The contemporary practice of adoption is easily contrasted with biblical teachings on adoption and the care for orphans and widows as well as traditional Christian laws and customs. The departure from biblical teaching has been detailed in the past several articles. To briefly summarize: the contemporary enthusiasm for adoption, which is generally limited to whites and white Christians, often places a special emphasis on children from across the globe who are descended from other races. This creates an unrealistic and impossible burden for each Christian and each local church to care for all orphans across the world, and it also contrasts with the biblical teaching that we have a special familial obligation to our own people and especially our own families. This also derives from and has reinforced an unbiblical idea of the family as divorced from heredity. It isn’t uncommon for contemporary Christians to believe that the family exists fundamentally independently of biological reproduction and heredity.
This is a quite recent development which allows the general public to conceptualize the idea of a sodomite or lesbian “family,” since being a parent is supposed to have nothing to do with biological reproduction. Likewise many whites and white Christians have sought to forge multiracial families through adoption by raising children who don’t resemble their actual or potential biological children. This vastly departs from the concept of family as it is taught in the Bible, in which fatherhood and motherhood are normatively linked to heredity, whether mentioned in the physical or spiritual sense.
Unsurprisingly, this departure from the biblical conception of the family has produced a web of failed and often damaging solutions to the problem of orphans. The recent decades have seen a surge in international adoptions facilitated through orphanages, as well as the foster care system, as a solution to the reality of children without fit parents. There are several problems that have arisen from these unbiblical solutions. The first is that these false solutions beget more problems than the ones that they set out to solve. Just as welfare has failed as a solution to poverty since it creates and nourishes a dependency on government largesse and thus begets more poverty, likewise the systems of foster care and international adoption create and nourish illegitimacy by reinforcing it.
Notwithstanding exceptional counterexamples, the foster care system in the United States is incredibly corrupt. In fact, studies have concluded that children who are placed in foster care would have been better off left with troubled parents. The foster care system is so corrupt that it has been accurately referred to as “the place where good kids go to die.” The foster care system’s endemic corruption is exceeded by the even more unethical Child Protective Services, which is often involved in blatant kidnapping without any legitimate pretext whatsoever. All of this is predicated upon a statist assumption that the state has the right to remove children from their homes, even without criminal charges being filed, when they have the “best interests of the child” at heart. Many advocates of the contemporary practice of adoption cite these facts about foster care to explain why adoption is necessary to counter the negative realities of foster care. The irony of this is that many of these people often ignore children in foster care in order to adopt children from across the world.
Earlier, I provided examples of the corruption and scandal that taints the practice of transnational adoption, and this needs to be reiterated. Orphanages in third-world countries are rife with corruption, manifested in several different ways. Western foreigners are often recruited to financially support orphans, only to have the orphanage pocket these contributions and send these children off to work (or not have any orphans at all, as the case may be). There are also several documented cases of orphanages purchasing children from their biological parents for a small amount of money and selling these children to Westerners for a large profit! This is nothing short of human trafficking!1
What all of this demonstrates is that disaster is the only outcome possible when we forsake biblical teachings on the family. The solution is to return to biblical teachings on the family and the responsibilities that we have to members of our own family. This means that we must understand how families are formed and sustained using biblical principles. This does not mean that all issues related to the practice of adoption are easily answered. Some issues are, or at least should be, easy to resolve, while others are more difficult. Let’s begin with discussing issues that I believe are clear and straightforward. First, it is clear that validly married couples able to have their own biological children are required to do so. This is derived from the mandate given to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28; 9:1) as a means of taking dominion over the earth. Furthermore, biological children, called the “fruit of the womb,” are unequivocally called a blessing for those who are fortunate enough to have many of them (Psalm 127:3-5).2 There is no basis whatsoever for believing that married Christian couples (or anyone for that matter) is ever called to restrain their fecundity in order to maximize their resources for the purposes of caring for orphans. Given the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, a married couple that can continue to have children and has the means to raise them should do so whether they already have children of their own or not. The idea that orphans can or should be substituted for natural children is entirely lacking in biblical support. Thus there is no reason to believe that God is suddenly reversing His previous precepts and has started calling Christian couples to intentionally avoid having children, even if they are able to in order to take in the children of others.
A second principle that is clearly taught in the Bible is that the family is hereditary. Whenever the family is mentioned in the Bible, it is always based upon the concept of natural reproduction. Heredity and natural descent were so important that Christ is called the son of David and the son of Abraham even though several generations and thousands of years separate them.3 Even the spiritual family or household of God is hereditary in a spiritual sense, since all are born into this household through the new birth or regeneration. We must therefore reject the contemporary idea that a family can be constituted either by birth or by adoption, as if these were categorically distinct and fundamentally separate options, since from a biblical perspective adoption occurs within the framework of hereditary families and tribes as outgrowths of those families.
