“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”Romans 12:2
I am a Christian. I’m an adoptee. I don’t believe adoption was God’s plan for me. Yes, I have had a great life in many ways. I do believe my adoptive family was loving. So how is it that adoption wouldn’t have been God’s plan for me?
At this point, the “pattern of this world” (aka the dominant cultural view) is to see adoption as a win-win-win situation and, if you’re Christian, to see it as part of God’s will and God’s purpose in your life. Even though adoptees have long been speaking up against the inaccuracy and danger of this perspective, this theology of adoption persists. And it’s still hurting adoptees and our families.
Christians, we need to “renew our minds” on the relationship God has with child adoption. What might that look like? We should think critically about how we talk about God’s will. What is God’s will, really, and what is not God’s will but human choice?
Let’s start here. These are a beliefs about God I’ve seen emphasized in (usually white, evangelical) Christian discussions around adoption.
So the logic of adoption goes something like this:
…then God must have planned for this (i.e. adoption) to happen all along.
This is the logic of “meant to be” and “God’s plan” with adoption. This is the dominant Christian view of adoption when things seem to have worked out for the adoptive family and the child.
On the whole, the Christian view of child adoption is that it gives a child a loving family and prevents them from living a more difficult or less-loved life. I’ve already written a lot about how Christians see a flawed (re: false) parallel between adoption and salvation.
But what about us adoptees? For those of us raised in these Christians homes, it’s a difficult logic to contradict. After all, if I love my adoptive family or love the life I have now…or if I can see God using my adoption story for the healing and wholeness of others…then my adoption must have been God’s plan from the beginning. Right?
The experience of being an adoptee isn’t static. It changes as we grow and learn new information about ourselves and/or our families. So it’s only natural that our view of our adoption and our feelings about it will shift with time. It is natural for adoptees to question and wrestle with the reality of life as an adoptee.
However, the view that our adoption was God’s plan immediately puts the adoptee at odds with the Divine if we dare to question or wrestle. Trying to hold on to the idea that it was God’s plan and yet incorporate our new perspectives can lead to host of confusing ideas:
Of course these things bring up more questions, like:
Does God want families separated to form new, adopted families?
Does God want me to have lifelong struggles with adoption trauma, abandonment or rejection?
Typically, Christians will say, “Of course not…” and then start the mental gymnastics to justify the trauma that makes adoption possible. In other words, they will try to preserve their view of adoption as being God’s plan for everyone (the mom, the child and the adoptive parents).
The answers given tend to fall flat, especially for the adoptee who realizes they cannot pray their pain away.
How could God have wanted me to experience this lifelong trauma?
How could God have been OK with my first family’s suffering and pain?
When we try to validate this view of adoption, we skew our view of God and we fail to support adoptees.
What we believe about God shapes what we believe about ourselves and the circumstances we are in. We can believe that God has a good and pleasing will for us and yet God also allows us to make our own choices (freewill) that differ from or conflict with that will. Theologians call it God’s Perfect Will vs God’s Permissive Will.
Perfect will is what God desires; e.g. our salvation and collective restoration.
Permissive will is what God permits; e.g. human choices and consequences.
Family separation and adoption is a result of human choices. Here are a few examples of what I mean by that:
Often those choices are made within the context of larger, man-made issues, for example:
The are just a few things that are connected to families being in crisis and children being adopted. They are the result of human choices and actions that are not inline with God’s will or desire for us. Family separation and adoption might be something God allows to happen, i.e. its God’s permissive will. That doesn’t mean God orchestrated adoption.
Even if something good comes from adoption, it is only evidence that God can always create beauty out of brokenness; not that God planned the brokenness or desired it.
Sometimes adoption has positive outcomes for an adoptee; they grow up in a loving home and have access to opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Sometimes adoption has tragic outcomes for an adoptee; they grow up in an abusive home with less love and support than they would’ve had otherwise.
This is why adoption is not gospel; because if the gospel is not good news to everyone then it is good news to no one.
Just because there are or might be some positive outcomes from our choices doesn’t mean that what we’ve done reflects God’s perfect will. We need to be careful not to put God’s name on OUR choices. This is taking God’s name in vain.
It is true that God is able to take what we meant for evil and use it for good. God can incorporate our hurtful or just unhealthy choices into the timeline without altering the outcome God desires.
Wait, isn’t it the family separation that is bad, not the adoption?
You could argue that adoption IS God’s plan for addressing the hurtful human decisions and conditions that caused family separation. Therefore adoption can still be part of God’s perfect will, right? Well, let’s think about what God’s perfect will is.
The Bible shows God carrying out a plan for the restoration of all creation through Christ. God’s perfect will is restoring our relationship with God and with one another and with the earth. It is wrongs being righted, broken things being mended and lies being exposed so that truth can restore us, heal us and make us whole.
Is adoption part of God restoring a family that was in crisis to a healthy and whole place? No.
Adoption actually assumes that the permanent destruction of the family is what’s best for everyone. Adoption leaves the broken circumstances that led to adoption broken. For example, instead of addressing the financial insecurity of a young single mother, adoption takes her child and leaves her more broken than before as she now has to deal with her trauma of child-loss.
God’s perfect will is that we care for the [orphan + widow] + the poor + the foreigner. Remember the orphan + widow = a child and their mother; because once the father had died a child was considered an orphan.
The Bible has already told us to provide for those slipping through the cracks of our society; the marginalized, the exploited, the forgotten. We should clothe them and feed them, i.e. make sure they have what they need to be healthy and whole. If we did this for families in crisis, their children would not need to be taken or away or relinquished.
God’s will for restoration requires we cultivate a holy imagination and resist fatalistic views of the world. We can only believe adoption is the best option if we first accept that there are some people and situations that God simply cannot or will not restore. So either God is not all-powerful or some people are just “throw away people”. Again, this is skewing our view of God or others to fit the narrative that adoption is God’s plan.
I’m a Christian. I’m an adoptee. I don’t believe adoption was God’s plan for me. In my case, adoption was a human attempt to make the best out of a difficult situation. The results are mixed and ultimately, there is a great deal of pain.
That pain is not on purpose.
That pain does not need to have a purpose.
I do not need to put a spiritual spin on that pain to believe God is good or to give God credit for the good things that have happened in my life after being adopted.
God does not rebrand my pain. God does give me Christ, who is able to enter into the pain with me. Christ knows abandonment and rejection and displacement. Christ knows what it is to walk between two identities and different families.
God can also give me purpose in my pain. Not always, but sometimes my healing is bound up in being a participant in the healing of others. Finding that I can have purpose in my pain is not the same as saying that my pain was purposefully created. It is not evidence that adoption was God’s plan for me, but that restoration is and God is able to work toward that no matter what.
Nothing I said here is new but perhaps it’s the first time you’re hearing it said this way. And no, I don’t believe all adoptions are bad. That’s another overly simplistic and unhelpful view. So don’t focus on that. Focus on this next bit.
If we shift our perspective on God’s role in adoption, we lose our ability to ignore the social inequities and injustices that lead to family separation. We lose our ability to pretend we didn’t know and absolve ourselves from doing something about it. We lose our ability to celebrate someone’s child being available to a another family without asking the disturbing questions about why this keeps happening.
More importantly, if we shift our perspective on God’s role in adoption, we gain the ability to confront and acknowledge the pain and suffering of all broken families. That means we gain the ability to enter into lament and mourn with those who mourn. We cultivate our empathy for our fellow humans, and from that we gain the ability to have real solidarity with the marginalized and forgotten. We gain an opportunity to join in God’s work and support them toward their own restoration, healing and wholeness.