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 / Dec 4

Everyone can take part in caring for vulnerable children in the foster care system, whether through prayer, donations, financial support, or serving in some way. My role as a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) means that I advocate for the best interests of children who are in the foster care system due to abuse or neglect.

What does a CASA do?

CASAs are appointed by the juvenile court in their area to a specific case involving one or more precious children and agree to remain with that case until a safe, permanent home is achieved. A CASA’s aim is to provide the judge with the best information possible so that they may make a well-informed decision when they rule on the case. 

I have been shocked to learn the sheer number of children currently in foster care, more than 14,000 in my state of Alabama alone. Some of the common criticisms are fair. The system may be unnecessarily complex, and the wheels of justice often move very slowly, but contrary to some assumptions, the dedicated professionals I’ve worked with—social workers, lawyers, foster parents—genuinely desire what is best for the children in their care. However, they are often operating under the weight of an insurmountable case load. 

Here is where a CASA can make a difference. As the eyes and ears of the court, a CASA is not only able to speak out for the child’s well-being but is also able to be a consistent presence in that child’s life. They are true advocates: those who plead the cause of another both by their testimony and by their presence in the child’s life. A CASA advocates by lending their voice, time, and help to children who may not have a voice of their own.

The CASA process

When I go before the court as a CASA, I present a report that summarizes my interactions with the case and the recommendations I am making. I answer questions from four different attorneys representing four different interested parties, all in reference to the well-being and welfare of the child(ren) in foster care. 

In order to compile my report and make my recommendation, 

  • I visited the child in her foster home multiple times. 
  • I visited the home of her biological parent at least twice. 
  • I observed her parent’s supervised visit on several occasions. 
  • I made phone calls, researched records, and pored over legal documents and court orders. 
  • I consulted her social worker in regard to how the state views the child’s best interests.

CASAs seek to learn all they can about the child, his or her family and situation, and any other contributing factors that may have a bearing on his or her circumstances. A CASA may be called on, as I was, to testify regarding the child’s best interests when it comes to placement, services that may benefit the child, as well as any other recommendations the CASA believes will contribute to a thriving future for the child. 

Caring for the vulnerable

At my first home visit, I quickly realized that despite all my training, I still had a lot to learn about the family court process—itself complex and complicated—as well as the scary and heartbreaking situations these young children have had to navigate as part of their “normal” day-to-day existence. 

No doubt, you’ve heard horrific stories. Though not all children have experienced such extreme circumstances, in my limited time as a CASA, I’ve talked to a young girl who was beaten with a curling iron, another who hid in the closet while one parent pulled a gun on the other, and a child who didn’t attend school for two years. These aren’t stories told in the abstract; they are events—real, live experiences of real, live children. 

The Bible instructs us to care for the orphan and widow. This is true, genuine religion. In other words, one mark of authentic faith is care for the most vulnerable (James 2:27). As we extend mercy and love—and advocacy—to the helpless and the needy among us, we point to our Savior. He looked to the interests of others even as he made himself a servant (Phil. 2:4-7). Not only that, but Jesus tells his disciples that their compassionate care for those most needy, “the least of these,” was the same as if done to Jesus himself (Matt. 25:40). We serve him by serving like him. CASA is one way I hope to do just that.

If you’re interested in knowing more, check out nationalcasagal.org, where you can find out about your state and local CASA organizations and ways you can make a difference in a child’s life.

Editor’s Note: When you give, the ERLC can do more in 2024 to continue to advance the pro-life movement in ways like shaping policies that provide care and support for vulnerable mothers and families in a post-Roe America. Consider giving a year-end gift here to bring hope to the public square.

By / Dec 1

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has submitted comments regarding our concerns with the proposed rule change by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) titled “Safe and Appropriate Foster Care Placement Requirements for Titles IV-E and IV-B.” The rule concerns foster care placement of children who identify as LGBTQ. Here is what you should know about the regulatory proposal. 

What is the proposed HHS rule regarding foster care placement of LGBTQ children?

The proposed rule would require states to develop policies ensuring that LGBTQ foster children are placed in environments “free from hostility or discrimination” based on their LGBTQ status. It would also require states to ensure foster parents have the knowledge and skills to support the needs of LGBTQ children.

HHS bases it on language requiring “safe and proper care” for foster children, arguing that means care free from hostility or discrimination against LGBTQ status and ensuring foster parents can support LGBTQ children’s needs.

