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Adoption as Evangelism

First pro-lifers are accused of NOT adopting. Then pro-lifers are accused of WRONGLY adopting.

If you get the sense it’s a no-win situation, you’re probably right.

The article in Mother Jones that started the latest round of attacks on Jesus-childrenevangelical culture, Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement’s Adoption Obsession, argues that one result of Christians’ efforts to adopt orphaned children is that children are obtained (often illegally) and being placed in oppressive, fundamentalist homes in order for parents to evangelize them.

The article was promptly rebutted by conservatives as a shameful attack, and defended by progressives on numerous fronts. Which seems to indicate the issue is more than just purely humanitarian.

Are there wrong motives for adopting? Absolutely. Are there bad parents who adopt? Yes. Are there fringe organizations wrongly benefiting from the evangelical adoption movement? I’m sure there are. Are some adopted children brought into abusive, even cult-like, homes? It appears so.

But are there enough of these abuses to discredit the entire movement — or the practice of “Christian adoption,” domestic or international — in general? No.

After following this debate for a while, one issue that has stood out to me is the insinuation that adoption as evangelism is wrong. I understand the white savior complex, that some adopt for brownie points, and that others may be trying to assuage  the guilt of their own affluence. But what better reason is there to adopt than that a couple is a Christian family?

My wife and I have raised four children and are now working on four grandchildren. Our faith plays a huge part in our approach to child-rearing. Isn’t this natural? For whatever reasons, the issue of adoption has become a part of our family’s life. For about five years, Lisa and I have financially supported a Christian orphanage in Thailand, one boy in particular. We have some close friends who adopted two Sudanese children. Our pastor has adopted two children. And two of our own children are in the process of adopting children. Which means that, one day, God willing, I will be the grandfather of an adopted child.

Does the fact that these children are being adopted into Christian homes matter? If it doesn’t, then what’s the value in being a Christian at all?

This isn’t to insinuate that non-Christians cannot raise good, happy, productive children. That’s untrue. But if I do not believe that Christ is the Way to God, as He claimed, that life and happiness are intimately connected to ones relationship with God, and that a correct view of the afterlife is essential to approaching our present life, why choose Christianity over any other religion?

I’m a Christian because I believe Christ is superior to all other religious figures and Christianity is superior to all other ideologies and world religions.

Am I wrong for telling my children, grand-children, and any future adopted grandchildren this?

We’ve home-schooled our four children and, during that time, occasionally  came in touch with more rigid, fundamentalist adherents. I approached them the same way I approach any “Christian” who acts oddly and exists on the fringe — I keep them at arms length. Weird Christian home-school parents don’t invalidate Christianity any more than bad humanist parents invalidate humanism.

Point is: We should expect parents of any particular worldview or religion to raise their adopted children thusly.

Which means adoption is always somewhat evangelistic.

I mean, do we really expect a child to be adopted into a Muslim or Buddhist family and not be deeply influenced by those religions? The atheist who doesn’t care if his adopted child grows up to be a Christian should rethink how essential atheism is as belief system. Sure, it would be wrong to approach adoption as simply a means to “advance the Kingdom” and further an ideology. But being indifferent to what worldview your children — adopted or otherwise — choose to believe is bad parenting.

The point of us having kids was not to evangelize them, make them clones of ourselves or robots for our religion. We wanted children to share in our love and experience the wonder of life. We wanted to be fruitful and multiply. We want to see our offspring spread life and goodness and grace and love.

Imparting the Gospel, and attempting to live it, is the best thing I have ever done for my children.

Do we want our adopted grandchildren to become Christians? Absolutely! Will we do everything in our power to help them get there? How could we not.

So if a couple is wanting to adopt strictly to indoctrinate clones, then something is really wrong. But if a couple is wanting to adopt out of the recognition that they have, both spiritually, morally, and materially, resources that can potentially lead a child to a much better, happier life, both now and for eternity, more power to them.

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{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Jessica Thomas May 6, 2013, 8:44 AM

    The problem I have with Kathryn Joyce’s article is that she’s focusing on adoption as if it’s the core problem, when the core problem, in the Allison’s case, seems to be the Quiverfull movement and all the faulty ideologies that go with it. However, I’m going to guess that Joyce doesn’t understand Christianity enough to point out the falsehoods in the Quiverfull movement that potentially lead to such abuses occurring. It’s easier (IMO) for her to throw out the term “evangelical” and then sit back and let the haters on the left pay her light bill. (Not implying that everyone on the left is a hater, but there are quite enough to fund a writer’s career, I think.)

    • Katherine Coble May 6, 2013, 3:18 PM

      So much this.

