Cameron Shaffer: Bethany Christian Services policy change a compromise with sin


Cameron Shaffer

In the 1980s, the EPC endorsed and commended Bethany Christian Services (BCS), a Christian adoption and child services organization, to our congregations as a valuable resource for assisting orphaned children. We did this in the shadow of abortion: if we were to condemn abortion as evil and murder, then we needed to be able to step up and help children who were not wanted. Of course, that is not the only reason to support adoption—caring for orphans and other vulnerable children is what true Christianity looks like. But in the face of abortion, the value of adoption is made clear. Life is better than death; healing is better than harm.

In 2019, the EPC began reevaluating our endorsement of BCS when they changed their policy in Michigan (where they are headquartered) to allow gay couples to adopt. The decision followed a lawsuit brought by the ACLU that jeopardized BCS’ contract with the state’s Department of Human Services. At the time, BCS maintained the national policy that marriage is between one man and woman. Outside of Michigan, BCS would not place children for adoption with gay couples. Fast-forward to March 2021, when BCS announced that they would be changing their national policy and begin placing children with same-sex couples.

As a result of these decisions, the EPC’s Theology Committee will bring a recommendation to the 41st General Assembly in June to rescind the denomination’s endorsement of BCS.

Any honest observer would interpret the approval of that recommendation as the EPC believing it is better for a child to be stuck in the foster system than adopted by a gay couple, or that we think being aborted is better than living in a home parented by two dads.

Why would the EPC dissolve this long-standing relationship? Why not place children with gay couples? Why refuse to support adoption agencies that do so?

The answer is how the Bible defines the terms being used. Specific to the EPC’s endorsement of BCS: what is family, who decides, and into what are children being adopted?

When BCS changed their national policy, they also dropped from their position statement that God’s design for marriage is between one man and one woman. If their previous affirmation—and the historic position of Orthodox Christianity—is correct, then a gay couple is not married, no matter what the law recognizes. We may refer to them as married for the sake of social convention, but conformity to the biblical nature of marriage is necessary for it to be marriage. No matter how loving, caring, and committed a gay couple is, they are not married in any biblical, and therefore real, sense of the word.

Our culture has redefined human identity and institutions in terms of its own preferences and sense of fulfillment. Yet biblical truth declares that families require parents. Husbands and wives are to be the father and mother of their family. Families are fathers and mothers together with their children. Multigenerational families are just that: multiple generations of children with their fathers and mothers.

Of course, some families are broken in different ways: divorce, death, adultery, abuse. Sin of all kinds distorts the blessing of God’s design for marriage and family. In all these cases, children are the victims of sinful disfigurements of God’s design for marriage and family. An internet search on the effects of single parent households on children reveals study after study that reinforce biblical truth: Children need both fathers and mothers.

Adoption is intended to be a means by which parentless, family-less children are joined to a family that can be the father and mother that their biological parents cannot. Adoption is to be a balm of healing to the injuries of sin. Children need parents, and parents are fathers and mothers. Other caregivers can be good and helpful, but the foster system with its inherent lack of stability also lacks the permanent family unit.

Do children need families? Yes. Do children need fathers and mothers? Yes. However, children adopted by a gay couple are not being protected from sinful distortions of marriage and family. Rather, they are placed into a sinful facsimile of them.

The EPC withdrawing its endorsement from BCS is the Church signaling that it cannot condone an agency willing to place children in couples that are not families.

Undoubtedly, many same-sex couples are more caring than some fathers and mothers. Many children adopted by gay couples have better lives with them than they would in the foster system. But those observations mask adoption’s design. Adoption is not for getting kids out of the foster system, or for finding the kindest caretakers. Its purpose is to join children to families.

The church should care for the physical and mental wellbeing of children. But its primary calling is to care for their spiritual wellbeing. The spiritual nurture of children includes raising them to love and obey God as He is revealed in Scripture. A same-sex couple in an inherently sinful, distorted relationship is intrinsically unable to do so.

Is withdrawing endorsement from BCS the Church abandoning children? No. Numerous   Christian adoption agencies still hold to God’s design in where they place children. In 2019, BCS changed their policy in Michigan following court battles, but a federal judge there later sided with Catholic groups that refused to accede to Michigan’s demands. The truth is that BCS abandoned their fellow Christian adoption agencies when they abandoned the Scriptural definition of family.

Individual Christian families are still able to adopt through BCS—which is a good thing. But a family adopting a child is different from a Church endorsing an agency whose desperation to avoid legal consequences leads to a compromise with sin.

God’s design for children is for them to be raised in a family. By the biblical definition of “family,” same-sex couples are not it. That standard should be what the EPC and Christian adoption agencies follow in caring for orphans.

Cameron Shaffer is a member of the EPC’s permanent Theology Committee. He serves as Pastor of Langhorne Presbyterian Church in Langhorne, Pa., in the Presbytery of the East.

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7 thoughts on “Cameron Shaffer: Bethany Christian Services policy change a compromise with sin

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  3. TE Adam Reasner

    I respectfully disagree with my friend Rev. Shaffer and the EPC Theology Committee. First, let us consider a hypothetical-but-not-so-hypothetical situation if you would. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that in my lifetime the government of this country may forbid ANY agency from engaging in foster care or adoption services unless they serve everyone equally, including LGBTQ+ people. What then? Does the church then say “Sorry, I guess we can’t take care of orphans any more. I know you told us to Lord, but if some of them have to go to gay people, no can do.” Surely that’s ludicrous. Yet that’s precisely the trajectory this recommendation would put us on.

