For those who know me well, you will know that I am part of a church that has recently welcomed adopted children into its midst. The charity Home for Good (launched by the Evangelical Alliance) has labelled this Sunday ‘Adoption Sunday’. Therefore this post aims to provide a theological rationale for why Christians might be involved in adoption and how churches can prepare for welcoming adopted children into the wider church family.
There are many reasons why children may enter our care system. For some it may be due to the death of parents, for others they may be the victims of abuse, and for others the birth parents or other family members may not have the skills or ability to provide a safe environment. In any of these cases, the child is essentially orphaned (often translated in the Bible as fatherless) as there is no-one deemed able to provide the appropriate environment of safety, care and wellbeing for the child.
Throughout both testaments in our scriptures we see the care of widows and orphans as a recurring theme. These include:
- Their care as a form of religion that is acceptable to God (James 1:27)
- Looking after orphans as a reason to be respected by others (Job 29:12 & 31:6-8)
- We are commanded not to take advantage of them (Exodus 22:22) but rather to provide for them (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), defend them and uphold their cause (Psalm 82:3)
In addition, we are given an image of God as a father of the fatherless (Psalm 68:5) who sustains them (Psalm 146:9 & 10:14). Likewise, we are also given examples of people like Mordecai whom, “when [Esther’s] father and mother died, Mordecai had raised her as if she were his own daughter.” (Esther 2:7)
Given such an emphasis, you might assume that adoption is endorsed, if not encouraged, within the scriptures. However, this is not necessarily the case. Within the Jewish tradition, legal adoption, the legal process by which adoptive parents become as if the child was born to them as birth parents, is not recognised. Such a legal process is thought to separate the children from their genetic familial ties, whereas Jewish law states that that the status of birth parents is permanent. In contrast long-term fostering, which still acknowledges biological parenthood but enables others to be the primary caregiver, is both recognised and honoured and may even be classed as “special, sacred, a manifestation of holiness, and covenantal.
Whilst the Christian and Jewish traditions are clearly linked and share a number of similarities, Christians take a different approach. If we read the birth accounts in the gospels, the most extensive of which are in Matthew and Luke, we encounter Mary who “was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18). Joseph is told to take Mary as his wife and to take on all the parental rights and responsibilities of the child (Jesus), including naming him and raising him as his own. In essence, Joseph adopts Jesus.
Also in the New Testament, we ourselves are given the designation of children of God with all the associated rights and responsibilities as if we are born of God. Given this, Christians might be expected to have some empathy with those who are adopted and to care for them, in much the same way as those who are Jewish are expected to have empathy for foreigners in their land as they were once foreigners exiled in other lands.
Due to our own adopted status and being followers of Jesus, Christians have good grounds to both endorse and encourage adoption, but the question begs how we might do this practically in our congregations. The following are a number of suggestions from the experience of one congregation, to which many more could be added:
- Release the adoptive parents from other responsibilities
It may be obvious to state that adoptive parents are going through significant life adjustments; in practice the rest of the congregation also needs to adapt in order to release the adoptive parents from other responsibilities. Even before the children arrive, the new parents have a lot of their time taken up with preparation groups, meetings (e.g. with social workers, health professionals, educational professionals, foster parents and perhaps even birth parents) and even decorating bedrooms etc. Therefore it is important to speak with them well in advance of any adoption and be realistic about what Church responsibilities need to be taken on by others at the different stages of the adoption process.
- Offer practical support
Throughout the process there are lots of opportunities to offer practical support; however the prospective adoptive parents may be too shy or reserved to ask. In adoption, children might arrive with an array of toys and clothes, whilst others could arrive with virtually nothing. As a result, such practical support might include financial support, providing second hand furniture, clothes or toys, assistance in decorating or building flat-packed furniture, or even providing a haven with a cup of tea. As each situation is very different, it is worthwhile the church asking someone who is close to the family to be a liaison for them in order to establish what is needed and then on their behalf mobilise others.
- Avoid the tilted heads and cheesy grins
The church may have known about, and been praying for, the family’s adoption journey for many months, if not years. Therefore the church shares in the joys of the forming of this new family, but this needs to be done sensitively. It is often inappropriate to make announcements from the pulpit welcoming this new adopted family as this may make the family feel more awkward (especially if they are not used to attending church). Likewise, there is a tendency for members of the congregation to stare at the family with their heads tilted to one side and a cheesy grin (often accompanied with a silent ‘Awww’). Whilst in one sense the family may be delighted that the church are sharing in this journey, it can also make them feel very self-conscious.
- Flexibility in children’s work
Children who are adopted may come from a range of backgrounds and have just undergone significant trauma, even if it is simply in moving from foster care to new adoptive parents. Such trauma can mean that their social, emotional or cognitive skills might not be at the same level as their age peers. As most churches divide their children’s work into different age categories, this means that the child might not actually be at the same stage as others their age and flexibility needs to be exercised. After some time with the children, the adoptive parents will have a sense of what they can cope with or not and therefore it is worth asking them which level may be best for the children, if indeed it is appropriate for them to participate at all.
- Don’t expect to the family to regularly attend
Having journeyed with the adoptive parents on the adoption journey, there is an implicit expectation for the family to attend regularly at church. Whilst the family may wish to, there may be a host of reasons why this may not be helpful. It may be that the children are not used to large gatherings such as church. The children may have social, emotional or behavioural challenges which might mean they are a distraction to others. If a parent is employed during the week then the weekends become a very precious time to be spent bonding with the child and church services may not be conducive to this.
- Pray for them
Adoption is a significant life change for parents and children alike and can be a trying and difficult time. It is important then that the congregation is encouraged to pray for them privately and, if appropriate, in prayer meetings.
These are just some suggestions in order to start the thought process. This Adoption Sunday, it is worth asking what changes your church has to make in order to welcome adoptive families into your midst.
 Broyde, M J, ‘Adoption, Personal Status, and Jewish Law’ in Jackson TP (Ed.), 2005 The Morality of Adoption: Social-Psychological Theological, and Legal perspectives. Cambridge: Eerdmaans. p129
 Broyde, 2005: 139
 John 1:12; Romans 8:14-19 & 9:8; Galatians 3:26; Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:1-2
 Galatians 4:5-7; Romans 8: 14-19
 1 John 3:9