By / Feb 8

Today, we’re talking about adoption and foster care in the U.S. Welcome to the ERLC Podcast where our goal is to help you think biblically about today’s cultural issues.

We believe it’s clear in God’s Word that his perfect design is for many people to eventually unite as one man and one woman in a lifetime of marriage. That marriage, in many cases, leads to the blessing of children and establishes a family that glorifies God and benefits society. Unfortunately, in a fallen world, reality is messy. Marriage is put off and misunderstood. Families are broken and difficult. Infertility is faced far too often. And children are vulnerable and in need. 

That’s where adoption and foster care comes in to provide care for these children and help them find the loving and safe families that they were made for. The need for these ministries, organizations, and for people to get involved has only grown since the Dobbs decision overturning a federal right to abortion. 

Joining us on this episode is Herbie Newell, someone who understands this reality more than most. He’s the president & executive director of Lifeline Children’s Services and its ministry arms. Under Herbie’s leadership, Lifeline has increased international outreach to 25 countries through adoption and strategic orphan care, obtained licensure in 17 states, and established the foster care arm at Lifeline. 

The ERLC podcast is a production of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It is produced by Lindsay Nicolet and Elizabeth Bristow. Technical production is provided by Owens Productions. It is edited and mixed by Mark Owens.

By / Nov 7

Free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church on Orphans and Widows Sunday. 

In the days and months following the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs, pro-life
organizations redoubled their efforts to care for vulnerable mothers and infants.
One of the ways that churches can step into this new post-Roe landscape is by creating a culture of adoption in their churches. Below are some ways to help minister to families considering adoption or walking through the process.

Celebrate adoption

Never stop celebrating and championing orphan care. Adoption is not the only answer to fulfilling James 1:27, but for some children it is exactly right. In the church, we need to be intentional about celebrating adoption and championing adoptive families in healthy ways in order to send a clear message that adoption does not have to be perfect to be something that we affirm and praise the Lord for.

Allow for grief and sadness in adoption

Just because adoption is good doesn’t mean that it is always all good. Give people the grace to experience the full range of emotions around their adoption, including pain and difficulty. There is no one right way to feel or experience the layers of emotion around the broken relationships and sad stories that are part of adoption. Just sitting with our hurting friends in their grief can be more powerful than any words we have.

Provide resources

Years ago, researchers did a survey of Christian adoptive families, and what they found was striking. They discovered that the first place they want to go for help and resources, and the last place they are likely to turn to, is their church. When the church becomes among the safest and the best prepared places to care for the uniqueness brought by adoptive families, we become a living picture of the grace of God to a world that is dying to know and follow Jesus.

To see additional SBC event dates, visit sbc.net/calendar.

By / Aug 18

A Massachusetts couple recently filed a complaint in federal court against the state’s health secretary and multiple officials in the Department of Children and Families (DCF) after their application to become foster parents was denied because of their religious beliefs about marriage and sexuality. 

What happened? 

Mike and Kitty Burke are a Catholic couple from Massachusetts who applied to become foster parents in order to care for vulnerable children in need of a loving home. Mike is an Iraq war veteran, and Kitty is a former paraprofessional for special needs children. Unable to have biological children, they sought to become foster parents through the state’s foster care program with the hope of caring for and eventually adopting children in need of a stable home.

According to Becket Law, the nonprofit legal firm representing the Burkes, the Massachusetts DCF currently does not have enough foster homes or facilities to meet the needs of the children in its care, leaving over 1,500 children without a family. The crisis has become so extreme that the state has resorted to housing children in hospitals for weeks on end—not because the children need medical attention, but because the Commonwealth has nowhere else to put them. 

The couple went through 30 hours of training, lengthy interviews, and assessments of their home, health, and family life. Despite meeting all the requirements, the DCF denied the couple because they “would not be affirming to a child who identified as LGBTQIA.”

The Burkes believe that all children should be loved and supported, and they would never reject a child placed in their home. They also believe that children should not undergo procedures that attempt to change their God-given sex, and they uphold orthodox Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. As the author of their license study put it, while the Burkes are “lovely people,” “their faith is not supportive and neither are they.”

DCF regulation and policy, as well as the Massachusetts Foster Parent Bill of Rights, all prohibit religious discrimination against potential foster parents. As Becket Laws points out, the “Supreme Court has already—unanimously—rejected the attempt to exclude Catholic foster care agencies from the child welfare system (Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, 2021). And the Third Circuit held that the First Amendment prohibits retaliation against foster parents for sharing their religious beliefs on marriage.”

Why does this matter?

This is another instance of the state overstepping its authority and failing in its duty. The state has no authority to penalize individuals for their religious beliefs. This is a bedrock principle of our constitutional order, and one that has been affirmed repeatedly in court decisions at all levels. 

Instead, the state does have a duty to promote justice. One way it does that is through the care of the most vulnerable. A loving husband and wife willing to care and provide for a vulnerable child should not be seen as dangerous because they will not support dangerous and medically unnecessary surgical interventions for children experiencing gender dysphoria. No government should use the state’s power to cause children to suffer by advancing a progressive agenda out of step with the actual goal of caring for vulnerable children. 

How is the ERLC advocating for similar issues? 

