My wife and I were once discussing children with another couple at church, and we mentioned we would like to adopt one day. I was shocked when this other couple asked a simple question – “why”?
It wasn’t a criticism, but I found it odd that within our community people didn’t understand why we felt called to adoption. It wasn’t that this other couple didn’t see any reasons why adoption might be desirable, but rather our conversation reflected a common attitude in our culture where we see adoption as ‘second best’; a fall-back plan if we want to have children but aren’t physically capable.
This attitude dramatically minimises the importance of adoption, and I fear it is a major barrier to the church fulfilling an essential duty. Not every individual or couple will be called into the ministry of adoption, but I would like to offer some reasons why I believe every Christian couple should consider adoption, and why churches should seek to help to equip their members for this work.
- It is obedient to God’s command
James 1:27 informs us that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit [look upon in order to help/benefit] orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James, writing to his Jewish audience, reflects the Old Testament purpose of the tithe which was to feed (amongst others) the fatherless (Deut 14:29).
You may notice that this commandment is not to adopt, but merely to care for orphans. As I said above, not every couple will be called to adopt. However, it is unmistakable that God has called the church to care for the needs of the orphan, and one way to do that is through adoption. In adoption, children are not merely provided for financially, but they receive the love, instruction, discipline, community and stability that is only accessible through family.
- It models God’s adoption of us
The New Testament frequently calls believers “children of God” (1 John 3:1), but many forget that we are not natural-born children. In fact, we as believers were “predestined for adoption” (Eph 1:5), and because Christ came we “receive adoption” (Gal 4:5), which effectively frees us from slavery to sin by the “Spirit of adoption” (Rom 8:15).
Our adoption as believers is a reflection of God’s character, as He is the Father to the fatherless (Ps 68:5) and executes justice for the fatherless (Deut 10:18). If we are called to be a ‘light to the world’ and emulate Christ in word and deed, how better to display His loving adoption of us than to participate in adoption ourselves?
- It models how the church should function in a larger context
Christ promises that obedience to Him will cause division with our biological family (Matt 10:34-37). However, we have a new blessing in the church, which is a body of all believers that functions as our new family (Matt 12:46-50) and is not separated by old divisions of race, gender, or social status (Gal 3:28). In fact, Paul goes even further in 1 Cor 12 to describe us as “one body”.
In the act of adoption, our family models one function of the greater church. We take people from outside and welcoming them into the family which He has established to experience and share in His glory. We are saying that the “regardless of whatever came before, you are born again into a new life with this family and you are a treasured part of it until we are taken away to our Eternal Father”. That is a beautiful message to a child welcomed joyfully into a family, and to a new convert welcomed joyfully into a church.
- It expands the Kingdom (or at least gives opportunity)
Generally speaking, most people retain their childhood faith. In particular, religious commitment in adolescence (e.g. regular attendance at worship services) is associated with a greater likelihood of retaining faith in adulthood. It is not just the profession of faith in childhood that matters, but how they are raised in this time.
Jesus recognised this when He commanded His disciples to “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16). Many are familiar with the proverb to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6). We are provided with an opportunity to witness to these children in their most crucial years of development, to instil in them a love for God that will endure and a faith that will be unshakeable and stands the test of time.
Sure, we can witness to young people in other ministries, but where else apart from parenthood do we have the opportunity to be permanently engaged in evangelism through every aspect of a child’s life? Where else to we have the opportunity to directly challenge dangerous ideologies that are so pervasive in our culture — greed, sexual immorality and self-interest?
- It meets an urgent physical need and can alleviate societal burdens
Few would argue that a child awaiting adoption has an urgent need. No matter how much financial assistance is directed towards a child, it cannot compensate for invaluable benefits of a family. Parental absence, especially of fathers, is associated with a range of damaging behaviours such as substance abuse, juvenile detention and high school dropout.
This does not diminish the tremendous work of single parents under incredible pressure, nor does it disparage people who feel they have no option but to put their child up for adoption. In fact, I often think that the church should be doing more to help struggling parents to emulate the family of God which was discussed in point #3. However, if there is a child who is absent both parents, how can we say “‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:16-17)
- It “puts your money where your mouth is” on pro-life issues
I am ardently pro-life, and I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard something to the effect of “you aren’t pro-life, you’re pro-birth” or “what have you ever done for these mothers?” Without getting bogged down in the validity of those arguments (which I’d dispute for a number of reasons), there is an element of truth to the accusation if we, as a church, dare not commit to assisting women who see no option except abortion (James 2:16-17).
Emily’s Voice is a fantastic example of an organisation that provides assistance to help women work through the alternatives to abortion and provide assistance where required. But imagine if people saw local churches providing that support directly? Imagine if they saw us welcoming single mothers into our homes, or sheltering women facing domestic violence? Imagine if they saw us adopting and accepting children who had nowhere else to go? What a witness that could be! Could the communal churches of a city meet the needs of an entire community, like this church did? I believe we can.
- It sets us apart from the world
The idea of adoption as a “backup” for biological children is a very worldly attitude. At least in part, there is an element of Darwinian thinking – I need to have my own children to pass on my legacy. In contrast to this worldview, in his second letter to Timothy Paul frequently mentions that his legacy is the work of service he has done, his teaching and the example which he left with Timothy, his true child in the faith. Our hope is not a legacy of children but an eternity with Christ.
Adoption, not to compensate for fertility problems but simply as an act of love, is a radically different attitude to the world. We are not meant to be the same as the world – we are ALL called to be different. We are ALL called to stand out. We are ALL called to love sacrificially. We are ALL called us all to care for the vulnerable. And some of us will be called to adoption.
Adoption is a chance for us to stand against the ideologies of self-interest that are so dominant in our culture and say, “I will love this child sacrificially with all my heart, because my God loved me when He took my place on the cross.” Please prayerfully consider if this is a ministry for you, or how you can otherwise help the vulnerable.