    This proposal by the EPC Theology Committee is unnecessary, ill-timed, built upon theologically suspect assertions, and does not help a single baby in need. I will explain…

    In saying the EPC should withdraw its support from an adoption agency that places children with gay parents, Rev. Shaffer says it all hinges on “how the Bible defines the terms being used. Specific to the EPC’s endorsement of BCS: what is family, who decides, and into what are children being adopted?”

    The second of these three questions is vague so let’s focus on questions one and three. What is family and into what are children being adopted?

    Rev. Shaffer says “Yet biblical truth declares that families require parents. Husbands and wives are to be the father and mother of their family. Families are fathers and mothers together with their children. Multigenerational families are just that: multiple generations of children with their fathers and mothers.”

    What is a family?

    It might be difficult to proof-text Shaffer’s assertions (I saw no references to the actual Bible in the initial post) because the Bible’s “definition” of a family is neither consistent nor monolithic. The model of a family that the Bible does put forward consistently is that of a covenantal family. A biblical family is a covenantally bonded group of believers; young, old, male and female, doing life together, teaching the faith to successive generations, and bearing witness to Yahweh to a lost world. This is what the Hebrew term for family, mispahat, describes which is why it can be translated either as family, extended family, or tribe. A biblical family definitionally does NOT require a (singular) mom and a (singular) dad. Biological (worldly) families do, but NOT covenantal families. This is illustrated in several places. The Apostle Paul appeals to Philemon for Paul’s “son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains [by virtue of Onesimus’ conversion]…I am sending him – who is my very heart – back to you” (Philemon 10). Paul refers to the Corinthian believers as sons and daughters, and to Timothy and Titus as sons. Jesus significantly demotes the status of a biological family vis-a-vis the covenantal family saying, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt. 12:48-50).

    Moreover, the quintessential adoptee of scripture is adopted, under God’s providence, by a single mother into the most pagan of non-nuclear families. “20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, 21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son” (Acts 7:20-21).

    (As an aside, are we willing also to condemn the adoption of children by single people, including widows?)

    Into what are children being adopted?

    I have a hard time seeing biblical support for Rev. Shaffer’s definition of adoption as “a means by which parentless, family-less children are joined to a family that can be the father and mother that their biological parents cannot”. I can’t think of a case in scripture where this is the definition of adoption. Even if I grant his definition and purpose of adoption, there simply are not enough people in this world who understand and ascribe to the Bible’s definition of a family as a covenantally bonded group of believers, to ensure all children are only ever placed with true biblical families. In the face of this reality, we must ask W.W.J.D.? What would Jochebed do? You remember Jochebed, right? The mother of Moses, when faced with a truly impossible dilemma, sent her precious baby boy out into the Nile aboard a papyrus basket. She did her best, and then trusted Yahweh with the rest.

    Into what are children being adopted? If I could, I’d put every motherless child with a married mom and dad within the broader covenant family of the Church (preferably the EPC of course!). But I cannot. We therefore must do our best to get as many children as possible safe, well-fed, and cared for. In so doing we promote life and we do our very best to care for orphans and widows; to advance the cause of the fatherless, both scriptural mandates far clearer and more ubiquitous than anything having to do with the sexuality of a child’s caregivers. This is what I and the dozens of foster parents like me try to do every day. In doing so we may have to take a child for medical care we disagree with. We may have to accommodate gender identities or religious expressions from the children that we disagree with. We may only serve as enablers to abusive parents. Is retreat the solution to this ethical dilemma? Do we not foster? Neither should we withdraw our support from an organization doing their best to honor God and promote life for as many children in need as possible.

  4. Brently Jordan

    I agree with and am very thankful for the EPC’s position regarding a Biblical view of sexuality and marriage. However, I do not believe it would be best to pull our support from Bethany Christian Services. I serve as an EPC Pastor and I volunteer as a CASA (court appointed special advocate). My role as a CASA has me coming alongside and being a voice for abused and neglected children. I get to know their situation and speak with those individuals closely involved in their life. I am then invited to write reports for and testify in court all in an effort to give voice to what seems to be in the child’s best interest. I have learned that our world is broken at levels deeper than I had previously experienced and there are so many children in pain and in need of a safe loving home. The CASA staff and volunteers are made up of people from many different worldviews. The same is true with judges, DSC workers, and therapists. That means I find myself linking arms with Lesbians, Atheists, and nominally Christian folks. We link arms in the common purpose of protecting children. I want the life-changing power of the Gospel to come in and transform every child in the system who I hear about and with whom I interact. However, I/we must first work to get that child physically safe before I/we work to share the message of the Gospel with them. Because of this, in certain situations, I may recommend that a child be placed with an adult who is living a lifestyle that is against biblical teaching. That non-Christian adult living a non-biblical lifestyle will still in many cases be a far safer place for a child than the abused and neglected home that they have grown up knowing. While I certainly prefer seeing children grow up in an environment that falls in line with God’s design for the family as outlined in scripture, until enough Christians step forward to completely cover all the foster care and adoption need in the world, I will fully support children being placed in safe homes whether Christian or non-Christian. I want adoption agencies to be free to find a safe place for every child. I do not believe that faith and practice are well aligned if a Christian seeks to prevent a non-Christian from fostering or adopting a child while they themselves are unwilling to foster or adopt a child. Until this need is met by Christians we should not exclude non-Christians from being a part of meeting the need and offering a safe home to children.

  5. Pingback: Adoptions to Same-Sex Couples. Article up at EPConnection – Joy and Solemnity

  6. Jane E Bodden

    Thank you for such a clear presentation of this recommendation. I pray that the 41st GA will approve it as presented.


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