4 ways the Church can support adoptees

October 23, 2015

“Mom, will people at church always think of me as being less than everyone else?” My eight-year-old daughter’s dark eyes probed mine as I hurried into the Sunday School classroom where I would be greeting a room full of energetic elementary children.

“What would make you think that, sweetheart?” I asked the child whom we had eagerly welcomed into our family seven years earlier, not as a result of the traditional manner of pregnancy, labor and delivery, but rather, through international adoption.

Consistent with her introverted, deliberate personality, she silently pointed to new décor in the children’s wing hallway: multiple posters that read: Pray – Give – Adopt. Love the Least of These. “Oh, wow,” I said, realizing my need to reassure her of the risk she had taken to self-disclose vulnerable feelings, “I didn’t even see those when we walked in today. Any minute, kids will be here, but I am so glad you brought the subject up. Can we talk about it this afternoon with your dad over ice cream?”

The posters had been a locally created, well-intentioned effort by some in our church family to recognize Orphan Sunday, a nationally coordinated event to raise awareness about vulnerable children around the globe. As an employee of a national social services and adoption agency that endorses Orphan Sunday, I understood the heart and purpose behind the posters. But as a parent to two maturing, adopted children, I was growing increasingly aware of the church’s responsibility to minister to more than merely adoptive parents; adoptees also merit consideration of how the Christian community can effectively support, respect and give voice to the complex, lifelong journey of adoption, including how we speak of adopted persons who are vital members of our churches.

For families, adoption usually begins as a parent-centered narrative, with stories focused on the factors that led to the decision to adopt. Often followed by a re-telling of the “paper pregnancy,” laced with its frustrating, dramatic, if not humorous details, the adoption storyline frequently features a finale that includes homecoming and the subsequent post-adoption chronicles, which continue to highlight the family and its ensuing transition and adjustments.

Altering our paradigm to recognize adoptees as integral parts of our churches means we listen to and value their voices, even when the message they convey may be difficult to hear. Also crucial to this shift is acknowledging that the adoptee’s story actually began long before “adoption day,” not even at birth, but during the first nine months of life in the womb of his or her birth mother (Ps. 139: 13-16).

Tara VanderWoude, who is a social worker, adoption educator, adult adoptee and an adoptive parent, explains, “Adoption isn’t a one-time event, but an ongoing process, since a child’s perspective and understanding change throughout the years.” At the Christian Alliance for Orphans’ Summit 2015, Tara observed,

When discussing adoption within the Christian adoption community, there tends to be a norm of speaking about it in a way that is always positive, loving, and spiritual, as to provide comfort, peace, and resolution. Of course, adoption involves a tremendous amount of love and creates countless strong familial relationships. But as adoptees come of age and continue to process the persons, circumstances, and events of their lives, many begin understanding adoption in ways that do not solely include the celebration and positivity so often discussed. It is important to ask yourself, as a parent, as a church ministry or leader, ‘Why am I framing it this way? What messages are being sent to adoptees in my church and could they feel less understood if their adoption-related feelings include loss, anger, or confusion? How else can I phrase it so that the impact of my words match my intentions?’

Over a heaping scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream, my daughter shared with her Dad and me that she felt comfortable discussing her adoption story with friends. She had observed the posters, however, on the heels of an advocacy event where emphasis was placed on adopted children as “ex-orphans,” and the two occurrences left her feeling labeled and uniquely distinct from other children within the church. Though true she was once an orphan who now has a family, our daughter went on to vocalize that she wants to attend church and “be a Graves, not a girl who everyone else is looking at and feeling sorry for. I just want to be regular like the other kids.”

This specific conversation with our daughter ushered us into a new phase of the adoption journey: one which requires attunement, empathy and sensitivity as we learn together how to navigate complexities which our biological son never encountered. It also prompted us to reexamine church adoption and orphan care ministry efforts as they pertain particularly to more than just adoptive parents, but to adopted persons themselves.

How The Church Can Support Adoptees

  1. Become educated. Effectively ministering to adopted persons requires a willingness to learn and become literate on subjects not previously taught in seminary. Staff (and even volunteers) should become familiar with the realities inherent in adoption such as trauma, grief, loss and transracial issues. Pastors, youth ministers, children’s directors and church leaders willing to attend conferences, workshops and trainings about adoption and to learn from adoption professionals will be better equipped to support adoptees of varying ages.
  2. Use adoption language accurately. Remember there are many participants within an adoption, any of whom could be attending your church and hearing the messages you send with your words (adoptee, birth family, adoptive family). Take time to learn from adoption professionals about positive adoption language that respects each member of the adoption triad.
  3. Advocate for adoption and orphan care mindfully. As your local church body engages its believers to care for vulnerable children, do so with a holistic mindset, remembering all members of the adoption triad. Be open to involvement and feedback from adult adoptees within the congregation, in addition to adoptive families.
  4. Develop a healthy culture that gives voice and cultivates unity. The ability to speak and be heard is a gift biology prepares parents to give, and children to receive, according to Dr. Karyn Purvis. “Because of their histories,” she says, “these children and youth must be taught they have a powerful gift — a voice — and that they also have caregivers who want to listen and understand their words and their needs.” Similarly, purposeful, deliberate churches will strive to create a sense of belonging for adopted persons by engaging and listening to their voices.

As the church boldly champions the truth of James 1:27, may we also be equally audacious in creating safe spaces for the children we embrace, cherish, love and raise as our own, guiding them toward physical and spiritual maturity. We must remember that the babies grow up — they become our fellow church members, who hear and understand what we say about them, about their histories, their previous circumstances, how we use their stories to advocate for vulnerable children everywhere. Let our words be “only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).

Kimber Graves

Kimber Graves is the supervisor for the Louisville office of Bethany Christian Services, where she has worked for 9 years, serving children and families throughout Indiana and Kentucky.  She was also the post-adoption coordinator at her church, Highview Baptist, in Louisville, KY, for several years.  She is committed to assisting parents … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24