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Adoption: Evangelical Enthusiasm Gone Wrong?

We’ve been talking quite a bit about the family recently, but surprisingly adoption hasn’t come up. The one place that I have seen it discussed was in a rather critical New York Times opinion article entitled “The Evangelical Orphan Boom.” Kathryn Joyce writes:

However well intended, this [evangelical] enthusiasm [for adoption] has exacerbated what has become a boom-and-bust market for children that leaps from country to country. In many cases, the influx of money has created incentives to establish or expand orphanages — and identify children to fill them…

The potential for fraud and abuse is high. Orphanages tend to be filled by kids whose parents want better opportunities for them, while the root problem — extreme poverty — goes unaddressed, a Unicef worker in Ethiopia told me. Worse, some families in places with different cultural norms and legal systems relinquish their kids believing that it is a temporary guardianship arrangement, rather than an irrevocable severance of family ties…

Some Christian groups have begun to heed the call to do good works overseas, by focusing on aid that keeps families intact or improves local foster care and adoption. Some churches have backed programs overseas that provide emergency foster parents, or day care programs for widowed mothers. But many churches still preach the simplistic message that there are more Christians in the world than orphans, and that every adoption means a child saved.

To say evangelical enthusiasm for adoption is a bad thing is simply mistaken, but shedding light on these ramifications is a good wake-up call for Christians whose well-intended enthusiasm is misdirected and produces harmful effects.

Yet in general, adoption is a beautiful act of love and redemption. God cares deeply for “the least of these,” especially the widow and orphan, so we should too. James 1:27 states, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

As we’ve discussed, if Christians believe the family is important to a healthy society and economy, we need to actually do something about the problem. What better way than welcoming abandoned children into our homes and raising them with love like they are your own. Such an act takes incredible sacrifice, but it is also wonderfully rewarding. If this isn’t an example of Christ’s redeeming love and a clear way that His Kingdom is coming, I don’t know what is.

As Christians attempt to restore families through adoption—hopefully with the enthusiasm that Joyce speaks of, they certainly must be wise and pragmatic. Many “do-gooders” unintentionally do more harm than good. International adoptions in particular should be carried out with deliberate thought and careful oversight, and whenever possible, we should seek to find local answers—such as family reunification, local adoption and anti-poverty measures—to solve the tragic reality of broken families.

[pullquote]     Christians willing to adopt children are some of the greatest examples of grace-filled reconciliation in our broken world.[/pullquote]

Many of us, I feel, tend to overlook our own local communities. But that is where we are needed the most. Here in Washington, DC, there are 1,300 children in foster care and 300 more who are waiting for adoptive homes, which is why churches came together to form DC127, an organization whose mission is to find homes for every one of those kids. These are selfless people, actively answering God’s call to care for the vulnerable in our communities. This is precisely the kind of work that needs to be done.

As followers of Christ seek to live out their faith by redeeming families and caring for orphans, we should heed Joyce’s warning,  but her warning doesn’t mean hitting the brakes altogether: Christians willing to adopt children who are truly in need are still some of the greatest examples of grace-filled reconciliation in our broken world. Despite what Joyce may think, the evangelical enthusiasm to care for needy kids is a blessing from God, not a dangerous inclination that ought to be feared.