The ERLC has made it a priority to protect the religious liberty of foster care and adoption service providers. 

A number of states and cities are working to exclude child welfare providers who seek to operate in a manner consistent with their religious convictions. This leads to fewer families available for foster care and adoption. Legislation is needed to further prohibit government discrimination against child welfare agencies on the basis of their beliefs and ultimately protect children in the foster system and those waiting for adoption by ensuring that a wide range of child welfare providers are available to serve them. Such religious liberty protections are especially necessary to support pro-family policy in a post-Roe world.  

One example of such legislation at the federal level is the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act. The bill would prohibit “the federal government, states, tribal nations, or localities from discriminating or taking adverse action against a child welfare provider that declines to provide services due to the provider’s sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The ERLC has long supported this legislation and hopes to see states take up similar efforts to preserve religious liberty and help vulnerable children find a place to call home.

As Christians, we are called to hold fast to God’s design for marriage and sexuality as we care for the vulnerable. Furthermore, as Southern Baptists, we believe that government should not interfere with our ability to live out our faith as we participate in our communities. As our culture continues to turn away from a biblical view of gender and sexuality, the ERLC will steadfastly affirm the foundational rights of parents—including foster and adoptive parents—in decision-making regarding their children and advocate against harmful gender-transition practices while we seek the flourishing of our society and hold out the hope of the gospel to a confused culture. 

By / Jul 19

There are untold numbers of children around the world who, for any number of reasons, are without a family and in need of a loving home. Recognizing this need, Americans have proven year after year to be among those most willing to help. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a 2022 report, “U.S. families have historically adopted half of all children eligible for intercountry adoption.” We are a country eager to open our homes to children all over the world and welcome them into our families.  

In recent years, however, procuring intercountry adoptions has become exceedingly difficult due to a number of factors. Travel restrictions, war, and the outright suspension of intercountry adoptions by some nations, among other factors, have continued to shrink the number of children brought to America to be united with a forever family. And according to the State Department’s most recent Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption, those difficulties persisted (and in some ways grew) last year. 

What did the report reveal?

Since 2004, intercountry adoptions in America have been in a precipitous decline, a trend that continued once again last year. For instance, in 2004 almost 23,000 children joined a new family here in the United States via intercountry adoption. After years of steady decline, that number dipped to 1,517 in 2022, a decrease of more than 90% in less than 20 years and the lowest in recent history. 

Of the 1,517 children who were adopted from other countries, the largest numbers came from Colombia (235), India (223), and South Korea (141). 

Despite efforts by the State Department to be a leader in promoting intercountry adoptions and to establish mutually beneficial relationships with other governments around the world, several issues have severely inhibited Americans’ ability to adopt children internationally including:

  • Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine; 
  • the suspension of adoption processing by the People’s Republic of China’s; 
  • and adoption prohibitions among countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Latvia 

The report outlines efforts by the U.S. government to help secure American citizens’ ability to “give children the loving, permanent families they deserve.” Nevertheless, it reveals the many significant barriers that prospective families faced last year. 

How should Christians think about intercountry adoption?

The Bible is clear: Christians are called to care for orphans (James 1:27). There are many ways to do that, and one of them is through intercountry adoptions.

We can recognize, as Herbie Newell, president and executive director of Lifeline Children’s Services, has written, intercountry adoption may not be the most appropriate solution for all orphaned and vulnerable children—moving children from one culture to another is no small matter, after all. “But it is the best answer for some.” Adopting children from another part of the world, especially from areas where exposure to the gospel is either limited or barred, is an opportunity not only to unite those children with a loving family but to introduce them to God who is himself a “father to the fatherless” (Psa. 68:5). 

God cares for children who have been orphaned, both here and abroad, and so should we.  

What can Christians do?

Christians have a long history of international adoption support, as does the Southern Baptist Convention, from advocacy efforts to denominational resolutions to expanding our own families through the means of adoption. Much of America’s willingness to welcome children from around the world into their families is owing to Christians and our support for the cause. Today, our continued support is as important as it’s ever been.

Considering the challenges the State Department faces that continue to diminish many Americans’ prospects for adoption and many children’s opportunity to be placed in a loving home, Christians have an urgent responsibility to continue and even strengthen the work we’ve long been a part of. We can:

  • write our representatives, 
  • financially support organizations that serve this cause, 
  • join advocacy efforts, 
  • and, “pray for guidance as to whether God is calling [us] to adopt a child” ourselves (as Resolution No. 2 from the 2009 SBC Annual Meeting states). 

There are innumerable ways we can stop the downward trend in intercountry adoptions we’ve been witness to for nearly 20 years. We don’t have to do it all, but we can do something. 

By / Jun 22

Ten years ago, I was visiting Shelter Yetu, an orphanage in Naivasha, Kenya. A young boy stood alone at the chalkboard, wiping away the day’s lessons with an old rag. The child—an orphan, I was told—sang quietly as he worked. I watched him from the doorway for a few minutes before greeting him in Swahili.

After some small talk about the day’s activities, I asked Boniface how long he had been at the orphanage. “One year,” he told me. Quietly, I asked him the last time he saw his family. I didn’t know—perhaps both his parents had passed away. “Last weekend,” he said with a smile. Boniface proceeded to tell me that his mother worked at a nearby farm and often came to visit him and his brother on the weekends.