How does the proposed rule affect faith-based foster care providers?

The rule suggests restricting LGBTQ-identifying children’s placement to non-religious foster care organizations. This discriminates against religious providers and limits foster care options, harming children in need. As we argued in our comments, “this proposed rulemaking discriminates against religious and faith-based foster care providers by forcing such organizations to choose between their deeply held convictions and their desire to live out their faith by caring for some of the most vulnerable children in our society.”

What are the main concerns with the proposed rule as it affects children?

The proposed rule will cause undue harm to foster children, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ, by limiting the pool of eligible foster care providers. Affirming a child’s LGBTQ identity should not be a prerequisite for providing a safe, nurturing environment. Foster care placement should emphasize the importance of a child’s overall peer relationships and environment over specific gender identity affirmations. 

Over 30% of children in the foster care system identify as LGBTQ. By taking away a huge swath of parents who are ready and able to provide loving homes and quality care, these children will both be forced to wait longer for permanent placement and will be placed in homes that may push them toward dangerous gender transition services and procedures at time that these children are particularly vulnerable.

What are the concerns regarding parents’ rights in foster care?

The ERLC is concerned about the potential infringement on biological parents’ rights, particularly regarding decisions about gender transitioning during foster care placements. A primary goal of foster care is to facilitate a child’s return home, so allowing gender transitions against parents’ wishes is a clear violation of the rights of parents.

Additionally, this regulation sets dangerous precedent that refusing to “affirm” the gender identity of a foster child means that a parent is unable to provide safe and proper care. This argument could eventually be applied to biological parents who do not “affirm” the gender identity of their child.

What are the religious liberty concerns for foster care providers?

The proposed rule discriminates against religious and faith-based foster care providers by forcing them to choose between their deeply held convictions and their desire to care for vulnerable children.

The rule also implies that faith-based organizations’ belief in a biblical sexual ethic prevents them from being able to provide “safe and proper care” to foster children from any background. This is not only untrue but also prejudicial against faith-based foster care. Biblical beliefs on sexuality do not conflict with providing safe care, nor do they impede the ability of foster families to provide “safe and proper care” to any child, regardless of their background or beliefs.

What is the ERLC’s recommendation to HHS regarding the proposed rule?

Southern Baptists strongly support foster care, with many members establishing foster care organizations and ministries. This rule distorts the term “safe and proper” foster care in a way that enforces discrimination against such faith-based providers.

The ERLC strongly believes that HHS should rescind its proposed rule entirely because it will lead to religious discrimination against qualified foster families and result in a lack of foster care placements for vulnerable children.

By / Nov 29

Our world is marked by war, disease, disasters, and political shortcomings. Jesus guaranteed that every one of us would have tribulations like these in this life. However, thanks be to God, he also assured us that he has overcome the world and the weight of sin which has marred all of creation. As we observe National Adoption Month in November, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on one of the ways we help push back this darkness: by obeying the important biblical command given to Christ followers from James 1:27—to care for orphans and widows in their distress.

Christians are uniquely given this command to fulfill because we have found our permanent home through the adoptive grace of Jesus and love of the Father. We care for orphans because we once were orphans. Our mandate to care for orphaned children comes from the example of our Savior, is a rich picture of the gospel, and transcends denomination, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and nationality.

If we call ourselves Christ followers, we must embody the compassion and love of our Savior, because he is also our Lord. He spent time with the marginalized, outcast, and distraught women and children in order to bring them everlasting hope. We join our King in this reconciling work as he dispatches us at home and to the nations. Beloved, you and I have a personal responsibility to the widow and the orphan.

Practical ways for Christians to serve

Orphans and widows are are waiting for people like you and me to advocate for them. Christians have a personal responsibility to steward our time, talent, and treasure to bring the help and the hope of the gospel to the most vulnerable. Here are a few ways you can practically serve. 

Use your voice to advocate. Even if you are unable to go and see the faces of vulnerable children, you can do something to help. I could tell you dozens of stories of sibling groups who found forever families because God used someone to share a social media post about their need and the opportunity to adopt them.

Another way to use our voice is by praying regularly for orphaned children. Just recently I was told of a pastor whose family felt called to adopt a particular child they met on a mission trip, yet they had no idea how to find the child. They only shared this with a few people, but one of those ladies had made it a practice to pray over the lists of waiting children on adoption ministry websites. One day as she was praying, she saw this young boy whom the pastor’s family felt led to adopt, and today he is their son.

