For decades, my life as a Roman Catholic nun has provided me a wonderful relationship with the Scriptures, God, and God’s followers. It is my life’s work. Heartbreakingly, there have been instances over the years when I have heard people, my fellow Catholics included, attempt to harm LGBTQ people under the guise of faith. Thankfully, times have changed, and continue to, as the march toward equality powers on. This month, a major step forward took place in support of LGBTQ Americans, and indeed all Americans of faith, as Bethany Christian Services, one of the largest religious-run adoption and foster care agencies in the nation, announced it will work with parents who identify as LGBTQ.
The truth of the matter is that far too many children need loving homes and loving parents. Many LGBTQ parents are able to provide just that. The decision by Bethany Christian Services is rightfully being celebrated and reminds us of a notion many of us already know: treating LGBTQ people with fairness, dignity, and respect does not diminish one’s faith or harm our freedom of religion; it strengthens it.
The decision by Bethany Christian Services comes at a particularly relevant time as the United States Supreme Court is expected to rule any day in the Fulton case. The case involves the City of Philadelphia, my hometown, where a religious foster care agency violated the terms of a contract it had entered into with the city by refusing to work with same-sex couples seeking to be foster parents. The outcome of that case could have far-reaching and lasting consequences that could potentially allow private agencies that receive funding from the government to discriminate against LGBTQ people and others simply because of who they are. That is wrong.
Bethany Christian Services’ decision sets a new model and blueprint for religiously affiliated organizations that work in important spaces like foster care, and it is a simple concept: let your faith guide you to open your heart. It is demonstrating in a profound way that LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections and religion can and do happily coexist and, on top of all that, more children will find a loving home. That is God’s work in action.
For most of my ministry as a nun, I have worked with LGBTQ Catholics who felt as though they were not welcome in the church. That sentiment has shifted for the better over the past few decades, though we still have much work to do to make everyone feel and actually be welcomed. But I have seen what progress is possible, and I know that if we get to know people for who they are, we will find goodness, understanding, and acceptance. All of us have felt unwelcome in one space or another at some point in our lives. I know I remember how that felt, and so whenever I can I try to make sure no one else ever feels that just for being who they are.
I have known countless Catholics and LGBTQ advocates who are respectful and fair to each other, without the need for enshrining extraordinary religious exemptions under the law. In fact, a recent 2020 survey showed 83% of Americans, including 68% of Republicans, support LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. The will of the American people is there. The social justice teachings of my church compel me to speak out in favor of dignity and respect for all of God’s children, including LGBTQ people. We cannot allow discrimination to thrive in our country under the false guise of freedom of religion. Too many religious agencies provide important services to people in need, and those in need should be able to access them.
Bethany Christian Services’ decision will change lives. It will change the lives of young people who are yearning for a parent, and it will change the lives of the parents who are brave enough to care for them. What this decision will not change is our commitment to our faith and the principles we live by. God loves each and every one of us. I hope the Supreme Court justices will see that and affirm full nondiscrimination protections in our country.
Jeannine Gramick, a Sister of Loretto, cofounded New Ways Ministry, a Catholic social justice center advocating justice and reconciliation of LGBTQ persons and the church.