Adoption & Foster Care: Evangelicals Walk The Talk? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation

Walking The Talk

I've been a vocal critic of the religious right and more specifically the evangelical movement. I've often criticized their stance on abortion, gay marriage and adoption, and a number of other issues. My focus has frequently been upon the hypocrisy that these groups are prone to exhibit because they are so steeped in dogma and doctrine and that can lead them to fail to see their own obvious contradictions.

Regardless, I try to keep an open mind and a recent article demonstrates that some within these groups do take the time to review their positions and look at ways to make adjustments that will put the walk in their talk...and that warrants giving credit where credit is due. Specifically, a number of well known evangelicals are urging their followers to step forward and move beyond addressing the plight of the unborn...and make an effort to adopt or offer foster care to the many children in need.

(Denver, Colorado) Prominent evangelical Christians are urging churchgoers to strongly consider adoption or foster care, not just out of kindness or biblical calling but also to answer criticism that their movement, while condemning abortion and same-sex adoption, doesn't do enough for children without parents.

With backing from Focus on the Family and best-selling author Rick Warren, the effort to promote "orphan care" among the nation's estimated 65 million evangelicals could drastically reduce foster care rolls if successful.

Yet sensitive issues lie ahead: about evangelizing, religious attitudes on corporal punishment, gay and lesbian foster children, racially mixed families, and resolving long-standing tensions between religious groups and the government.

Warren and others are scheduled to speak at a summit May 9-11 at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs that aims to elevate the initiative, which quietly began last fall, onto the national stage.

"In some people's minds, the church has been very pro-life up until the point of birth," said Michael Monroe, who co-founded an adoption and foster care ministry at Irving Bible Church outside Dallas. "I don't know if that's a completely fair observation. But a lot of people are saying it's not enough to be pro-life, we need to be pro-children, as well."

I couldn't agree more with Michael Monroe's statement as this has been one of my leading criticisms of religious groups and those vehemently opposed to abortion. I certainly understand and accept the legitimacy of the beliefs behind the opposition to abortion but I've often felt that the argument is more about abstraction that action. With this new focus on children in need, I see the first meaningful signs that the movement has come to some of the same realizations. I applaud the awareness.

At the same time, I see a number of obstacles that could complicate the implementation of this effort. Those long associated with the needs of adoptive children and with the foster care system have already begun to express their concerns.

The new campaign urges churches to follow the example of groups such as Denver-based Project 1.27, which takes its name from a James 1:27 passage to "look after orphans and widows in their distress."

Although Padbury said politics is not at the forefront of the effort, it is a factor: "If we are spending all our time complaining about homosexuals adopting, then why are we not coming forward to adopt these kids?"

Sharen Ford, a Colorado Division of Child Welfare Services manager, said some county workers initially presumed "church people beat their kids" or protested the initiative was exclusively Christian. Families, meanwhile, worried they couldn't take children to church or discipline them at all.

In Colorado and other states, the rules are firm on disciplining foster children, some of whom have been badly mistreated: no physical contact is allowed. Because corporal punishment is common among many evangelical parents, alternatives such as loss of privileges and "time outs" are urged, Ford said.

Still other questions have arisen over gay and lesbian foster-care children. The Child Welfare League of America - which opposes efforts to change a child's sexual orientation - encourages case workers to talk with prospective parents and children about sexual orientation, said Rob Woronoff, who works on this issue for the group.

"Better to discuss that than have someone answer, 'I'll take any child,' and make the child's life miserable," Woronoff said.

Organizers also are up front about another complication: The churches targeted by the campaign are predominantly white, while the majority of foster-care children are minorities. Paul Pennington, who heads an orphan initiative through FamilyLife, a Little Rock, Ark.-based evangelical group, said parents need to brace for stares and other less-than-accepting behavior from families around them.

Evangelizing is another potential problem.

Focus on the Family president Jim Daly wrote supporters that he hopes the orphan-care effort "will not only equip God's people to help meet the physical needs of orphans worldwide, but will ultimately introduce them to the eternal hope that is found in Jesus Christ."

Generally, foster children can be taken to places of worship unless parents who maintain legal rights say otherwise, but forcing religion on foster children is not allowed.

"The best practice is to give kids a good, loving home," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York. "Some people interpret that to mean a good home as having a strong faith in it. As a parent, I get that. What I'm suggesting is kids not become a tool" for evangelism.