Sponsor a child or start a ministry. You can sponsor a vulnerable child through Lifeline’s (un)adopted program. This program meets some of the most basic and practical physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of these precious children. You can also get your church engaged with the work of caring for the vulnerable by starting an adoption and foster care ministry.

Care for families in crisis. This is one of the best ways we can care for vulnerable families. Families all over the world are failing at an alarming rate. In order to help these families, we need to help them break the cycle of despair. Unfortunately, most orphans come from families where trauma and brokenness have become a part of their family’s generational story. The majority of children in foster care were parented by parents who also grew up in the foster care system

It’s time for godly men in the church to take on the responsibility of teaching men without fathers how to be men who follow Jesus. It’s time for families in the Church to build relationships with broken families to support them and to show them examples of biblical families. It’s time for single women and men to volunteer as mentors for at-risk youth, to serve as court appointed special advocates (CASA), or to volunteer with children aging out of the systems with ministries such as Lifeline’s Harbor Families.

Champion adoptive and foster families. Helping families includes watching children, cleaning homes, cooking meals, wrestling in prayer for the families, meeting tangible physical needs of the children, inviting the children to activities, and even reaching out to intentionally check on these moms and dads walking through the journey of foster care and adoption.

Use your vote. Let us also not neglect our civic responsibility to vote for leaders who can positively impact policy for children and families. There will always be glaring inadequacies in our local, national and international policies, but even still, we have a responsibility to vote for leaders who hold close to our conviction to protect the family at large. We must steward our vote and prayerfully consider the profound impact policies and legislation have on the lives of vulnerable children. Together, let us support candidates who pledge to use their office and platform to defend, protect, and serve vulnerable children while allowing the light of Christ to shine.

This National Adoption Month, my hope and prayer is that we see a better future for vulnerable children, women, and families. May we live in a way that shows we believe all people are made in the image of a holy, perfect, and merciful Heavenly Father who loves us and works out his purposes through us today and always.

Editor’s Note: When you give, the ERLC can do more in 2024 to continue to advance the pro-life movement in ways like shaping policies that provide care and support for vulnerable mothers and families in a post-Roe America. Consider giving a year-end gift here to bring hope to the public square.

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 / 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 / Oct 6

By the end of September 2020, there were over 407,000 children in foster care. And it’s possible that with the overturning of Roe, even more children might need care in the future. Vulnerable women, children, and families in the United States will need help in a variety of ways, and Christians should continue to lead the way in making that possible. One of the organizations that’s doing incredible work in this area is Hands of Hope, an adoption and foster care ministry serving Indiana. Amy Jo Fox, the Communications and Care Community Director, answers questions below that shed light on practical ways we can join in their type of work wherever we are. 

Eli Pattat: What is Hands of Hope, and how did it begin?

Amy Jo Fox: In 2003, our Executive Director and her husband adopted their son internationally. God first planted the dream for Hands of Hope in Suzy’s heart just as they were pulling away to bring their son home. She turned to see the rest of the children that were staying there—with no toys, no playground, nothing to do, and she knew at that moment that she was being called to do more. In 2010, Hands of Hope became a 501(c)3.

Simply put, we believe the very best place for any child is in a family. Oftentimes, fear and finances are the two things that keep families from moving forward. So, the first thing we did as an organization was adoption and foster care informational meetings. Then, we began providing adoption matching grants and interest-free loans to help financially. The mission has always been the same: to uniquely and deeply love orphans at home and around the world. We educate on God’s heart for orphans and vulnerable children, motivate individuals to get involved, and support those who do.

We place a high value on going deep to change the trajectory of a child’s life. We do this by how we relationally engage with the families, churches, and partners we serve. We try to listen well and understand where they’ve been and where they currently are. We build relational equity and lean into opportunities to develop trust, moving at the pace of relationship instead of outcome.

EP: Your three areas of focus are adoption, foster care, and children’s homes. What does it look like practically for your organization to serve in these three areas? 

AJF: We partner with and support five Children’s Homes in El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ukraine, India and Brown County, Indiana. Each partner is carefully vetted. Through our Children’s Homes sponsorships, over 150 children are provided with safe and loving environments in which they receive necessities like food, education, and medical care. The children we support are victims of poverty, abuse, and/or disease.