      Thanks, Jessica, for saving me from typing all this myself. You hit the nail on the head.

  • Matthew Sample II May 6, 2013, 10:39 AM

    Telling it like it is. Thanks, Mike.

  • J.S. Clark May 6, 2013, 2:27 PM

    Well said.

  • Stephanie May 6, 2013, 3:28 PM
  • Stephanie May 6, 2013, 3:30 PM

    Peter Dodds: “International Adoption: In Whose Best Interest?”


  • Stephanie May 6, 2013, 3:34 PM

    Russell Moore’s defense of adoption is based in Cultural Marxism:



    • Mike Duran May 6, 2013, 3:59 PM

      Hey Stephanie! I’d rather hear your personal thoughts than a bunch of links.

  • Katherine Coble May 6, 2013, 3:43 PM

    Some of my conversation and insight (what little there is) has to remain private on this topic for very personal reasons.

    But I do think there are many issues with adoption in general. Of course not all adopters fall into this trap. And God does work together for good so I’ve seen rocky, suspect adoptions turn out okay in the long run. I’m the child of an adoptee. The aunt of more than a dozen adoptees. The daughter of an attorney who handles private Christian adoptions. Adoption is something with which I have more familiarity than many people.

    1. The desire not to parent a person by shepherding her from childhood into productive adulthood but to instead “have kids” as a sort of acquisitional compulsion.

    2. The belief that X culture is superior to Y culture and children need to be saved from it. I have no issues with training up a child in Christianity, but the belief that “America” is “better than” Estonia/Latvia/Peru/Hong Kong is not only contrary to Christianity it results in some really jingoistic corruption of the teachings of Christ.

    • Mike Duran May 6, 2013, 4:07 PM

      Katherine, I’d agree that “the belief that ‘America’ is ‘better than’ Estonia/Latvia/Peru/Hong Kong” is misguided. However, I believe the Christianity this is “contrary to” is better than atheism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam and Bahai.

      • Katherine Coble May 7, 2013, 12:44 AM

        If you didn’t you’d be a fool for continuing as a Christian, don’t you think?

        • Mike Duran May 7, 2013, 10:11 AM

          Yes. But that’s also why I believe certain cultures, ones with a Christian point of reference, may ultimately be better for a child. If we believe Christianity is true, then Hinduism isn’t (at least in its entirety). Ultimately then, a child raised in a Christian home is better off than one from a Hindu upbringing, if for anything that a truer worldview is presented, wouldn’t you say?

    • Matthew Sample II May 7, 2013, 5:48 AM

      1. Yes, some parents just have messed up expectations. Their kids suffer from it.
      (Opinion piece written by a dad who’s children will probably suffer as they grow up: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/babblecom/my-wife-is-expecting-twins_b_3141819.html)

      2. I agree. No culture is better than another culture. However, true Christians who have experienced the transforming power of salvation will raise their children in a way laid out in scripture, often resulting in happy homes of healthy children. The problems (from my observation) tend to occur when children are not prepared to deal with the greater culture outside of the happy Christian home. It seems that this is a pre-teen/teenager/young adult issue and not a child-rearing issue. And this is something that all children face, biological or adopted.

  • Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) May 6, 2013, 4:24 PM

    Huh. I think the adoption movement is a good thing, but there are, unfortunately, failures. A lot of people who give birth to their children fail them as well. A lot of the responders to that article were yelling that we need to adopt our thousands of children in the foster system first. Would that it were simple. I have seen people screwed over trying to adopt local children.
    There needs to be lots of adoptions classes and support groups in the church. And then the parents need to take the classes and open to supportive people in the church. I have seen families destroyed by taking in damaged children that turned around and damaged everyone around them.
    It is hard for me to fault people who were trying to follow God and be loving as best they could, and then finding themselves in impossible situations. It was fairly easy for me to fault the people in the article who so disasterously failed their children, because they engaged in the sin of hubris. They thought being Christian endows one with a cape and flying capacity.
    One does need to go through the correct agencies. Some of those families would never have received a child through lawful agencies and the disaster would have been averted.
    When one of our adopted children turned out to be more difficult than we bargained for, we took family counseling, and I took classes about children with fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effect. The room with the FAS class was filled with adoptee parents.
    I’m wondering what wonderful thing for any child the writer of this article did. I’m wondering if the writer knows how easy it is to go under while trying to do good.
    Adoption is a good thing, but needs to be measured against one’s capabilities. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have adopted the second child. Our life would have been so much easier, but her life would have been hell. We gave her advantages she threw away. I have to keep reminding myself that her life would have been so much worse if we had not adopted her. She saw the gospel. Does her rejection of God mean we failed?
    Obviously the article stirred up a lot of thoughts and feelings that I am articulating poorly.

