WASHINGTON (BP) – Southern Baptist leaders expressed disappointment and concern for the ramifications of Bethany Christian Services’ national policy reversal to place children for adoption and foster care with same-sex couples.
Bethany, the country’s largest evangelical Christian adoption agency, informed its staff in 32 states of the change Monday (March 1), but its 14-member corporate board of directors had unanimously approved a motion Jan. 20 that set the revision in motion.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said he is “disappointed in this decision, as are many.”
“The need is great for distinctively Christian adoption and foster care services, including that children need both mothers and fathers,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in written comments.
On Twitter, Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said of Bethany’s action: “Very disappointing capitulation to cultural pressure. Children need a dad and a mom in a healthy, biblical home. God’s Word is clear.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the decision reflects the “head-on collision” between “at least historically Christian foster care and adoption agencies” and, in some cases, federal, state and local governments.
“[T]he moral revolutionaries are now demanding” that every individual, institution, school, religious denomination and adoption and foster care agency “must pivot,” he said in the Tuesday (March 2) edition of “The Briefing” podcast. “And the pivot, in this case, means capitulation.”
Moore – author of the book “Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches” – expressed apprehension Bethany’s action “will harm already existing efforts to enable faith-based orphan care ministries to serve the vulnerable without capitulating on core Christian convictions.”
“The better way to serve is to hold the line when Caesar wants to be Messiah too,” Moore said. “The state has no right to serve as lord over the conscience. Nonetheless, many evangelical orphan care ministries are working, and will continue to work, for vulnerable children in need of families, while still holding to the faith.”
In recent years, religious organizations have faced requirements that they change their beliefs and practices regarding marriage and family to work with some state and local governments in adoption and foster-care placements.
One of the challenges to those restrictions has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices are expected to rule by this summer on whether the city of Philadelphia violated the religious liberty of Catholic Social Services (CSS) when it halted referrals to the agency for foster homes it licenses. The city took the action in 2018 because CSS does not place children with same-sex couples – as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) individuals – based on its beliefs about marriage and sexuality.
The ERLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of CSS with both the Supreme Court and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in favor of the city.
Bethany is one of the agencies CSS has referred same-sex couples to for home studies, said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket who argued for the Catholic agency before the Supreme Court.
“This illustrates what Catholic Social Services has said from the beginning: that there are many options available for LGBTQ families, and there is no need to take options away from children and families by shutting down agencies with different religious beliefs,” Windham said in a statement provided to Baptist Press.
Bethany had already reversed its policy on LGBTQ placements in some locations before Monday. Unlike CSS, Bethany changed in 2018 in Philadelphia in order to maintain its contract with the city. It decided in 2019 to abide by a state settlement in Michigan and place children in LGBTQ homes.
Bethany’s board of directors had given local branches the freedom to abide by government requirements regarding LGBTQ placements, something its offices in 12 states had done by last year, The New York Times reported.
Beginning in 2007, the agency had an explicit statement that “God’s design for the family is a covenant and lifelong marriage of one man and one woman.”
In its Jan. 20 motion, Bethany’s board said the agency “recognizes that Christians of mutual good faith can reasonably disagree on various doctrinal issues, about which Bethany does not maintain an organizational position.” The motion also said the board “resolves to implement a nationwide policy of inclusivity in order to serve all families across Bethany’s core service lines.”
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.
“For us to carry out our mission, we are building a broad coalition of Christians – finding families and resources for children in the greatest need. The people we serve deserve to know they are worthy of being safe, loved, and connected. The need is great, so we are taking an ‘all hands on deck’ approach.”
Lifeline Children’s Services, an evangelical adoption ministry that does not receive government funds, issued a news release Monday in which it reaffirmed its entire statement of faith, including: “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.”
Lifeline President Herbie Newell said in the release, “At Lifeline we will believe, trust, and rely upon God and His design for all things. [W]e live, work and serve for the glory and pleasure of the Lord and that informs everything that we do.”
Buckner International, a Christian ministry serving in both foster care and adoption, affirmed to BP it continues to follow its statement of faith, which says “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.”
Buckner said it does not place children in the homes of same-sex couples.
The ERLC has made a federal solution to the problem for faith-based agencies a priority in its public policy agenda. It has worked for adoption of the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, which would bar government discrimination against adoption agencies and other child welfare entities that refuse to take part in serving in a way that contradicts their beliefs.