As mentioned above, we hold monthly adoption informational meetings for those wanting to know more about or considering adoption. We also provide financial support to hopeful adoptive parents through our matching grant program.

Lastly, our largest area of focus is foster care. We act as a bridge organization, linking the various needs of Indiana foster care with those that want to help. This includes support and providing county Department of Children’s Services offices with basic necessities like diapers or belonging bags for children when they first enter care, real-time needs for at-risk biological families, and community wraparound for foster and adoptive families among other things.

EP: In what specific ways does Hands of Hope educate the church on God’s heart for orphans and vulnerable children?

AJF: Multiple times a year, we offer a virtual clinic to train and equip church leaders and advocates on how to implement Family Advocacy Ministries (FAM). Churches are often full of people that want to impact the lives of vulnerable children, but don’t know where to begin. FAMs provide practical and concise onboarding in order to recruit and equip families to care for children in their homes, serve families in crisis, and advocate for and minister to these families by meeting physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

We work to mobilize and resource the Church to teach on what Scripture says about caring for orphans and vulnerable children as well as organize and/or host other awareness events to empower people to understand the need. Nationally, 50% of foster families quit fostering after the first year because they do not feel they have the support they need. However, when these families are surrounded by a FAM’s wraparound support model called Care Communities, we see that statistic drastically improve. With Care Communities, we’re able to retain 90% of foster families, helping them foster longer and stronger. 

EP: What are some of the greatest needs you see in families that you serve through Hands of Hope? 

AJF: The greatest needs for the families we serve is summed up in one word: support. They need the support of the Church and their community. Whether it’s a hurting biological family in need of tangible assistance in order to preserve their home or a weary foster family in need of a mentor for their child who is struggling, families in crisis need to know they’re not alone. It’s sometimes easy for us to get stuck in the “they signed up for it” mentality and assume we’re not responsible if we aren’t able to actually bring children into our home through foster care or adoption. These kids are OUR kids, this is OUR problem, these families are OUR responsibility. 

EP: Are there misconceptions about adoption, foster care, and children’s homes that hinder Christians from serving well in these areas? 

AJF: One misconception we often see is around foster care. Many times, people care about child welfare but since they aren’t able to physically take children into their home, they assume there’s nothing they can really do to help. That’s simply not true! Every single one of us can do something.

EP: What are some practical ways that the church can get more involved with organizations like Hands of Hope in serving vulnerable children? And if there aren’t organizations like yours in our states, how can Christians meet the needs of those in foster care? 

AJF: CarePortal or Care Communities are two nationwide programs that give churches practical ways to serve vulnerable children and families. There are also many other next steps like hosting a support group, organizing a foster supply closet, blessing foster children at Christmas, etc.

EP: How can Christians around our country be praying for those involved in or thinking about being involved in caring for this vulnerable population?  

AJF: Pray for everyone to find their specific purpose in how they can help vulnerable children and at-risk families so that every child has a family and those families have support.

By / Oct 3

Southern Baptists have a long history of following in the footsteps of the faith and serving those in need. When Jesus was on Earth, he did not bypass physical needs but met them and used them as a way to share how he was meeting the greatest need of all—the salvation of our souls. Likewise, Send Relief, a collaboration between NAMB and the IMB, seeks to address needs that arise from various circumstances while also sharing the hope of Jesus. One focus of the work at Send Relief is foster care and adoption, which is all the more important in a country without Roe. Josh Benton, vice president of North American ministry at Send Relief, answered a few of our questions about this aspect of their ministry and how churches can be involved. 

Lindsay Nicolet: How does foster care and adoption ministry fit within the mission of Send Relief? 

Josh Benton: Send Relief is the Southern Baptist compassion ministry which seeks to meet physical and spiritual needs in Jesus’ name. Working alongside churches, we care for the vulnerable and strengthen communities around the world. Caring for families and children is one of our five ministry focus areas. Our work in this area includes developing and supporting ministries focused on crisis pregnancy, serving at-risk families, and helping churches develop or support ministries to vulnerable families within their communities. 

LN: What projects is Send Relief involved in as you seek to engage in the foster care and adoption space? 

