Christian Social Worker Speaks Out on Why She Opposes Adoption Discrimination
Grand Rapids, MI
I oppose discrimination in foster care and adoption based on religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity because 1) it is morally reprehensible and 2) it affects my family because my daughter is a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
People say when you know better, you do better and that is why I am telling you my story. I worked for a Christian adoption/foster care agency in the past. I very much regret this due to their discriminatory practices toward LGBTQ+ folks and those that do not identify as Christian.
I have been a social worker in the state of Michigan since the early ‘90’s. My first job in Wayne County was working for a private agency as a foster care case manager. I did this for a couple of years and then my husband took a job in Kent County so a move across the state was necessary (this was around 1994). I started looking for jobs and found an ad for the same job at a private agency called Bethany Christian Services. I got an interview and then a job offer quickly. I jumped at the offer because I felt comfortable doing this work. I first started to notice a difference with this agency when I was filling out the necessary paperwork. I had to sign an affirmation of faith which was similar to the Apostle’s creed. I did believe the things that it said (because I am a practicing Christian) but I didn’t like the idea that I had to sign this to work there. As a relatively new social worker at that time, I didn’t know how easy it would be for me to find a job so I didn’t want to “rock the boat” and I signed it. I began my work and began learning more about the agency as well as the culture of West Michigan. I came to understand that Bethany was affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church and this belief system was well entrenched within the agency. I learned pretty early on that to be an adoptive parent you had to belong to a Christian church in order to be able to adopt. As a matter of fact, it had to be the correct kind of church. I learned that a local church in Grand Rapids (Fountain Street) did not count as it was not “really” Christian. This really bothered me but I continued to work there and I didn’t say anything about their policies to people in power. I worked at Bethany for a couple of years until I quit so I could go to graduate school for my masters of social work degree.
I finished grad school, worked at a different job for a short while and then ended up leaving the social work field for ten years to raise my children. That was much longer then I had initially intended to be away from social work. Around 2005 I went back to work once again in the area of child welfare. I took a position in an agency where I did in home therapy with families that had been involved with Child Protective Services. I did this work for a year when the agency lost the state contract for the program and Bethany Christian Services got the contract. Bethany was very considerate to interview everyone who wanted to continue in the program and work for them. Once again, I found myself in a very similar situation. I had been out of the field for a decade and did not know how easy it would be to find another job and I liked the work I was doing. So, when Bethany offered me the position so I could keep doing what I had been doing, I accepted. Once again, I had to sign a profession of faith and I realized that Bethany had not changed in the decade since I last worked there.
I worked for Bethany for about four years until I transitioned out of child welfare work into medical social work. Over the years as I matured as a person and as a social worker, I thought more and more about Bethany’s adoption policy (that a person had to be a Christian to adopt though them). This went against my values as a social worker as well as my Christian beliefs. I did not understand how Bethany’s board of directors could view Christian principals so differently than me. There were so many children in the foster care system waiting for homes.
Bethany’s discriminatory practices really became personal for me a few years ago. My oldest child let my husband and I know that she is gay. This was not difficult for me to hear but it made me wonder what the future would look like for her. Of course the idea of children and child birth was one thing that I thought about. At the time when my daughter told me about her sexual orientation, she was only a sophomore in college so having children was not really in the forefront of her mind, nor is it now as a recent college grad. It is however still on my mind. I fully and whole heartedly support whatever she would like to do with her future: have children or not have children, birth a child or adopt a child. It pains me greatly to have worked for an agency that would discriminate against my daughter and others just because of the person that they love. I am frustrated with myself that I worked for an agency that discriminates against people because of their religion or sexual orientation.
I can’t change the fact that I did not speak out about these practices in the past but I have vowed to do better. As a social worker, I believe that everyone deserves nondiscrimination protections and the same taxpayer-funded benefits and services. As a mother I want to do anything in my power to fight for the rights of my child and any person who identifies as LGBTQ+ so if they want to adopt a child, they will not be discriminated against. As a Christian, I want to do what I can to support any person regardless of their religious beliefs if they want to foster or adopt a child. For those reasons, I write this and for these reasons I vote.