I was asked recently why more people don’t adopt children. For the young lady asking this question, the decision to walk down the adoption path was almost a no-brainer. In fact, she said that she was drawn to adoption before she was even a believer. In the blog, Unpacking the “Statement of First Orphan Care Principles” Part I, I affirmed that caring for the fatherless is self-evidently good; like the “truths” of the Declaration of Independence or bravery. Non-believers can, and often do, tap into this “common grace.” They get orphan care as good and adoption as one way of doing orphan care.
For the young lady who asked me the question, “Why do you think more people don’t adopt?”, I would say that she was specially gifted to understand the self-evident goodness of orphan care. This “internal calling” no doubt allows her to be more aware of the Biblical precedents relating to orphan care and adoption, and empathetic toward the need.
But how would most Christians “get to” adoption? The call for Christians to engage in adoption is, and should be, quite distinct from the way the world engages in adoption.
From my experience and study of Scripture, I see the paths that will lead a believer to bring children into their family through adoption, starting from two distinct locations and often converging.
Before discussing these paths, I think it is important to spend time on the backdrop, or canvas of our spiritual adoption into the family of God. The New Testament doctrine of our spiritual adoption is ubiquitous. When believers grasp that they were once enemies of God, now forgiven, and brought into God’s family as full sons, then we are ready to think through the two paths of “getting to” adoption.
In other words, the concept of bringing children into our families through adoption doesn’t seem so strange when we realize that God’s “Plan A” for redeeming the world had our adoption into God’s family at its core. One of several examples of this doctrine being articulated in the New Testament is in the opening lines of Ephesians where Paul explains that “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.” For more on the doctrine of the Christian’s spiritual adoption, visit the blog, God’s Heart is for Adoption.
Past generations have wrongfully placed a negative stigma on adoption. Closed adoptions were common and many adoptive parents didn’t tell their children they were adopted. In light of the reality of our identity as adopted children into God’s family, I must respectfully disagree with these attitudes toward adoption. There is only one man who can claim a genetic link to God, and that is Jesus. There rest of us who are graced to be in God’s family are here through adoption – including the Hebrew people.
With the backdrop of our spiritual adoption in view, we are ready to explore the two most common paths that believers travel in getting to adoption. The first path is what I call the Godly-Seed Path. Many Christian couples get to this path because they have experienced infertility. Miscarriages and failed attempts at conception can be one of the most world rocking trials of a couple’s life. In addition, the Bible’s historical account of barrenness seems to be one of the primary instigators of strife among women.
Much of the longing that a couple experiences to have children is good and virtuous. One of the primary purposes of marriage is to raise godly offspring to build God’s Kingdom. Malachi explains this principle when we see God rebuking husbands for not being faithful to their wives, “the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless. . . . And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” Right at the end of the Old Testament we can see that one of the reasons that God wants husbands to be faithful to their wives is for the purpose of marriages producing more godly children.
In addition, we can trace this theme backwards through history and see that Holy Spirit explained through Solomon that “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”
Stepping backwards still, all the way to the beginning, we can see that one of the fundamental blessings God bestowed on Adam was to have an abundance of godly offspring: “And God blessed them. And God Said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…’”
Thus, when a Christian couple is faced with the inability to conceive children through the ordinary means, and they feel the weight of these Scriptural themes, they often come to a crisis situation. They must then decide, is God limiting our ability to have Godly children because he wants us to do some special work (like missions in a difficult area); or, is God directing our path to add to our family another way? Perhaps through adoption?
And thus a family traverses the Godly-Seed Path to begin to consider whether adoption is right for their family. I use the phrase, “begin to consider,” because the Godly-Seed Path will almost always converge into the second path, Orphan-Care Awareness.
Orphan-Care Awareness Path
A second distinct starting point for Christians in “getting to adoption,” is orphan-care awareness. This path is long and sprinkled with obstacles. This analysis will discuss four distinct legs of the path and what ideas must be traversed in each.
