Why loving foster children means loving their families too

March 4, 2019

One of my favorite movies as a kid was It Takes Two. Mary Kate Olsen plays a tough and lively foster kid who lives in a group home. One day she fatefully meets her lookalike—Ashley Olsen—and they play cupid with the adults in their lives.

Though it isn’t the focus of the movie, the Olsen twins unwittingly taught me an assumption about foster care: foster kids desperately want to be adopted because they have no family of their own.

Fast-forward to my 30s, and I now understand that foster care in the real world is very different than foster care in the Olsen world. In reality, the Mary Kates of the world don’t just appear in the system. They have a backstory.

The day Jay came home

My husband (Cole) and I felt called to foster care early in our marriage. After the training, paperwork, and home studies, the phone call finally came. Overnight, we became foster parents to an 11-month-old, Jay*, who was living in a car with his mom and siblings.

Week in and week out, Jay had regular appointments to see his biological mom, Krista*. At first I didn’t know how to interact with her. My heart was hard. I’d think, "How could you let things get this bad?"

I was proud. And the subtle, well-meaning comments that flooded my ear only amplified the pride: Thankfully he won’t remember any of his past! I’ll pray the Lord lets him stay. Look at where he comes from and where he is now, with you and Cole. God is so redemptive!

How proximity changed me

As the appointments came and went with Krista, I started noticing little things about her that reminded me of Jay. Funny, endearing, sassy things that put a smile on my face despite my defenses. They were soft reminders that the little things I loved about Jay had come from her; that she was his mom.

Then I’d get distance, and it’d get hard again. Sure, Krista is Jay’s mom. But she made really bad choices, which is why I’m here. The battle raged inside—in one moment, I’d see her as the enemy and the next I’d see her as an ordinary person.

Time passed, and so did the weekly interactions with Krista. Each visit, she’d open up a little more, entrusting me with another little piece of her story. One day, she called the local prison so the father of the kids could have a chance to talk to them. I’ll never forget how their faces beamed upon hearing his voice. They were too excited to notice how defeated it sounded.

The phone call ended. Suddenly, Krista doubled over in anguish, wilting in her chair. Her tears poured out in a deluge, her voice cracked in pain, and her clenched fists turned pale as they beat against her chest. She tried to hunch over to avoid the stares, but the river of grief wasn’t letting up. She missed her kids and Jay’s dad. She wanted things to change. She was trying so hard and didn’t have any help. She couldn’t keep going.  

In a flash, Cole was by her side in the seat next to her—a shield between her and the stares. He wrapped her up in a bear hug and whispered, “We’re in your corner. We know you’re fighting so hard, and we see how much you love these kids. We talk about you all the time with Jay. You’re not alone. We are right here with you, Krista.”

It was a moment of strength and protection and dignity and brotherly warmth—of all the things incarnation should be. Before I realized it, I was now on the other side of Krista, my own eyes hot with tears and my hand clutching hers. I certainly had not planned on “weeping with those who weep” that day, but God had. Somehow, he reflexively drew near to the brokenhearted through me—the hardhearted.

Krista’s wilted body lifted, and her eyes to ours, the slightest spark of hope peeked through the tears. Her eyes said everything: Maybe they aren’t trying to take my kids. Maybe they remember me when I’m away. Maybe I can be a mom again.

In that moment, God showed me what dignifying a person looks like. And he also showed me that adoption isn’t the only beautiful picture of the gospel. Fighting to see a family restored is, too.

The competing voices

The father’s voice on that phone call and Krista’s wailing voice—I couldn’t get them out of my head. They want to be the parents. They want their kids back. And their kids want them. They are doing everything the courts have mandated.

And then the other well-meaning voices would chime in. You’re a better fit. You’re the answer. You are God’s provision. You should probably adopt them. This embodies the gospel.

The two voices were now competing at a volume that I couldn’t ignore anymore. The problem was that now, Krista wasn’t a nameless, faceless person. She was in my life on a weekly basis. I cared about her now, loved her even. I saw the pain and the bond and the strength of a mother in her, and I couldn’t unsee it.

Proximity had given way to compassion, and I had to face the truth: as much as I loved Jay to the depth of my soul—and heaven knows I love that little boy to a painful point—he wasn’t unloved before I came along. He had experienced the fierce love of a mother long before he ever saw my face. Krista was the backstory the Olsen twins forgot to tell me about, and knowing the backstory changed everything.

Taking an honest look  

A voice of “counsel” came crashing in one day on a phone call. Yeah, but look at where Jay comes from, Ashley. He was taken from the back of a car. He can’t go back to her.

“Exactly. Look at where he comes from,” I countered. “Look at his mother. And everything she’s up against.” I had finally assembled all the fragments of the story, and the words poured out of me before I knew they were in me:

Listen, maybe Krista was abused as a kid. Maybe Jay’s dad was wrongly incarcerated—locked up for something your high school buddies simply got warnings for—which left her alone. Maybe she’s worked a low-paying job for years and no one will give her a raise or a higher-paying job because of her lack of education. And maybe she couldn’t get access to education anyway—access that was easy for you to get. And maybe her inability to make more money forced her to choose between food and shelter for her kids, and she chose food. And maybe that’s why they were all in the back of a car. And maybe all of that hardship made her snap. And you know what? Maybe we would have done the exact same thing in her shoes.

I paused to gain some composure, trying to make sense of what had just come out of my mouth. Where I had once been suspicious of Jay’s mom, I was now outright advocating for her. Where did all this loyalty come from? What was going on here?

The voice on the phone took a moment before some lowly words emerged. Well, I didn’t know all of that. I thought she had just put her kid in a horrible circumstance for selfish reasons or something. I wiped my eyes and was honest: “I did too. Until I got to know her.”

Jesus teaches us that the Good Samaritan—the one who truly loves his neighbor—is anyone who simply crosses the road. Instead of “going by on the other side” as to avoid pain or reality, Jesus says we should come near. With Krista, God had shoved me to the other side of the road where I found something unexpected: a human being. A back-against-the-wall, exhausted, bruised, scared, trying to do the best she could, human being. When I finally got close enough to “look at where Jay comes from,” I saw the imago dei staring back at me.

Yes, Krista made poor choices, but proximity showed me that sin wasn’t the only part of her story. Suffering and crisis were too. And Jesus draws near to people in crisis. Krista taught me that being like Jesus doesn’t simply mean ministering to a child. It means ministering to a family. It means dignifying all the people involved, and working to solve everything that led to the removal in the first place.

Now, not every family gets back together. In some cases, foster children genuinely need an adoptive family—and the church should be providing that. But if Krista taught me anything, it’s that the Olsen twins largely had it wrong. A lot of times, foster kids do have a family long before we ever come in the picture, and their goal isn’t always to be adopted. A lot of times, their deepest desire is to simply go home. And dignifying their parents is the first of many steps in helping them get there.

* The names Jay and Krista are pseudonyms for privacy purposes.

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