“All of the body of Christ is called to care for widows and orphans in their distress,” said Russell Moore during his December 4th talk about adoption at the Family Research Council. Moore, Dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s School of Theology, and author of Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches explained how adoption is central to the Gospel of Christ. It is so important, he said, that “The New Testament starts with an orphan-protecting act of adoption,” as Joseph “takes into his family a woman and a child, and becomes a father.”
“There is a tendency to think of reality as being simply about bloodlines and DNA,” Moore said, but “if adoption does not create something real, then you and I do not have a real gospel.” Moore, who is an adoptive parent himself, admitted he did not always understand the true nature of adoption, and used to differentiate between “real” and “adopted” children. He pointed out that “Those who think that adoption is just a means to fill a void within a family’s life do not understand what is taking place when God is calling us to care for orphans.”
Even Christians sometimes view adoption as “simply a ‘Plan b’ for infertile couples,” which “shows that often we have more of a Darwinian understanding of what love is about and what family is about than we do a Christian understanding of what love and family is about,” Moore stated. “There is no such thing in the biblical imagery of an ‘adopted child,’” he said, because in scripture adoption is always referred to in the past tense, not as an “ongoing adjective.” The theologian explained how “Joseph becomes so really and truly a father to Jesus that the lineage that Matthew uses to establish the fact that Jesus is qualified to be Israel’s messiah goes through the line of Joseph.”
Following the James 1:27 command to care for orphans “has to do with understanding what the gospel is about,” and “understanding the way that the family of God is created by the Spirit through the spirit of adoption,” Moore explained. Although all Christians are called to care for orphans, “Scripture does not call on every Christian to adopt.” In fact, he said “many people should not adopt.” But “Scripture is calling upon all of us in some way to care for widows and orphans in their distress” through our “diversity of gifts,” he said.
Moore went on: “The mission is not adoption, per se; the mission is carrying out that gospel love of Christ in multiple ways.” Sometimes this means providing financial or other kinds of support for families seeking to adopt. Ultimately, adoption requires seeing “children as blessings from the Lord,” and not as burdens, though “caring for orphans … is not an easy project. This entails a sense of self-sacrifice,” Moore emphasized. Further, adoption “will not help orphans and widows if it is sentimentalized, nor will it go forward and be fruitful if it is based upon some sense of guilt or obligation.”
Adoption requires self-sacrifice and risk, as every human relationship presents risks to our own interests. Moore described how “Joseph shows a model of what this self-sacrificial outward looking love looks like,” as he left Nazareth with Mary to protect her child from King Herod, even though he could have justifiably left her. “Every adoption, every foster care situation, every orphan situation represents a tragedy,” and “when we, in keeping the mission of Christ, join ourselves to the life of someone else, we are taking on all of that hardship and all of that risk … and it is worth it,” Moore said.
The Christian call to adopt “is not a new thing. It is simply a retrieval of something that is old and something that is very permanent,” Moore explained. Today, he said the “Christian church has had its conscience awakened by the abortion culture over the last 40 years. We have a Christian church that recognizes what it means not to fall asleep when the cries of the vulnerable are there,” and sees “all life as being valuable, and all life as being precious.” Moore emphasized that caring for children also means supporting mothers and families.
Christians should not approach adoption with a heroic rescuer mentality, the professor said, but instead, we must “[call] ourselves to reconsider how it is we came into this family in the first place, not as rescuers, but as those who have been rescued.” He closed saying: “[adoption is] not good news from a group of privileged rescuers, it’s good news from a group of ex-orphans.”