So why was Boniface, who was obviously not an orphan, at an orphanage? I learned later that Boniface is the sixth of eight children. His family was displaced during Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence. They spent two years living in an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp before his father left. Eventually, Boniface’s mother found work at a local farm but couldn’t afford to send all of her children to school. So she found help the only way she could—she placed them in orphanages.

I wish I could say Boniface’s story is uncommon. But as many as 80% of children living in orphanages around the world have at least one living parent, and the vast majority have other family members who could be able to care for them if given the support to do so. The underlying reason children end up in orphanages is not because they are orphans—it is poverty. When a family is unable to meet the needs of their children, like education in Boniface’s case, an orphanage is considered a possible solution. 

Setting orphans in families

Does your church support an orphanage? Have you ever taken a short-term mission trip to serve at an orphanage? Does your family sponsor an orphan? If not, have you ever wondered how you or your church could help orphans? 

There is a clear biblical mandate for churches and believers to care for widows and orphans. James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” However, our generous and sacrificial efforts to support children through orphanages and children’s homes is not producing the kind of results we have hoped for.

A growing body of research shows that orphanages are not the best place for children. 

  • Research shows orphanages harm children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development.
  • Institutionalization of very young children has a similar impact on early brain development to severe malnutrition or maternal drug use during pregnancy.
  • Young adults raised in institutions are 10 times more likely to fall into sex work than their peers and 500 times more likely to take their own lives.
  • Placing a child in an orphanage quadruples the risk of sexual violence.

Families are vital for the development of children. They need the connection, belonging, and identity of a family to thrive into adulthood. Research shows significant improved outcomes for children who are cared for in their families, foster families, or adoptive families, compared to orphanages and children’s homes.

For these reasons, many countries and organizations are moving away from traditional institutional care (orphanages) to family and community-based care.  Organizations are working to strengthen families so they never need to consider an orphanage as a solution to their challenges. When a child is unable to be cared for in their own families, a foster or adoptive family allows children the opportunity stay in the community and receive the individualized support of a family.

Psalm 68 tells us that “God sets the lonely in families.” Orphans don’t just need food, shelter and education. Orphans need a safe, loving family. 

Today, Boniface and his brother are at home with their family, and Shelter Yetu is no longer an orphanage. Instead, it serves as a rescue center, helping children living on the streets, providing them with rehabilitation services reuniting them with safe, loving families and then working to empower their families. Shelter Yetu is also helping other orphanages transition to a family-based care model, resulting in more children going home. 

As part of my work as the International Orphan Care Consultant for Send Relief, one of my primary objectives is to help advise local churches in the United States on how to best care for orphans and vulnerable children based on biblical principles and emerging research in the field. We want to provide Southern Baptist churches with the tools, training, and advice needed to help you care for orphans in their affliction. Together, we can labor to see more orphans and vulnerable children know Christ’s love through placement in safe, loving families.

By / Mar 10

On March 9, President Biden released his Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposal. Every year, the president submits his budget proposal, and it serves as a blueprint for the administration’s priorities. A president’s budget proposal has no binding authority over Congress and will not become law. Rather, it is a request and a statement of priorities that serves as a starting point for negotiations in Congress as the House of Representatives and the Senate work on the 12 spending appropriations bills that fund the government. Given that Republicans now control the House of Representatives, it is likely that the final budget will look quite different from this initial proposal.

The ERLC actively engages in the appropriations process each year. In the president’s budget proposal, there are areas of deep concern, but also areas of possible collaboration. As negotiations begin in Congress, the ERLC will share these concerns and advocate for changes that protect life, promote religious liberty, support families, and respect human dignity.

Exclusion of pro-life riders and increased funding for abortion providers

Biden’s budget proposal includes a request for a 79% increase in additional funding for abortion providers through the Title X Family Planning program over last year’s enacted amounts. Though pro-life riders have traditionally kept this funding from directly funding abortion procedures, abortion providers are still able to receive funding through the Title X Family Planning program and other government funds to cover operational costs, allowing them to more easily reserve non-taxpayer dollars for abortion services. Although it is vital for women of any economic status to have access to important healthcare services, abortion — the act of taking a life — is not healthcare.

Additionally, the budget includes investments in “reproductive healthcare” at the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as funding for pro-abortion family planning internationally. Since the Dobbs decision, the Biden administration has made a number of moves to expand abortion access and coverage at VA facilities for those currently or formerly in the military. The budget includes $57 million to support the UN Population fund, a pro-abortion organization. As we seek to aid impoverished nations around the world, we should offer them real medical aid – not abortion.

Notably, for the third time since its inception in 1976, the Hyde Amendment has presumably been excluded from the president’s proposal. The Hyde Amendment is a budget rider on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) appropriations bill to prevent Medicaid from covering the cost of abortion. This rider, along with other pro-life riders, are essential in protecting life as well as the consciences of millions of American taxpayers. Though the portion of the president’s budget request that was released on Thursday seems to indicate that these riders have been excluded, we will not know definitively until additional appendixes are released next week.

