by Melanie Ave
Lutheran Family Service of Iowa doesn’t want the government interfering with its ability to offer “intentionally Christ-centered services.” The stance is clear, whether visiting its website or talking with employees.
And because of that, the nonprofit organization, a Recognized Service Organization (RSO) of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, does not seek or receive government funds as it offers adoption services, church worker support, congregational services, and pregnancy, mental health and marriage counseling.
About 46 percent of the organization’s $1 million budget comes from private support, such as congregations, other organizations and individuals. The remainder comes from program fees.
“We don’t take federal funding … and won’t so we don’t have to compromise our Christian witness,” said the Rev. Max Phillips, executive director of LFS.
Despite this, Phillips speculates that one day the organization will be targeted for placing Jesus at the cornerstone of its ministry and using Lutheran theology as a guide for how it delivers services.
“I believe we will be challenged at some point,” Phillips said. “I think it’s an opportunity for us to stand up for what we believe in and to express our faith.”
Increasingly, Christian and faith-based organizations are facing pressure to provide services without regard to sexual orientation, marital status or gender identity, even if it runs contrary to their religious beliefs or convictions.
Stanley Carlson-Thies, founder and president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, wrote in Outcomes magazine that even though most Americans believe in God, lawmakers and judges are imposing secular norms on their operations. He cited the following as examples:
• Some agencies have been forced out of providing adoption and foster-care services because of conflicts about placing children with same-sex or unmarried couples.
• Some universities have denied granting religious student groups official campus status because of their requirements that leaders be faithful believers.
• Doctors and counselors have been charged with discrimination for referring patients elsewhere instead of serving clients whose sexual standards they oppose.
Religious liberty is at risk, said Deaconess Dorothy Krans, director of RSOs for the LCMS.
“We don’t take federal funding … and won’t so we don’t have to compromise our Christian witness.” — Rev. Max Phillips, executive director of Lutheran Family Service of Iowa
The LCMS works with 175 social-ministry RSOs. RSOs are independent, but they extend the Synod’s mission and ministry. They also agree to ensure that their programs are in harmony with the doctrine and practice of the LCMS.
“Our organizations do mercy work,” Krans said. “They serve those who are needy, hurt, suffering. And they do so because of their faith in Christ, showing the love and compassion of Christ to others.
“They’re compelled to do mercy work because they are living out their faith. That brings with it concerns regarding our religious rights of freedom.”
In the Winter 2012 edition of Outcomes magazine, Carlson-Thies wrote that the narrowing scope of religious freedom is the “fast-growing determination to define faith-based practices as discriminatory and illegal.”
Lutheran Family Service of Iowa requires its counselors to be professionally trained and licensed, to be mature Christians and to have a desire to incorporate their faith in their work. When it comes to adoption, it requires adoptive couples to be married and active in the Christian faith.
“We really try to base our decisions on what is best for children,” said Wanda Pritzel, the organization’s director of Ministry Support and Congregational Services. “We believe it’s best for children to have a mom and a dad and to have both those roles filled and active in their lives.
“That means that we don’t place children with same-sex or single parents. Both of those fly in the face of current culture.”
Krans said the organizations often feel governmental pressure due to state and federal grants and contracts. These grants and contracts may carry with them restrictions that limit organizations from living out their Lutheran identity.
“That can make it very difficult for a faith-based organization, especially Lutherans, to say, ‘This is who we are. This is what we believe. This is why we serve those in need because of our faith in Christ,’” Krans said.
Living Out the Faith
Lutheran Family Service of Iowa was founded in 1901 as a home-finding society. The organization operated an orphanage and placed children for adoption. Over the years, the organization has found homes for thousands of children.
In 2014, it placed 10 infants, two older children and three embryos, who were adopted and born, making it one of the largest adoption organizations of its kind in Iowa.
Jeremy and Dawn Mills of Garner, Iowa, adopted the youngest two of their four children through LFS. Their family now includes 10-year-old Dalton, 3-year-old Emersyn and 1-year-old McCoy. Makinley died in 2007 of a terminal genetic disease.
“What drew us to Lutheran Family Service of Iowa were its religious goals and beliefs, which really matched ours,” Dawn Mills said. “We just had a gut feeling, a feeling in our hearts that that’s where we wanted to go.”
While some faith-based adoptive and foster-care agencies have curtailed their activities out of fear, Phillips said Lutheran Family Service of Iowa has “redoubled” its efforts. It has taken a larger role in advocating for religious liberty, traditional marriage and life.
At the 2015 March for Life and LCMS Life Conference in Washington, D.C., in January, Kim Laube, the organization’s director of Pregnancy Counseling and Adoption Services, was there, standing up for the unborn. She met with Rep. David Young (R-Iowa) about pro-life legislation.
Krans said now is a good time for RSOs and LCMS members to speak their faith in the public arena.
“Our organizations should be able to live out their faith and still have the ability to receive government funds,” she said. “It’s very important for our church and for our members to be aware that this is a great opportunity for them to stand by the side of our organizations and say, ‘We are Lutheran, and this is what we believe.’
“We’re serving people who are in need, who need housing, who need aging care, who need homes, who need food. Our Lutheran organizations should have their religious rights of freedom protected.”