Briefly Noted: On Susan Olasky, Religious Belief, and Adoption

In a recent article for World Magazine Susan Olasky highlights an ongoing movement that opposes international and intercultural adoptions. One hopes that movement, which has the potential to restrict Christians from being adoptive parents, does not gain traction.

Olasky begins by noting that the tide seems to be turning against international adoption. In 2012 only 8,668 internationals found homes in the United States, as compared to 22,884 children being adopted into U. S. families in 2004. Setting aside possible economic causes for this drop, Olasky comments that there has been a surge in coverage of adoptions turned bad: for instance, the very public case of a mother trying to return her adopted son to his home country. These stories, however terrible they are, pale in comparison to the stories of multitudes of orphans who die each year in need.

One objection to international adoption raised by Kathryn Jones, in the left-leaning MotherJones, is that of cultural imperialism.  Jones does make some valid points. First, some adoptive parents might not be adequately prepared either emotionally or financially to deal with the difficulty of parenting children across cultures. However, from this fact we should not draw the conclusion that many or most adoptive parents are not adequately prepared.

Second, she rightly points out certain exceedingly bad international and intercultural adoptive situations involving Christians. However, unfortunately she proceeds from that fact to argue agsainst international adoptions by “fundamentalist Christians.” And she is especially aghast at an adoptive mother who “ . . . eschew[s] contraception and adhere[s] to rigid gender roles.” Really? Is Jones really worried that a child with no parents, and potentially without the promise of a meal, might be adopted by—gasp—a Christian couple who are complementarians? So Jones’ argument is a mixed bag, and we are left hoping that Christian families are not restricted from adopting children who remain in group homes, as outsiders in the homes of extended family, or wandering the streets in war torn countries. Despite real and potential abuses, the situation appears to be more complex and significant than Kathryn Jones allows.

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of more balanced critiques of the adoption process, including a recent essay and video clip entitled, “Is the Orphan My Neighbor?” by Russell Dr. Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and author of Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, 2009). Moore is himself an adoptive parent and, like Jones, is concerned about various abuses of the adoption process. He cites the story of a prospective adoptive mother measuring the craniums of possible children to determine if they were damaged goods. She was checking the children out, like melons in the produce aisle, in order to ensure she didn’t get damaged goods. This, however, defeats the purpose of adoption and defies the spirit in which Christian adoption should be conducted. Moore notes:

Orphans are unpredictable. Often we don’t know where they’ve come from, what kinds of genetic maladies and urges lie dormant somewhere in those genes. Moreover, in virtually every situation of fatherlessness, there is some kind of tragedy: a divorce, a suicide, a rape, a drug overdose, a disease, a drought, a civil war, and on and on. We’d rather not think about such things, and we’re afraid often of what kind of lasting mark they leave on their victims.

In other words, adoptive parents should assume that the children they adopt come with emotional and physical baggage. So it is important not to move toward adoption glibly or without due consideration and an adequate support network in a local church. Yet Moore comments:

Justice for the fatherless will sap far more from us than just the time it takes to advocate. These kids [orphans] need to be reared, to be taught, to be hugged and to be heard. Children who have been traumatized often need more than we ever expect to give. It is easier to ignore those cries. But love of any kind is risky.

The call for orphan care is clear in Scripture (Jms 1:27), but it must be implemented rightly, in a way that honors God and provides a loving and stable home for the children. Adoptions must proceed in a way that presents a testimony about the nature of our adoption into God’s family (Rom 8:12–25; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5). Just as we were adopted by God the Father, and given the status of “children of the King,” so we can adopt needy children and given them a warm and loving home.

As a concluding note, I would be remiss if I did not mention Tony Merida’s book Orphanology and his chapel sermon from November, 2010, both of which present a theology of adoption along with compelling testimony and compassionate exhortation to take seriously Christ’s call to true religion—taking care of widows and orphans in their time of need (Jms 1:27).




Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-Centered Adoption and Orphan Care

Tony Merida and Rick Morton have written an excellent new book titled Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-Centered Adoption and Orphan Care (New Hope, 2011). You may have heard that Tony, formerly pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, will be joining the SEBTS faculty this summer as associate professor of preaching. He will also be the lead pastor of a new church plant launching this fall in Raleigh, Imago Dei Church.