No doubt there will be problems and some children will find themselves in conflicting environments and be at risk for further emotional scarring...but that alone isn't a reason to discount the effort. Frankly, it may provide an opportunity for both sides to learn about the other and perhaps kindle the makings of an expanding rapport as opposed to the currently widening cultural divide.

What better way for evangelicals to understand the problems encountered by teenage gays and the impacts of racism in a world that isn't as black and white as they may have been taught to believe? At the same time, it is an opportunity for those critical of the constant litany of evangelical doctrine (myself included) to see that these groups can also be motivated by kindness and conciliation.

I'm sure it won't be easy for either side to adjust their perceptions...but doing so in a manner that moves beyond the safety of rhetoric and into the realm of real life situations sounds like an excellent place to begin. Perhaps this can be the makings of a shift whereby the oft heard idiom of perception becomes reality is stood on its head...wouldn't that be a refreshing development?

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Daniel DiRito | May 3, 2007 | 10:26 AM
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1 On May 5, 2007 at 8:30 PM, Glenn Shrom wrote —

There is a huge difference between child abuse and slapping the hand of a 2-year-old when he repeatedly reaches out to stick a paper clip in an electrical socket. I slapped my two-year-old's hand one time after he just wouldn't seem to let that light socket alone, and he learned right away to leave it alone. Time-outs are good, but to get our toddlers to stay on time out, we had to teach them that if they get off time out before it's officially over, they would get a spanking and have to go back on time out. Spankings were done gently and lovingly, calmly and methodically, with a book - not the hand. By the time they were five or six, the spankings were virtually non-existent. No mature Christian would ever practice child abuse, and it's the cultural nominal Christians who distort the Bible to try and justify abusive situations, not those who have been born again from on high.

Evangelicals are the first to love the sinner, including the first to love those who practice homosexuality. We are also the first to push that race is not an issue in the body of Christ, and to be willing to suffer the persecution from the world to stand up for our fellow human being. I really don't have any idea where someone gets the idea that Christians would ever be rascist, hateful, or discriminatory. Yes, we don't allow people to try and be pastors while preaching that we should go on sinning, but that is no more discriminatory than not allowing Toyota sales people to walk onto Ford dealership lots and tell people not to buy Toyotas.

2 On May 5, 2007 at 8:33 PM, Glenn Shrom wrote —

Oops, ... I meant "not to buy Fords".

3 On May 8, 2007 at 1:44 PM, Daniel wrote —


Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

No doubt there are many ways to raise a child and the primary ingredient is likely a loving and nurturing environment. I don't disagree with the premise of your first paragraph...but I do know that the distinctions you make between the mature Christians, the cultural nominal Christians, and those who have been born again from on high are quite subjective and I would suggest that how one categorizes ones self may not actually be the result of reasoned analysis. Such is the problem with many who contend to be Christians and therefore believe they know the "truth".

How many parents do you know that can objectively evaluate their behavior and its proximity to "rightness" outside of the constraints of their own beliefs? That's the problem with dogma and is all too often absolute regardless of any other relevant evidence.

With regards to your second paragraph, your remarks suggest that Christians can ascertain everything that constitutes sin...a concept I'm not certain any God would condone. If by design, he or she is an all knowing God, and we are not, then how can we believe we know what God thinks and how he would act?

Unfortunately, I feel there are far too many people who believe they can judge what God finds to be sinful...and if consulting the Bible is to be one's rebuttal, then one needs to kindly explain the numerous contradictions as well as the many cultural norms established in the Bible that we have chosen to conveniently ignore.

Lastly, you offer that you "don't have any idea where someone gets the idea that Christians would ever be racist, hateful, or discriminatory". Not to be abrupt, but is it possible that you could be so naive? History is littered with examples. Unfortunately, at the time of these transgressions, those same groups felt they were authentic Christians doing the work of their God. Hindsight has all too often proven them wrong...which suggests that the same has and will happen again. That is the problem with the absolute ideology that frequently accompanies the practice of religious doctrine.

Your automobile example is exactly what I worry about...determining who is an acceptable human being should not be the moral equivalent of making a decision to purchase a Ford or a Toyota...and presuming that one is able and intended to do so is, in my opinion, the fundamental flaw frequently found in the practice of Christian beliefs.

Thanks again for commenting and I welcome you to share any further thoughts.



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