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Response to “Adopting a Kid, Not a Cause”

by Dennae Pierre Published Sep 28, 2012

As a foster and adoptive mother, I am always happy to come across articles on adoption. Megan Hill’s thoughts on whether or not adoption should be considered a cause communicated to me her desire for her children to know that they are loved and wanted by her. I can say a hearty “amen” as an adoptive mother who never wants my children to think of themselves as a cause. There is much to agree about with Megan, so throughout this article I desire not to pit her ideas about adoption against ours, but rather to show how her viewpoint scratches the surface and why Together for Adoption feels it is necessary to go deeper.

The Desire to Have Children

We have children because we want them. That is an easy way to describe the prospect by which people begin to have a family, but is it enough to stop there? As thoughtful Christians, we must ask ourselves, why do we want children?

The first few pages of the Bible show us that procreation is very much a part of God’s mission. God entrusted Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth with image-bearers. These image-bearers were to spread the image of God all over the face of this earth. Why? Not primarily to meet the instinctual need of Eve to nurture a child, although that was a result. It was not primarily to secure Adam’s family line, although that happened as well. The primary reason was to spread God’s name throughout the earth.

From the beginning, there has always been something very missional about having children. We certainly don’t think God called our first parents to “be fruitful and multiply” so they could “rescue” a few children. This mission was broader, wider, and deeper. Our children, biological or not, are part of the mission God’s entrusted to us.

What’s in a Name (“Adoption”)?

This is a piece of the backdrop that hangs behind the word “Adoption” for us. When Together for Adoption speaks of “Adoption” we are talking about something specific and distinct. We are not talking about adopting orphans. We do not believe that adoption is about embracing a diverse kingdom or fulfilling our duty to the needy. The word “Adoption” in Together for Adoption refers to the doctrine of adoption. We believe adoption is all about salvation. Adoption is a wonderful way to describe the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dan Cruver, the founder of Together for Adoption, says it wonderfully, “I don’t know if you have ever thought about it like this, but God is an adoptive Father. Jesus, our Elder Brother, is God the Father’s eternal, only-begotten, natural Son. We believers are His sons through adoption. This identity is fundamental to who we are. As adopted sons, we enjoy all the rights and privileges of the relationship that God the Father enjoys with his eternal Son. To be God’s sons through adoption means that we are co-heirs with Jesus. This is an amazing reality and an eternal privilege! We will forever be God’s sons through the miracle of adoption.”

All of this, I am sure we agree on, but let me explain why this matters when it comes to orphan care. Of course families who adopt must want and love children, but much more is needed if we are (on a macro level) to meet the needs of the hundreds of millions of orphaned and vulnerable children and (on a micro level) to unselfishly love and care for the children in our individual homes in a way that provides answers and healing to their painful losses.

On a macro level, our message is not just for people who are currently involved in orphan care. We believe it is necessary to remind the church of the doctrine of their adoption precisely to awaken their minds to the idea of loving some of the most vulnerable children in our world. We are convinced that our message is necessary because the global orphan crisis is massive and unacceptable. 130+ million orphaned and vulnerable children will never get their physical and emotional needs met without the Church taking extreme action. What should motivate the Church to social action? Every single time, it needs to be the gospel. If we remove the gospel as the main motivation for the church to take action, we are left with individuals being motivated out of works righteousness.

What the Crisis Needs

The worldwide orphan crisis cannot be solved by Americans adopting children. Together for Adoption has never suggested that every Christian needs to “adopt” children or even that every orphaned or vulnerable child needs to be adopted. Roughly 130,000 children are adopted in the United States each year. That is a miniscule drop in the bucket of the 130 plus million children orphaned or at risk of being orphaned. Families “wanting children” is necessary, but not enough to solve the world orphan crisis. We need a movement of believers who will not rest until the suffering cry of orphans is answered. If we want that type of movement to happen within the worldwide Church and to happen in a way that brings great glory to God, then it must be motivated out of the good and wonderful work Christ did for us, not from our own desires.

