July 15, 2005
Catholicism "does not agree" with statement of faith, agency says
By Jean Gordon
A local Christian adoption agency that receives funds from the sale of Mississippi's Choose Life specialty car tags will not consider Catholics as adoptive parents.
"It has been our understanding that Catholicism does not agree with our Statement of Faith," wrote Bethany Christian Services director Karen Stewart in a July 8 letter to Sandy and Robert Stedman, a Catholic couple in Jackson seeking to adopt. "Our practice to not accept applications from Catholics was an effort to be good stewards of an adoptive applicant's time, money and emotional energy."
A private adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services has locations in 75 U.S. cities, including Jackson, Hattiesburg and Columbus.
The agency is one of 24 adoption and pregnancy counseling centers in the state that receives money from the sale of Choose Life car tags, which advocate against abortion.
Motorists pay an additional fee for the specialized license plate.
Of $244,000 generated by the sale of the tags in 2004, Bethany received $7,053, said Geraldine Gray, treasurer of Choose Life Mississippi, the umbrella group that distributes the money the tags raise to nonprofit groups.
"It is troubling to me if they are discriminating based on only the Catholics," Gray said.
Sandy Stedman, a 33-year-old neonatal nurse who had been trying to get pregnant for three years, said Stewart wrote her the letter after she called Bethany to inquire about the agency's policy toward Catholics.
"When I spoke to Karen Stewart, I said, 'I heard something I just cannot believe,' " Stedman said. "I asked, 'Do you accept Catholic applications?' and she said, 'No, we don't.' "
In a written response to The Clarion-Ledger's questions about the agency's policy toward prospective Catholic parents, Stewart did not answer the questions directly but wrote, "Bethany seeks to place children with (sic) who are emotionally, financially, socially and physically stable and who agree with the agency's Statement of Faith."
The Stedmans said they showed Bethany's statement of faith to their priest, who told them it did not conflict with Catholic teaching.
The statement is available at Bethany's Web site, www.bet hany.org.
"I have a feeling that the board has a little bit of that Deep South mentality about Catholics," Robert Stedman said.
Loria and Wes Williams, a Catholic couple in Ridgeland, had a similar experience with Bethany.
While going through fertility treatments, Loria Williams, 33, called Bethany in September 2004 because she and her husband decided also to pursue an adoption.
"When you go through infertility, you only have so much energy you can give certain things," she said, explaining she heard a rumor that Bethany didn't accept Catholic couples and wanted to confirm it before applying with the agency.
Like the Stedmans, she said she was told the agency didn't work with Catholics because they don't agree with Bethany's faith statement.
"I can't believe an agency that's nationwide would act like this," Williams said. "There was an agency who was Christian based but wasn't willing to help people across the board."
In Stewart's written statement to The Clarion-Ledger, she said Bethany's board will review its policy, but didn't specify which aspects of the policy will be addressed.
She wrote: "Recently, there have been many inquiries about our policy. When the Board of Directors meets for their regular bimonthly meeting, these inquiries will be addressed."
When Stedman learned Bethany Christian Services received funds from the Choose Life car tags, she said she was hurt and disappointed.
"I know of a lot of Catholics who get those tags," she said. "You're talking about something that goes through the Catholic faith — anti-abortion."
She added: "If it's OK to accept our money, it should be OK to open your home to us as a family."
Statement of Faith
Statement of Faith
Bethany Christian Services is founded upon the Scriptures which reveal the triune God. Members of the national board, local boards, staff and adoptive applicants indicate their personal agreement with Bethany's Statement of Faith by signing below.
I believe that the sovereign, triune God created the world out of nothing and sustains His creation. The heavens and earth are His handiwork. He made man and woman in His image and likeness as the crown of creation. All creation reflects His greatness and power.
I believe that God created the family, giving Adam and Eve the responsibility to conceive, bear and nurture children. As the creator of life, God Himself begins each human life at conception and gives to each person, as His image bearer, meaning, dignity and value.
I believe that sin entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sought to be independent of Him. As a result of this Fall, all people are estranged from God and live in a world permeated by sin.
I believe that God, by His grace, provided redemption and restoration in Jesus Christ for all who repent and believe. As the Savior, Jesus takes away the sins of the world. Jesus is the one in whom we are called to put our hope, our only hope for forgiveness of sin and for reconciliation with God and with one another.
I believe that in all matters of faith and life, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the final authority. The Scriptures point us with full reliability to Jesus, God's Son. The Scriptures tell us that we receive forgiveness of sins by faith in Jesus Christ, and that God provides salvation by grace alone for those who repent and believe.
