5 things adoptive families wish their churches knew

September 16, 2015

Often, when I think of a courtroom, I think of judgement, brokenness and sadness. As a social worker, I sat in court to support a rape victim as she gave her testimony against her rapist. As a counselor, I sat in court to speak on behalf of juvenile offenders. I’ve even sat in court as part of a jury selection for a heinous crime.

But there was one time I sat in a courtroom for a joyous reason. That day was the culmination of years of prayer. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed. I listened intently as the judge declared that three children standing before him were taking on the name of one of my dearest friends. They had been adopted.   

The Beauty of Adoption

Most of us know someone who was adopted or who has adopted a child. According to the U.S. State Department, more than 7,000 children were adopted from other countries in 2013. Over 50,000 children were adopted in the U.S. in the same year. And there are millions of orphans around the world still without a place to call home.

There are international adoptions, domestic adoptions through private agencies and domestic adoptions through the foster care system. People adopt infants, children and teenagers. Some are perfectly healthy, and others require constant medical attention.  But all adoptions are a beautiful picture of the grace of God for us in Christ. “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:5).

The church should rejoice in adoption. We should celebrate when members of our churches take a child into their home and make them part of their family. We should encourage and support them in whatever way we can. After all, the church is commanded to look after the needs of orphans (James 1:27). But sadly, adoptive parents often find the church to be the least supportive organization.

There are many things about adoption — the process, the motivations and the means — that we don’t understand. It’s unfamiliar to us. Sometimes, because we don’t understand something, we may unwittingly ignore the challenges and hurdles adoptive families face. We may neglect to reach out and offer help and support. As a result, adoptive families are left feeling isolated in their churches. In the place where they ought to receive the most encouragement, they often feel the most alone.

In an effort to help churches understand adoption and the needs of adoptive families, I want to share a few things I’ve learned over the years from many different friends and families I know who have adopted. As I’ve walked beside these friends in their journey, I’ve seen firsthand the challenges, joys, sorrows, healing, pain and beauty of the adoption process.

1. Our Words Matter: You know all the strange and inappropriate things people say and do when they think a woman is pregnant? We can say and do equally strange and inappropriate things to adoptive parents. The truth is, the words we use matter. They can unite us to another person or cause division. A few examples of such words or statements that are offensive and hurtful to adoptive families are:  

2. Space Matters: When a family first brings home an adopted child, it is crucial that they have time together to bond with the child. It is important that they keep the child’s world small so they can learn to trust their new parents to meet their needs. In adoption terminology, this is called “cocooning” and is an important part of the attachment process. This may mean that you won’t see them for a few weeks. It may mean that they don’t want you to reach out and hug the child. We need to respect the boundaries adoptive parents put in place and know that it is what is best for the child.

3. Celebrating Matters: Often churches love to throw baby showers when a woman is expecting a baby. We should celebrate with our adoptive families too. When a friend of mine adopted a little girl from Ethiopia, I hosted a welcome shower where we cooked Ethiopian food, decorated with the colors, flags, and other finds from Ethiopia and taught everyone gathered important facts about the country. We then gave our friend things she needed, specific to the age of her child. Toward the end of the shower, a family member brought in the little girl, and we respectfully introduced ourselves, being careful to maintain boundaries and space.

4. An Understanding of Their Needs Matters: Adopted children come with a variety of stories. Some may have been abused or neglected. Some may have witnessed and experienced horrific and traumatic things. Some may have developmental delays or a physical disability. Whatever their stories are, they are not our business unless the parents choose to tell us. But we have to be respectful of whatever unique needs they have.

If you care for an adopted child in nursery or teach them in Sunday school, their parent will let you know of their unique needs. Listen to what they tell you, follow their advice and ask clarifying questions when needed. They might parent their adopted child differently than you and for good reason. Often these children have seen and experienced untold horrors and need parenting unique to their experience. In addition, the countries that a family adopts from might also have specific rules and guidelines for how they expect a family to raise the child.

5. Prayer Matters: One of the greatest things we can do as a church for our adoptive families is to pray for them. Pray for their adoption process. It is often a long and frustrating experience. Pray for all the details of the process, including paperwork, fees, travel plans, legalities and medical concerns. Pray for the child’s adjustment to life in a new place, their grief process as they leave all that they know behind, and their bonding with a new family. Even better, ask the family how you can pray for them specifically.

As believers, we should all love and rejoice in adoption. After all, we are all adopted children of our Father in heaven. So let us rejoice, celebrate, help and pray for our church members who adopt.

Christina Fox

Christina Fox is a counselor, writer, retreat speaker, and author of several books including A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament, A Holy Fear, and Tell God How You Feel.  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