In the past 10 to 15 years or so there has been a surge of adoption and foster care ministries in churches. Some people would argue the church has little-to-no business involving itself in adoption and foster care. They point to the horrifying examples of abuse and neglect and assume that is all Christians—all churches. And while I’ll grant that there is a great deal of damage done in the world in what some would say is, “in Jesus’ name,” there is also a great deal of good done as well. What does the bible say about adoption, though? Is the church supposed to step in and interject its ideals into the foster and adoptive community?
I’ve been going through the process of reevaluating what exactly I believe and why. Some of my beliefs, it turns out, weren’t a part of scripture. In fact, as with many issues discussed in churches today, there isn’t anything explicitly saying to adopt. There isn’t an edict from above saying “You’re a good person if you adopt.” (Which, don’t virtue signal by adopting a kid.) What there is are a handful of verses talking about how Christians are adopted into the kingdom of God. There’s a lot to discuss with that alone. The point is, you’re not going to find a bible verse that tells you to adopt a kid. There isn’t anything saying not to either. But there are verses talking about orphans and the responsibility of the community to care for them. Or rather, if you want to show God’s love to the community, you should behave in this way.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” Deuteronomy 10:18
An added confusion is that foster care as a concept was not an official thing in biblical times. The idea that adopted children are even supposed to know they are adopted is a fairly new one—just a few generations, in fact. It’s not uncommon to hear accounts of grandparents who were adopted and didn’t find out until they needed a transplant or blood transfusion. It was considered a shameful thing, a hundred years ago or so. Adoption was a secret. The birth mothers were not involved and were never mentioned.
It turns out that system is really damaging to a person. Even today, when someone adopts, a new birth certificate is created to identify the adoptive parents. I feel it’s problematic knowing that if my children want to know about their birth, they’ll need to search further than their official birth certificates. It feels dishonest. However, it is for their safety in a lot of cases. Children who are removed to foster care because of abusive parents and end up being adopted are sometimes at risk of birth families wanting to cause harm to the adopted family. A name change and a new birth certificate can help protect the child.
While there are orphans throughout the world, orphanages are not a part of states’ systems for child care. There are children who are in foster care often there because they have parents, but their parents need extra support. So what is the church’s place? In almost every case, the best answer is the simplest: love everybody. Help everybody. I’d say it’s still the job of the church to take care of these kids. If for no other reason, Christians are called to love—unconditionally love. The Bible talks about Jesus ushering the little children to him. It is clear that there is a call to care for children.
It’s easy for me to sit back and make armchair declarations. I was an advocate for foster care and adoption support for years before I was a foster parent myself. It’s easy to say someone else should do hard work. However, this is a much more personal question for me. My kids are adopted from foster care. I don’t need the exterior motivation of thinking I’m “doing the right thing” because my religion says so. (I would argue that’s actually a really crappy reason to adopt.) However, that should be a motivation for people in the church to support birth families, foster families, adoptive families, and single-parent families.
I also feel very strongly that these groups of people should be supported without the hope of reciprocation or thanks. Speaking personally, I have no recollection of who brought food for us the first week we had a placement. I do remember being fed. I do remember that being one of the first things I offered to another foster family when they got their first placement. What was a little gross though, was hearing how “ungrateful” these families are for food being brought. No one would expect a thank you card from a mother that had just given birth. It would be absurd. So why are people offended that the new parents of three new kids with behavioral issues didn’t take the time to write a thank you note? (To be clear, if I could remember my own name at the end of the first week, I would have thought about sending a card, but I was so sleep-deprived I genuinely couldn’t tell you what day of the week it even was. )
I think it is important to note that after adoption these children are no longer considered orphans, but it is still important to support those families anyway. It’s a weird feeling going from tons of support to none at all overnight. I think the key isn’t that we just support orphans because we have to, but because we should, as a people, want the most vulnerable part of the population to be cared for. It’s an added bonus that the bible seems to want Christians to care for orphans and widows.
Click here to learn more about avoiding the Savior Complex in adoption.
Christina Gochnauer is a foster and adoptive mom of 5. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Letourneau University. She currently resides in Texas with her husband of 16 years, her children ages 3, 3.5, 4.5, 11, and 12, and her three dogs. She is passionate about using her voice to speak out for children from “hard places” in her church and community.