Before the Hyde Amendment was introduced, approximately 300,000 abortions a year were performed using federal Medicaid dollars. It is estimated that the Hyde Amendment has saved over 2 million lives since it was enacted. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has been passed by every Congress. Its success across the generations is not due to a shared belief about abortion but precisely because those representatives and senators believed the disagreement deserved respect. It is vital that Congress, throughout negotiations, attaches the Hyde-family of riders that protect life and protect the consciences of millions of Americans. It is important to note that although Biden’s FY 2022 and 2023 budget proposals also excluded these amendments, they were ultimately included in the final appropriations packages passed by Congress.

Emphasis on advancing gender equity

Throughout the budget proposal, Biden includes multiple proposals that advance “gender equity,” which includes sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). The president’s budget proposal would expand SOGI protections in all areas of life, invests $3 billion to “advance gender equity” internationally, and commits to providing gender-affirming care to veterans in VA facilities, with taxpayer funding. Efforts to advance SOGI as protected classes under federal law have explicitly included attempts to roll back religious freedom and conscience protections. As the ERLC has long maintained, a government that is able to pave over the conscience is one that has the unlimited ability to steamroll dissent on any issue.

Potentially helpful areas of investment

Though increased funding does not always necessitate better outcomes, we affirm the president’s desire to promote human flourishing through investment in a number of areas. Given that our spending allocations are often a statement of what we prioritize as a nation, it is encouraging to see emphasis from the president on a few key areas:

  • Improving border security and immigration processing: The budget proposal includes an increase of $800 million for border security agencies and increased investments in border patrol and processing personnel. That investment in border security is coupled with increased funding for meeting humanitarian needs at the border and funding for 150 new immigration judge teams to speed up asylum processing. 
  • Rebuilding refugee resettlement and supporting Afghan evacuees: The proposal includes a $7.3 billion investment in resettling 125,000 refugees in the next fiscal year as well as responding to the needs of unaccompanied migrant children. The budget also includes funding for expedited processing and increased visas available for Afghans who served with the US military and were evacuated to the U.S. following the Taliban’s takeover.
  • Supporting vulnerable mothers and families: Though we would not fully support all aspects of these programs as proposed, the proposal includes several initiatives related to reducing maternal mortality, expanding insurance coverage for postpartum mothers, ensuring paid leave for new parents, and expanding the Child Tax Credit. While we have disagreements with the administration about some of the specifics of these policies, it is encouraging to see pro-family policies receive a prominent position in the president’s proposal.
  • Making adoption more affordable: The budget proposal includes initiatives that seek to better support children and families in the adoption and foster care systems. It also proposes making the adoption tax credit fully refundable, something the ERLC has long advocated for, making adoption more affordable and accessible 
  • Implementing the First Step Act: In 2018, President Trump signed into law the First Step Act, a package of significant criminal justice reforms, supported by the ERLC. This budget proposal includes financial investments in implementing that law to support rehabilitative programming, improving prison conditions, and hiring new staff to implement First Step Act reforms.

What’s next?

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will begin the appropriations process which includes a hearing to discuss budget requests and writing and marking up the 12 appropriations bills that fund the federal government. Congress will have the opportunity to make significant changes, such as including the Hyde Amendment and other important pro-life riders, as they did in Fiscal Year 2023. It is likely that each chamber, and thus each party, will release competing versions of these bills, and negotiations will be fierce as lawmakers debate what will be included in the final package. 

Each year, the ERLC is actively engaged in the appropriations process, working alongside committee and leadership offices to ensure that important pro-life, religious liberty, and conscience protections are included and harmful policies are excluded. The ERLC will continuously advocate for the inclusion of these pro-life provisions as well as other legislative measures that reflect God’s gracious love for every human life around the world.

By / Jan 3

The post-Roe world we live in is a fulfillment of the faithful work of pro-life advocates for 50 years. While there is certainly more work to be done to end abortion in all 50 states, it is a moment for celebration. Just as abortion existed before Roe v. Wade tragically made it legal, the pro-life movement faces an abortion industry committed to furthering a regime that ends life at all costs, with “abortion tourism” and the abortion pill making it easier than ever to evade bans and restrictions in the United States.

With that in mind, in addition to making abortion illegal, we must turn our focus to serving and supporting families. Messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention committed to “partnering with local, state, and federal governments to enact pro-life and pro-family policies that serve and support vulnerable women, children, and families” in order to “eliminate any perceived need for the horror of abortion,” during its annual meeting in June 2022.1 Our goal is not just for abortion to be illegal but for it to be viewed as an unthinkable act of cruelty by all of our neighbors and for our nation to truly embody a culture of life.

A scriptural foundation

God has spoken clearly throughout Scripture: Every human being is created in the image of God and possesses immeasurable dignity and worth; Every aspect of his design for human life in accordance with his will is good (Gen. 1:26-30). In the beginning, we see the institution of marriage—one man and one woman for life—as something that God creates for our good (Gen. 2). The married couple is then instructed to bear fruit and multiply as part of God’s plan for their flourishing (Gen 1:28; Ps. 127:3). 

The biblical framework for the nuclear family is a desirable end, and the good work of protecting and promoting the family in all its biblical forms is central to the ethic, life, and mission of the church. Local churches—and the parents, teachers, counselors, and foster care and adoptive families within them—walk alongside couples through difficult times, aid in the discipleship of their children, and help bring healing to broken families and hope to forgotten children. 

