When a lesbian couple in Philadelphia attended a Bethany information session on foster parenting in 2018, they were told “this organization has never placed a child with a same-sex couple,” one of the women told The Philadelphia Inquirer. They were eventually referred to another agency. Media reports about the incident prompted the city to suspend contracts with Bethany’s local branch and Catholic Social Services, another Christian agency with the same practice.
Some faith-based agencies have challenged new requirements to work with gay clients in the courts. Catholic Social Services sued the City of Philadelphia over its contract suspension, a case that the Supreme Court heard in November. A ruling is expected by the end of June.
Bethany, by contrast, has generally opted to comply. In Philadelphia, the branch quickly changed its policy to work with gay parents, and the city restored its contract. That year, Bethany’s national board passed a resolution granting local boards the authority to comply with state and local contract requirements. As of last year, the organization said, Bethany branches in 12 states were working with L.G.B.T.Q. families, although those changes were rarely publicized.
Bethany’s new approach is something of a tightrope act: an attempt to establish a clear, consistent policy of inclusion that does not rattle its core constituencies, including the churches that are its primary venue for recruiting parents. The inclusivity resolution passed in January eliminated the 2007 position statement on marriage being between one man and one woman. But the new statement does not endorse same-sex relationships — in fact, it does not even mention them.
The policy, which was quietly approved by its 14-member national board on Jan. 21, instead states that “Christians of mutual good faith can reasonably disagree on various doctrinal issues, about which Bethany does not maintain an organizational position.”
The board’s vote was unanimous, but internal discussions have prompted “a few” board members to depart since 2018, according to Nathan Bult, Bethany’s senior vice president of public and government affairs. He emphasized that the current board includes members with “diverse personal views on sexuality.”
Many evangelical nonprofits are familiar with how policy changes like this can go awry. When the evangelical relief agency World Vision announced in 2014 that it would begin hiring Christians in same-sex marriages, donor backlash was so fierce that the group reversed the decision within 48 hours. Mr. Palusky, who arrived at Bethany in 2018, was an executive at World Vision at that time.
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