Our oldest son came to our family through adoption and, as a gift we don’t take for granted, enjoys a strong and affectionate relationship with his birth mother.
To the best of his 7-year-old capacity, he understands that she made a difficult decision to offer him the greatest care possible through a secure family environment, which she didn’t think she could provide at that time. Though he can’t wrap his head around all the reasons, he grasps the love that motivated her actions, and likewise loves her for giving him life and for bringing him into ours.
This deep bond is something we’ve encouraged since our son was born, recognizing that openness in adoption (though not always possible and varying in degrees) can promote healthy attachment. The downside is the sadness that comes when you live far away from one another.
If a child who is securely attached to his parents experiences grief because he’s geographically separated from his birth mother, imagine the psychological damage inflicted on a child forcibly separated from her parents by strangers in a foreign land.
That thought was burning in my mind as I read reports about the repercussions of the U.S. government’s zero-tolerance policy enacted at the Mexico border. Images and sounds of children crying while being separated from their parents and placed in detainment haunted me, as it did for numerous others who protested the policy.
Given the backlash from those of various faith and political affiliations, it seemed that the public outrage machine finally found something we could agree on fighting for—the lives and well-being of vulnerable children. All the pushback across party lines led to Trump’s executive order halting the practice of separating families, though the next steps and implications for families remain unclear.
While it’s encouraging to see divergent groups of people working together fervently to ensure better handling of migrant families, we have a way to go in understanding and meting out justice.
Fighting for families in our communities
The immigration debacle at the border provided one such opportunity for Christians to uphold justice and render comfort for families. But a widely publicized national crisis isn’t the only circumstance that warrants our advocacy. In fact, you don’t have to go to the border to fight for family unity. I believe we have an obligation, especially as Christians, to fight for families in our own communities.
Since all human beings are created in God’s image, we reflect the interpersonal nature of the Trinity. The family unit illustrates this aspect of image-bearing and is used throughout Scripture in describing our relationship with God and others: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1a). Though some people experience brokenness in their earthly families, Christ has secured something permanent and whole—the spiritual family called the church.
Furthermore, God calls his children to love one another as Christ loved us, to the point of laying down our lives. This love toward others proves how we are his children, and the lack thereof puts that status in question: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him” (1 John 3:17)?
Knowing the abundance of grace God has given us through Christ, we of all people should be spurred to show compassion to those in need and strive for peace among those in and outside our camp. As Isaiah said, we should “learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (1:17). This is part of our mission to love God, make disciples, and exhibit his characteristics in a dark and fallen world.
As an extension of this mission, we can and should work to preserve the unity of families, filling in the gaps created by the brokenness of humanity. The sin that separated us from God also causes division in families through death, divorce, estrangement, substance abuse, and other tragedies. Serving as the hands and feet of Jesus, we can bridge these gulfs by carrying his mercy, supplying their needs, and directing them toward our loving Father.
Keeping families together
Families in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces need support as they face life situations requiring the placement of children in foster care. The number of children in foster care is rising and has increased every year since 2012, according to FY2016 data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. With factors like the growing opioid epidemic contributing to the influx of children in the system and 30-60 percent of foster parents dropping out each year, the National Council for Adoption is pushing an initiative to better recruit and train prospective parents, with the end goal of providing more permanent homes where more children can thrive.
Though we can’t resolve these complex problems with a magic-bullet solution, Christians can fulfill our commands to “love [our] neighbor as yourself” and “visit orphans and widows in their affliction” by aiding those parties involved in the foster care process.
For some, this might entail becoming a foster parent and possibly adopting one or more children. For others, this could encompass volunteering and/or giving financially to various adoption agencies and parachurch organizations that are working to relieve, educate, and strengthen biological, foster, and adoptive families.
As passionately as many Christians are advocating for migrant families at the border, we can apply that same zeal to supporting broken families all around us. In addition to heeding the political urgencies of the moment, we can dig in to meet the daily needs of those who are disconnected and hurting.
This is where the body of Christ shines. We can share the light of the gospel and provide hope to those desperate for lasting relationships. It’s one way we can impart the love of our Father in deed and in truth.
See AdoptUSkids, Foster Coalition, and Jason Johnson blog for ideas of ways to support the foster care community.