Adoption revival holds HOPE for ORPHANS
The high-profile adoptions of Hollywood stars such as Rosie O’Donnell and Angelina Jolie have increased awareness of the plight of orphans around the world. Yet, the light radiating from their publicized adoptions has also cast a glaring spotlight on body of Christ. Charging that the church has neglected scriptural commands for adoption, John Mark Yeats, assistant professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, called for a revival among evangelicals to care for society’s most needy for the sake of redemption.
Speaking to the biblical model of adoption at Southwestern’s Family Conference last fall, Yeats charged that the cry for help on behalf of orphans more often comes from unbelievers than the church. “In the West, conservative Christians often fall strangely silent frequently hiding behind a barrage of evangelical aid institutions that assure us that our money is well spent,” he said. Calling the church to action, Yeats outlined God-given commands for orphan care in the Old Testament and Christ-centered descriptions of adoption in the New Testament.
Old Testament commands for orphan care
Despite the absence of a portrait of modern-day adoption in the Hebrew Scriptures, Yeats affirmed orphans as a “part of the fabric” of Old Testament society. Instead, biblical commands concerning their wellbeing center on social justice, he said. Beginning in Genesis, the structure of the family proved to be a governing force with redemptive purposes with the command to be fruitful and multiply.
“When sin and death mar the beauty of creation, a new class of people that fall outside of the normal society and familial bounds become the helpless victims of a broken world,” he said, referring to widows, orphans and foreigners. The Old Testament portrait continues with specific commands given for orphan care in Exodus 22. This passage highlights the creator’s concern for these marginalized groups, describing them as having “direct access to God.”
“He hears their cries and appeals for help and promises swift action,” Yeats said, adding that those who neglected this divine charge were ensured judgment and death. “In the prophets, this becomes a burning indictment against the rulers of the house of Israel.”
As such, the entire Old Testament community was charged with the responsibility of orphan care. Presumably …children found homeless were taken in by extended family in order to maintain the hereditary rights of the child as stipulated in the law,” Yeats added.
Furthermore, God commanded his people to provide for the orphans physical and financial needs, in Deut. 24:17 and Deut. 26:12-13 respectively.
“The rationale for these commands…had to do with the understanding of God’s holiness and justice,” Yeats determined, pointing to God as the “surrogate Father” who protects his people. The Old Testament concept of adoption functions more in an orphan care capacity “in the context of working towards a divinely orchestrated social justice,” he said.
New Testament portrait of adoption
In the New Testament, both Christ and James continue with theme of adoption as revealed in the Hebrew text. But it is the apostle Paul who “shifts the image away from social justice in a biblical framework to a theological word picture of redemption.”
Three passages are central to Yeats’ thesis. Eph. 1:4-5 provides a glimpse of God’s plan for the redemption of Gentiles as they are predestined for adoption as the heirs of Christ.
In Gal. 4:3-5 Paul “paints the picture of our translation from slave to rightful heir.” Key to Paul’s understanding of adoption is the substitutionary death of Christ that allows the adoption of men making them children of God. Gal. 4 and Rom. 8:12-9:5 round out the Godhead’s activity in adoption, portraying the Spirit of God as the primary translator of believers’ new identity obtained through Christ.“…As we stand before the almighty judge of the universe, he sees the work of Christ and makes a legal proclamation that we are his own,” Yeats said, pondering his own experience with adoption.
Recounting the time he stood before a judge in the Cook County, Ill., family courthouse, Yeats said the colors of Paul’s portrait of adoption suddenly became clear. Yeats and his wife, Angela, waited for the judge to examine their paperwork and “determine our suitability as parents.”
“Satisfied that we met the requirements, he made a proclamation that baby girl Winters would from this point forward be known as Briley Starr Yeats, daughter of John Mark and Angela Yeats,” he said. “Even though our daughter may not reflect me physiologically, she is mine.”
It is in this same manner, Yeats added, that the Spirit proclaims God as both judge and father, redeeming believers through Jesus Christ.
Despite the Old Testament prescriptions for orphan care and the theological significance of adoption recorded in the New Testament, Yeats lamented that evangelical Christians“avoid social ministries outside of what they can give through the isolationist collection plate.”
Admitting that the Southern Baptist Convention’s Cooperative Program monies support children’s services in numerous states, Baptists are still neglecting the biblical mandate of adoption. For instance, there are 3.5 million homeless children in Asia, 5.5 million orphans in Africa, and 135,000 children in the U.S. waiting for adoption in the foster care system, Yeats said.
“In DFW alone, a Department of Child and Family Services worker stated that there are over 5,000 kids whose parental rights have been terminated by the courts and are awaiting adoption.”
A call for revival
With these statistics knocking at the church’s back door, Yeats issued a call for revival regarding the sanctity of life.
First, believers must recognize adoption is a calling. Although not every Christian will be called to adopt a child, all Christians are called to help. “Doctors can help families with the burdensome medicals and physicals that must be accomplished before bringing a child home,” he suggested, also adding that congregations can “create adoption friendly atmospheres” by Sunday School classes giving adoption showers for church members.
Second, believers must get involved in caring for orphans. “Take mission trips to other countries and work with their orphanages,” Yeats urged, also referring listeners to work through regional homes for children supported by Southern Baptists.
Third, believers must become adoption advocates in the pulpit. Yeats encouraged pastors to use his premise and further mine the truths of Scripture for ways to apply it. “Teach your people about the scriptural images of adoption and orphan care. Know where to send couples considering adoption for good advice. Incorporate infertility and adoption issues into one session of your pre-marital counseling.”
Fourth, believers must get involved financially. Because domestic adoptions average $12,000 and international adoptions $25- 40,000, Yeats called on believers to search for groups that provide these funds such as Stephen Curtis Chapman’s Shaohanna’s Hope. In Texas, Yeats suggested contacting One Church, One Child, an organization that encourages churches to work together to adopt a child. “This often is transformed into multiple children finding homes through the love and care of a church.”
Fifth, believers must understand that the church is experiencing competition. “The gay and lesbian lobby groups are working their hardest to legalize adoption for same-sex couples and are more than happy to take in children while the church sleeps,” Yeats said, mentioning Rosie O’Donnell’s 2002 statement that gays and lesbians would eradicate the adoption gap if they were granted adoption rights.
Yeats also urged church leaders to teach the power of God’s sovereignty in life situations, while listening for God’s call to action and prayer.
“What if the church in America would wake up and realize that our walk doesn’t equal our talk in relation to pro-life issues?” Yeats asked. “What if 5,000 godly couples in DFW raised their hand and said they believed God was calling them to adopt? What if those same godly couples raised those 5,000 kids, and they became Christians who in turn raised godly families with godly children? Do you catch the impact here?”
“We must begin to question if God will continue to move through our churches, our missions and our ministries when we do not fulfill the basic social ministries he has called us to do.”
This article is reprinted with permission from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.