Monday 3 May 2010

Adoption: on earth as it is in heaven?

[note - I'm writing this about an issue that I think exists in the Christian adoption community. As such, it's written from an explicitly Christian perspective].

Having adopted two tiny humans, I have become so much more aware of what God did when he adopted me - not because of the similarities, but because of the differences. And I've become convinced that these differences are important. I think that those of us who are Christians in the adoption community can be guilty of overplaying the similarities between God's adoption of us, and our adoption of children. I think that when we do this, we are at risk of wrongly casting ourselves in the role of 'saviour', or trivialising the amazing truth of God's adoption of us (or both).

Here are five reasons that I think overdoing the links between human adoption and divine adoption can be confusing - for us, our children, the church, and the rest of the world.

1) When God adopted me, he adopted someone who is totally unlike himself.

Personally, I think this is the biggest difference between my adoption by God and my adoption of children. I am able to adopt children because I am in comfortable circumstances, and they need adoption because of profoundly uncomfortable circumstances, but there is absolutely no difference between us, really. I am richer, and older, but that's it. If the world had been ordered differently, the adoption could easily have been the other way around. But for me and God? There are huge differences between me and God, and these are in our fundamental, essential natures. Him: creator, sustainer, redeemer of the Universer, totally holy and totally righteous. Me: a frail human sinner, totally unworthy to be in his presence. But rather than rejecting me, he makes me part of his family. He makes me part of his family. Once we understand who God is, and who we really are, this is staggering. It should amaze us.

Not so, my adoption of little people. Two big sinners adopting two little sinners, and we become a human family. Wonderful, joyful, but not unnatural. Not staggering.

We should not forget this difference. It affects how we think about the worth of our children.

2) When God adopted me, my adoption was a totally good thing.

No grief, no pain, just rejoicing. Out of darkness, into light. How could I not be grateful and glad?

I'm hoping that I don't need to explain how this is different from our children's human experience of adoption. They gain a new family, but this is coupled with huge losses. Our children have birthfamilies, whether living or dead. In even the very best adoptions, our children will need to face the sadness that comes from knowing that their birthparents were unable to raise them.

There will be hard days, maybe years, maybe a lifetime, when their adoption does not seem to them to be a good thing. And, hardest of all, some of them will be right.

We should not forget this difference. It affects how we think about the realities of adoption for our children.

3) When God adopted me, I needed to be adopted because of my own sin.

All too often, adoption is surrounded by human sin. Sometimes, children need adoption because of the sins of their birthparents - such as rape, abuse or neglect. Sometimes, children need adoption because of the sins of others - such as greed and exploitation, leading to overwhelming poverty. Sometimes, there is no sin at all, just tragedy. But it's pretty much never because of anything the child themselves has done.

Not so for me. I needed adoption into God's family because of what I, myself had done. I was no victim of circumstance. I needed him to show mercy, and he did. He really did save me, which is just as well, because I really needed saving.

Let's not forget this difference. It affects how we think about the dignity of our children.

4) When God adopted me, there was no other way that I could have been saved.

In order to bring me into God's family, Jesus had to die. It couldn't happen any other way. God takes my sin that seriously. That fact takes some pondering.

And of course, I baulk at using the word 'saved' to describe the adoption of a child. And maybe this point should end exactly there - at our best, we take children with no home and joyfully become a family together. And orphanages are bad, obviously, and I've fed two badly malnourished children back to health so I know what I'm talking about here but I didn't actually save my children. But even if adopting them did save their lives, we were not their only option. If we had not adopted our children, they would still have a home. In fact, we know the people who would have adopted them, the people who were next on the list, and they are a delightful family.

These is true for any of us adopting from anywhere where there is a waiting list. Once there is a queue, it's important that we realise that we aren't doing anybody any favours by adding our names to that queue.

Let's not forget this difference. It should stop us getting a saviour complex.

5) When God adopted me, I was also born again.

We need to remember that adoption is not the only description used for the way we join God's family. The themes of adoption and the new birth twine together through the New Testament, and both are equally important (and equally true). I don't think the new birth is a command to make babies. Similiarly, I don't think that our adoption by God is primarily a command to adopt children. I think that mostly, it should be a reason to worship.

