Bethany Christian Services no longer hiring non-Christians, bans political displays

Reuters/Victor Ruiz Garcia
Reuters/Victor Ruiz Garcia

Amid media reports of staff disgruntled with a hiring policy change, the international Evangelical foster and immigrant resettlement charity Bethany Christian Services has confirmed that it only hires Christians who align with its core beliefs and doesn't allow them to promote political causes in the workplace. 

"Bethany Christian Services, like most religious organizations, expects its employees to align with core beliefs that reflect Bethany's foundation of faith and to adhere to certain expectations, including following a viewpoint-neutral policy against workplace activism and advocacy," a statement from Bethany Christian Services shared with The Christian Post reads. 

"This policy is designed to promote a culture of mutual respect and unity for our diverse staff and clients as we work to serve vulnerable men, women, and children of all backgrounds and beliefs."

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The statement comes as Michigan news outlets, like WOOD-TV 8, reported this month that the Grand Rapids-based charity's new CEO, Keith Cureton, who was appointed last June, told staff late last year that the organization will no longer make exceptions to hiring non-Christians. 

Bethany Christians Services says it employs nearly 2,000 people across 120 locations worldwide, aiding over 80,400 people in 2022. 

The outlet notes that some staff were disgruntled with the change, with one unidentified employee stating that the policy was enacted swiftly without discussion of how it would be implemented.  

Under the new executive, there was also reportedly a stricter ban on political workplace displays, such as flags or banners that support the LGBT community or other politically divisive movements such as Black Lives Matter. The policy also includes conservative political displays, such as those promoting the pro-Trump MAGA movement or a "1776 flag," an employee told WOOD-TV.  

A message reportedly sent to staff on Dec. 5 from a BCS administrator told employees that there have been "numerous instances" of Grand Rapids-based workers not following the new "advocacy vs. activism" policy.

"Please ensure that if you have anything that is in violation of this policy at work (i.e., flags, lanyards, buttons, decorations etc.) that you are taking it home with you ASAP. As Bethany employees we are required to adhere to the agency policies regardless if we agree with them, and moving forward failure or refusal to do so will result in disciplinary actions," the notice reportedly stated, according to WOOD-TV.

The anonymous employee said that "people are frustrated" by the new policies, adding that they believe the changes stem from when Bethany's refugee branch moved into its main campus in August. 

"We ran into a culture clash," the anonymous BCS worker was quoted as saying. "The refugee side very much embraces diversity, very much embraces, people come from all walks of life, and there's a widespread passion for LGBTQ+ inclusion. … It was kind of right in (the higher-up's) face all of a sudden, and I think a lot of people didn't take very kindly to that."

Bethany Christian Services is far from the only Christian organization that requires its staff members to adhere to its core beliefs or principles. Courts have often sided with Christian organizations that have been sued or faced penalties over such policies.

In Wyoming, for example, a Christian nonprofit serving as the state's largest homeless shelter secured a favorable settlement with state and federal officials in 2022 after it faced the threat of punishment from government officials for only hiring Christian employees. 

In October, Muslim and Jewish groups filed a legal brief expressing concern that a Michigan law could force a Christian healthcare provider to hire people who are not Christians.

The Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty and the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team of the Religious Freedom Institute contend that an exemption to civil rights law allowing religious nonprofits to hire only adherents to the faith "serves significant constitutional interests by deferring to religious organizations' own determination of which roles and responsibilities are so tied to the group's religious mission that they may be filled only by fellow believers."

"Properly applied, the exemption preserves the autonomy of religious groups; recognizes and respects their unique knowledge of and expertise in their religious beliefs, missions, motivations, and practices; preserves the free exercise rights of religious groups; and prevents state entanglement with religious groups and doctrines," read the brief.

Although Bethany has a foster care contract with the state, courts have ruled that Christian groups don't need to compromise their hiring rights or stances on hot-button cultural issues to qualify for contracts with the government. A federal judge ruled in October that a Christian academy in Colorado shouldn't be forced to hire non-believers in order to be eligible for a state preschool funding program.

In 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that officials in Philadelphia could force a Catholic foster agency to place children with same-sex couples. 

Steve McFarland of the Christian Legal Society told WOOD-TV that Bethany Christian Services is within its right to require employees be Christian and refrain from displaying political messages. 

"I don't have a right to be hired by a Muslim Mosque," McFarland told the outlet. "I don't have a right to display a Palestinian flag if I'm an employee of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue."

This is not the first time a Bethany Christian Services policy change has drawn headlines. In 2019, the charity announced it would start placing foster and adoptive children in the homes of same-sex couples after being sued for refusing to work with same-sex couples. The change reportedly came after employees threatened to walk out of their jobs if the policy was not amended. 

Nicole Alcindor is a reporter for The Christian Post. 

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