New Hope Publishers have set up a great website for Orphanology. The website includes author information, Bible study aids, written endorsements and other publicity, and a video interview with Tony and Rick. Several contributors to Between the Times had a chance to read an advance copy of the book. Here’s what we had to say about it:

Orphan care and adoption are expressions of practical Christianity because they are expressions of the heart and love of God. Tony Merida and Rick Morton bring that message home loud and clear. This book is simple and straightforward. It is also convincing and convicting. God has reached out to us in Christ and adopted us into Him family. What a blessing for us to do for others what He has done for us! I am thrilled at the renewed interest in orphan care and adoption that is sweeping through the evangelical church. This book reflects this movement. This book will stoke the fires of it too! We bless you Lord for moving so powerfully among your adopted sons and daughters. — Danny Akin

Orphanology presents a gospel-centered theological and practical approach to an often-neglected sphere of ministry. Morton and Merida call Christians to reflect God’s image as redeemer, defender, provider, and father, and take up the cause for those who have no voice. It is engaging, thorough, accessible, and a convicting joy to read. — Ed Stetzer

Reader beware! The book you are holding in your hands has the potential to reveal a gospel-denigrating blind spot that has emerged among evangelicals in our generation. Too many have unwittingly fostered a spirit of apathy toward an issue that our Heavenly Father is overwhelmingly passionate about. The Father’s heart for the gospel message proclaimed must not be minimized . . . nor should his heart for the gospel message lived out. In this book the authors provide both a solid biblical theology for adoption and orphan care as well as many practical insights as to how to nurture a Christ-honoring “adoption culture” toward that end in your church. As I read, I could not help but see my own past complacency regarding this global issue for what it really is – selfishness. The gospel kills selfishness and cultivates Christ’s own compassion and love for the fatherless. And because Orphanology bleeds both gospel word and deed , my wife and I are finding that God’s heart for the fatherless is being formed in us leading us to begin praying toward and actively pursuing adoption. — George Robinson

God loves orphans, and one of the most encouraging trends among contemporary evangelicals is the growing emphasis upon adoption and orphan care. Many who have been spiritually adopted by their heavenly Father are now physically adopting or providing foster care to the world’s orphans, reflecting the very heart of God. Tony Merida and Rick Morton have contributed a wonderful addition to the growing literature devoted to gospel-driven orphan care. Orphanology combines a sound biblical-theological rationale for orphan care with godly and practical advice for both families and local churches. I hope this book will be widely read by pastors and other church leaders, couples considering adoption (may their tribe increase!), and any Christian who wants to be a part of what God is doing to lead His church to love all the little children of the world whom Jesus loves. — Nathan Finn

We hope you’ll pick up a copy of this great book as soon as you can. And we hope you’ll join us in praying that God will continue to lead Southern Baptists and other evangelicals to embrace adoption and orphan care as gospel priorities in their homes and local churches.

A Dangerous Book

Some books are dangerous, and Russ Moore’s Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches is a dangerous book. It is dangerous in the way Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship or Life Together is dangerous, because if you take the book seriously it may alter your life significantly and, to be honest, perhaps in ways not entirely welcome.

Adopted for Life is in many ways exactly what you would expect from Russ Moore, who is a friend. The book is erudite, insightful, well-written, clever, and full of wisdom. That’s what we all expect from Russ. But there is more. This is a personal book, recounting the journey of Russ and his wife through the adoption process, and he writes with moving eloquence about their experience. It is also a book about the gospel. Russ has done a masterful job of showing the implications of the gospel for the church with respect to adoption.

Let me mention two of my favorite parts of the book. The first has to do with rude questions people ask about adoption. Nothing along these lines surprised me, but what Russ recounts is just so typical for anyone who has spent time around the church, which is so often the landing place for rude and obnoxious folk. I guess I enjoyed this because it made me laugh at something that is so irritating.

Second, I am very grateful for the manner in which Russ treated the question of transracial adoption. I have another friend who runs an adoption agency and we have talked on more than one occasion about this question. To me, this is a matter of grave importance for Christians, social workers, and agencies to sort out. Nothing helps to clarify this issue like the gospel, and I am very grateful for the manner in which Adopted for Life frames the issue.

I wonder what would occur if a number of our churches took this book seriously. What would occur if our families reordered priorities in accord with the gospel and considered how their home might become a home for the homeless orphan? I wonder what would occur if those who have received the Spirit of adoption would consider the implications of the gospel in the way Russ Moore suggests? Dangerous thoughts, indeed.

I heartily recommend this book. It is a good example of how we should help Christians to consider how the gospel matters for all of life. I pray we will see many more books like this, on a variety of subjects. So, read the book, and encourage your friends to do so. Encourage your church to do so. But I warn you – this is a dangerous book.