I have decided to undertake a series of articles on the issue of adoption. My interest in this issue has been developing for some time. In the course of my lifetime, adoption has grown in prominence and receives wide acclaim by Christians and non-Christians alike. Today it is not uncommon for Christians to maintain that adoption is justified as a picture of the Gospel itself, as we are all spiritual orphans outside of a relationship with God. My decision to address this subject came when I was in a restaurant and I saw a girl wearing a t-shirt with the words “I’m Adopted” displayed in bold, prominent letters across the front. Below was a Bible verse in smaller print, though I confess I don’t remember what the verse was. The girl was white, and presumably a natural daughter of her parents with whom she was eating, although I did notice that the family included non-white children as well. The intended message was that this family was fulfilling a biblical mandate by taking in and raising orphans in their own home. This view is common in Christian circles today, and oftentimes they offer various Bible verses to support this practice.
The cultural eminence of adoption in the West is undeniable. Transracial adoption is lauded in the recent movie, The Blind Side, where a wealthy white family adopts a black boy named Michael Oher, turning his life from poverty and squalor to accomplishment and success in the NFL. The film certainly communicates a “go, and do thou likewise” message, encouraging whites to emulate the white family’s example. While I had dismissed the practice of transracial adoption among whites as little more than a manifestation of contemporary white guilt, I hadn’t yet considered how certain Bible verses are marshaled in defense of adoption itself. The biblical record on the nature of the family is being distorted by those who want to make adoption, and in particular transracial adoption, normative for Christian families as a counterbalance to the growing secular trend encouraging the same.
Before proceeding any further, I want to clarify that I don’t intend to render personal offense to readers who may already be involved in the adoption culture in some way. Adoption (though not transracial adoption) is a reality in both my immediate family and my wife’s family. I’m close to my adoptive relatives, so this should not be construed as a condemnation of my relationship to them or of anyone else’s adoptive relatives. I know many good people involved in adoption who adopt because of genuine concern for the well-being of orphaned children. My intention is not to distort their motives, nor is it to condemn adopted children, who obviously are not worthy of any blame. Nevertheless I wish to address this undoubtedly touchy subject, for it concerns the heart and foundation of the family. Hence the goal of these articles is not to cause offense, but to better equip Christians to understand the biblical basis of our definition of a family. With that in mind, let’s look at the history behind the practice of adoption in the West.
History of Adoption in the West
Adoption, as we know it today, is practiced most commonly in the West by white people. What surprised me is how relatively recently this phenomenon has become popular among whites since the conversion of the European people to Christianity. Prior to Europe’s conversion to Christianity, adoption was practiced among the patrician families of the Roman Empire as a means of dynastic preservation. Ancient Rome became degenerate1 during the late Republican period, leading prominent patrician families to actively avoid having too many children (similar to contemporary circumstances in the West). These families often found themselves without heirs due to male children dying young for one reason or another. The solution was to seek out relatives with “spare” sons and adopt them as one’s own heir. Consequently, many of the early Caesars were adopted by relatives in their extended family and groomed to rule.2
Adoption fell into disfavor after the fall of the Roman Empire and the decline of paganism in Europe, as Christians sought to restore traditional rights of inheritance among members of a hereditary family. Inheritance followed the practice of primogeniture, or the inheritance rights of the firstborn son, since this system is in conformity with biblical law. The Church then took the lead in caring for orphaned or abandoned children. In some cases, orphans were taken in by families as servants or workers, but were seldom considered part of the family, and they did not inherit as heirs. Not until the nineteenth century did the modern practice of adopting orphans took shape.
The man most responsible for promoting the modern practice of adoption was Charles Loring Brace, an abolitionist minister who wrote The Best Method of Disposing of Our Pauper and Vagrant Children. Brace’s efforts to help alleviate the burdens of orphaned children were stalled due to concerns about the genetic fitness of illegitimate children, but such concerns were a thing of the past after World War II and the defeat of “racism.” The end of World War II witnessed a dramatic shift in morals and values. Many children were born out of wedlock due to the decline in sexual morality, and this was the impetus to renew a push for adoption as a responsible way for unwanted children to be assimilated into a family. The period after World War II lasting into the 1980s has become known as the Baby Scoop Era.