This pro-family work is invaluable and an essential part of our calling individually and collectively. Even as culture changes, Southern Baptists must remain committed to advancing a distinctly Christian vision for the family in the public square and safeguarding the integrity of this crucial biblical institution for the good of our neighbor.

Current realities

As a nation, our policies incentivize what we want more of and disincentivize what we want less of. The allocation of resources, as well as how we structure our tax code, reveal where our national priorities lie. Currently, many of our policies economically disincentivize marriage.2 Similarly, our laws make abortion incredibly less difficult and less expensive than adoption. According to Planned Parenthood, the cost of an abortion is generally less than $750.3 Meanwhile, the average cost of an adoption can run between $20,000–$50,000.4 Little has been done to combat the soaring costs of childcare, housing, food, and other necessities that greatly affect families. Due to inflation, it is estimated that raising a child through high school now costs approximately $300,000.5 Moreover, financial insecurity is cited by 73% of women who choose to have an abortion as the primary driver of their choice.6

For Christians, these realities should represent a sobering challenge. If we truly value life, family, and marriage, then we should advocate for laws that do the same, thereby making it easier for citizens of our country to choose these good things. While we will continue to work relentlessly through policy and law to make abortion illegal across the country, that simply is not enough. To create a culture of life, we must also redouble our efforts to holistically care for women and families in times of crisis and prioritize support for the flourishing of families. 

A vision for a pro-family world

As part of that commitment to bolstering the institution of the family, we should advocate for creative and responsible policies that remove unnecessary legal or economic roadblocks to marriage, ensure families—with an emphasis on abortion-vulnerable women—have the resources to parent their children, and promote full participation of both parents in the raising of children. Though the state can never be a replacement for the vital work of the church in supporting families, it is an important component that cannot be ignored (Rom. 13). 

In the post-Dobbs world, there has been growing support among lawmakers from both parties to do more to support women in crisis and families. Additionally, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy indicated that if Republicans retook the House in November—which they did by a narrow margin—their pro-family framework would be a legislative priority.7 There is much to still be debated on which of these policies are best and which can find the necessary bipartisan support to become law, but it is encouraging that many members of Congress are beginning to recognize a need for programs that support families and are thinking creatively on how best to do that. 

As we consider these proposals, the ERLC will advocate for policy changes that strengthen families and marriages, promote the well-being of children, recognize the dignity of work, and wisely steward financial resources. To that end, we would strongly encourage lawmakers to develop policies in the following areas that would vastly improve the ability to raise a child and ensure families can flourish: 

  • Legislation that provides abortion-vulnerable women with information about all of their options and avenues for support, countering the false notion that abortion is their only choice. 
  • Policies that protect pregnant women in the workplace and allow them to safely continue providing for their families throughout pregnancy. 
  • Policies that bolster the important work of pregnancy resource centers and fund them to care for women in need. 
  • Policies that eliminate tax code discrimination against the traditional family and reduce the onerous tax burden on families with children. 
  • Strategic aid programs targeted to low-income mothers and families that stimulate economic stability and independence, sparking sustainable, communal financial growth trends while also ensuring that the necessary resources are available around the birth of a child. 
  • Adoption of policies that provide a baseline of security for new families to bond with their children without economic harm. 
  • Collaborative partnerships between civil society and government that bolster social support and increase excellence, availability, and affordability in maternal healthcare and childcare without trampling on conscience rights. 
  • And policies that make adoption more affordable and accessible. 

We long for a world where a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy would have such overwhelming support from her community, that she feels confident that she can keep and raise her child. We desire for our nation’s laws to incentivize family formation and prioritize using our resources to support families. Ultimately, we seek justice and flourishing for our neighbors so that they may see and seek the joy, fulfillment, and eternal life only found in Christ. Public policy that prioritizes the family serves that end and is an essential piece in creating a culture that truly values life.

View the latest issue of Light magazine here.

By / Dec 27

In July, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization1https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf case that reversed the precedents set in landmark abortion cases Roe v. Wade2https://www.oyez.org/cases/1971/70-18 and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.3https://www.oyez.org/cases/1991/91-744 The issue of abortion has now been sent back to the states and will be governed at a local level. Some states have passed robust laws that protect the preborn, and sadly, laws in other states offer little to no protection for the little ones in the womb. 

At the time of publication, abortions are restricted or banned in at least 17 states, with a number of states expected to take steps to restrict abortion.4https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/us/abortion-laws-roe-v-wade.html While we are grateful for each and every life saved from abortion, the reality is, there will be even more women and children in need of support than before. For decades, churches, Christians, and faith-based pregnancy resource centers have been on the frontlines of serving women. Pro-life work today is built on the shoulders of the faithful over the years. Yet, the Church must be ready to meet the increased need in this new moment. 

Scriptural Basis for Caring for the Vulnerable

The Bible is clear that those whom God saves are to work out their salvation with good works (Phil. 2:12). Our good works stem from changed hearts that are called to love the Lord with all we have, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:34-40). One of the biblical directives Christians are given is to care for the vulnerable and the fatherless. Throughout Scripture, we see numerous instances of God protecting orphans and urging his followers to do the same (James 1:27; Psa. 68:5-6). 

