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What Adoption Does Not Do

by Johnny Carr Published Aug 25, 2010

[Guest post by Johnny Carr, National Director of Church Partnerships for Bethany Christian Services]

I love to tell our adoption story when I preach. During the sermon, I show pictures taken within the first few hours of James meeting us. One shows me and James laughing heartily together. Another shows him taking a nap with his new mom. One shows him and his new brother wrestling on the bed, while another has him walking hand-in-hand with his new older brother and sister. We had much the same experience with our daughter Xiaoli’s adoption.

However, what the pictures do not show is the hurt, confusion, and emotional stress our adopted children endured. James was four years old when we adopted him, and Xiaoli was six. They were both old enough to understand that something major was happening but, since they are deaf, they had no way to understand adoption.

Even for the children who do have language, how do you describe adoption? How do you fight the rumors that circulate in the orphanages about what happens to adopted children? How do you prepare them for a family who might not look like them, smell like them, act like them, or use the same language? Every adoption story is accompanied by a story of grief and loss.

With that in mind, consider this: I think we should be very careful if we are trying to create a one-to-one relationship between our spiritual salvation and the earthly adoption of a child. Adoption is only one aspect of a person being born again.

Joel Beeke, author of Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption, writes that it is important to know that adoption is not regeneration, justification, or sanctification. If you have been regenerated, then you are justified, sanctified, and adopted. If you have been adopted, then you are regenerated, justified, and sanctified. You can’t have one without the other, but each plays a different role within the salvation experience.

When we are adopted into God’s family, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us. This is where the one-to-one relationship breaks down. The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to know the mind of Christ through our salvation (1 Cor. 2:10-16). We are made into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). When children are adopted, they receive a new family and the prospect for a new life, but they are not a new creation.

Adoption does not heal a child’s past. People often say that my adopted children are “lucky” to have been adopted. I know what they are trying to communicate, but they are not grasping the totality of what my children have lived through.

Recently I read an article by Catherine Olian, writer and former producer of 60 Minutes. This is part of what she wrote about her daughter who was adopted from Ukraine:

Outside our home, she behaved herself and charmed most everyone. She did take exception when adults told her she was “lucky”. In her blossoming English she would unhesitatingly respond, “Did you lose your first brother and sister? Did you grow up cold and hungry? Did you live two lives, in two different countries? No? Then you must be the lucky one.” I’ve yet to see anyone disagree with her.

The hurt and pain that adopted children bring with them are real. Here is how the orphan care and adoption ministry of the Church may become part of the solution.

In a Christian worldview, adoption is more than one family adopting a child. Adoption ministry needs to include families who cannot (or who are not called to) adopt—as they are able to provide support for the families who have. Adoption can be a difficult journey. Sometimes it takes the body of Christ working with the adoptive family to deal with many of the issues.

As this incredible wave of orphan care and adoption ministry continues to gain momentum in churches, we must make sure that we have a good theological understanding of adoption and a good practical understanding of adoption.

While I will continue to show the sweet pictures of our adoption journeys during my sermons, I will also take the time to educate families about the grief and loss that is always part of adoption. Healing can take place, and for many children, it starts with adoption…but it doesn’t end there—it never does.

[Johnny will be leading a breakout session at Together for Adoption "Encouragement to Keep-On-Keeping-On." See our breakout listing. Johnny's is a Session 5 breakout.]

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