This leads us the present day, in which adoption still holds a visibly prominent place in contemporary Western society. Many Christians, such as the now-disgraced Doug Phillips, have encouraged transracial adoption, such as Phillips’s “Rescue Haiti’s Children” initiative. As a result, it is not uncommon to see white evangelical families with one or more non-white adopted children and evangelical churches sponsoring adoption seminars and promoting adoption among their members. Kevin Swanson has asserted that Christians who aren’t adopting or funding adoptions are “faking it” or don’t truly care about children. However, these Christians have stiff competition from pop-culture celebrities. Many celebrities have been involved with high-profile adoption cases. These include Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Sandra Bullock (of The Blind Side fame), and countless others. It could reasonably be argued that the only people more enthusiastic than Christians about transracial adoption are celebrities.
We should reflect upon a number of questions pertaining to the modern adoption trend. Many of these considerations were addressed by Generation 5 in his article on transracial adoption. Adoption, especially transracial adoption, is driven by a feminized Christianity wherein the leadership of wives who “let go and let God” is preferred to the considered judgment of their supposedly less spiritual husbands. Many transracial adoptions seem driven by women with an emotional appeal to rescue poor, underprivileged orphans. This is a symptom of the subtle feminization of contemporary Christianity, and an inversion of the divinely-ordained patriarchal order. Beyond the sought emotional experience of adoption, there is also the biblical nature of race, tribe, and lineage to consider, which transracial adoption subverts. Further, biracial or transracially-adopted children often have accompanying psychological problems which ought to be very cautiously considered.3
Generation 5 also brings up the issue of finances. Adoptions are incredibly expensive. People who adopt often lack the necessary funds to adopt, and must enter into a considerable amount of debt to finance the transaction. Christians are ignoring plain biblical teachings against bondage to debt in order to finance adoption, disregarding the long-term detriments of debt and the devastation it will wreak upon our livelihood. The Apostle Paul teaches, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another” (Romans 13:8), and the Proverbs teach, “[T]he borrower is slave to the lender” (22:7). We are not permitted to discontentedly overstep our estate by assuming debt (especially not excessive debt), even if we intend to finance a good cause. And besides that consideration, many American Christians adopt on the assumption that we are rich and the Third World is poor, but the reality is that Americans are rich in debt; our wealth is merely an illusion, for we do not own the assets we possess. Generation 5 also discusses birthright and legacy. Is it just to take away the inheritance from natural-born children and give it to strangers? The Scripture teaches, “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22). The issue of inheritance, indeed, goes beyond charity for orphans and cuts to the heart of the family’s biblical definition. This issue will be discussed more in the next article on adoption in God’s law. Finally, Generation 5 points out that although technology makes adoption more feasible, simply adopting the Third World into the West is not a sustainable solution to the problem of poverty. The enormous investment required for a single adoption does quite little to alleviate the overall plight of poor peoples elsewhere in the world.
In addition to these practical considerations, there are additional issues which deserve attention in the discussion about adoption. First, why, as I mentioned before, are secular pop-culture celebrities playing such a prominent role in the current adoption trend in the West? If the current adoption trend is still a manifestation of Christian charity, why would those who repudiate Christian morality be its standard-bearers? Another issue is the phenomenon of homosexual adoption. Christians agree that children need a mother and father, but the rise of adoption disconnects family from heredity and thus permits us to conceive of a homosexual household, at least in the contemporary, secular West. If natural births are seen as merely more frequent, but not normative, then the doors are opened to consider sodomite adoptions. Finally, there is also the problem of adoption as a front for child trafficking or kidnapping. In some cases, authorities have discovered “baby farms” where babies are bred for adoption by Western parents.
