Bethany Christian Services, the largest Christian adoption and foster agency in the U.S., recently faced a gut-wrenching decision. Either change its policy and begin placing foster children with same-sex couples—or lose the more than 1,000 foster care contracts the agency had with the state of Michigan.
Bethany chose the former. And now the 60-year-old agency committed to equipping families to be the “answer for children . . . as Christ intended” will place foster children with LGBT couples.
The agency insisted this does not represent a change to its mission or Christian beliefs. In a Christianity Today op-ed, Bethany CEO Chris Palusky described the decision as the only compassionate option: “(W)e faced a choice: Continue caring for hurting children in foster care or let our disappointment with government requirements supersede our compassion for kids who have suffered and need a loving family.”
I can understand Pulasky’s desire to help children in the foster care system. These often abused and neglected children desperately need Christian compassion and care.
But Palusky’s response is deeply troubling. Palusky does what so many Christians do when asked to compromise their stance on biblical sexual ethics. He presents a false dichotomy that frames the decision in such a way that makes refusing to compromise one’s principles seem downright cruel.
Yet Bethany wasn’t being asked to choose between giving precedence to “caring for hurting children” or its “disappointment with government requirements”; it was being asked to choose between standing on principle or caving to the demands of a secular state.
Though I grieve that needy kids may be hurt, it won’t be because Christian agencies stuck to their beliefs and mission; it will be because the secular state sacrificed the well-being of children for the imagined virtue of political correctness.
As Christians, who believe that God’s design for marriage and family is critical to the well-being of children, can succumbing to the state’s redefinition of marriage ever truly be the compassionate choice?
When I heard of Bethany’s decision, I couldn’t help but think of a story I reported years ago concerning foster care in Illinois. In 2011, Illinois passed the Freedom of Religion and Civil Union Act. And like what Michigan just did, Illinois canceled all its contracts with Illinois agencies that refused to place foster children with same-sex couples.
Hit especially hard by this ruling was a small Christian foster care and adoption agency called the Evangelical Child and Family Agency (ECFA). At the time, the ECFA had 242 foster children in its program and foster care contracts comprised about 70% of the ECFA’s revenue.
Interestingly, the ECFA said it never had a same-sex couple apply to the organization to provide foster care. But if a same-sex couple had applied, the ECFA would have referred the couple to one of several other agencies that would have helped them.
Regardless, the state gave the ECFA an ultimatum: comply with the state’s new requirement or have its foster care contracts canceled. Cancellation meant that the ECFA would have to lay off 37 staff and face a very uncertain future. Yet that’s precisely what the ECFA did.
“Our mission is to place children in evangelical Christian homes,” Ken Withrow, executive director of ECFA, told me. “We chose not to change our mission and our vision, regardless of what else was happening in government or society.”
This resulted in a very difficult year for the ECFA. But in God’s providence, soon after the ECFA lost its foster care contracts, the state began calling on the agency to meet another need.
Apparently, the state had decided to outsource many of its cases in its Intact Family Services Program and asked the ECFA to take on a heavier load. (Intact Family Services is a program designed to intervene with families in crisis so that children can remain safely in their homes.)
In three years, the ECFA’s Intact Family Services caseload had tripled and the agency was able to begin hiring back some staff members the agency had let go. Now ECFA is running at about half the revenue it was in 2011, as opposed to 30-percent. The transition has been hard, but Withrow says he doesn’t regret the decision the ECFA made.
Today, many Christian organizations are facing, or will face, the same choice the ECFA and Bethany faced. Just last week, Catholic Social Services lost its case against the city of Philadelphia, arguing that the city’s decision to cancel its foster care contract violated the group’s religious freedom. Like the ECFA, Catholic Social Services chose to lose its foster care contracts rather than change its policy on placing children with LGBT couples.
The group says it will appeal the decision, but there’s no guarantee the appeal will achieve the desired result. And Catholic Social Services likely will have to decide—continue to obey God’s rules or obey man’s. Hold fast to its organization’s mission or capitulate to survive.
God can save needy children without Christian organizations placing kids in homes that defy God’s design. Nothing is stopping Christian couples from working with secular agencies to continue caring for foster children. But who knows? If enough Christian groups refuse to play by the state’s repressive rules, it may create a crisis that will force states to work with principled, Christian agencies once again.
But whatever the challenge, our answer as Christians must be the same. We cannot participate in something we believe is wrong even to achieve a desired good. The ends do not justify the means. And as Christians, we must continue doing things God’s way, trusting Him for the outcome.