Orphan. The Orphan Crisis. In the evangelical church scene in America, this is one of the social issues that is the most emotionally charged and highly publicized. Since beginning our adoption journey in 2010 and bringing our son home through domestic adoption the following year, we have received so much...praise?...over our desire to “help with the Orphan Crisis.”
This gives me pause. And looking at our our three healthy, happy children who came home with us straight from the hospital, I hope this will give you pause also. Did we adopt our children because we felt that God put adoption on our hearts? Yes. Did we adopt our children because of infertility issues? Yes. Were our children in need of being adopted? Yes. Were our children one of the world’s 143 million orphans?
My oldest son, who came to us through a private, open, domestic adoption, was never an orphan. He went straight from his loving birthmother’s arms into mine. She made a thoughtful and difficult parenting decision for him, in circumstances when she was not able to parent him. She has stayed involved in his life, and he has two whole families that love him to pieces. Did he spend one single second an orphan? Not at all. And as we have started this second adoption journey with our twins, the same holds true for them. Their birthmom has been a text away for any medical question we have had, and we are excitedly planning our first visit for February. They were never orphans.
We felt God’s hand on every part of our adoption journey. From the expectant mothers He paired us with, to the difficult moments during the relinquishment, to building our open adoptions in a way that honors Him. The day we decided to adopt was the day our oldest son was conceived. Literally to.the.day. God’s hand was on it. God moved on two broken situations- our inability to have a family by birth, and our children’s birthparents’ inability at the time to raise and care for the children she loved so much. God is in all that. He knows our days from beginning to end, and saw the joining of these three families. It is an absolute joy to parent our children, and have a relationship with their first families.
But I think we, as the church, need to draw a very firm line here. I think to label our infant adoptions as part of “The Orphan Crisis” takes away from the very real need of millions of kids in the world who have no parents at all. I think it also takes away from our three and the truth, pain, and beauty of their story. They were not orphans, yet another home was sought for them. Two separate issues in the world.
Now, step back about three years. When we started this journey, I too believed that infant adoption was part of the Orphan Crisis. We were uneducated and cautiously willing, and heard again and again about this crisis in the world. We never specified newborn, we never specified Caucasian, and we didn’t specify “healthy.” But we also weren’t beating down the door of the state capital and their hundreds of school-aged kids with no parents available. We weren’t traveling to a third-world country to bring home a child in need of multiple surgeries. We were adopting to fulfill a desire to become parents. Nothing wrong with that, as long as it is done ethically and thoughtfully. Through our process though, our eyes were opened. We began to bristle when well-meaning fellow Christians labeled our first son an orphan. We cringe now when strangers tell us they are so grateful we were “willing” to take in our two black children. Walking through our first adoption, we knew that the spirit of the word “orphan” did not apply to our son. Even his adoption decree from the County Orphan’s Court annoys us. It does a disservice to his loving birth family to imply that they abandoned him to orphanhood at any point in his life. This feeling has continued through our second adoption, and the knowledge we have gained has shaped how we react to those comments.
The actual orphan crisis is so much more. Children who have lost one or two parents. I would also include children in foster care who have had the rights of their biological parents terminated. If we, as The Church (the body of Christ as a whole, not your own church in your own town) want to help with The Orphan Crisis, adoption is one way. Its one of many ways. It is not the only way. Helping third world countries care for their orphans is another way. Helping countries build infrastructure to keep families together is one way. Challenging unethical adoption agencies that are doing no more than human trafficking is one way. Sponsoring a child. Becoming a foster parent or a Safe family ( www.safe-families.org). There are so, so, so many ways to help.
Should we, as Christians, continue to partner ETHICALLY and without coercion with mothers who have chosen of their own free will to place their children for adoption? Yes, if we feel led to. Should we continue to be true, and honest, and transparent in building open adoption relationship if the birth family desires? Yes, absolutely. There is value, tremendous value, in holding ourselves to a high ethical standard in the world of private adoptions. In setting an example for the broader world of adoption. I believe that the evangelical church as a whole, and ourselves as individuals, need to just be very cautious with how we pray for, and about, these two very different adoption scenarios. If we feel called or led to partner with a birth family in raising a child, that is wonderful. But let’s not label it with the misnomer of “Orphan Crisis.”
I’m curious how your local church body talks or views adoption and orphans as a whole...please share your thoughts!