“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” – James 1:27
Based on the numerous references to the widow and fatherless of the Old Testament (which are worth rereading- Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 68:5, 82:3, Exodus 22:21-24, Deuteronomy 27:19, Zechariah 7:9-10), it would seem clear that the translation of the word for orphan here, which can also mean “fatherless” or “bereft”, should be “fatherless” for a better understanding.
James, in alliance with the strong narrative of the rest of the scriptures is encouraging Christians to assist the widowed mother and her child in surviving together as a family unit.
“It is strange that many pro-life evangelicals have embraced a form of adoption that expects a woman to go through nine months of pregnancy, then childbirth, and then freely accept a status as a non-mother–indeed, a never-mother-a complete legal stranger to her child….to expect poor mothers and fathers in developing nations to turn over their infants, toddlers, and older children under an arrangement which permanently eliminates their identity and role as parents, despite the obvious bond that exists between them and their children….in the unnatural legal and social paradigm of adoption in the US, which effectively aborts a woman’s motherhood.” (Smolin)
A common pitfall we must avoid when reading scripture is that of reading through our own cultural lens. We’re all guilty of it to some extent, but we’re best helped by being aware of that lens and challenging it as needed. Our adoption lens is rarely countered – we somehow find ourselves in the adoption community, and without knowing better, we absorb what is told to us. We don’t question the concept of “full adoption”, of closed adoption, of creating a replica of biological family through adoption. We also have pictures triggered when reading words like “orphan.” And so, interestingly, the very verses which should give us a picture of family-preservation, of assisting those in need as a whole, become the verses upon which an entirely modern, Western-evangelical adoption movement hinges.
God is a present help in times of need, and the Old Testament is filled with evidence of his grave concern for the marginalized, especially mothers and their children who are vulnerable to exploitation and death. We see him and his prophets, like Elisha and Elijah, provide for these units, ensuring their safety and provision without ever tearing them apart or assigning the child to a well-off family. In the law, provision is made for the poor, and we see partial underprivileged family units such as Naomi and Ruth benefiting from such a system. Even in the case of Esther, a true orphan taken in by her uncle, we see a much different picture of “adoption” than what is practiced today. She is expected to act out of responsibility toward her heritage and own father. Her identity, far from being forgotten and transferred, is integral to her story.
In contrast, today we practice “full adoption”:
“Full adoption involves a complete legal transference of the child from the original family to the adoptive family, so that after the adoption the child is a legal stranger to their original father, mother, siblings, and all other relatives, while being a full member of the adoptive family…Under this system, the original birth certificate and court records are sealed…Thus, the law of the United States builds the protection and legitimacy of adoptive relationships upon the legal destruction and suppression of the original family relationships. Adoptive relationships in this system are designed to copy biological family relationships; since biological family relationships are exclusive-one mother and father per child-the same exclusivity is expected in adoptive relationships. The only way to achieve this kind of exclusivity is to deny that “birth” mothers and fathers are truly parents, leaving adoptive mothers and fathers as the only true parents.
*”The evangelical Christian adoption and orphan care movement has not critiqued the legal system of adoption within the United States, but instead presupposes it as the normative form of adoption, which can creates expectations and presuppositions that minimize the significance of the original family relationships for adopted persons.”
In other words, assuming adoption is an appropriate Christian endeavor, is the system of adoption which has been created and normalized by the United States, the correct Biblical model? If not, why don’t influential Christians in the realm of adoption use their voice to educate and reform?
“Ultimately, both Judaism and Islam provide a category for raising someone else’s child in one’s household, without changing the legal identity of the child and without removing them, in identity, name, and law, from their original family.”
Is adoption the undeniable Biblical calling? What about full adoption?