A third principle is that fornication is sinful. This is obviously taught throughout the entire Bible, and thus there is no need for a lengthy excursus on sexual sin. The reason that this principle is relevant to our discussion is because the modern church seems painfully unaware of just how damaging fornication is and the role that fornication has played in bringing us into the circumstances we have today. Many conservative Christians are aware that fornication is wrong, but the old stigma against sex outside of marriage has steadily worn away. As the influence of parents over their children has waned in our individualistic world, parents, even Christian parents, are becoming more accepting of the idea that their sons or daughters are bound to “sow their wild oats” in their youth. The natural result of sex between unmarried persons is unplanned and undesired pregnancies.
While the old stigma against fornication could at times be overly harsh in how illegitimate children were treated, it was accompanied by a reasonable understanding of the damaging effects of fornication upon society. Today, in an attempt to treat illegitimate children and unwed mothers with Christian charity, Christians have seemingly lost their former conscious awareness of the damaging effects of fornication upon society and the guilt of the parties involved. When dealing with the welfare of children born out of wedlock, the Church must not simply accept that there are large amounts of children without fit parents as a brute fact or matter of happenstance, but must remember that someone is to be called to solemn repentance. Consequently, the solution to the problem posed by massive numbers of children without parents is not the paradigm of continual mass adoption, but for the nations to be called to repentance of the fornication that produced these children in the first place. If all children were born into marriages, the number of orphans – abandoned or forfeited children as well as children with deceased parents – would drastically decrease.
A final foundational principle is that parents have a responsibility to raise the children that God gives them regardless of their immediate circumstances. This is true for married couples who are actively trying to conceive children, but it is also true of those who are not married or are simply not planning on becoming pregnant. There is no biblical basis to believe that parents in most circumstances are free to surrender unwanted children to a third party, such as an adoption agency or orphanage, or any Westerners covetous of dark-skinned children. While I commend those who try to convince expectant mothers not to have abortions, I cannot agree with adoption as a natural alternative to abortion. Instead we must reaffirm the grace and mercy of God to those who are penitent and reinforce the principle that parents are required to raise their own children. Whatever valid solutions there are to the problem of the care for orphans, these solutions must take the facts mentioned above into account. While I believe that these principles are sound, there are still questions that remain that are not so easily answered.
Weightier Issues of the Contemporary Problem of Orphans
The principles mentioned above are foundational to answering the problems that the Christian family faces today in regards to the care for orphans, but there are weighty issues that must still be handled with all the care of a skilled surgeon handling his scalpel. The first that I would like to discuss is how to handle orphans who are in genuine need of care and who lack living or competent parents. In these circumstances, care must be taken to see that the child’s needs are met, and that the solution affords the least amount of trauma to the child as well as to the child’s natural family. This principle was observed in a variety of ways throughout history. In the best circumstances, the couple could marry if they were a suitable match and neither party was already married. In this case, they could simply raise their children together as husband and wife.
When a young girl became pregnant out of wedlock and marriage to the father was not possible for one reason or another, she typically discreetly gave birth and had the child raised by either her parents or the father’s parents as though it was their own child. If the circumstances permitted, both parents could and would be involved to varying degrees in the child’s life. In this way a child would still be able to be raised by biological family as opposed to being raised by strangers. In the event that a child’s biological mother or father cannot raise a child, then, the most preferable solution is for an extended family member or close family friend to care for the child. There are relatively few circumstances in which this cannot happen, and this is how many orphaned children were cared for throughout history.
In some cases, children were taken in by relatives of their parents or close family friends who had been charged with their upbringing. In these instances, legal customs recognized that these children were still the children of their parents for all intents and purposes. In several instances, these children would even marry the children of those who raised them. This would be considered incest by the standards of contemporary adoption.
The traditional alternative to the contemporary practice of adoption is guardianship. A guardian is defined as “one who legally has the care and management of the person, or the estate, or both, of a child during its minority,” and the child to whom the guardian is entrusted is his ward.4 This definition acknowledges that the child under guardianship is potentially a legal heir to his natural parents who is placed as a ward under the care of a guardian. The history of this terminology can be traced back to Cicero and precedents under the Roman legal tradition.5 While the terminology and legal customs of guardianship come down to us through Roman civil law and English common law, the practice itself comports with biblical teaching on the care for orphans and has the benefit of acknowledging the hereditary nature of the family and preserving this conception of the family even during difficult circumstances. The biblical basis for this practice can be seen in examples like Mordecai’s care for his cousin Hadassah (Esther) as well as in the provisions of the Mosaic law governing inheritance. The church historically sought to apply this practice by raising charitable donations for orphans and widows to be cared for in their local communities by members of their own families. The emphasis was always on preserving the family and, by extension, the tribes and nations that were being evangelized. There is no hint throughout Church history until recently that Christians ever conceived of moving orphans across the globe as a desirable or even acceptable alternative to the nurture that a natural family can and should provide.
