it refused to serve certain people. In recent years, several state and local governments have passed laws mandating that contractors like Bethany cease discriminating against LGBTQ parents.

The Times reported that for many years, Bethany had an informal policy of referring same-sex couples to other agencies. The issue came to a head in Philadelphia three years ago after a same-sex couple who sought to become foster parents was told that Bethany would not work with them.

Philadelphia officials suspended Bethany’s contract, and the group later agreed to drop the discriminatory policies. However, Bethany branches in other states continued to discriminate.

Susanne Jordan, a member of Beth­any’s board of directors, told The Times that the organization will begin offering training to all employees on how to work with LGBTQ clients.

“We’re opening the door to more families and more churches,” Jordan said. “We recognize there are people who will not be happy. We may lose some donors. But the message we’re trying to give is inviting people alongside of us. Serving children should not be controversial.”