International adoptions have soared in recent years. Less than 9,000 children came to America in 1995, but by 2006, this number increased to well over 20,000. The vast majority of these adopted orphans came from mainland China, Guatemala, Russia, and South Korea.1 Parents are compelled to put their children up for adoption for a number of reasons. Chinese authorities fine families with more than one or two children, while extreme poverty in parts of Russia has filled up orphanages with starving kids.2 As a result, more and more needy children are finding homes in developed Western countries.
Today, parents adopt children with every conceivable background and make them their own. This was not always the case. Historian Julie Berebitsky pointed out that as recently as the early twentieth century, adoptive parents sought to ensure that the children they chose came with the appropriate pedigree. She pointed to a letter written by Mrs. Robert Powell to the Washington City Orphan Asylum in 1913, requesting “some orphan girl, born of good parents” to adopt.3 Mrs. Powell’s concern with the morality of the parents reflects a belief that vice was inherited. In fact, twentieth-century eugenicists objected to adoption for this very reason. They based poverty (which often led to children being put up for adoption) on a biologically defective character; adopting children from poor families would only spread poor character throughout society.4
Thankfully, the eugenicists did not win the day. Almost immediately, their theories were contested by those who argued that individuals are as much a product of their environment as they are their genes.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with wanting to give a child a good environment and a loving home. The Christian, however, has an even more compelling reason to consider adoption. Every Christian, after all, has been adopted! Every Christian is an orphan when God comes to him, but each is folded into His family (Gal. 4:5). Every Christian understands what it means to become the object of divine affection. All of these themes are beautifully displayed in the act of adoption, whether the child is 11 years old and in foster care in the inner city or is an impoverished infant in Russia. Randy Stinson, director of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, put it well:
Outside of Christ, we are all orphans . . . All people are born outside of the family of God and the only way to get into the family of God is through Christ. The doctrine of adoption is at the heart of the Gospel and if we are going to be a Gospel-centered people we should take seriously this thing (adoption) that is in front of all of us. Actually adopting someone is a stark picture of the Gospel.5
It seems strange to recall a day when adoptions were discouraged for fear of spreading immorality, and it is easy to distance oneself from such a bad idea. For many, it is harder to overcome the notion that adopting a child makes better theological than practical sense: “It is too expensive.” “The ethnic barriers are too hard to overcome.” “We can’t care for a child with special needs.” “We have already fulfilled God’s command to be fruitful and multiply.” Perhaps so, or maybe this is one more way for God’s people to do what they have always been called to do, to care for orphans.
1 “Immigrant Visas Issued to Orphans Coming to the U.S.,” U.S. Department of State Website, http://travel.state.gov/family/adoption/stats/stats_451.html (accessed August 22, 2007).
2 Allison Tarmann, “International Adoption Rate in U.S. Doubled in the 1990s,” PRB Population Reference Bureau Website, January 2003, http://www.prb.org/Articles/2003/InternationalAdoptionRateinUSDoubledinthe1990s.aspx?p=1 (accessed August 22, 2007).
3 Julie Berebitsky, Like Our Very Own: Adoption and the Changing Culture of Motherhood, 1851-1950 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2000), 17. Italics in original.
4 Ibid., 28-29.
5 Quoted by Garrett E. Wishall, “Adoption Provides a Picture of the Gospel, Stinson and Moore Say,” The Towers Online, February 9, 2007, http://www.towersonline.net/story.php?grp=news&id=399 (accessed August 22, 2007).