The American church and adoption

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, December 29, 2010, at 3:39 pm

How can America have Christian churches and 115,000 orphans? But that is the case, with a sizable group of Christian families in all 50 states and true orphans lingering in foster care year after year. But what would happen if more pastors and church leaders would adopt orphans or model orphan care in their personal lives? Pastors tend to preach and teach about their interests and practices. And American Christians tend to apply the Bible to real life issues after a pastor or recognized leader stirs up interest. So if church leaders would cast a practice-driven vision for orphan care, churchgoers likely would be challenged to participate in one of the most ancient practices of God's covenant people (Exodus 22; Deuteronomy 14, 16, 24).

If a church considers itself a comprehensively "biblical" one it should foster a culture of adoption and orphan care as a practice of "true religion" (James 1:26-27). Historically, orphan care has distinguished redeemed people from other people groups in the world. In fact, no other religion in the world has made orphan care a normal aspect of spiritual life like Christianity. A God that has made a series of successive covenants to redeem His entire creation through the work of His Son uniquely has positioned His people to put salvation on full display through redemptive acts like adoption.

On a trip to Atlanta last week I was reminded of the adoption problem as I watched a special Christmas edition of "Wednesday's Child" on the local Fox 5 television. The program profiles orphaned children who have been permanently severed from their families, and over the years there have been about 600 Atlanta children featured but only about half of them have been adopted. The adoption of 300 children is great news, but placements could be better in a city with such a high concentration of large evangelical churches. In fact, Atlanta Christians alone could adopt all of Georgia's 1,800 true orphans.

I wonder what would happen if Christians thought of family beyond its sometimes idolatrous, biological constraints? My guess is that adoption would become a part of normative church culture. American orphan statistics would plummet. Several years ago I worked in a church where adoption was a part of the pastor's practice, as well as the practice of the congregational leaders, and it became a part of the church's culture. Adoption was on display in the pews on Sundays. It was beautiful to witness.

I certainly do not want to make orphan care any type of new legalism, nor a litmus test for church leadership, but I am convinced that orphans will continue to linger in foster care until more pastors and leaders begin to adopt and teach about their experiences. I'm neither a pastor nor a church leader, but if I were, and were married, I'd be, without question, an adoptive parent and this practice would become a regular part of my teaching and, Lord willing, my church's culture.

I also recognize that every family cannot adopt orphans for various reasons. But the United States only has 115,000 true orphans. Is the American church so dead that we cannot find 115,000 Christian families willing to adopt? Or maybe churchgoers are simply following their leaders?

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

Read more from this writer