Why Christians should take care when talking about adoption

Helping adoptees, adoptive parents, and birth mothers embrace the gospel

January 26, 2022

As I listened to one of my favorite Bible teachers speak about the doctrine of adoption, my stomach began to twist with concern. Eventually, I found the words for the unsettled feeling: “This could build a wall between my child and the gospel.” As a mom, it’s my utmost desire for my children to know and love the Lord. When we became an adoptive family, I began to notice the gospel barriers we Christians inadvertently create for adoptees.

Consider this powerful truth of the Christian faith: Spiritually, children of God gain everything and lose nothing when we are adopted into God’s family. And yet, children adopted by earthly parents, though they may experience gain, endure unspeakable losses which often include parents, family, culture, connection, and medical history. They lose, “He has your eyes!” and, “You remind me of your grandmother!” Many lose the ability to blend in with their family and may combat feeling like they are different. Some lose their original name and birth certificate. 

While those adopted into the family of God have the joy of knowing they were chosen at their worst, those adopted into earthly families may worry they were abandoned when they were most vulnerable. (Perhaps these losses give insight into a 2013 study that reported adolescent adoptees have a suicide attempt rate four times higher than their non-adopted counterparts.)

The gospel is overwhelmingly good news for these precious ones, and yet, through the way Christians teach and talk about adoption, we may be building barriers for adoptees to know and love the Lord.

Take care when teaching the doctrine of adoption

The doctrine of adoption is beautiful and stunning: We are enemies made children, forever reconciled to God through the work of Jesus Christ. The doctrine of adoption is always, always good news. But the practice of adoption is fraught. In addition to the losses adoptees face, the adoption industry itself can be a breeding ground for corruption. Because of this, we honor those who have been adopted by earthly parents when we are careful not to sloppily conflate the doctrine with the modern practice. 

Consider the way we use marriage illustrations to enhance our understanding of Christ, the groom, and the church, his bride. We understand that though husbands should love their wives as Christ loves the church, the earthly practice of marriage doesn’t offer gospel fullness. We understand the limits of this metaphor, and our teaching reflects it. After all, even the best marriage is simply a glimmer of a greater thing! And on days when marriage feels particularly lacking or difficult, we have the joy of hungering for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. 

Adoption is often not handled with such care in the church. Imagine an adoptee, who longs for his or her birth family, hearing the gospel inextricably and fully linked with the practice of adoption. How does he or she process that natural longing for a birth family? How does he or she cope with the deep loss he or she rightly feels? Will it seem ungrateful or anti-gospel to express longing and loss?

Imagine a birth parent hearing the gospel inextricably and fully linked with the earthly practice of adoption. Will he or she feel erased from the narrative? How will he or she process who the Savior is and who the savior isn’t? What kinds of connections might he or she make and potentially internalize?

Then, think of adoptive parents. Will it feel as if their church has skipped over the loss woven into their families? Will it feel impossible for their church family to meaningfully come alongside them? Or, if they haven’t grappled with their theology, will they feel the pressure to play a savior rather than feel the freedom to cling to the Savior? If their theology is not gloriously enhanced, what kind of additional burdens will they carry themselves and place on their children?

The ones who are living the metaphor experience its limitations, and they may make connections we do not intend because we have not considered the associations. Perhaps you can talk to an adoptee, birth parent, or an adoptive parent in your church and begin a thoughtful conversation about the impact the practice of adoption has had on them and offer support that honors the glorious truth of the doctrine of adoption — we are brothers and sisters in Christ forever.

Take care when talking about adoption

Similarly, when we talk about adoption thoughtlessly, we can create barriers to the gospel if we’re not careful with both our celebration and our storytelling.

When we offer unexamined celebration — about the 6-year-old adopted from overseas, the infant adopted domestically, or the teen given a new last name, for example — without considering the nuance and complexity of such events, we are in danger of distorting the beauty of the gospel. Though our default posture should be to celebrate when a family grows, we should do this with sober-minded wisdom, thoughtful gentleness, and a desire to honor everyone involved. After all, what had to be cut short before this family grew? 

God calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn (Rom. 12:15) But what if we have overlooked mourners? And what if our actions have unintentionally communicated to mourners that they should be rejoicing instead?

In the same way, when we aren’t thoughtful with our storytelling, adoptive parents can be viewed with extra sparkle while birth parents are deleted from the narrative or treated like misunderstood background characters. Understandably, the adoptee in the middle may feel profoundly confused about how to react, worry his or her reactions are not welcomed, and feel overwhelmed or exposed to have his or her story broadcast. 

Instead, we should let adoptees take the lead in the storytelling. If they are young, we should honor them by protecting the details of their story as best we can and by telling them God’s story as often as we can, with humility and compassion.

How can we take care?

Rather than shiny illustrations, we can offer a carefully-told gospel of hope, one that considers the loss and longings an adoptee may experience and seeks to point to the One who is crafting a forever family no one can take, in a home no one can break.

Rather than the unexamined celebration we may have inadvertently offered in the past, we can rejoice with those who rejoice without failing to mourn with those who mourn.

We can embody the gospel to adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive families, offering them eyes that seek to truly see, a heart that carefully considers, a mouth that is slow to speak their stories, and ears that are willing to hear their story as it is, even if it’s uncomfortable.

In a perfect world, a parent would never have to place his or her child for adoption, and a child would never have to wonder what his or her parents look like. As we encounter those involved in an adoption story, may we be tender to the range of emotions they may be experiencing. May the family of faith see and honor them by welcoming their weeping, rejoicing, and questioning. And may we hold out the promise that one day, our Father will wipe away every tear, pain will be no more, and togetherness will be everywhere those in Christ look (Rev. 22). 

Caroline Saunders

Caroline Saunders is a writer, pastor's wife, and mother of three who believes in taking Jesus seriously and being un-serious about nearly everything else. She loves serving women and girls through writing, through her church, and through a parachurch women's ministry she started with her best friends called Story & Soul. … 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