4 ways to talk respectfully about adoption

July 31, 2019

When our youngest was an infant, and we were newly navigating our life as an adoptive family, it was really jarring to be met face to face with insensitive comments regarding our son’s adoption. Oftentimes, the comments that bothered us most weren’t the ones about us or even adoption related, but those that passively (or sometimes aggressively) attacked the dignity of our son or his first family. Although we developed strategies of dealing with this as a family, it grieved us the most when it happened in the context of our faith family.  

As believers, we care about our words and how they affect others. We believe and understand that our words have the power of life and death within them (Prov. 18:21). So, when given the opportunity to learn how our words injure others, we should jump at the chance to repent and learn to speak a true and better word. 

Fortunately, this has been our experience with our faith community. We’ve come to realize that many of the comments made are not ill-intentioned. Instead of getting angry, then, we do our best to educate close friends and family. And we too, after listening to adoptees and birth mothers, have had to repent of ways we’ve talked about our own adoption experience. In light of this, I want to share some positive adoption language that we’ve learned over the years, along with some common pitfalls to avoid. 

1. “Congratulations! We are so excited for your family’s growth.” 

Bringing a child into your home through adoption isn’t the same as giving birth to a child. When couples grow their families biologically, a typical birth is met with congratulations and celebrations because a child is born from love and unity. But it’s important to realize that in adoption, although the adoptive family might be thrilled to be welcoming a child into their home, adoption is birthed from brokenness. When we jump over the brokenness and jump right into congratulations it can be harmful to the child. So, when you want to congratulate adoptive parents, congratulate them on their family’s growth while also acknowledging the pain. A great phrase would be, “Congratulations on your family’s growth! We’re praying for you, your child, and their birth family during these next few months.” 

On the opposite side of that coin, it’s not good to say, “That child is so lucky to get to have you as parents.” Although it comes from good intentions, it really undermines the loss that the adoptee has experienced. The child has a first family that has faced incredibly difficult scenarios which led to a traumatic break of relationship in some form or fashion. This is far from lucky; it’s devastating to both the adoptee and the birth family. 

2. Ask, “What would be helpful?”

Adoption is hard. It’s messy. It’s complex. And many times, adoptive families need ongoing assistance weeks, months, and years after an adoption is finalized. Bringing meals right away during the early weeks of cocooning (an attachment phase right after a child is brought into a new family) might not be helpful, but it could be a huge blessing a year later. Or if a child has medical needs, they might need other things like childcare for siblings during appointments. Asking what would be helpful before and after an adoption gives adoptive families the freedom to express their unique needs and the freedom to avoid traditional cultural norms that might not be helpful to adoptive families.

3. Use positive adoption language. 

There are many lists out there on positive adoption language, however the heart behind these lists isn’t to be politically correct. As Christians, we care about the dignity of all people, and so we do our best to honor every person involved in the adoption triad (adoptee, birth family, and adoptive family). 

Sadly, much of the language we use honors the adoptive family while simultaneously assaulting the dignity of the adoptee or the birth family. Here is a fantastic resource on positive adoption language that focuses on the dignity of all persons in the adoption triad. With that said, I also wanted to include a few phrases or concepts that I would encourage you to avoid all together: 

4. Sometimes saying nothing is okay 

If you’re out and about and see a family that looks like they’re built through adoption, it’s best to not make any assumptions. The child(ren) could be adopted, they could be fostered, or they could come from a biracial family. Truly the options are endless. Families don’t have to match. Walking away and saying nothing, saying a silent prayer for the family, or simply giving the family a smile is another great option. 

If you absolutely feel the need to say something and you’re certain that all the individuals together are a family, “Your family is beautiful,” is a kind and simple encouragement. But you shouldn’t say it as a catalyst to ask more questions. It’s unfair to expect them to share the personal details of their family’s makeup right there on the spot (just like you wouldn’t ask a stranger with a newborn to tell you the details her birth story in the middle of the cereal aisle at the grocery store). 

Adoption is a unique and sometimes necessary option to brokenness in our world. Many in the church have answered the call to show up, to listen and learn, and to use words that speak life into these realms. If you’ve never considered being intentional with the way you speak about adoption, this is my invitation for you to consider joining us. It’s not about getting it right every time (I still make mistakes!), but rather it’s about having the humility to learn and put the interests of others above ourselves. And as the Church, if we believe Proverbs 18:21 is true, “death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits,” then we must be committed to speaking words of life about all members of the adoption triad. 

Brittany Salmon

Brittany Salmon is a professor, writer, and Bible teacher. She is the author of the book It Takes More than Love: A Christian Guide to Cross-Cultural Adoption releasing in April, 2022. She has an MA in Intercultural Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, an M.A. in Teaching from NC State … 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