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How We Must Talk About Adoption

by Dan Cruver Published Jun 27, 2013

Joy in Freedom

*Alternate title: “How to Talk About Adoption and Change the World at the Same Time”

How many of us within the evangelical orphan care and adoption movement talk like this?

“In the Bible, adoption is never about taking orphans and making them sons and daughters of God. It’s always about God taking the enslaved and giving them the incomparable freedom of joy-filled sonship in his household.”

Not many of us talk this way. And the evangelical orphan care movement is the weaker for it.

If the primary way we understand adoption in the Bible is “God makes orphans his children,” we’re basically walking through the Story for the ages (i.e., the Bible’s Story of redemption) with blinders on. Sure, we’re still able to see, but what we see is just a fraction of what is actually there.

And the less you can see, the less you can do.

For example, if you were to walk through a remote area with blinders on, you may not see the beautiful bald eagle perched just feet away from you to your right or the God-created child dying from starvation just yards away to your left. You’ll only see what’s right in front of you.

As a result, you won’t take a picture of the bald eagle (not a big deal, really) and you won’t get that child emergency medical help (a really, really big deal, really).

What you don’t see matters.

How we understand the Bible’s teaching on adoption has a lot to do with how we see the orphan crisis—both in North America and every other continent on the planet—and how we work toward solutions. To understand adoption one way is to wear blinders. To understand adoption another is to see more of what is actually there.

What you see matters.

* * * *

Just take a look at how the Apostle Paul’s use of adoption is surrounded by references to slavery, bondage, and freedom. It’s really quite breathtaking! You’ll not find the word orphan mentioned once. For Paul, adoption is about setting captives free. It’s about God’s taking the enslaved and giving them the incomparable freedom of sonship in his household.

Biblically speaking, adoption is for those who are enslaved to sin, paralyzed by fear, weak and heavy laden, and are experiencing the negative effects of living in a world that’s in bondage to decay. Adoption is for those who are living in a world that is not the way it is supposed to be. (see Cornelius Plantinga’s Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin).

God’s work of adoption in the Bible isn’t about turning orphans into children. It’s about delivering “us from the domain of darkness” and transferring “us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.

* * * *

Paul’s model of adoption has massive relevance to issues of enslavement and child-trafficking. The culture of enslavement abounds in our world today. It’s invaded the boarders of every nation and all the states and provinces of those nations. And I have visited enough orphanages around the world to know that there are many that essentially function as enslavement camps. This is not the way life on earth is supposed to be.

In the Bible, Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delightShalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.

A21 reports that “sex trafficking looks different in various parts of the globe.” And they highlight strategies that perverted human beings utilize to enslave girls:

Woman are tricked to cross borders with promise of a job, and are then trapped with no passport or identification.

Orphans are wooed by adults who promise security or love, only to be raped and sold.

Many victims are given drugs, so that they must rely on their trafficker for supply.

Threats are made towards the victim’s family: “Well if you won’t get out there and sleep with him, then maybe your sister will.”

Often, desperate for money, a parent or foster parent will sell a child to go make money for the family, saying to only return when they’ve made a certain amount.

* * * *

If we understand what God’s work of adoption actually entails (the eventual renewal of all creation and the complete eradication of every last trace of the Fall), helping parents who live in poverty provide for and protect their children is a way of bringing God’s renewing work of adoption to bear upon the present.

As I recently wrote, the Bible’s story of adoption is the story of God’s visiting us in our affliction (in all of its various forms), like he once visited Israel (Exo. 4:31), in order to deliver us from it.

To visit orphans in their affliction (James 1:27), then, means that we work hard to address all of the causes (i.e., natural disasters, unjust social conditions, personal moral failures of community members, etc) and forms of affliction.

It means we work hard for orphan prevention through family reunification and preservation, and when reunification is not possible, we actively support indigenous adoption efforts. For some children, though, adoption (both indigenous and international) becomes the way we “visit” them.

It means that we find ways to fight hard against child-trafficking through organizations like A21, Make Way Partners, iEmpathize, Global Centurion, Rahab’s Rope, and many, many others.

* * * *

Yes, I believe very strongly in adoption for children that need to be placed in a loving family, where they will experience the faithful, permanent, and unconditional love of a father and mother.

Yes,  I believe very strongly that every child should have someone that they can forever call “Mommy” or “Daddy,” and hear, in return:

“I love you with all my heart, son.”

“My little princess, I love you to the stars and back.”

But that’s not where Paul’s model of adoption begins. It begins with us working hard to address all of the causes (i.e., natural disasters, unjust social conditions, personal moral failures of community and family members, etc) and forms of affliction.

Paul’s adoption model requires that we think bigger, wider, higher, and farther for the sake of all orphaned and vulnerable children, no matter where they live in the world.

So, will you join us this coming October 4-5 in Louisville, Kentucky as we seek to do that very thing? My prayer is that all who leave this year’s conference will leave with a robust understanding of Scripture’s teaching on adoption and a commit to follow the lines of implications it sends out into the brokenness of our world for the sake of orphaned and vulnerable children.

Learn more about T4A 2013. Help more children find joy in true freedom!!

T4A NatCon 2013 Flyer

  • Jessica C

    Taking off the blinder, eager to see how this language becomes a part of the adoption/orphan community. I truly believe the perspective on the anti-trafficking agencies allows my finite mind to better comprehend this powerful gospel implication.

  • Mary Hoyt

    Yes, yes! I love this. I still think most people think “theology of adoption” and think “God adopted me, so I should adopt and/or help as many kids get adopted” – I’m thankful to you for working to clarify your message. Will there be any sessions at the upcoming conference on adoption ethics or how adoption programs can most effectively work to promote and not interfere with efforts to grow family preservation/re-unification!! The negative effects (often unintentional) of the adoption industry on those seeking larger-scale reforms are a HUGE justice issue that I would like to see the orphan care movement and T4A address more head-on at conferences as well as in writing. Praying for you, Dan, and for all of us as we wrestle through all this, try to hear each other, try to be heard, try to listen to the Word, and work through its most effective applications to complex situations…


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