We continue our discussion of the biblical teaching on adoption. In the previous article, I demonstrated that the biblical concept of adoption is distinct from the care of orphans, even though the two ideas have become conflated in modern times. This has resulted in confusion over the meaning of a Christian’s spiritual adoption into the household of God through faith in Jesus Christ. It is abundantly evident from the precepts of the Old Testament and their application in the New Testament that adoption presupposes the importance of maintaining the hereditary design of the family. Adoption was a means of providing an heir when one was absent, or of providing a home for a related orphan. It is very ironic that the concept of adoption today is positively utilized to promote a non-hereditary view of the family. Many Christians suggest that a Christian’s “real” family isn’t his blood relatives, but rather the “household of faith.” By positing this false dichotomy, many Christians assert that our loyalty to Christ voids the importance of natural, hereditary families. These same Christians insist that adoption is practically a mandate by providing vague allusions to several passages on the care for orphans. As I pointed out in the previous article, adoption is conceptually distinct from the care for orphans, although both topics are addressed in Scripture. For the purposes of this article, I will discuss adoption in conjunction with the care for orphans since this is the conventional meaning of adoption in our modern context.
To begin with, we need to understand the vital role that family plays in the very foundation of society. The nation is an outgrowth of hereditary tribes, clans, and extended families, and all of these entities are rooted in marriage and reproduction. The father is given the task of provision and protection, while the mother is given the task of nurturing and homemaking. Both parents are given the mutual duty of bringing up children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. The loss of a parent poses a grave danger to children. Living without a mother would rob children of the nurturing and caring atmosphere essential for their flourishing, for which reason many widowers often remarried. The loss of a father presents particularly troublesome circumstances for his widow and children, as they become easy targets for abuse once left without a protector. It is for this reason that the Scriptures take such an interest in the welfare of widows and orphans.
Biblical Passages Concerning Orphans
As previously mentioned, modern advocates of adoption view it as a picture of the Gospel itself. Many Christian pastors today seem to think that adoption is essentially a requirement, if not for every family then for every local church, with every family contributing to the enormous costs of adoption. Preference is almost always assigned to foreign children who are racially dissimilar to these white families. In many cases, adoptions are arranged for children with living parents who may or may not be aware that they will never see their children again, as they are told their children will be educated or receive a better life in America. Many times the Bible is cited as the inspiration for the contemporary practice of adoption, just as Swanson appeals to James 1:27 in this video. But what does Scripture have to say concerning this?
The Bible has a good deal to say about orphans and how they are to be treated. The Scriptures teach that orphans are not to be abused or denied justice (Deut. 24:17; Ps. 82:3-4; Prov. 23:10-11; Isa. 1:17; 10:1-2; Jer. 7:5-7; 22:3; Zech. 7:10; James 1:27), and God promises punishment to those who dare oppress them (Ex. 22:22-24; Deut. 27:19; Jer. 5:27-29; Ezek. 22:7; Mal. 3:5). God declares Himself to be a provider for and defender of the fatherless and widows (Deut. 10:18; Ps. 10:14-18; 68:5-6; 146:9; Isa. 58:7; Jer. 49:11; Hos. 14:3) and makes provision for their care in the Law (Deut. 14:29; 24:19-21; 26:12-13). These passages clearly establish the importance which God attributes to justice for the weak, orphans in particular. First, let’s address what these passages of Scripture teach. These Scriptures teach the importance of justice and mercy being extended to those in a position of vulnerability. Orphans and widows are naturally in a compromised position because widows are without a husband and orphans are without a father. Husbands and fathers were considered to be the protectors and defenders of their families; consequently their premature death or absence could potentially place their wives and children in a position of helplessness. God demonstrates His great care and magnanimity by demanding that orphans and widows be given justice and promising punishment to those who disobey. Furthermore, God makes special provision for orphans and widows among other marginalized members of society in the Mosaic Law. So do the passages that teach God’s care for orphans justify the contemporary practice of adoption? I believe the answer is a firm no.
First, as stated in the previous article, it is a simple matter of historical fact that the ancient Israelites were not engaged in modern adoptive practices. Even if moderns wish to attribute it to technological limitations, a relative lack of shareable prosperity in Israel, or ignorance of such an effective strategy of caring for orphans, the modern practice of charitably adopting unrelated and even foreign orphans was not then practiced. Even if the arguments from the previous article based on inheritance and the hereditary nature of the family somehow fall through, this historical fact is all that is relevant here. For if we know both that the Israelites did not engage in modern adoptive practices and that the Israelites were commanded to care for orphans, then evidently they did not take these commandments of orphan-care to practically require adoption at all. This is a very important fact which most moderns overlook when they rapidly cite these Scriptures to make what they believe is an obvious case. Any biblical case which an advocate of modern adoption hopes to make from these passages will have to be significantly more circuitous and qualified.