In concluding this series on adoption, I would like to acknowledge just how sensitive these issues are in today’s social milieu. The popularity of transracial adoption today is undeniable, and many white Christian families have taken up the cause of the modern practice of adoption by becoming enthusiastic participants. Any questioning of this practice by Kinists can naturally be construed as a personal attack against them, perhaps even a distortion of their genuinely charitable motives. This is certainly not my intention, but I do desire that Christians take an introspective look at the contemporary practice of adoption and ask whether the current trends within the church have a basis either in biblical teachings pertaining to the family or in historic Christian orthodoxy and practice, or whether this is a case of Christians being conformed to the image of this world (Rom. 12:2). It is my belief that a thorough study of the issues must lead an honest and sober examiner to the latter conclusion. With this understanding, the question that naturally arises is where we should go from here.
I believe that every Christian should pray for orphans and widows. The physical, familial, and spiritual needs of all the world’s widows and orphans are too great for any individual Christian or family to bear, but every Christian should keep those who are less fortunate, including widows and orphans, in their prayers. In addition to prayer, there are many things that Christians can do to help orphans in alignment with biblical teaching. Christian churches can donate money, time, clothing, food, and other necessities to families who are struggling financially, including those who may be considering giving children up for adoption due to these constraints. This will enable the family to be preserved and allow children to have their basic needs met. Naturally, this type of activity would generally be limited to the local area associated with the local church, but churches could also pool money together for missionary work and similar charitable activity abroad. Individual Christians should be aware of the needs of their extended family members and make their welfare a priority so that the church will be alleviated of these burdens in accordance with the Apostle Paul’s teachings in 1 Timothy 5.
The natural, biological parents of children should be tasked with the responsibility of raising their children and instructed to avoid surrendering their children to a third party whenever possible. In the event that an orphan needs to be cared for by someone other than a parent, preference should overwhelmingly be given to the child’s relatives, and the child’s relatives should be heavily encouraged in such a situation. Ideally these children could be raised by uncles and aunts or by older cousins. This would allow these children to grow up in essentially the same family and culture as they would have with their natural parents. If these options are not available, a suitable guardian can be selected for the child to be cared for as a ward until he reaches his legal majority. There is no reason for guardianship to cross racial and ethnic boundaries in all but the most dire and unimaginable of circumstances, since in almost all cases there are competent potential guardians for children among their own race and people.
Because this issue is so contentious today, I believe that charity should be a priority. Many families find themselves in less than ideal circumstances because of the church’s laziness in applying the Scriptures. For those who have adopted children and especially children of other races, they have taken on a burden that cannot simply be shirked. They still have a responsibility to the children that they have taken in, but diligence should be done to see that these children are raised to identify as members of their own hereditary ethnic group and race, and to be a Christian witness among their people when they grow up without severing the ties to the family that took them in during their youth. I believe that ignoring the importance of race and ethnicity in this important issue can only lead to disaster in the near future, and because of the church’s staunch insistence at following contemporary trends, this is exactly where we are headed. Nevertheless I remain confident that truth will win out and that God’s created order for the family and society will ultimately be restored.
- For examples of child trafficking and scams practiced by orphanages, see “Orphanage Scam Grows,” “U.S. Interrupts Cambodian Adoptions,” “Children for Sale in Nepal,” “Cashing It Big on Children,” “Nepal Comes to Terms with Foreign Adoptions Tragedy,” and “Bali Orphanages: How Tourist Cash Funds a Racket.” ↩
- For excellent articles on the privilege and responsibility of childbearing, see these excellent articles entitled “Always Being Open” and “Fruitless Celibacy” by Vaughn Ohlman on the blog, True Love Doesn’t Wait ↩
- Jesus is called the son of David in Matthew 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9; 21:15; Mark 10:47-48; 12:35; Luke 18:38-39; Revelation 22:16. Jesus is called the son of Abraham in Matthew 1:1 and Luke 19:9. ↩
- Black’s Law Dictionary, Revised Fourth Edition, pp. 834, 1755 ↩
- For more information on the legal history of guardianship in England and its root in the legal tradition of Roman law, see the article “Roman Law of Guardianship in England, 1300-1600” by Richard Helmholz (University of Chicago Law School, Chicago Unbound, 1978). ↩