  • Matthew Sample II May 6, 2013, 8:48 PM

    Ok, just read some of the comments, so here’s a fuller response:

    1. Adoption is a very Christian idea: See Paul’s writings in Galatians 4 and Romans 8. Notable adoptions: Rahab from Jericho, Ruth the Moabitess, Mephibosheth by King David, Esther by her uncle Mordecai, Timothy (adopted by the Apostle Paul). And that’s just off the top of my head.

    2. Anyone in multi-cultural situations will struggle as they become more self-aware. It is incumbent on parents to prepare for this and love their children through this. However, many kids struggle with identity at different points in their life, no matter what their cultural situation.

    3. Right now American couples interested in adopting (mostly caucasian) face unusual issues:
    a. Most of the US babies available for adoption are african-american, and there are organizations working against white/black integration through adoption. This is a very politically-charged situation, and is creating an unusual situation with a lot of red tape, making it nigh unto impossible to adopt American.
    b. However, other countries have an abundance of orphans, with limited resources for those orphans (another topic for another blog). Many American couples are finding that they can adopt overseas when they cannot adopt locally.

    4. Adoption is a beautiful picture of Christ’s love toward us. See point 1 up there. 😉

    • Katherine Coble May 7, 2013, 12:42 AM

      All your examples of “adoption being a very Biblical thing” are of adults who were able to consent to the relationship. Your examples are less to do with modern parenting and more to do with a cultural paradigm shift for the converted person.

      Christians who adopt do so for many reasons but adoption into a Christian family does not automatically make the adoptee a Christian.

      • Matthew Sample II May 7, 2013, 5:25 AM

        Yes, those are the Biblical examples off the top of my head. The point is: it is Biblical for parents to adopt.

        The “consenting” of the individual seems a little odd. Kids need parents. Adoption gives kids safe homes. Do biological children consent to be raised in their parent’s home?

        As for “does not automatically make the adoptee a Christian”: no child is a Christian when they come into the world. They can be raised by Christian parents, and instilled with Christian ideas, but they will eventually accept or reject the faith. Biological and adopted. As the catchy slogan says, “God has no grandchildren.”

  • D.M. Dutcher May 7, 2013, 8:04 AM

    Wouldn’t the quiverfulls just have kids naturally if they wanted to do so? Adoption is not an easy thing to do, whether domestic or international, and the adopting couple often risks a lot. Children adopted may suffer emotional issues, mental retardation, or have physical problems: in Russia, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is common, for example. The cost isn’t inconsiderable either; it’s probably close to fertility treatment, and adoption domestically means the birth parents always have the potential to be in the child’s life.

    A lot of adoption really is rescuing kids from bad situations. Quiverfull or not, I doubt you’d want to grow up in a Russian orphanage, or in Ethiopia wondering when the next flareup of Christian-Muslim violence will strike. I’m a little annoyed at how leftists, who are supposed to be on the side of the poor, keep striking down actual attempts to help them under the guise of identity politics.

    • Mike Duran May 7, 2013, 10:02 AM

      I agree. My kids are attempting to adopt domestically, most likely from parents who are addicts or poor. So in this case, the adoption is definitely to take a child from a bad situation and bring them into a good one. I’m not sure I understand why that is so bad.

      • Katherine Coble May 7, 2013, 11:57 AM

        It’s a question of intent and design. If you’re saying “we are called to be parents, and God has called us specifically to be parents of a child from the U.S. foster care system / Estonian orphanage / African AIDS baby charity” that’s one thing. My cousins, for instance, are in this exact situation. They adopted two African-American girls. My cousin put aside his dreams to be a sportscaster and got a job that isn’t glamorous but pays enough to feed a family on and has benefits. Their daughters are raised as most people would think daughters should be raised. They are bathed regularly, fed nutritious food, read to and taught to read.

        If, on the other hand, you have this belief–as many of the Quiverfull adherents do–that the ONLY THING that matters is the _number_ of children you have and that “God will make a way!” despite the fact that you cannot feed and clothe the seven genetic children you’ve already brought into the world…that’s not faith. That’s obsessive hoarding of human beings as objects.