We need Christians in impoverished nations to care for orphans. We host our conferences in places like Haiti and Nicaragua because the only way many orphaned and vulnerable children will ever get their needs met is through an indigenous foster care and adoption movement. What will call, empower, and sustain a family already living in poverty to welcome their nephew or niece to their table? Only the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

We need Christians to work to prevent orphans. Systemic changes in the foster care system, addressing poverty, HIV/AIDS, and malaria, and finding creative ways to come around a single mom to truly be her family are a few of many the ways orphan prevention can happen. This can only happen in a way that brings glory to God and truly meets the needs of these individuals through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We need churches full of people who understand what it means to have been adopted into the family of God so that they support, encourage, and walk with families who adopt children. Adoptive moms often say that they do not feel understood or loved by their church members’ callous or heartless comments in relation to their adopted children. The theology of adoption rightly taught and applied will create a Christian culture where that does not happen.

Those are just a few of the countless examples of why, on a macro level, our message is necessary. However, on a micro level, there are innumerable examples as well. As Megan Hill wrote in her blog post the adoption-blogging world well documents that adoption is not an easy task. It is well known that there are difficulties and pain involved. It should never be romanticized. I became involved with Together for Adoption after speaking to multiple couples who had decided to disrupt their foster care placements. Since then, I have spoken with families who have dissolved their adoptions. Many of the women I speak with are depressed and crushed under the weight of their children’s extreme needs.

Dissolution of adoption should never happen. Christians need to be equipped to endure with joy the suffering involved with a difficult foster care placement until that child can be reunited with their biological family or placed with a forever family. The theology of adoption can equip Christians to have a persevering love with difficult children who resist our love.

There is a great need for children to be adopted that are older or who have special needs. Many of us may be called to welcome in a teenager  at the cost of our own desires for healthy babies. The gospel, in particular the doctrine of adoption, equips Christians to make self-denying choices like these. It equips us to make these choices not as a part of a personal crusade to save the world one child at a time, but as a part of God’s mission to display his love and glory to everyone, especially the most vulnerable.

We must have a love that is so unique, so counter-cultural that we are able to love children that the world does not want, the kind of children that the world would deem undesirable and unlovable. This unique love can only come after drinking from the well of God’s love for his Son, which, by the wonderful grace of adoption, has been poured out to us.

Infertility and Adoption

Lastly, I would like to briefly speak to the infertility issue. Infertility is a great loss and terrible suffering for so many.  Anyone who has walked the painful road of infertility will tell you that adoption cannot solve that problem. Being able to adopt a child into your family is a blessing in and of itself. I have heard countless women express to me how thankful they are for their adoptive children and how they hope their child never thinks that they adopted them because they were infertile. As Megan Hill rightly says, we adopt our children because we want them, because we loved them. But it goes beyond that. We adopt them because they needed us and not because we need them.

Parenting never goes well with biological or adoptive children when we seek our children to meet a need within us. Rather, we make the sacrifices we do, joyfully, to raise our children out of an overflow of what God has done for us. Of course, we can agree that our children bless us. Children are a sanctifying grace from the Lord. Our children are a wonderful gift, but that gift must always remain in the place God intended it to be. A gift that points us to the wonderful gift giver who meets all our wants and desires with himself, our Father God.

Adopting simply to meet our own desire for a child also minimizes the pain and loss that child experiences. The loss of their biological family is a loss that happened only as a result of our broken and sinful world. How thankful I am to be my children’s mother. And yet, I weep every time I pray for their biological mother who is unable to be their mama. I adopted my children to meet their deep, desperate need for a mother, which means they experienced a deep and painful loss. As their mother, I wish I could protect them from the pain of the loss of their biological family. I wish when we had our “why?” discussions I could make it as simple as “because I wanted children.” But that would not answer the hurting cry of their heart that knows this is not the way it was meant to be.

Instead, I give my children a larger story in which they can live in as I paint a picture for them of our God who deeply understands their loss. I show them our God who experienced even greater loss; the loss of his only begotten Son and that terrible and horrific loss was the greatest act of love this universe has ever known. It is the very loss that restored me into a relationship with God. The God who adopted me into his family through the sweet blood of Jesus is the same God that has filled me with a deep love for them.

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/mamlisamiller Lisa Reinhardt Miller

    Thank you so much for this powerful article! We are a part of an adoption ministry here in Georgia and I pray that we keep this motivation as the driving force in why we are doing what we are doing! Thank you so much for a word well shared!

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  • http://twitter.com/ValerieSGarrett Valerie @LifeInColor

    Dennae – well put. My husband and I have spoken on many panel discussions for people considering adoption. One of the things I’ve often said is that it’s not about “getting a child that we so badly want” (although that’s clearly a result of adopting); rather, it’s about doing something very close to the heart of God.

