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Giving up? Not on vulnerable children

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Written by Chris Palusky, President and CEO Bethany Christan Services

“Giving Up.” These words jump off the cover of the November 2019 edition of World Magazine. The white flag image that accompanies the headline isn’t subtle—it’s designed to give readers the impression that Bethany Christian Services capitulated under government pressure to place children in foster care with same-sex couples. It implies that we’ve surrendered our sincerely held convictions that come from our faith in Christ.

I’m writing to set the record straight.

This magazine cover and accompanying article paint an inaccurate picture of a tough decision Bethany made after a long period of prayer and Christ-centered deliberation. It also undermines Bethany’s 75-year commitment to put vulnerable children first.

As Christians, we believe we’re called to follow Jesus’ example and walk alongside people who are hurting, especially children in foster care. Bethany’s foundational mission is to demonstrate the love and compassion of Jesus Christ by protecting children. It’s sharing the Gospel through action (Matthew 25:40; James 1:27). Our mission is as true today as it was 75 years ago.

Last year in Michigan, Bethany provided foster care services for 1,744 children and helped 381 children in foster care find permanent, adoptive families. The children in our care spent 263,923 days in safe, loving foster homes in 2018. Without Bethany and our foster families, where would they be?

When, in Michigan, Bethany’s foster care program faced imminent closure following the settlement agreement reached by the state in Dumont v. Gordon, it would have significantly impacted the thousands of kids in our care. We’d been down this road before. In Philadelphia, the city temporarily stopped Bethany’s ability to place children with foster families. Kids had to go somewhere else than Bethany foster homes, and it broke our hearts.

But we determined not to give up on the kids God created and calls us to care for. Instead, Bethany chose to continue serving children in Michigan and Philadelphia because Christians need to reflect God’s light into the lives of kids who have been traumatized, abused and neglected. (Matthew 5:14).

The reality is that the government runs the foster care system, and we cannot serve children in foster care without contracting with the state. So we faced a choice: continue caring for hurting children who need a safe family, or close our foster care program completely because we disagree with government requirements.

At Bethany, we opted not to give up on kids, yet we have not changed our long-standing recruitment practices. We identify, equip, and encourage families in the faith community to live out their Christian commitment by opening their homes to care for children in need. A vast majority of foster care families that work with Bethany come from the Church, and more than 99% adhere to a biblical view on marriage.

The World article paints an inaccurate picture of the legal situation by ignoring recent cases where Christian agencies have lost, including in Philadelphia, Illinois, and Massachusetts. In Michigan, engaging in litigation would have meant “giving up” on kids Christ told us to love and serve, because our foster care services could have been shutdown during an extended legal battle.

We expect that legal challenges in Michigan will be ongoing and include multiple appeals over several years. We would rather continue to help the children who need our services. And by staying in the foster care space, we can continue to be a Christian voice speaking with authority into future legislation, practices, and discussions surrounding children and families.

Bethany remains focused on serving vulnerable children in the U.S. and around the world as an expression of God’s love, and we remain committed to recruiting Christian families from local churches.

Bethany will not walk away from children who need us. Rather, now is the time to listen to Christ’s words in John 9:4–5: "As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

Please continue to hold Bethany in your prayers as we continue our work in love and faith.

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