About sixty years ago, adopting domestically (that is, from within the United States) became more commonplace, but at the time, adoptive parents took great pains to conceal the fact that their children had been adopted. They did not tell the child, nor did they tell many of their friends and acquaintances. Keeping the adoption a secret of sorts was possible because the child could almost always blend in with the parents. Segregated America was the norm, after all. Interracial marriage and mixed-race families were virtually unheard of, and so also were transracial adoptions. Families selected children from their own race – period.
But then, with desegregation, changing times, and changing social attitudes, some white couples sought to adopt Native American and black children in need of families, most of whom were wards of state foster care. (Admittedly, minority couples, then or now, very rarely foster or adopt white children. However, the number of adoptable white children is and has been very low in comparison the number of adoptable minority children.) Within a few years of this trend toward transracial adoption, there were pronounced opposition movements from the Native American and black communities. Native American tribal leaders cited drastic declines in tribal population and tribal identity among younger generations, and Congress (empowered by the Constitution to legislate for the welfare of Indian tribes) responded with an extensive law (the Indian Child Welfare Act) which made the adoption of Native American children by non-Native Americans all but impossible.
Blacks felt similarly that white families adopting black children were a threat to blacks as a group as well as to black children individually. While there have never been constitutionally valid laws enacted to prohibit transracial adoption of black children by white parents, there has been vocal opposition from black civic and community leaders, and particularly, the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW). The NABSW’s response in the 1970s was so influential that the number of transracial adoptions of black children fell tremendously for well over a decade. But society, while still segregated in many ways, has made progress toward blurring the sharp lines of black, white, red, yellow, and brown. Interracial marriage, especially in urban parts of the United States, is normal, and thus, so are families of blended races. This has been a blessed change that has no doubt strengthened the Christian church, as it has more faithfully reflected the biblical reality of unity and equality in Jesus Christ, who has purchased saints from every tribe and people.
But in spite of collapsing cultural barriers and the blurring of racial boundaries, many adoptive parents, even Christian ones, are hesitant to adopt transracially from within the domestic foster care system. While there are hundreds of thousands of adoptable minority children within the borders of the United States, many white couples spend two, three – even four times as much of their time and money to venture around the globe to rescue international orphans. Make no mistake, this is laudable, and relief of the global orphan crisis should be a priority for the church, no matter the color or background of the child. But why do so few families even consider domestic transracial adoption?
Perhaps they are fearful that the critics are right: their children will have an inevitable identity crisis, being unable to fully connect with their biological race or the race of their adoptive family. Perhaps they are nagged by their own fears of being able to personally and fully accept their adopted child because of their own family history of prejudice or hatred. Perhaps they are unwilling to endure a lifetime of strange looks, impolite questions, and unwelcome commentary from family, friends, and even strangers. While none of these reasons are entirely valid, they are understandable from a human perspective. We live in a fallen world, and we ourselves, in spite of God’s giving us new life by His Spirit, have hearts and minds that have been ravaged by sin. We fear man; we hold prejudices; we doubt God’s providence; we shy away from obedience when it appears to invite adversity.
But we can’t linger there in sin. God has called us to live in light of our identity in Christ, our Savior, who has rescued us at a great cost; we should therefore desire to rescue orphans for His name’s sake.
This series of blog posts is intended to help Christian people overcome the hesitancy – or even outright opposition – toward transracial adoption. It is my aim to make it a frank and faithful look at objections to transracial adoption in the light of what the Bible teaches us about race and orphan care. It is my desire that the Lord Jesus Christ be honored in the way that we think about, discuss, and put feet to the Bible’s imperatives to care for orphans. May He be pleased with our response to this subject.
By Ben Robinson
Ben Robinson is a recent graduate of Faulkner University’s Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. He is admitted to the Alabama Bar and is currently employed as a judicial law clerk. He and his wife, Tara, reside in Montgomery with their two daughters. The Robinsons are not themselves adopted children, and they have not yet had the blessing of becoming adoptive parents, but they are prayerfully pursuing their involvement in domestic foster care and adoption.
Photo by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com.