Adoptive children will not infrequently become angry at their adoptive parents for removing them from their native people, culture, and language, raising them in a foreign culture. This is a bigger problem than many people realize. Whites, white Christians in particular, might feel that they are rescuing children from a harsh environment in the Third World by bringing them to a land of wealth and security where they can learn the Gospel and flourish under the influence of Christianity. In reality, many of these adoptees express a desire to reconnect with their ethnic group and culture, harboring resentment towards their adoptive parents for displacing them from their native land, perhaps disinclining them to Christianity in the process. Here are a few prominent examples to illustrate my point.
So Yung Kim, a Korean adopted by Americans, writes, “In my experience, transracial international adoption is one of the most thorough and brutal forms of forced assimilation.”4 Lemn Sissay, an Ethiopian adopted by British parents, writes, “Taking a child from another culture is an act of aggression.”5 Finally, Tobias Hubinette, a Korean adopted by Swedish parents, writes, “[I]nternational adoption has many parallels to the Atlantic slave trade. Both are driven by insatiable consumer demand, utilize a system of pricing and [are] dependent on intermediaries in the form of slave hunters and adoption agencies.”6 While I disagree with Mr. Hubinette’s understanding of the motives of Western adoptive parents and the nature of the Atlantic slave trade, there is legitimate resentment which non-white adoptees experience. I would not desire to have been adopted by ethnic foreigners living across the globe, only to grow up away from my people, culture, and heritage. I understand and defend the desire of non-whites to live among their own kin. Opponents of transracial adoption, such as kinists, are motivated not by hatred for ethnic foreigners, but by a genuine concern and regard for the importance of ethnic distinctions and the importance of growing up among our own people. This is something to keep in mind when wading through the issue of transracial adoption.
The urge to socially engineer and tinker with the family has brought about several problems, and these practical concerns are simply the outworkings of the dispute over what constitutes a family. Adoption, as it is currently defined and practiced, is subverting the traditional and biblical meaning of the family. To understand the nature of the family, we will need to investigate adoption as it exists in God’s law and also in the Gospel. The next article will address adoption as it is defined and practiced in the Law. After establishing the place of adoption in the Law, we will be able to understand the way that adoption is described as a part of the Gospel. It is my hope that Christians will return to God’s Word as the standard for charity, including charity to orphans.
- The degeneracy of Roman life in the centuries leading up to the advent of Christ is described by Roman poets and authors and condemned by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1 and 2. This is a decent summary of the history of Roman attitudes on the family up to the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire. ↩
- See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adoption_in_ancient_Rome for more information on Roman adoptions. It should be noticed that these adoptions were almost always of known relatives, rather than the children of strangers. Even still, the practice of actively trying to avoid children is socially degenerate, not something for Christians to emulate. ↩
- See also, “Health and Behavior Risks of Adolescents with Mixed-Race Identity,” Am J Public Health. 2003 November; 93(11): 1865–1870. The study concludes, “The preponderance of our evidence supports the conclusion that adolescents who identify more than 1 race are at higher health and behavior risks when compared with those who identify with 1 race only. This applies in a general way and is not distinctive to any particular race combinations. Further, it is not peculiar to any particular type of risk, but to most risks, both health and behavior.” Much of what is said also applies to children of transracial adoptions, and would also apply if they married into the race of their adoptive family. ↩
- Kim So Yung, “Trading in Babies,” Conducive Magazine, 13 August 2009 ↩
- BBC News, “Out of Africa: Is International Adoption an Ethical Business?” 25 June 2012 ↩
- “A Critique of Intercountry Adoption”, in William Dudley (ed.), Issues in Adoption: Current Controversies, Greenhaven Press, 2004, pp. 66-71. The quotations in the above paragraph were taken from Peter Dodds, “International Adoption: In Whose Best Interest?” presented at “Adoption Experience 2012!” in Toronto, Canada, on October 20, 2012 ↩