  • Megan Hill

    As the author of the original article, I can express my wholehearted agreement with the things Dennae has written in her response. Thank you for writing them. My article, rather than being a critical unpacking of the mission of Together for Adoption, is an exploration of what happens among the ordinary folks of the adoption community when our dialogue becomes focused almost exclusively on the missional aspects of adoption and orphan care. It’s my hope that my article will bring one more, increasingly ignored, motivation for adoption to the discussion.

  • http://twitter.com/dennaepierre Dennae Pierre

    Thanks Megan. It is my hope, that the adoption community can grow in seeing the both/and instead of the either/or positions that were taken in your comments to your article. Certainly a brain that grasps the theology without a heart to match that understanding can cause great damage. If you are seeing that happen, I pray that the Lord would use the mission of Together for Adoption, along with many others involved in the adoption community, to align all of our hearts closer to the father’s heart in relation to adopting children into our families.

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  • Rachel Haberer

    Dennae, I’ve read both Megan’s article and your response several times over,
    trying to understand them, and it seems like you’re taking a few passages of
    Scripture that contain the word/concept of adoption and trying to stretch it
    thin enough to cover an understanding of our relationship to both God and
    others. In the fullness of Scripture we are the faithless wife reclaimed, the
    estranged and restored son, the vine in need of pruning. God is the husband,
    the father, the brother, the gardener, the shepherd, the savior, the
    creator—the one who knows us as no one else can. Above all, He is the redeemer.
    Adoption, however we try to stretch its meaning, is not the same as redemption.
    We are not redeeming our children, no matter how tough the adoptive
    relationship may turn out to be. We have not (yet) shed our own blood to save them,
    nor would it avail them if we did.

    To place all this burden of meaning on the frail and singular concept of
    adoption is to miss the richness of God’s relationship to us, not to mention
    the endless possibilities and motivations for our relationships to others. To
    cover it all we would need to balance it with the Theology of Widowhood, the
    Theology of Prodigality, the Theology of Sheep, the Theology of Prostitutes,
    and a host of others. At any rate, we are not told to adopt orphans, but
    “to visit” them (and widows as well—two examples of people likely to
    be overlooked). To be with them in their need, whatever that may entail. Our
    response to our redemption by the sweet blood of Jesus should not be a movement
    based on a single, limited theology, but a daily, hourly showing of His mercy
    and love to all those who need it.

  • http://twitter.com/dennaepierre Dennae Pierre

    The “theology of adoption” comes from Paul’s epistles (Romans 8:14-16,
    Galatians 4:4-6, Ephesians 1:3-10)…it isn’t about adopting orphans at all.
    Adoption is a metaphor just like justification, redemption, and
    sanctification that Paul used to describe our relationship with God. The
    theology of adoption is about God and how he chose to save us, not orphans and
    us. And it is known (in systematic theologies, Westminster Confession, by
    pastors/scholars/theologians) as a significant doctrine used to
    describe what it means to be a part of the family of God. Books can be written
    about the theology of adoption without ever mentioning orphan care or a single
    physical orphan…we could focus entirely on the spiritual aspects of adoption
    and not make one implication to orphan care. But our organization exists to see
    orphans cared for (not adopted…that is one means, certainly not the most
    common means, but one means to see an orphan cared for) and so we use this
    teaching that Paul used in the scripture to remind Christians that they are
    children of God too….and because they are loved children of God, how equipped
    they are to love children–biological or not.

    The theology of adoption is no limited theology. It is the reason we are able to call Jesus our
    “elder brother” (Hebrews 2). It is the reason Christians pray to our “Father
    God.” It is the reason we understand our church family to be full of our “brothers
    and sisters in Christ.” God didn’t
    just save us from our sins, he saved us into the amazing family of God.

    What is redemption? It is a metaphor used to describe the gospel. What is adoption? It is a metaphor used to describe the gospel. Redemption is the metaphor Paul used and he used it because the Greco-Roman culture knew what he meant. Redemption is what happened when a slave was bought from his slave-master and set free. Adoption is the metaphor Paul used and he used it because the Greco-Roman culture knew what he meant. Adoption is what happened when a wealthy man wanted or needed an heir to his estate and had none. Redemption, Adoption, Justification, Sanctification are metaphors used to describe the gospel. The gospel=we are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, faith that it is only through Christ’s work that the penalty of death that we rightly deserved was paid. Faith that it is not through our works, but the work of Christ that we are brought into a right relationship with God and can now enjoy the privilege of being his sons and daughters. Adoption and redemption are of equal importance when it comes to us and God…

    Of course, we cannot redeem our children (no where did my post say that). We can’t save children, only God can. Again, the word “adoption” in our name is not about adopting children…it is about God adopting us! We don’t have biological children, nor do we adopt children to save them… but we do care for children who are suffering because we are full of an overwhelming love for what God did for us (how this happens looks different for every family).