The Word is also clear that every person is made in the image of God, including the preborn (Gen. 1:27; Luke 1:41), which means we are to defend every individual’s right to life. And in addition to protecting vulnerable little ones in the womb, we must also care for their mothers, fathers, and families. That commitment of care should extend well beyond a child’s birth. Two of the ways we can care for children is through adoption and foster care.

Adoption

The Bible tells us that those who trust in Christ are adopted in God’s family as his children. Our spiritual adoption is one of the realities that propels us to love our neighbor and is the foundation for our understanding of earthly adoption (Rom. 8). 

Adoption is good and beautiful, but in a fallen world, it is always born out of loss. 

All parties involved in an adoption experience loss. The birth mother makes an incredibly difficult decision to develop an adoption plan for her child and walks through the loss of not parenting her child, even if it’s in her and her child’s best interest. For an adoptee, even if they were adopted as an infant, their story began with loss, because there was a break in the natural order of the family. And for adoptive parents, there’s typically an extensive financial, emotional, and time commitment to building their family through adoption.

Foster Care

Conversations around adoption and foster care need to make it clear that these two things are separate. Making an adoption plan is not the same thing as a child entering into foster care. There are currently 407,493 children in the U.S. foster care system.5https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cb/afcarsreport28.pdf The goal of foster care is reunification, but approximately one-fourth of children and youth in foster care are eligible for adoption, meaning there’s no chance that they’ll be reunified with their biological family. 

Almost every community across the United States is in desperate need for more families to open up their homes and become foster families. Children enter foster care through no fault of their own. For many of these children, circumstances do not change, and they age out of the foster care system without a family or a support system. While there have been policy changes that focus more on prevention and keeping families (safely) together, one of the greatest needs is for more Christian families to open their hearts and homes to children in foster care.

How Churches Can Engage

The mission of Lifeline Children’s Services is to equip the Body of Christ to manifest the gospel to vulnerable children.6https://lifelinechild.org/ In Psalm 68, David tells us that God sets the lonely in families. We want the children we serve to have forever families, but more than that, we want them to know the truth of the gospel. 

To that end, the programs that Lifeline offers are meant to connect vulnerable children, women, and families to the local church and local body of believers. We want people to receive practical resources and support, but also to hear the good news of the gospel and have access to a community of Christians. Lifeline has a number of programs that local churches can utilize to minister to children and families in their communities. If you are a pastor, ministry leader, or church member who has a desire for your church to engage, I encourage you to prayerfully consider how the Lord has equipped your church to minister to the needs of your community.

How Individuals Can Engage

Each one of us can make a difference in the lives of others. While not all of us are called to adopt or foster, we are all commanded to care for vulnerable children in some capacity (James 1:27). While different seasons of life might mean that engagement changes, we should seek God’s wisdom on how to care for our local communities. 

To love our neighbor, we must first know our neighbor. We must go beyond our screens and social media accounts to the embodied people in our neighborhoods, cities, and communities. We can make a huge difference in the lives of others just by showing up. Presence is deeply powerful. Look someone in the eye, get to know their name, their story, and seek to care for that person holistically. 

Below are a few practical ways to get involved in caring for the vulnerable in a post-Roe world.

Volunteer your time, talent, or treasure: We’re all called to steward our time, talent, and treasure for the good of others and the glory of God. Consider volunteering your time to serve at your local pregnancy resource center or church-based program, or mentor a woman facing an unexpected pregnancy or a youth in foster care. 

If you’re gifted in a particular area, you could use your gifting to serve vulnerable people in your area. For example, if you’re financially savvy, you could volunteer with a program like Heritage Builders that helps older youth in foster care as they reach the age at which they must transition to independent living.7https://lifelinechild.org/heritage-builders/ Heritage Builders provides one-on-one relationships, provides life-readiness training and connects youth to practical resources. Additionally, you can use your treasure to support organizations that are doing gospel-centered work. 

Each one of us has varying levels of resources to invest in the Kingdom of God. May we invest wisely.

Consider providing respite care: Some aren’t called to full-time foster parenting, and others are not in a season that will allow for it. But maybe you could consider providing respite care for children and families. Respite care is short-term care for children that allows families who are experiencing social isolation to have access to a support system in the local church. Providing respite care can look like a few hours one afternoon, a weekend, or a few weeks. Respite care is not intended to be long-term, out-of-home care for vulnerable children.

Support those who are adopting or fostering: Families who adopt or foster need support, care, and encouragement. While these journeys are beautiful and restorative, they can also be difficult and exhausting. You can provide practical support and encouragement to these families. It can be as simple as bringing a meal to them in the midst of a particularly busy season, remembering to regularly check in on them, or learning trauma-informed practices to be better equipped to interact with them and their families. Trauma-informed care recognizes the effects of trauma on a child and helps us understand the paths for recovery from that trauma. You can also support vulnerable children, families, and adoptive and foster families by committing to regularly pray for them.