I believe that forgiveness comes through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God's Son, who was made flesh, took our place in death, rose from the dead, and is now in glory with the Father interceding and praying for His people.
I believe that God, through His Spirit, lovingly calls, redeems and adopts us into His family, the Church and that, in gratitude for God's saving love in Christ, we are called to live a life of faithfulness and obedience according to the scriptures.
I believe that Jesus, through His Spirit, is presently directing God's work of making all things new.
I believe that the Christian Church, as the community of believers, has an obligation to protect, preserve, and enhance life as fully as possible for each person, born and unborn, from the beginning to the end of life. As Christians we are called to a life of faith into an ongoing ministry until that mission is completed by the coming of the Kingdom in its fullness. The Holy Spirit empowers us to fulfill that calling.
I, along with all followers of Christ, believe and wait expectantly for the triumphant return of Jesus Christ our King. At that time, I believe that Jesus Christ will gather us to Himself as one complete family and will, throughout eternity, fully enhance the lives of His children as citizens of His kingdom, sons and daughters in our Father's house. As His children we long hopefully for that day to appear and we face that day without fear, for the Judge is our Savior and Lord. To Him be the glory.
Approved: September 15, 1987 Bethany Christian Services National Board
Revised & Approved: July 15, 2003 Bethany Christian Services National Board
Revised & Approved: January 18, 2005 Bethany Christian Services National Board
© 2005 Bethany Christian Services Privacy Statement
Bethany adoption policy scrutinized
Choose Life examines agency's refusal to weigh applications by Catholics
By Jean Gordon
The organization that parcels out proceeds raised from the sale of the state's Choose Life car tags has asked to review the policy of a private adoption agency after learning the group will not consider Catholics as adoptive parents.
"We are receiving information from Bethany for our board," said Geraldine Gray of Choose Life Mississippi. "We'll look at the information they forward to us to get a clearer understanding."
A local Catholic couple was told in a July 8 letter from the Jackson office of Bethany Christian Services in Mississippi that, "It has been our understanding that Catholicism does not agree with our statement of faith. ... Our practice to not accept applications from Catholics was an effort to be good stewards of an adoptive applicant's time, money and emotional energy."
Jackson, Hattiesburg and Columbus are among 75 U.S. cities in which Bethany is located. The agency, which is based in Grand Rapids, Mich., is one of 24 adoption and pregnancy counseling centers in the state that receives money from the sale of the specialty car tags, which advocate against abortion.
Of the $244,000 generated by the sale of the license plates in 2004, Bethany received $7,053. The agency did not return a phone call.
Motorists pay an additional fee of $31 for the specialized car tag.
Though the fee passes through state coffers, it is considered a private donation, said Kathy Waterbury of the Mississippi Tax Commission.
"They aren't public funds in that we are collecting money on behalf of the organization the tag represents," she said.
Nick Feduccia, a 23-year-old Catholic student, purchased his first Choose Life car tag in May. He said he was unaware proceeds would be given to a charity that would exclude a certain faith.
"I'm pro-life, and every child needs a good home," he said. "It's very disturbing to me that they would exclude people who believe what they believe."
The state issues 185 specialty license plates, which benefit organizations ranging from wildlife groups to Mississippi's colleges and universities.
Proceeds from the sale of Choose Life car tags go to the nonprofit organization Choose Life Mississippi. That agency then distributes funds to nonprofit organizations that have applied to receive a portion of the money.
Gray said any anti-abortion organization can apply for the funds by downloading a form from the group's Web site, www. mschoose-life.org.
The two-page application asks applicants to describe how they work with women who come in for pregnancy tests, how many women they refer for adoption and to verify the organization's nonprofit status.
"We've never denied anyone who applied," Gray said, explaining Choose Life Mississippi aims to support organizations that don't refer women to abortion providers. "What we're interested in is saving babies."
Choose Life Mississippi also supports the Morning Star Pregnancy Care Center located in Gulfport, an adoption and pregnancy resource center affiliated with the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi.
That agency received $9,306 in 2004 from the sale of Choose Life car tags.
As one of the programs of Catholic Social and Community Services, Morning Star doesn't discriminate in any of its services, said its director, Sister Rebecca Rutkowski.
"Catholic and Community Services is open to all faiths, Christian and non-Christian alike," Rutkowski said.
However, Rutkowski said the agency will honor a birth mother's decision if she specifies a particular religion for the adoptive parents.
