When It Comes to Orphan Care, We Don’t Have to Compete

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By Laura Thigpen

Adoptive and foster parents quickly become accustomed to the awkward questions people ask in regards to their procreation abilities and choices to grow their families. And while this line of questioning is unhelpful and invasive at best, a further line of questioning is even more harmful to the orphan-care community at large. It’s those questions that pit adoption and foster care against one another; those questions that pit international adoption against domestic adoption, as if any of these circumstances are better or worse than the other.

A few years ago, I watched adoptive parents quickly become outraged in a private social media forum. One parent was at a Christian conference, and she relayed a speaker’s statement indicating that people choose to adopt from Ethiopia instead of adopting an American child because it’s faster, cheaper and they can get a healthy infant.

At that time, 200 families (including mine) were in the fight of our lives to bring our Ethiopian children home after the Ethiopian government had placed a ban on intercountry adoption, jeopardizing these children who had already been matched and begun the court proceedings to finalize adoption. Many of these families had been in the process for more than a year, and some for several years.

Though the speaker in question was obviously advocating for children in need here in the States, he/she made sweeping assumptions about both the international adoption process and the domestic adoption/foster care process.

To be sure, some people choose international adoption because they think it’s faster, easier or more convenient. Others choose to foster children domestically because they’ll receive money for doing so. Neither of these situations are right, but neither of these situations accurately reflect the intentions of the majority of adoptive or foster-care parents. To paint orphan care with broad brush strokes is dangerous.

I’ve often described international adoption, domestic adoption and foster care like comparing apples, oranges and bananas – it’s all orphan care, but very different processes and very different needs. When asked why my family chose to adopt internationally instead of “one of our own” (i.e., an American child), we often reply that of the families who can adopt, not all of those families can adopt internationally. Other countries’ adoptive requirements often eliminate many great adoptive families. We could meet those needs and requirements, and so we did.

There’s entirely too much at stake to claim one orphan care ministry is more important than another.

We Don’t Have to Compete

The ignorance that accompanies many questions and inappropriate statements from Christians regarding adoption and foster care stems from a poor, uninformed or low view of the gospel of Jesus Christ. J.I. Packer says in his book, Knowing God, “Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption.”

When we don’t understand our spiritual state as that of being an orphan before the saving work of Christ in our lives, we fail, miserably, to identify with and advocate for the orphan in our city, in our country and around the world.

Praise God He doesn’t look at us with partiality – in Him there is no partiality (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11), neither Greek nor Jew, neither American nor foreigner. And, because God shows no partiality, neither should we: “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (James 2:1). James also writes, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27). Woe to those of us who would add any distinction to the commands in the Scriptures.

What the Numbers Tell Us

If the Scriptures are not enough to convince someone there should be no partial comparison in the many ways to care for orphans, consider some facts and trends. In her recent article in The Federalist, Jayme Metzgar traces and defines the decline of intercountry adoption to America over the last 15 years, citing tension with the Department of State’s regulations as a major contributing reason.

She writes, “Some Americans shrug off concerns about orphans abroad by suggesting that domestic foster care and adoption should be our sole priorities.” She then quotes Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) president, Jedd Medefind’s response:

I think it’s a mistake to imagine that international adoption and local foster care are competing in a zero sum game, where one must go down for the other to go up… I actually see the opposite.  Often, families that have become passionate about the needs of vulnerable children through intercountry adoption become champions for children locally, too.

Intercountry adoption is at its lowest point since its peak in 2004 in which 22,989 intercountry adoptions to the U.S. were completed. Compare that to 2018 in which only 4,058 intercountry adoptions to the U.S. were completed according to the U.S. Department of State’s website.

But the intercountry adoption boom began (arguably) in 1999. Since that boom began, we’ve seen a decrease in the number of children in our state foster care systems overall (from 567,000 in 1999 to 442,995 in 2017), and an increase in the number of children adopted from the foster care system (from 47,000 in 1999 to 59,430 in 2017) (see AFCARS Reports from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services).

Of course, correlation is not causation, but we cannot deny the trends. I’d argue that with the intercountry adoption boom came a greater awareness of the needs in our cities. This only makes sense if we see the global orphan care crisis and the domestic orphan care crisis through the lens of the gospel of Christ. We are called to care for the vulnerable and oppressed wherever we see them.

Outdo One Another in Love

Instead of creating barriers and competition between the myriad of ways to care for orphans, let’s stir one another on to love and good deeds. Let’s support one another in any process with words of encouragement, intentional prayer, with shoulders to share the burdens and cheers for victories and successes.

Being a mom through international adoption has been one of my greatest joys, as has encouraging my brothers and sisters as they foster children in the U.S., or pursue international adoption, or support the many organizations supporting U.S. foster care children and foster parents, and the organizations caring for orphans where intercountry adoption is not an option. There’s entirely too much at stake to claim one orphan care ministry is more important than another.

Let’s follow the wise command of our brother, Paul: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).

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  • adoption
  • ministry
  • pro-life
  • public square
Laura Thigpen

Laura Thigpen is an Administrative Assistant at SEBTS, a freelance writer and a pastor’s wife. She holds a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Mobile, and she is pursuing a MA in Professional Writing from Liberty University. Laura and her husband are adoptive parents, and they live in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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