Additionally, we must observe an obvious discrepancy between the passages cited pertaining to orphans and adoption as currently practiced. The passages cited above do not pertain only to orphans but also to widows, aliens, and the poor. If Christian families were sincerely applying these passages – if they truly took these passages to strongly enjoin adoption simply by commanding the just treatment and proper care for orphans; if they truly took adoption to be a matter of incumbency and obligation from these texts – would they not seek also to “adopt” widows, aliens, and the poor into their families? If opening up one’s domestic life and provisions to unrelated orphans is implied in these texts, then is not the same implied for all these other classes? If pro-adoption pastors like Swanson are consistent in seeing James 1:27 as requiring adoption, wouldn’t they also instruct, with the same moral rigor, that Christian families and churches are required to “adopt” grown widowed women, offering them their very homes and families? In one sense the modern application of these verses is too narrow, because widows, aliens, and the poor are not given the same consideration as orphans. In another sense the modern application is far too broad when we consider the scope of the Law’s provisions for orphans, widows, and the like. While God demands justice for all of these disadvantaged classes, the Law makes special provision for them within the gates of the cities of Israel. God ordains the annual tithe to be observed by the Israelites which supports the needs of the Levites, sojourning foreigners, orphans, and widows within Israel (Deut. 14:22-29; 26:10-13). Likewise, Israel was to invite servants, sojourning foreigners, orphans, and widows to their feasts (Deut. 16:11-14). We can imagine other ways in which these classes were charitably benefited without at all assuming any of them were actually brought into any Israelite families. Consequently, it remains exceedingly difficult for advocates of modern adoption to depend on these texts.
Lastly, it’s quite important to note that by the Law’s very nature, the orphans (and widows, and so on) to be cared for are necessarily those within Israel. Practically speaking, the obligations imposed upon the Israelites to care for such orphans extended primarily if not solely to the orphans in their midst, regionally and perhaps nationally. This is not to say they would have violated any law in doing anything to benefit a foreign orphan, only that their efforts and resources in benefiting orphans would have preponderantly been directed towards their own orphans. And this makes a great deal of sense, intuitively, for we naturally understand (and the Bible confirms) that we have greater obligations to our extended family and nation than to outsiders. We owe our finite resources and labor in greater proportions to our own people, that obligation decreasing as these concentric circles move outward from us. Consequently it is an extreme stretch to take these OT passages commanding care for orphans as enjoining us to pour our resources into foreign orphans across the globe. It is not intrinsically wrong to aid and love other humans, of course, no matter how foreign, but it is frequently a disproportionate use of our resources to aid foreigners instead and to the neglect of our own. We all know that there remains no shortage of misery and need among our own people, in which case it would be unfitting and wrong to divert our resources away from them and unto strangers. In sum: the scope of responsibility for orphans and the rest is practically limited to those in one’s own nation, while the modern practice of adoption champions the idea that Christians – particularly white Christians – have a personal responsibility for orphans throughout the world. While I will extend this practical point below, here we need note only a rather simple fact: that though Israel was commanded to aid orphans, they never took this commandment to practically imply their responsibility over the world’s orphans – yet this is precisely how modern Christians take such laws, forgetting these commands’ societal and national context.
Given the discrepancies between the modern practice of adoption promoted amongst Christians today and the biblical teaching on the provisions for orphans, it is no surprise that practical issues have arisen as well. Men are finite creatures, and therefore we have limited time, means, and resources with which to be charitable. Consequently we must give heed to what the Bible says about the scope of our responsibilities. Each Christian family cannot have a universal responsibility for all orphans or widows in the world, since there are far too many orphans and widows for any one family to care for. A realistic approach to our responsibility is necessary, and to that end we ought to take passages like those in Deuteronomy cited above seriously. The Apostle Paul likewise delineates a Christian man’s responsibilities to his own people, and especially those of his own household (1 Tim. 5:8). This presents the concept of concentric loyalties and responsibilities. Our primary responsibility is to our immediate families, then our extended families, then outward to our tribe, ethnic group, race, and finally humanity in general. This means that we have different priorities depending upon our relationships.
Why, then, is there so much interest among white Christians in adopting children from across the planet who are racially, ethnically, and culturally dissimilar from us? One could argue that this is because of a profound love for humanity that springs from genuine Christian charity, but this raises the question of why the practice of transracial, transethnic, or transnational adoption was extremely rare until the relatively recent past, and why, as well, many Christians today seem to have a preference for such dissimilarity. Most proponents of the modern practice of adoption would respond that Christians of the past struggled with the “sin of racism,” and that this prevented them from fulfilling the needs of those outside their race. Consequently, many white Christians and whites in general use transracial adoption as a repellent for white guilt. For many whites who seek the approval of our politically correct, white-bashing society, transracial adoption has become a means to repel white guilt. For many whites, transracial adoption affords them the opportunity to atone for the “sins” of their ancestors and combat the impression that they too are good-for-nothing “racists.” By adopting children from across the world of different racial backgrounds, whites seem to be shouting, “I’m not a racist! My son is black and my daughter is Korean!”