Catholic Charities in Jackson, which runs an adoption program, also works with people of all faiths.
"Faith is not a criteria for being served by Catholic Charities' programs," said executive director Linda Raff.
Catholic Charities does not receive money from Choose Life Mississippi, but Raff said she will consider applying for the funds.
The sanctity of life is a major part of Catholic teaching, and many Catholics rally around pro-life causes.
"We have every need to support life in all of its forms," said the Rev. Alfred Camp, senior priest at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Madison. "From conception to going through the aging process."
Camp, whose car also sports a Choose Life license plate, said misconceptions about Catholicism obscure what all Christians share in common.
"The term Christian is for those who believe in Christ," he said. "That's the unifying element. Christ is the center of our faith." Estimates put the number of Catholics in the state between 70,000 and 116,000.
Rep. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, who voted for the bill authorizing the Choose Life license plates, said he is "troubled" by Bethany's practice of not considering Catholics as adoptive parents. "I understand they are a private organization and we can't dictate who they let adopt," Fillingane said. "But I think it would be in their best interest to reconsider and repeal that exemption."
Adoption agency drops Catholic ban
Christian firm: View too narrow
By Jean Gordon
Brian Albert Broom/The Clarion-Ledger
Hoping to start a family, Sandy and Robert Stedman of Jackson said they were denied a chance at adoption through Bethany Christian Services in Mississippi because they are Catholic. The board unanimously voted to change its policy.
After being criticized for excluding Roman Catholics as adoptive parents, the board of Bethany Christian Services in Mississippi has voted unanimously to include Catholic families in adoption programs.
"In accepting applications for adoption, all Christians who are in agreement with our agency statement of faith are welcome applicants to the adoption process," wrote Bethany state director Karen Stewart and board president Peggy McKey in a statement Wednesday. "Bethany Christian Services of Mississippi regrets any pain caused to families, especially to our Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ."
The agency had not accepted Catholics as adoptive parents because it said Catholicism did not agree with its statement of faith. A Jackson couple, after being told they could not adopt, brought the issue to the forefront.
A private adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services has locations in 75 U.S. cities, including Jackson, Hattiesburg and Columbus. Bethany Christian Services in Mississippi, which began operating in the 1980s, places an average of 20 babies a year, Stewart said.
The agency will continue to stand on its faith, but "We realize that we took too narrow a view in assessing adoptive applicants," the statement said.
Bethany's national office in Grand Rapids, Mich., also issued a statement Wednesday affirming, "All families in agreement with the agency's Statement of Faith, including Catholic families, are eligible to adopt."
Bethany Christian Services is among the 24 adoption and pregnancy counseling centers in the state that receive money from the sale of Choose Life specialty car tag. The tag advocates against abortion.
Of the $244,000 generated by the sale of the license plates in 2004, Bethany received $7,053. Geraldine Gray of Choose Life Mississippi, the nonprofit agency that parcels out the proceeds from the sale of the tag, said her organization is pleased with Bethany's decision.
"It certainly seems the fair thing to do," she said.
After hearing the news, Sandy Stedman of Jackson said, "I really think God had his hand in this."
Stedman and her husband, Robert, a Catholic couple wishing to adopt, inquired about Bethany's policy earlier this month seeking clarification because they heard the agency was not inclusive. A Ridgeland couple has said they were rejected for the same reason last year.
In a letter from Stewart, they were told: "It has been our understanding that Catholicism does not agree with our statement of faith. ... Our practice to not accept applications from Catholics was an effort to be good stewards of an adoptive applicant's time, money and emotional energy."
Stedman said Bethany's change in policy is "a true testament to Christians working together to resolve an issue peacefully."
The numbers of Catholics seeking to adopt who have been turned away was unavailable. McKey said the agency's past policy of excluding Catholic parents was "unintentional on our part" as Bethany had assumed Catholic Charities gave preference to Catholic couples seeking to adopt.
But Catholic Charities of Jackson is an ecumenical organization that historically has served people of all faiths, said the Rev. Elvin Sunds, who directed the organization from 1978 to 1994 and is now vicar general for the Catholic Diocese of Jackson.
Between 40 to 50 couples apply to adopt annually at Bethany Christian Services in Mississippi. The wait time for a domestic adoption ranges from one to three years. The cost is on a sliding scale, from $6,000 to $17,000.
Stewart said there is no "typical birth mother" as Bethany Christian Services counsels women in Mississippi from age 11 to their early 40s. She said the women come from all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Most women who choose adoption are 18 to 24 years old