Since he uses both of these to explain how we came to be his children, I think we can safely say that God approves of both adoption and birth. I think that as adopters, we can be in danger of assuming that our families have some kind of spiritual 'edge' because of how they are formed, or worse, that we (the adoptive parents) are somehow more holy than parents who add to their families the usual way. I'm convinced that, to God, it just doesn't matter whether we form our families by birth, adoption, or both. Birth families are no more 'real', and adoptive families are no more Godlike.

Let's not forget this difference. It should stop us from having either an inferiority or a superiority complex about our families.

So, those are five differences that I see. Please don't misunderstand me - in a world where adoption is undervalued as a way to make a real family, I draw great encouragment from the fact that God adopted me. The fact that God adopted me, long before I adopted anyone, does help make me feel good about the way we formed our family. And there are so many similarities between God's adoption of us, and our adoption of children. We were strangers, and then we became a family. A proper family. We are are joined by permanent, legal bonds. We are joined by love. And out of ashes, comes deep joy.

These truths are wonderful. But I think that it's tempting for Christians thinking about adoption to stop at this point. I fear that, for those of us in the Christian adoption community, it's too easy just to let ourselves melt into sentimentality when we talk about these things, and not go any further. Let's challenge ourselves - as Christian individuals, and as a Christian adoption community, to think hard about the way we talk about adoption. Let's never use Christian adoption as an excuse to be lazy about adoption ethics. Let's celebrate our families, but not confuse ourselves with God.


  1. Claudia, I like your thinking. I appreciate your words. I am Christian, and in my faith, we actually do not reference Christ's atonement for our sins and our baptism (and subsequent hopefully frequent repentence to renew that baptism) as adoption at all, so once joining the Christian adoption crowd this languague was kind of new to me.

    In our faith we believe God the Father and Christ are actually not the same being. We believe the Father and Son are just that. And we believe God is the literal Father of our spirits. How's that for doctrine in a blog post?

    Anyway, I guess I am learning a lot about how different Christians view adoption and interperet certain scriptures in the Bible, and when I read on peoples' well-intentioned blog frustration that "not all Christians are adopting what the heck is wrong with them, don't they read the Bible?!" I am taken aback. And your points are exactly why.

    Orphan care and building families which are both stated as important, good things in the Bible, but I think do not exactly = adoption for every person.

    I also agree with your point about the savior issue. I refuse to call our adoption "saving" our baby.
    But Christ did save me. I don't think they are the same thing at all.

    And now, do I win some kind of treat for the longest reponse ever?

    Thanks for sharing your faith and your insights, C.

  2. I think I believe the same as you! Even though I scanned most of it - still procrastinating (see last post) but now down to 19 emails!

  3. Oh C, if only there were a church full of you's somewhere. Could you come preach at my mother's church?

    Maybe then I wouldn't have to go off on people on facebook (and you wouldn't have to correct my overly simplistic explanations).

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  5. I really enjoyed reading this post C. I am not a Christian. I am a Unitarian Universalist, so my spiritual views are obviously different. But, I completely agree with you about what adoption is and what it is not...and that all families are of equal worth, whether formed through the womb or the heart-strings and also the families who are unable to keep their children for whatever reason...all of equal worth and dignity. We are all on equal grounds. Planted here on this planet to grow and to do good, the best that we can. Adoptive families are not saving children...we are providing a family for children because we can and because we want to do so. So, I have to give you an "Amen Sista!" from one spiritual chick to another spiritual chick! :)

  6. Thank you. I agree. I appreciate that someone finally wrote this blog post. It's something I think about and couldn't quite put into words. A

  7. We are Christians, but this adoption process has honestly pushed me away from many fellow Christians who have also adopted. The over simplifying and over glorifying of adoption has turned me off. True, it is a beautiful thing. However, it comes from a great tragedy. Forgetting this does your child a great disservice (of course, to over emphasize it does them a disservice too).

    And quite honestly, the idea of me 'saving' a child makes my blood boil. You are exactly right that it leads to a savior complex. I can imagine that it would make adopted children feel like they 'owe' something to their adoptive parents, which they most definitely don't!

    Thank you for this post. It is nice to see someone else who takes a hard look at these hard issues. I was beginning to lose faith in my faith over how Christians approach adoption and orphans.