Adopt or foster: Pray about whether the Lord is calling your family to consider adopting or fostering. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s an increased number of children who need safe, permanent, loving, and gospel-centered families and homes.8https://erlc.com/resource-library/spotlight-articles/children-of-covid-19/ Lifeline provides practical and spiritual guidance in the adoption or foster journey and equips families to successfully step into caring for children. For some, finances might feel like a barrier to adoption, but there are grants and fundraising tools available to families. For example, the mission of the adoption organization Show Hope is to break down barriers that exist between waiting children and loving families.9https://showhope.org/ If the Lord calls you to adopt or foster, he will be faithful to provide what you need on the journey. 

As Christians pray about and follow through with adopting or fostering, it’s vital to understand that we do not participate in this call as rescuers or saviors. Instead, as David Platt reminds us, “It’s important to realize that we adopt not because we are the rescuers. No. We adopt because we are the rescued.”10https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.brookhills.org/app/blog/the-gospel-and-adoption/&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1667237478566583&usg=AOvVaw2vUv33ujAiFo8E9shQatG6

Conclusion

Let us daily be involved in doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). And as we serve, may our light shine before others so that they might see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven (Matt. 5:16). While we care for vulnerable children, mothers, and families, may we constantly extend hope, healing, and the good news of the gospel. Our good works, coupled with the transformative good news of the gospel, can have an eternal influence on the lives of others.

  • 1
    https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf
  • 2
    https://www.oyez.org/cases/1971/70-18
  • 3
    https://www.oyez.org/cases/1991/91-744
  • 4
    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/us/abortion-laws-roe-v-wade.html
  • 5
    https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cb/afcarsreport28.pdf
  • 6
    https://lifelinechild.org/
  • 7
    https://lifelinechild.org/heritage-builders/
  • 8
    https://erlc.com/resource-library/spotlight-articles/children-of-covid-19/
  • 9
    https://showhope.org/
  • 10
    https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.brookhills.org/app/blog/the-gospel-and-adoption/&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1667237478566583&usg=AOvVaw2vUv33ujAiFo8E9shQatG6
By / Dec 22

Marriage and the family unit were established by God at the very beginning of creation as the first institutions. Genesis 1 and 2 shows us how God fashioned man and woman in his image, brought them together as one flesh, and gave them the charge to be fruitful and multiply, or bear children. God works in many ways, but it’s through marriage and family that some of his greatest blessings abound to the world and bring about flourishing.

Because of the importance of these God-ordained institutions in preserving and prospering our society, the ERLC will continue to advocate for policies that maintain and protect these essential aspects of life together. God’s ways are for our good, whether or not our culture recognizes this to be true. While marriage and family will not be perfect in the midst of a fallen world, it’s our responsibility as Christians to continue to champion God’s design and see it upheld for the good of our neighbor. 

Sexual Ethics event

One of the ways the ERLC carried out this aspect of our mission this year was by devoting significant attention to sexual ethics. Specifically, we addressed this topic in the month of June because of its unavoidable cultural designation as “Pride Month.” 

Jason Thacker hosted an online event called, Discipling Your Church For a World in Sexual Crisis, which featured Andrew T. Walker, Dean Inserra, and Katie McCoy, and sought to equip churches and individuals to understand this current cultural moment and engage in these important discussions. In addition to this event, we featured much-needed resources on the topic of sexual ethics including:

House Passage of the Adoptee Citizenship Act

Another way we sought to promote the health of families was through legislation. Prior to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, the administrative steps required of families adopting internationally were unnecessarily burdensome. The process included applying for and moving through a lengthy naturalization process for their children, in addition to the lengthy and costly adoption process. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 granted automatic citizenship to all foreign-born children brought to the United States who had at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, that act only applied to adoptees under the age of 18 when the bill was enacted, leaving an entire population of adopted children without full U.S. citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act closes the loophole to provide immediate citizenship to these children already adopted by U.S. citizens yet left out of the previous bill.

The ERLC has supported the Adoptee Citizenship Act for years. We have been engaged with a broad coalition invested in child welfare to urge members of Congress to swiftly pass this bill and secure permanent citizenship for the thousands of impacted adoptees. In March of 2021, the ERLC wrote a coalition letter to the House of Representatives urging them to swiftly pass this vital piece of legislation. 

In February of 2022, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1953, the Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2021. An amended version of the bill passed the Senate, but the House disagreed with the Senate’s amendments and left the bill in limbo. The House’s bipartisan action on this bill is a promising first step, but we urge members of both houses of Congress to agree on legislative language and pass this crucial bill.

The Equality Act

One of the greatest legislative challenges the ERLC has engaged with is The Equality Act. In February 2021, the House passed The Equality Act (H.R. 5.)—a bill that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights law. The bill would curtail religious freedom protections, hinder the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals, undermine civil rights protections for women and girls, and ultimately steamroll the consciences of millions of Americans.

The Equality Act would also gut the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The removal of this act would force faith-based child welfare organizations to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs or be shut down by the state. The Equality Act would also force healthcare workers and pro-life healthcare providers to participate in and provide abortions. 

The ERLC has worked tirelessly to defeat this bill. We have partnered with a broad coalition of more than 85 faith-based nonprofits, religious entities, and institutions of higher education to highlight the dangers of H.R. 5. We have raised these concerns with members of Congress and the administration through coalition letters and countless meetings with members, administration officials, and their staff. We have also engaged in public advocacy against the bill by producing a suite of resources available on our website to inform Christians and the broader public about the pernicious threat of H.R. 5. 