The fact that Christians intentionally shun orphans within their own geographic locale and possibly within their own extended families in order to adopt from countries around the world should be evidence that this practice is not derived from the Bible or from genuine Christian charity. My suspicion is that there are other factors driving this current trend. One is pride on the part of many white families who adopt children from other races and countries. Many whites have a sort of liberal Messiah complex in which they view themselves as saviors of poor non-whites in the third world. This is a form of politically correct white supremacy which tacitly denies that non-whites are capable of being competent parents or raising their own children. In many cases, children are taken from living parents simply so that they will have a “better life” in North America or Europe, with the focus being on how many more “opportunities” these children will have in a wealthier country. This problem is evident in attention-seeking celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Madonna, and Sandra Bullock, but I believe that the issue is also apparent many times in Christian families who proudly parade their adoptive children around for all to see.
In addition to these problems, there are numerous instances of heartbreak among mothers who give children up for adoption. It isn’t uncommon for these mothers to feel a prolonged sense of sadness or emptiness as a result of their decision. Adoption, especially transracial adoption, has a finality to it that can often make these complicating factors worse. I believe that by providing for orphans within our own locale as Deuteronomy teaches, we can minimize the trauma of these unfortunate circumstances by arranging for children in our own communities to be raised locally. The local church and community could dedicate itself to helping a mother raise her children, and could ensure that the parents of a child sired out of wedlock get married. If this is impossible, local relatives or friends could also help to raise a child while the biological parents are able to maintain contact with their child and continue to be a part of the child’s life.
Finally, there is the problem of human trafficking and baby mills, a problem that the adoption industry itself has helped to create. In theory, adoption is supposed to address an international need to care for orphans who have no one to care for them. The sad and ghastly reality is that the newfound desire of whites to rescue non-white children is that this has created a demand that is sometimes supplied through women intentionally getting pregnant so that they can give their offspring to white parents. The result is that adoption has become a profitable business for those willing to trade babies for substantial profit. This is nothing short of human trafficking! Instead of addressing the needs of orphaned children, transcontinental and transracial adoption has actually helped fuel that need by creating a new demand of whites for non-white children.
I believe that a good deal of the resentment that some adopted orphans feel to their adoptive parents is due to the often accurate perception (to varying degrees) that they have been taken from their homelands and people to satisfy some emotional need in their adoptive parents as opposed to a genuine concern for their own welfare. While some of the anger directed at white adoptive parents is undoubtedly misdirected, I sympathize with the plight of these children. There are many stories of these individuals leaving the rural white communities in which they were raised in order to seek out communities with their own people in larger cosmopolitan American or European cities. While this helps deal with the immediate problem that non-white orphans experience in Western society, this is obviously not a long-term solution to the problem.
Regardless of the circumstances in which these babies are born, adoption has become a very expensive endeavor. The cost of adoption is usually upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. This should alert us to the fact that something is wrong. If adoption is genuinely fueled purely by concern for the welfare of children and the desire to help the needy, shouldn’t we be able to devise something that is more efficient and less expensive? The cost of adopting a single child in many circumstances could cover the costs of caring for several children in the third world for several years. Generations5 in his excellent article on adoption mentions financial considerations among his concerns. Given that debt has become ubiquitous in our interest-dependent economy, many white families are more financially strapped than they would care to imagine. If white Christians feel a legitimate need to help the needs of those across the world, they can donate a small fraction of the cost of adoption to legitimate charities which can help orphans (and widows) just as well in their native countries. This would be a far more responsible use of the church’s financial resources, and would have the added benefit of allowing children to be raised in their own ancestral homelands and communities. So why does adoption remain so popular when there are less expensive and more efficient alternatives available?
I believe that the answer to this question comes back to the problem of white guilt and transracial adoption as a means of assuaging white guilt. Sending money for the needs of orphans is typically a private matter, and doesn’t have the romantic appeal of “rescuing” an orphan from the third world. The problem with this perspective is twofold: first, it invokes a false sin while condemning virtually all of our Christian forebears with this false sin. False sins beget false guilt, and white guilt is the bastard offspring of the false sin of “racism.” The solution is for whites to be disabused of their warped understanding of their own history and to be provided with an accurate picture of the character of their ancestors. If whites genuinely understood their heritage, they would understand that they should be proud of being white and European rather than ashamed.
Secondly, it ignores the scope of provisions made for widows and orphans in the Law as being ordinarily and practically limited to one’s gates or more generally considered, one’s region. There is nothing wrong with prioritizing our own families and nations ahead of other nations. In fact, this is congruent with the biblical teaching on concentric loyalties. As such our priority should be on the widows and orphans that exist within our own extended families and communities.
In the next article, I will discuss some relevant biblical examples, comparing them to the modern practice of charitable foreign adoption.