  8. I agree with the commenter above. Although I am Christian, I don't really like to read overtly Christian adoption blogs if they self-promote. It makes no sense to me and frankly seems very anti-Christian.
    I really don't think much about my beliefs and our exploration of adoption as intertwined. Anyone who knows me knows I struggled very hard with fertility treatments for years and they simply did not work. So it becomes time to look into other options.

    Thanks for writing this, and I really really hope it opens some eyes out there.

    FYI my word verification is herpe....ewwwwwwww.

  9. I think you've got great insight into these issues, and you've explained it beautifully - excellent post. xxx

  10. Coming back to say....whenever J & I go back to ET (probably in the next 1-2 years) I am *totally* looking for a ticket that has a long UK layover. And if you don't think I'm serious ask Bridget or La Cazadora. Because I am (serious, that is). And also because we would get along famously. And also because everyone in the US would be jealous.

    Love...the buckle (i.e. the hard uncomfortable part) of the bible belt.

  11. Wonderfully written! I really hate when people say that we saved our children by adopting them. We didn't adopt because we wanted to save, we adopted because we wanted a family.

  12. I've read through your post a few times now and can't really think of anything that I could say that would add benefit. You said it perfectly...and beautifully...again.

  13. Thank you C! It is good to have a thought out "critique" to some of the ways of thinking Christians easily embrace. I appreciate your words and thoughts. Also I have to tell you I accidentally rejected your comment with your email address so I could add you to our family blog! So sorry - could you comment to give me your email address again? Thanks so much!

  14. Beautifully written! These are important distinctions and I love the thoughtfulness involved. Bravo, Claudia!

  15. Great post, Claudia. I was raised in a deeply Catholic home but now attend the Unitarian church. Our adoption has deepened my faith--come on, if those boys aren't proof of God's existence I don't know what is!--but it has never been about saving children, the world, etc for us. It makes me sad when people focus on "saving" because I know those people are missing something--something wonderful that I feel lucky to be a part of. Anyway, great post. Amen, Sister!

  16. Hey C - it's me again.
    So I was looking back at your packing post and trying to figure out what exactly a person packs when she may be in Addis indefinitely? Any thoughts? How many outfits? I think I have 17 packed. Friends are laughing. Is that too many? INDEFINITELY sounds long. And like clothes are required...
    What about wipes and diapers? How many? What if you don't know exact size?
    What about baby medicines? What about diaper rash ointment? Coudl you shoot me a little email with what was helpful to pack and what wasn't if you don't mind terribly?


  17. I think your point that if you had not adopted your children they would have gone to next on the list, is very interesting. A perspective I have not thought about before!

  18. Don't you think one of the most sinful things is the exploitation of the needy by the adoption industry? Inflicting such lifelong trauma on the innocent is surely one of the most sinful acts that can be performed.

  19. Thanks, Claudia, for discussing this topic. It's often such a touchy subject that can stir up a lot of emotion among both adoptees and adoptive parents. But it's something that must be considered, since it has such a strong influence on the practice of adoption.

    To quote a commenter named Sandy, who left a comment at the blog, (hopefully she doesn't mind--her point was so appropriate):

    "If Christians wish to focus on adopting as a way to give back then they need to adopt the entire family - not just the child - no Christian should be purposely severing the biological link that God created...God told them to care for all humanity...not just the little ones..."

  20. Yuck. Just, yuck. As an adoptee, it makes my blood boil when people use the way THEY interpret the Bible in a way that justifies adoption.

    God has nothing to do with adoption. Period.

  21. I have been looking all over the internet for this post and now I've found it! (Thanks to TongguMomma for linking) Thanks for saying this so well. Hope you don't mind if I share liberally.

  22. I always tell my daughter that she was adopted just like jesus was adopted by joseph...I think that's okay...I actually neverf thought about comparing adoption by God to adoption of mt me He saved me...quite different...

  23. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Lately, I've been reading a lot on adoption, particularly international adoptions, and just read this post from sometime last year. As a Christian, I resent people believing they're saving the world by adopting or even that everyone should be "saving" babies. There's so much more I could say about this, but mostly, I just wanted to thank you.


Over to you!