Protecting the Gospel Picture of Adoption

We Are Adopted

Adoption is a beautiful display of the gospel message. Those who have placed their trust in the saving work of Jesus have been adopted into God’s family (Ephesians 1:5), where we can call him Father (Romans 8:14-16) and receive an imperishable inheritance as his children (1 Peter 1:3-4; 1 Colossians 1:12). I have experienced the beauty of adoption twice in my life: first, when God adopted me into his family, and second, when our family adopted our youngest son. Though the heartache, trials, and even trauma leading up to adoption don’t magically disappear, a biblical adoption displays hope and healing. This is the biblical truth we don’t want culture to misconstrue, and thus, as Christians, we are required to protect this gospel picture of adoption to preserve the gospel message.

The Adoption Process

As a fertile family, we quickly learned that we were the minority in those seeking adoption. Of course God can and does use infertility to lead his people to adopt, but it was shocking to see how much of the adoption courses and study material catered to families struggling with infertility, almost with the assumption that one would only be considering adoption if they couldn’t have biological children. We also learned the process included lots of boxes to check. After having four biological children, of whom we never selected their race, gender, ability, conception details, etc., it was weird (for the lack of a better word) to check boxes of what WE wanted. As a family who genuinely felt called to adopt and to fill a need, we had no idea how to navigate the entire process except through prayer. So much of the adoption process never sat right with us, and I’m so thankful that in our extremely naïve state, God led and protected us from sin. We ultimately adopted our son just a few weeks after getting our home study where he was miraculously healed the morning we arrived at the NICU to meet him. The adoption process was nothing like we were told, but that’s because we serve a big God who is able to do more than we ask or seek (Ephesians 3:20).

The Appeal of Private Adoption

There are three types of adoption: foster/state, private domestic, and international. Private domestic adoption, specifically, is appealing and at the greatest risk of being further influenced by third-party reproduction and its parent-centered mindset.

Private adoption is appealing for two main reasons: those being placed for adoption are usually babies and sometimes younger children, and there’s less government intervention as the biological mother chooses to place her child for adoption and picks the family. Alternatively, the government ultimately decides who raises a child in foster/state and international adoption. Though none of these appeals are inherently bad, the threat of the third-party reproduction culture seeping into adoption is partly due to the similarities in their appeal.

The Similarities in Private Adoption and Third-Party Reproduction

Third-party reproduction as defined by American Society for Reproductive Medicine is “the use of eggs, sperm, or embryos that have been donated by a third person (donor) to enable an infertile individual or couple (intended recipient) to become parents.”[1] In both third-party reproduction and private adoption, there are many checklists to find out what the social parents (who will raise the child) want in their child. Social parents are also solely responsible for funding the process of third-party reproduction or adoption. The objective for both (though not the main objective in adoption) is to have a baby at the end of the process. These similarities in process and appeal can, and unfortunately has, led to some blurred lines between the two. 

The Core Differences

The vast majority of the adoption world claims to be child-centered. Even if they don’t execute that objective perfectly, it’s a vocalized goal. Third-party reproduction’s ultimate goal is social parent-centered where the clients get exactly what they pay for. This shift in focus results in precious, “undesirable” lives being thrown away in a lab, women selling their bodies as wombs to rent, and children being treated as products to be bought and sold. One of the biggest and usually overlooked differences between the two is that adoption seeks to mend the trauma of a child being separated from biological parents (by death or other tragedy), whereas third-party reproduction intentionally causes the trauma of removing children from at least one parent and then they are raised by the same person/people who inflicted that trauma on them

The Threat 

Third-party reproduction has practically no government intervention and thus can become more appealing than adoption, which requires an extensive home study process. As American Adoptions writes, “The purpose of the home study is for a social worker to assess a family’s living situation and readiness for adoption…to ensure that any placement…is in the best interests of the child.” [2] Christians can, however, advocate for the process to be easier. This isn’t for the convenience of adoptive parents, or to compromise the safety of children, but rather to not deter good families from adopting, which ultimately helps children. The harder (in an unnecessary way) adoption becomes, the more appealing third-party reproduction will become with its little-to-no governmental safeguards.