Leg One: Principial Awareness of God’s Will in Relation to the Orphan
The first leg of the journey is an awareness of Pure Religion’s call to visit the orphan in their affliction. The Biblical data on orphan care is ubiquitous. Starting with Job, where it seems to be a self-evident good to care for the fatherless, through the law where we see God’s explicit commands to care for the fatherless and warnings of judgment for perverting the justice due to the fatherless, through the acknowledgement that God is a “Father of the fatherless” in the Psalms, through the Prophets’ cutting reproofs for the people’s abuse of the fatherless, to the New Testament doctrine of our previous status as spiritual orphans and new found right to sit at God’s table as sons; the Bible has much to say about our covenantal obligation to care for orphans.
Leg Two: Seeing the Need – Seeing the Affliction
Principial awareness of God’s will in relation to the orphan is the first leg of the journey down this path. The second leg is comprised of seeing the need. The orphan’s affliction in this world is as ubiquitous as the Scriptural data exhorting our involvement.
Orphan care professionals are not in agreement about the best way to define who constitutes an orphan. For example, to be considered an orphan, would both parents have to be deceased or just one? What if the parents are not deceased, but just abandoned the child? What if the parent is in prison?
I propose an expansive definition of “orphan” by utilizing the American Standard Versions interpretation of James 1:27 which interprets the Greek word, ὀρφανοὺς, as “fatherless.” We can reason from this interpretation that the “affliction” Holy Spirit, through James, is calling us to visit is linked to a person’s status as “fatherless.”
In the blog, Fatherlessness Pandemic, I explore some of the affliction of children in the state of fatherlessness. This affliction can be thought of on a spectrum. On the lower end of the spectrum is a child growing up in a stable home, but without a father. A recent New York Times Article explains that 51% of some segments of 20 – 30 year old women have no live-in father figure for their children – and touches briefly on the lower developmental performance of these children. The affliction of these fatherless children may be merely limited to developmental delays.
On the higher end of the spectrum of a fatherless child’s affliction could be HIV riddled and war torn regions of Africa where both parents of a child have died and he or she is completely without provider or protector. UNICEF estimates that some parts of the developing world have 13,000,000 children who have lost both parents. Or, you could put abortion victims on the high end of the spectrum of affliction. In Alabama, the mothers of 89% of the children killed in abortion clinics in Alabama had no husbands. The assumption I draw from this is that these children had no father figure to protect them from harm and provide for their good. In this expansive view of “fatherlessness,” pro-life issues are (at least 89% of the time) fatherlessness issues.
In the middle of the spectrum of affliction, are children in some of the poorest neighborhoods in my own city where 90% or more are “fatherless,” and the over 500,000 children in the U.S. foster care system, and the 132,000,000 million children in parts of the developing world who have lost one or both parents.
I don’t think that it would be overstating the case to say that fatherlessness is a root cause of disease, dysfunction, and disorder in society. And becoming aware of this is leg two of the Orphan-Care Awareness Path.
Leg Three: Passing the Troll of Abdication
Now comes the third leg of the journey; which is really more of sinister Troll lurking menacingly in the shadows. After seeing the weight of our covenantal obligation to visit the orphan in their affliction, and the depth of a fatherless child’s affliction, then Holy Spirit begins to stir this question: What can we do?
The asking of this question is a critical moment in the journey. I imagine that many a believer’s journey is halted and aborted at the asking of this question. “What can we do?” If a believer is paralyzed by the tidal wave of the need, they may do nothing, turn around, and go home. End of story.
If however, Holy Spirit adds faith to knowledge, the traveler proceeds, wide-eyed into the unknown.
In a Missions Conference sermon delivered by Bill Bradford, he explained that we must have faith like Phillip when God called him to share the Gospel to the Ethiopian Eunuch. God called Phillip away from a thriving ministry in Jerusalem, to set out on a 60 mile trek into the desert, without knowing where he was going. This is how God calls us to trust him.
