Adoption has been practiced in almost every country and culture throughout history. Still today there are millions of children all over the world needing shelter, health services, education and a primary carer/family. However, you could be forgiven if you thought there was an anti-adoption culture within Australia. The use of adoption in jokes are still commonplace – Why is your brother so strange/odd/etc? He’s adopted! When couples cannot have children by natural conception, they are encouraged vigorously to pursue IVF and GIFT programs and in some cases can get government funding to aid them. Adoption is usually regarded as a last, desperate resort to have or extend a family. When some notice that an adopted child was adopted into a friends family it is spoken of in hushed embarrassed tones as though it is a dreaded, shameful sin that dare not speak its name. Adoptive couples are often bailed up by strangers with rude, intrusive questions and comments, like: Oh! So, you couldn’t have your own then?! For some reason, there are some people that assume normal social decorum and decency no longer apply. In the case of an interracial family strangers behave even bolder: Where were they born? What happened to the mother? Did they suffer in the orphanage? Adoptive parents soon learn how to deflect these novice paparazzi, mostly with gentle humor, but sometimes it gets a little much and the reply might be as curt and rude as the original question.
Historically, Australia’s involvement in adoption and orphan care (particularly interracial) hasn’t always had a healthy or positive outcome for the children, their biological families or the adoptive families. Recent moves at federal level, supported by private initiatives such as National Adoption Awareness Week are seeking to improve upon this by promoting a positive approach to adoption. This not only provides education to adoptive parents to help them learn about the factors of abandonment, attachment and identity of the child but also extends to, where possible, support for the biological families of the children. We have a long way to go, but as they say, you have to start somewhere.
Adoption and orphan care is far to complex to resolve in a simple blog post. However, what I would like you to consider is, how can Australian Christians and Churches become more interested, involved and committed to orphan care. Adoption is an wonderful and amazing picture of how God has brought us into his family. If anyone can understand the beauty of adoption, surely it is the bible believing evangelical Christian? Perhaps it is an education and awareness issue. Perhaps, in part, it stems from a reaction to the efforts of various social and welfare groups, that due to their focus on serving the community by way of providing aid, comfort and help to ease temporal suffering, the gospel message of Jesus has been diluted and in many cases dissolved completely. After all, they reason, what good is accomplished if you give a homeless person a bed for the night if they later die anyway and spend eternity in the torments of hell? I once had this exact attitude. When working in Africa as a Bible Teacher and Church Planter I became callous and cynical to the requests for medical aid, touting that, “I’d rather preach the gospel to them than give them chloroquine so they can be relieved of malaria symptoms and die later and go to hell.” Yet, as a wiser, older Christian pointed out to me when making my progress (!) reports later, “If you had given them medicine they might have lived longer to hear and respond to the gospel.” I had completely missed the point of mercy and welfare. I was no different to the arrogant, unloving priest and Levite, that crossed to the other side of the road so I wouldn’t be tainted by those I esteemed worse off than I.
Attitudes like this deaden our concern for children at risk, vulnerable to illness and disease and the orphaned in need of compassion, care, love, nurture, healing and restoration. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that if you preach the gospel correctly you are going to be accused of heresy, licentiousness and lawlessness. (Commentary on Romans 6, ch1) Likewise, I would contend that a proper proclamation and application of the gospel by living a life of extravagant service and generosity, such as poverty relief and care of children, will result in accusations of diluting or neglecting the gospel in favour of social action.
If you have a genuine commitment to the gospel wouldn’t you will relish the opportunity to reenact the redemption and reconciliation found in Jesus Christ even it meant taking the risk that some might accuse you of wrong motives?
Mistreatment of vulnerable children was tantamount to the grossest of sins in the Old Testament. It belied a selfish, hateful cruelty that contradicted God’s character, justice, mercy, love and compassion. Describing genuine faith in Christ in the New Testament, James says:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world ~ James 1:27
A fair-dinkum commitment to the gospel, one that is theologically robust and historically orthodox, will be evident in our Churches when we have Christians, who are confident in God’s love for them and are compelled to love others. This is no more evident than when that love is manifest in the protection and nurture of orphans and vulnerable children. Our response needs to go well beyond a token Child Sponsorship or putting Christmas Gifts in a shoebox once a year. Don’t stop doing those things, but do realise that genuine orphan care goes considerably beyond that. How would your Church react, for instance, if a couple who were active members shared their wish to extend or start their family via adoption? Could you conceive that family being supported and prayed for in the same way as your favourite missionary couple off to New Guinea or Vanuatu? Could you see how assisting that couple with the exorbitant fees associated with adoption is an investment in not only caring for an orphan but also serving your brother and sister in Christ for the sake of the gospel? Adopting parents do not get any subsidy from the Government nor can they claim any fees or costs through Health Insurance. What a great way to start.
If you’re a pastor, how often do you talk about adoption? Would you consider doing a series on the doctrine of adoption that concluded with a challenge and call for families in your Church to adopt a child? There are some excellent resources to help you get started. Reclaiming Adoption (free Study Guide) and Adopted for Life are two very good ones.
Please, lets not sit back any longer, lets step forward and lead by example. How, where and when can you respond?
Note: Albert is a husband, adoptive Dad and Pastor of an independent non-denominational Church in Sydney. He has previously served as a volunteer in association with National Adoption Awareness in Australia supporting and promoting adoption awareness and education programs in the Sydney region.
Post Edit Comment: This article was written before the proposal for an Australian Royal Commission into Child Abuse amongst the Catholic Church. That is something that should be welcomed by any Church & Faith Community as an opportunity to protect our children. The Church should lead the way in the care, nurture and flourishing of our children. It is abominable to think she has not. All Christians and Churches should be on the front foot and take steps to cooperate with the Commission and put all possible processes in place for the flourishing of all children.