        It may be technically easier from some aspect for a QF family to give birth (of course I love how all the men keep saying “adoption is harder!”) but QF is a mindset that often appeals to people who hoard. To them the idea of having 19 Kids and Counting is bliss. It doesn’t matter if the children cannot read, cannot understand the basic concepts of the monetary system or even if they have serious underlying mental and physical health issues. The ONLY thing that matters is that the kids are “theirs”. And that’s a problem. Because the child’s well-being and eventual place in society are of no concern at all. At that point the children aren’t being parented, they’re being installed in a trophy case.

        There’s a lot more to QF than just “we have lots of babies because God tells us to.”

        And no, saying “God told us to!” and “God will make a way” is not enough. Faith isn’t the magic bullet. God does tell us things and God does make a way, but God also says that a man who doesn’t provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever.
        (I Tim. 5:8)
        The Bible is quite clear on that. Saying “I raised them to be Christians” isn’t enough.

        • D.M. Dutcher May 7, 2013, 1:29 PM

          But if the secular media paints all Christians who adopt as having this mindset, untold damage could be done. There are many Christians who adopt almost sacrificially and try to give the kids the best life they can, and its annoying how they are invisible while a tiny fringe sect gets all the notice. Adoption already was struck a hard blow by fertility treatments and IVF, and the last thing we need is a panic over a small subset of abusive adoptees being thought of as representative.

          • Katherine Coble May 7, 2013, 2:37 PM

            I don’t know that the secular media IS painting all Christians who adopt, etc.

            I do know that some people are raising long overdue objections to some adoptions.

            This is a very personal issue for me on several levels. The Church has been so busy issuing the call to this New Evangelism that they have omitted any real concern about I Tim. 5:8 issues. And no, I’m not being classist. I don’t think it’s classist to say that if you take responsibility for a child’s life it is your job to make sure that child has nutritious food and learns to read.

            My father was adopted by a Christian couple who abused him for 13 years. He had rickets. RICKETS. ACTUAL RICKETS because they didn’t feed him. Ultimately they sent him away to a farm for someone else to raise. When the father of the household died, his adoptive mother brought him back home. It is much to the Lord’s credit that my father turned out as well as he has, although he still bears the emotional and physical scars. Oh, and his adoptive mother was a doctor, his adoptive father was a justice of the peace.

            There’s no guarantee that because people are “good Christians” and that the home is a “good Christian home” that the children are going to be better off. The assumption that homes are “binary” and that simply because a couple are Christians–even Christians with good jobs–the home is a better place is aggravating to me. We need to be concerned with what happens after the children get there, with what kind of home they’ve been brought to. It’s not enough to say “they’re in Christian homes.”

            • Mike Duran May 7, 2013, 3:06 PM

              But the couple you reference seems anything but “good Christians.” Of course it’ s not enough to say kids are “in Christian homes.” If the Christians are living as they should, a Christian home would be ideal on multiple levels. A father whose adopted son is allowed to get rickets is, at best, not acting like a Christian. At worst, he probably isn’t one. I’ve no experience with QuiverFull and have heard lots of bad stuff. But using them to whitewash the entire evangelical adoption movement is wrong.

            • D.M. Dutcher May 7, 2013, 3:46 PM

              reading the article I don’t find a single mention or explanation of the quiverfull movement, and unless you knew the magazines specifically you would be forgiven in thinking it was just another evangelical publication. Perusing the free sample of the book isn’t limiting it to them either; really the only people qualifying it are the commenters here.

              It seems her point is more about how evangelicals in general have contributed to the rise in human trafficking in international adoption, as well as severing children from their roots. You’re coming at it from a different point, but what she seems to want would require more or less the elimination of international adoption altogether. I’d have to read the full book, though the arguments aren’t all that new.

  • Katherine Coble May 7, 2013, 5:43 PM

    No one here is saying all adoptions are bad. That seems to be a huge inference.

  • Matt Mikalatos May 11, 2013, 11:02 AM

    My godparents (who are Christian) adopted five kids (plus their three biological kids). We grew up together. There’s no way those kids would have been better off if my godparents hadn’t decided to adopt them (all five came from parents who were heavy drug users, mothers who OD’d, one was a crack baby). And you know what? The CPS always brought them more foster kids, and always asked them to consider adopting more kids. Because they are good parents.

  • Africanbluebird October 26, 2014, 11:46 PM

    This article has raised some great debate. However in my experience International adoption cannot sit side by side with local and domestic solutions for children. Building a country’s capacity for better child protection systems and helping children remain in their families IS disrupted and sidestepped when an orphanage is in town, even more so when the orphanage has an IA programme.

    Most children in Ugandan orphanages are there unnecessarily – most have families and most are not available for adoption. We are now seeing a whereby children are now recruited for adoption straight out of families.

    Check the article I wrote which touches on IA and orphanages.


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