Another basic threat to the virtue of adoption is our increasingly selfish society where we’re encouraged to fulfill our desires immediately. If the goal is to “get a baby,” then adoptive parents will struggle to recognize the moral distinction between adoption (which is “a process in which the adults are seeking to fill a void” for a child) and third-party reproduction (“when a child is created to fill a void for the adults”). [3] Katy Faust, founder and author of Them Before Us expressed to me that “the main thing Christians need to get straight is that adoption is not for you. It’s not for me. It’s not primarily a way to ‘complete your family’ or solve infertility. Adoption is an institution centered around the rights, needs, and well-being of children. They don’t exist for us, we exist for them.” [4] Christians must reject the selfish narrative of our world. Whether our desires and intentions are good or not, our purpose isn’t to fulfill our desires, but to do the will of our Father.

The third threat of third-party reproduction is the process where social parents check boxes to “order” their “product” of a perfect and healthy baby. Unfortunately, this mindset has already started to manifest itself in the adoption world. Adoption Information Services (AIS) provides a Home Study Sample Questionnaire that covers 14 different topics with 184 individual questions. The very first prompt out of the 184 is to “Describe your ideal child.” [5] This parent-centered question shows just how twisted the secular world of adoption has become. Adoption is not meant to give parents their ideal child. 

Even Christian agencies give you a checklist of boxes to mark what you’re open to considering: race, gender, age, drug exposure, conceived in rape, or unknown father, etc. The checklist in and of itself is not evil, but rather, your mindset towards it is what God cares about. Checking boxes simply to get a “perfect baby” can lead to a desire to adopt a child where there is no genuine need to fill and misaligns our heart to what biblical adoption is for. Each family’s gifts and abilities differ and should therefore prayerfully consider what they are able to do to fulfill the needs of a child. 

The last major threat to adoption is agencies becoming more like businesses. Third-party reproduction is solely operated as a business where parents are the clients and children are the products. Though adoption is usually run through a non-profit organization, non-profits have to run many of their day-to-day operations like a business. The threat is when they start to resemble Big Fertility’s business model. For example, some agencies have large advertising fees to attract expectant mothers, just like those seeking third-party reproduction through surrogacy have to pay the advertising fees to acquire a surrogate. As Christians, we should take pause in our adoption journey if any step resembles a business where you are treated as a client and/or a child or woman is treated like a product or piece of property.

The Christian Response

So how can all Christians respond to these very real threats and shifts in adoption culture? The first solution is an obvious one: talk about it!  Educate those in the church about the adoption process and the sin in third-party reproduction. Even I was naive through our adoption journey of our youngest son. Though our brothers and sisters in Christ encouraged and supported us in our pursuit of adoption, our church at the time didn’t address these topics or help us think critically throughout the process. It was as if just saying you wanted to adopt was automatically virtuous and you could do no wrong. Christians should also avoid virtue signaling. Just because someone wants to adopt, doesn’t mean they can do no wrong in the process. Now, we shouldn’t accuse and point fingers, but rather, come alongside them in the journey to pray for them and give practical help.  It was only through the adoption process that we discovered the difference in biblical adoption and our culture’s flawed approach to adoption. 

Churches should teach the biblical view of adoption and not shy away from the hard, emotional topics of infertility that have unfortunately led to many Christians having to fend for themselves and unknowingly enter the sin infested world of third-party reproduction. This should be standard Christian education in the church. 

For those pursuing adoption, seek biblical counsel throughout your journey. Hopeful adoptive parents are given training material on how to raise their child, help their child through their trauma, and connect their child to their culture. However, there’s no training in how to biblically go through the adoption process itself. This is a crucial step Christians need to ponder. For a husband and wife to desire a child is a beautiful thing! But, we must be on guard through this good (and strong) desire to have children, to ensure we aren’t deceived by this world, compromising God’s commands, or asking children to sacrifice for us.

Lastly, remind yourself of what adoption is! Remind yourself of how you have been adopted into God’s family (Ephesians 1:5). Adoption is a display of the gospel! Satan would love to twist the gospel message displayed in biblical adoption. As Christians, we should all passionately pursue ensuring this beautiful picture doesn’t get distorted. The gospel is about God sacrificing himself for us (his children), to adopt us into his family. To preserve this gospel picture of adoption on earth, we must ensure that we make the sacrifices for children when bringing them into our families. If any portion of your journey requires others to sacrifice for your desires, the gospel picture is dimmed. God is pleased to glorify himself through our submission and commitment to pursue adoption biblically. And a child-centered approach is the biblical approach.

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