We will continue to lead efforts to oppose the Equality Act and any similar legislation introduced this Congress. As we do so, we will advocate for a public square solution that protects and upholds the dignity of all people and their rights, while ensuring that religiously motivated individuals and institutions are free to live and act according to their deeply held convictions.

Advocacy against SOGI provisions

The ERLC has also spoken out against the Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX, which would expand the definition of “sex” to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” (SOGI). These dangerous federal guidances would allow biological men to participate in collegiate women’s sports and would penalize institutions that fail to expand the definition of sex to include SOGI. The ERLC submitted public comments urging the department to alter this proposed rule. 

In addition, the ERLC has also spoken out against the Department of Health and Human Services’ addition of sexual orientation and gender identity language to multiple nondiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act. This rule would mandate gender-affirming care and would impede the work of healthcare professionals and faith-based hospitals. The ERLC submitted public comments to the HHS urging them to alter this proposed rule. 

In all of these challenges, the ERLC will continue to advocate for the recognition of God’s good design for biological sex and for the protection of religious liberty.

By / Nov 30

November is National Adoption Month—a time where we raise awareness for children who are waiting for forever families, and celebrate families who have welcomed children home through adoption. After the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a landmark case that reversed the harmful precedents set in Roe v. Wade, more attention is rightly focused on the welfare of children, post-birth. 

Lifeline Children’s Services’ mission is to equip the Body of Christ to manifest the gospel to vulnerable children. We serve vulnerable children and families through private domestic and international adoption, family restoration, and pregnancy counseling. For over 40 years, Lifeline has sought to care for women by providing them with lifesaving options and practical support.

In this post-Roe world, there will be even more women who need support and resources. To that end, we should be working to support vulnerable children, women, and families. Every woman in this situation needs excellent options counseling, support and care before and after birth, as she is making the best decision for her and her child. While adoption is a beautiful, life-giving option, it is important to understand some of the nuances involved. Below are some commons misconceptions around adoption, as well as some ways to more accurately think through them.

Myth: Adoption and foster care are similar.

Fact: Making an adoption plan for a child is not the same as a child entering foster care. Foster care is an involuntary option in which the state takes custody of the child to investigate allegations of abuse or neglect. When a child enters foster care, the birth parents temporarily lose control. This might lead to a birth mother regaining custody, or it might lead to permanent separation and an adoption. If it leads to adoption, the birth parent does not have control, because parental rights have been terminated.

However, empowering a birth mother means that if she chooses to make an adoption plan for her child, she can be involved in the plan and know that her child has permanence and stability.

Myth: A woman will not have any control in making an adoption plan. 

Fact: When an expectant mother chooses adoption for her child, Lifeline helps her as she chooses a family that will care for the child spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically and who will also honor the birth family. It is important for a birth family and an adoptive family to have access to post-adoption support.

Myth: Adoption is an easy alternative to abortion.

Fact: Adoption is courageous and sacrificial, but it is not the easy way out. It takes thoughtfulness, commitment, and selflessness. While making an adoption plan comes with sadness, loss, and grief, most birth mothers say those tough feelings are paired with great hope, peace, and possibility. They know they have made a responsible, loving decision for their child.

Myth: More families are needed for adoption.   

Fact: For women making an adoption plan for their infant, there are waiting families, who are ready to care for both the child and honor the first family. However, there is a need for more families to become foster families.

Myth: It’s a “failed adoption” if a mother chooses to parent.

Fact: It is not a failure when a mom chooses to parent. Of course, this decision comes with great pain, loss, and grief for a perspective adoptive family. However, it is a part of Lifeline’s ministry for perspective adoptive parents to stand in the gap while these birth mothers make the best decision they can. It isn’t a failure if they were able to love her well during that time while she is deciding. If we want to empower women to make a good decision, and if we believe that parenting is a good decision, then, we shouldn’t call that decision a failure. Prospective adoptive families should be equipped to honor whatever is in that child and birth mother’s best interest.

Language matters!

It is vitally important to be precise and careful with language, because we communicate value and worth through our words. Scripture tells us that every single person is created in the image of God, and has innate dignity, worth and value. (Gen. 1:27; Psa. 139). Below are some helpful language changes to make, so that we’re clear with our language when discussing adoption.

Strive to use person-first language. This practice honors an individual and their inherent dignity before adding a qualifier. For example,

  • Instead of saying, “special needs child,” say “child who has a disability.” 
  • Instead of saying “adopted child,” say “person who was adopted.”

In addition, ​a woman does not give her child up for adoption; she makes an adoption plan. 

  • Instead of saying “a child was given up for adoption,” say “a mother made an adoption plan for her child.

Women who make an adoption plan are not bad mothers. People are unable to parent for a variety of reasons, and making an adoption plan is an incredibly loving decision. Always strive to honor all parties involved in an adoption—birth mothers, adoptive parents and adoptees.

As we seek to care for vulnerable women, children, and families, may we always extend the good news of the gospel while we care for those in our communities who need love and compassion.