    It is very true; scripture is full of countless metaphors to describe us in relationship to God. If I were writing a post on forgiveness or being a wife, perhaps I would start with scripture’s description of the church as an unfaithful wife. If I was talking about the importance of being a faithful member to a church, perhaps I would quote scripture that describes us as one body with many parts. But we are talking about family and being fathers to the fatherless…so what better example to look to then our God who has set an amazing example in this as he made us his children.

  • Jason Cornwell

    Megan,
    Thanks so much for writing. we appreciate it. Thank you for contributing to the orphan care community and giving folks reason to think through & do best practices. Keep up the good work there in Jackson.

  • Jason Cornwell

    Rachel,
    From your comment it here, it seems that you’re missing out on understanding how Paul uses the word Adoption to convey the significance of God’s redeeming work in history. You’re also missing out on understanding the meaning of redemption, i.e., the way God’s releases His people and the entirety of the created order from Sin, Curse, and Death.
    Furthermore, one of the things we are doing when we adopt an child is enter into their suffering and seek to alleviate it. We seek their wholeness as much as possible and we seek to make things to be as they should be.
    Adoption is no “limited theology.” It’s the Queen of theology and the way God uses Paul to communicate the Creation-restoring power of God’s work in redemptive history.

  • aisling

    We have 2 bio children. We are getting ready to adopt 4 foster children… I would love to talk to you, Dennae, and ask for some guidance and advise. We started foster care 6 months ago and never imagined our family would grow this fast. But these precious children are siblings. God calls us to the uncomfortable sometimes (a lot of times). I would love to talk/e mail you…

  • Rachel Haberer

    Jason, my comments reflect neither a misunderstanding of the significance of Paul’s use of the concept of adoption nor the critical importance of God’s redemption of the world. Quite the opposite. I’m both a social worker with a specialty in child welfare and the adoptive mother of nine children, now grown. What I’m telling you is that this Theology of Adoption is not enough to sustain the ministry you’re engaged in. It’s thin and lacks the substance to nurture a family through the years of commitment that are involved in the act of adoption. That is why you’ve resorted to Rivendell and Narnia–both delightful tales that we enjoy deeply as a family, but hardly reflective of the intensity of the need that both adoptive children and their adoptive families will face in this venture.

    What’s called for is blood. Christ’s blood. Nothing less will do. This is not sweet. It does not end in a refreshment and rest. It does not get easier. In fact, if you persist and stick out the very difficult relationships you have taken on, I can assure you that you will not find understanding and acceptance in our churches, because their fascination with the loveliness of a fatherless child finding a permanent home has no depth to it. This is about going with Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore.

    Don’t get me wrong. I would not trade my involvement for all the world. Neither would I encourage anyone to believe that the preaching of a theology of adoption will prepare the rest of the church to stick out their commitment to this child with them. Either decide God’s blood is enough for you, or don’t do it.

  • AdoptiveFather

    One issue I see with this argument is that if we want the church and indeed the world to embrace the cause of the fatherless and a host of solutions for the orphan crisis ranging from adoption to investment in these local communities as a way to provide aid adoptive families will have to be a large part of that movement. How can we expect more support from both the church and our communities when so many of the people who have adopted (people who have seen the conditions in these orphanages, people who have met these children in need, people who have NO excuse to claim ignorance of the crisis) often show so little concern for the other orphans in this world. The “I got mine” mentality is heartbreaking. How can you adopt a child from an orphanage and meet their friends who are being left behind, friends who are just like the child you adopted, kids who are still waiting for find home, security, protection, and love, and not have your heart broken over and over again as your thoughts turn back to those children in need? But with the “I got mine” mentality there is a desire to close yourself off to that pain and that knowledge and re-insulate your family from those harsh realities because that knowledge and those thoughts are painful. But how can we ever set the church and our communities on fire with a zeal to make a major difference in the orphan crisis when so many families in the adoption community don’t seem moved or motivated for the bigger cause?

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