JB: Send Relief engages foster care and adoption in two specific ways. First, is through our ministry centers. We have 20 Send Relief ministry centers across North America. Two of them, Valdosta, Georgia, and Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, are child placement agencies for foster care and adoption. In addition to child placement, these locations provide training for foster and adoptive families. We also work with churches to help support vulnerable families in their communities with resources, counseling, and respite care, along with providing an opportunity for churches to go on mission trips to learn more about and get hands-on experience with foster care and adoption ministry.  

Second, Send Relief helps churches start a Family Advocacy Ministry, which we call a FAM. FAM is a step-by-step ministry strategy that helps churches serve and advocate for vulnerable children and families as well as those called to foster and adopt. Send Relief helps churches implement FAMs so they can have a gospel-centered impact on the lives of vulnerable children and families.

LN: How does God’s Word drive your work in this key area? 

JB: Scripture is clear about the call to care for vulnerable families. Genesis 1:26-27 establishes that all people are created and designed by God, in the image of God, and are therefore valued by God. Genesis 2 describes God’s intentional design for the family. Then, Genesis 3-4 shows the damaging impact of sin on all creation but, specifically, how sin creates brokenness in families. 

From Deuteronomy 10 to James 1 and several references in between, God not only calls his people to remain committed to his design for the family but to also care for the those without stable, intact families. Romans 8 also beautifully portrays adoption as a picture of our redemption through Christ.

With this in mind, we can sum up how Scripture provides the truths that cultivate Send Relief’s perspective on serving in foster care and adoption ministry with a few statements:

  • Every person is created in the image of God, therefore, all people have value.
  • God designed the family and desires all to be in a family.
  • Christ calls us to reflect his compassion and care for the vulnerable.
  • Foster care and adoption portray how God redeems through a personal faith in Christ. 

LN: What challenges arise with serving children in need and families in today’s culture? And how have/will these change in a post-Roe era?

JB: The challenges for serving vulnerable children and families are significant. Here are a few key statistics from Adoptuskids.org and the Administration for Children and Families

  • Each year more than 250,000 children enter the foster care system in the United States.
  • At any given time, there are on average over 400,000 children in the foster care system.
  • Each year more than 23,000 children age out of the foster care system when they turn 18 or 21, depending on a state’s laws.
  • Currently, more than 115,000 children in foster care are waiting to be adopted.
  • The average age of a child in foster care is 8 years old.
  • Troubling statistics for children who age out of the system:
    • Likely to experience job loss and homelessness
    • 70% of human trafficking victims spent time in foster care
    • 71% of women who age out experience pregnancy within one year 
    • 65% of individuals who are incarcerated aged out of the foster care system

These challenges will likely intensify in our post-Roe world. These are all harrowing statistics, but one of the most significant issues is that there are more children in need provides an opportunity for churches to fill the gap. With more than 115,000 children in the foster care system who are waiting to be adopted each year, churches can play a role by recruiting families to foster and adopt, mentoring vulnerable families, and providing communities of care for those who are fostering and/or adopting.

LN: How can pastors and ministry leaders create a culture of equipping families to care for children?

JB: No matter what community, city, or state you are in, vulnerable families are present. This isn’t a ministry opportunity that is somewhere else; it’s everywhere. Pastors and church leaders have an important role of recognizing the need that exists, articulating the biblical call to meet the need, and blessing those in their congregation who are led to pursue the ministry opportunity. Send Relief has resources on our FAM page to help pastors and churches pursue ministry to vulnerable families and children.

LN: What are some practical things that local churches can do to come alongside this mission to serve families and those involved in foster care and adoption?

JB: There are several ways churches join Send Relief to serve vulnerable families. One of the most important things is to recognize that there are many ways to serve. There is a great need for families to foster and adopt. Encourage those who are called but also understand not everyone feels that call, and there are multiple ways to serve outside of adopting and fostering. Here are specific ways churches can serve:

  • Praying diligently and consistently for vulnerable children and families
  • Developing a relationship with a local child welfare office
  • Raising awareness about the needs of vulnerable children and families
  • Recruiting families to consider adopting or fostering
  • Providing resources, as well as emotional and spiritual support, to biological families experiencing crisis
  • Helping to meet physical and financial needs of foster and adoptive families
  • Mentoring single mothers
  • Supporting and encouraging local child welfare workers
  • Providing meals or respite care to foster and adoptive families
  • Going on a mission trip at a Send Relief ministry center that serves vulnerable families

For more information on the Dobbs decision and its effects, visit erlc.com/dobbs