Leg Four: “What can I do?”
Having passed the sinister Troll of Abdication, the believer passes to the fourth leg of the journey. The fourth leg of the journey is where the Orphan-Care Awareness and Godly-Seed Paths often converge. Here the believer begins to ask, “I must do something, what can I do.” I propose that the organizing principle, or primary indicator of visiting the orphan in their affliction should be the facilitation of life-on-life discipling relationships. James probably had a very earthy, felt-need, objective in mind when he wrote his Pure Religion Equation. However, looking at the Scriptures as a whole, we can see that the orphan’s primary affliction is the same as every person’s: separation from God. Thus, we should meet felt afflictions because this is good in and of itself, but always with the end in view of aiming to meet their ultimate affliction.
Four methods of facilitating life-on-life discipling relationships emerge as appropriate in varying situations:
1) community outreach and mentoring, e.g., Common Ground Montgomery,
2) orphanage, e.g., Children of Lepers Orphanage in India,
3) foster care, and
A few important comments on these four methods should be made at this point to prevent error. First, all these applications must be undergirded with prayer; none can be successfully accomplished in our own strength. Second, not all believers will be called to visit an orphan in their affliction in one of these methods, but all Christians are called to visit an orphan in their affliction. Thus, some believers’ role will be supporting other believers in taking ownership of one of these applications. This support role may come in the form of prayer, finances, or logistics. With that important disclaimer in mind, let’s move forward.
Not coincidentally, these applications are listed in ascending order based on the foreseeable potential for discipling intensity and longevity. For example, community mentoring programs offer life-on-life discipling for only a few hours a day and the longevity of relationship of a community mentor and a fatherless child may be, on average, only a few years. Foster care, or an orphanage on the other hand has the forseeable potential to facilitate 24/7 interaction, often for the whole of the child’s pre-adult life.
The Finish Line: Getting to Christian Adoption
Hopefully, as you read, you are coming to the conclusion of the journey. Hopefully, you are getting to Christian adoption. “Missional adoption,” to use a phrase by Russell Moore, as a method of orphan-care, offers the greatest opportunity for intensity and longevity of life-on-life discipleship. Reader, I want to put a big, Selah, in here to encourage you to stop for a moment and ponder the possibilities.
In my blog, Until There Are No More Orphans, I discuss four reasons why adoption is, when appropriate, a superior application of visiting the orphan in their affliction. First, adoption gives an evangelistic picture to the watching world of what our Heavenly Father did for us through Christ. Second, adoption offers an unparalleled opportunity for life-on-life discipleship. Third, adoption is the only vehicle by which an orphan … is no longer an orphan.
The fourth reason why adoption emerges as the superior application for orphan care brings the Godly Seed Path into convergence with the Orphan Care Awareness Path. By bringing formerly fatherless children into our families through adoption we fulfill one of God’s primary designs for marriage – multiplying of Godly offspring.
And this is how many Christians find themselves getting to Christian adoption.
As we cool down from this arduous journey of getting to adoption, I want to remind all of us that adoption is not the right application for visiting all orphans in their affliction. As a matter of concrete fact, very few of the world’s orphans are “adoptable.”
But, according to Show Hopes’, The Need, if only 7% of the world’s 2 billion Christians looked after one orphan, there would be no more orphans.
 Ephesians 1.
 Romans 9:4.
 Malachi 2.
 Psalms 127
 Genesis 1:28
 James 1:27. Orphan care being only one of the three elements of the equation; alongside visiting widows in their affliction and keeping oneself unstained from the world.
 Job 6, 22, 24, 31.
 Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:29; 16:11, 14; 24:17-21; 26:12, 13; 27:19.
 Psalms 68:5
 Isaiah 1:17, 23, 10:2; Jeremiah 5:28, 7:6, 22:3; Ezekiel 22:7, Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5.
 John 14:18; John 1:12; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:1.