There was a wonderful Protestant gal who worked as the National Review Washington, D.C., manager a few years back who was adamant that if Christians took their duties seriously there would be no such thing as an orphan. Children would have loving homes. We would make sure that all children know they are loved by God Himself.
She had a point. It’s one that Focus on the Family devotes some focus to. It’s a subject that didn’t necessarily make headlines in Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation on love and marriage and the family — Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) — last week, but it was an important piece of his message. He wrote, in part:
Adopting a child is an act of love, offering the gift of a family to someone who has none. It is important to insist that legislation help facilitate the adoption process, above all in the case of unwanted children, in order to prevent their abortion or abandonment. Those who accept the challenge of adopting and accepting someone unconditionally and gratuitously become channels of God’s love. For he says, “Even if your mother forgets you, I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).
Adoption is work close to the heart of Russell Moore. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is the father of adopted sons, has a free e-book on the topic here, and is author of the “manifesto” Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches.
In the following interview with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, Moore talks about this crucial Christian mission.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: I saw notice recently of your Psalm 139 Project — providing ultrasound machines. Whom does that help, and how? Once a woman sees an ultrasound, what’s the walk like?
Russell Moore: The Psalm 139 Project enables women to see what the abortion industry wants to keep invisible: the humanity of her unborn child. Some women opt to have abortions anyway, but many now have the information they need to start seeking other alternatives. The ministries that provide these resources aren’t just about persuading women not to abort. They care for women in crisis across the board, from securing child-care and economic assistance to job training. Some of the best frontline ministry we see today on fighting poverty, domestic abuse, and a variety of other things happens in pregnancy-resource centers.
Lopez: How big of a role does adoption play in the pro-life work you support?
Moore: Several years ago, former U.S. representative Barney Frank (D., Mass.) suggested that pro-lifers believe life begins at conception and ends at birth. He could not be more wrong. Christians and other pro-lifers are at the forefront of caring for orphans. This means not only empowering adoption but also being active in the foster-care system, in providing homes and resources for pregnant women in crisis, and in working to confront global poverty and disease, the root causes of much of the orphan crisis.
Lopez: Do we need to stop talking about giving a child up for adoption?
Moore: Yes. A birth mother doesn’t “give up” her child for adoption. She is instead acting heroically, providing life and a future for her child. The language of “giving up” makes the act seem, at best, passive, and, at worst, like abandonment. A woman is instead making an adoption plan for her baby. We should celebrate these mothers as the Bible celebrates the mother of Moses. Without her, the story of Israel, our story, would have been stopped in the crocodile-infested waters of the Nile.
‘Adoption and orphan care strike at the very root of the culture of death.’ — Russell Moore
Lopez: Crazy question: If we had put more of a priority on adoption, would our country look different today? Does it have an effect on politics?
Moore: Every adoption is a sign of something gone awry. Someone has died or is impoverished or is in one of a thousand different difficult circumstances. Adoption and orphan care mean caring for the vulnerable in ways that can be difficult or even risky. Adoption and orphan care strike at the very root of the culture of death. By that, I don’t simply mean that adoption and orphan care find homes and families for those who would be killed through abortion or starvation or disease. I mean that the very act of adoption and orphan care makes no sense in a culture of social Darwinism, in which a person’s worth is defined in terms of his or her usefulness. That strikes at the heart of the worldviews of both Margaret Sanger and Ayn Rand, of both the sexual-revolutionary Left and the will-to-power Right.
Lopez: Why do churches need to take the lead in making adoption a priority?
Moore: Churches ought to be at the forefront of adoption because we are all ex-orphans. The Gospel tells us that we came into the family of God through the spirit of adoption (Romans 8; Galatians 4; Ephesians 1). We were those who, in Christ, came into a new family tree, with a new Father and a bustling new household of brothers and sisters. This means that we now share a common identity and a common inheritance with the rest of the Body of Christ. The Gospel ought to reshape our priorities, so that we receive others as we have been received.
Lopez: What’s different about it — living adoption? Opening your home? Welcoming? How much does it change your thinking, your living, your family?
‘I now see that God permitted our years of infertility precisely because I would have been a miserable father if children had come along easily for us.’ — Moore
Moore: My wife and I adopted our first two sons from a Russian orphanage over a decade ago, and it completely reshaped our lives and the way we view the world. I noticed that I was reluctant to adopt at first because I viewed it as somehow less “real” than having “our own children.” I now see that God permitted our years of infertility precisely because I would have been a miserable father if children had come along easily for us. I would have seen children as just the next — and expected — phase of life, and probably would have taken them for granted. The adoption process showed us that children are gifts to be received, and also pointed us back to the Gospel. There are no “adopted children” in the family of God. We are adopted, but the word “adopted” biblically is a past-tense verb, not an adjective. It tells us how we came into the family, but it doesn’t define us as some kind of second-class family member. Everything that it means to be children of God is true of us. That’s real.
Lopez: For those who can’t adopt for reasons of finances or health or other circumstances, whom would you encourage them to support?
Moore: It’s really important as we call the church to care about adoption and orphan care to make it clear that while everyone is called to “care for widows and orphans in their distress” (James 1:27), not everyone is called to adopt. Adoption is always hard work, and those not equipped to do so can leave children in worse shape than they found them. Some people are called to adopt. Some to be in foster care. Some to work in missions domestically and overseas to keep families together or to provide resources for children with no families. Some are called to keep a room available in their homes for unwed or abused mothers. Some are called to use their gifts in helping single mothers and children in their communities (maybe even simply helping them with basic car maintenance and repair). And some are called to use their financial resources to help families who are adopting. There are many, many good funds out there that can facilitate this sort of giving.
Lopez: There are religious-liberty conflicts that have come up in adoption because of the collapse of and redefinition of marriage. Can making adoption a priority help in the need for healing in this area in any way, even as we fight those religious-freedom battles?
Moore: Adoption and orphan-care ministries are on the firing line for religious liberty, because so many of the most effective ministries are committed to adoption because they’re committed to families. We don’t think that it’s good enough to warehouse children in institutions where they can be fed and provided health care. We think that children thrive in families, and that means, optimally, in families with both a mother and a father. Some state governments have attempted to shutter ministries that won’t accept the new orthodoxy that mothers and fathers are interchangeable and irrelevant. We have to fight for the kind of pluralism that gives space to those who are — right now and throughout history — the most committed to the “least of these,” including vulnerable orphans. Throughout history, that’s not been progressive secularism — it’s been religious orthodoxy.