Recently, The Straits Times published an article entitled ‘From Abortion to Adoption’ (March 17, 2013) to raise awareness of adoption options among women considering abortion.
According to this report, three Members of Parliament had raised this issue the week before. MP Christopher de Souza pointed out that ‘[t]he culture of adopting children could be advertised more fully’ to raise public awareness. ‘This would also allow mothers considering abortion to know more about the option of adoption’, he added.
The other two MPs – Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar and Ms Foo Mee Har – concurred. Ms Foo is reported to have said, echoing Mr de Souza that ‘These women are often distressed about their personal situations, and need help to understand how adoption can be a viable option for them’.
Christians should support this initiative because abortion should be regarded as a morally objectionable practice, except in some cases. Christians hold that the foetus in its mother’s womb is a human being made in God’s image whose life is sacred and therefore must be valued and protected.
But Christians should also support this initiative because the care and protection of abandoned children or orphans has always been part of the Church’s ministry in society. Early Christian writers like Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) and Tertullian (AD 160-225) condemned the common practice by pagans in Greco-Roman society of abandoning their unwanted children. The early Christians did not only rescue and care for these children; they also secured the freedom of children who were either kidnapped or sold to slave-traders and barbarians.
Advocates have often appealed to stories of adoption in the Bible for support of this practice. Many see Moses as the precedent of adoption in the OT. Pharaoh’s daughter took him in when he was a baby, although it was his natural mother that subsequently nursed him, in an interesting twist of events (Exodus 2).
Adoption proponents have also alluded to Esther, who was adopted by Mordecai her uncle (or cousin) after the death of her parents. They even argue that Jesus himself was adopted since Joseph was his legal but not biological father.
Most significantly, adoption advocates stress that believers are adopted children of God, pointing to the great Pauline texts on this theme (Romans 8:15; 8:23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5).
The theological and ethical justification for the practice of adoption, however, cannot be grounded solely or even primarily on these biblical examples and analogies of adoption. Broader biblical and theological themes must be commandeered to serve as the basis for the Church’s ministry to orphans and its endorsement of the practice of adoption among its members. The Christian approach must see the adoption of abandoned or ‘unwanted’ children as nothing less than a vivid expression of the value of the Gospel.
This is clearly articulated in the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, which Christians from all traditions must applaud and endorse. In a world in which so many children are deprived of families, Pope John Paul II advocates adoption as a ‘concrete way of love’. The celebrated Catechism of the Catholic Church exhorts childless couples to ‘give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children’.
The Christian understanding of the family is based not only on biology, but also (some would say more fundamentally) on the concept of covenant. Parents make a covenant with God and with each other to care for their children and to raise them in godly ways.
When a married couple adopts a child, they enter into the same covenant and pledge the same commitment to their adoptive child. The Christian notion of the family therefore affords the space for ‘non-kin’ members to be assimilated into the family structure.
The covenantal nature of this bond between a married couple and their adoptive child is clearly and beautifully articulated in the words of the blessing ritual entitled, ‘For an Adoption’ in the Book of Common Prayer. The priest says to the adoptive parents: ‘As God has made us his children by adoption and grace, may you receive (Name) as your own son (daughter)’. And they pray in response: ‘May God, the Father of all, bless our child (Name), and us who have given to him our family name, that we may live together in love and affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen’.
Pope John Paul II even describes this covenantal commitment as a form of ‘procreation’. He writes that there is ‘a form of “procreation” which occurs through acceptance, concern and devotion. The resulting relationship is so intimate and enduring that it is no way inferior to one based on a biological connection’.
Children are best served by care from a married couple. As evangelical writers Colin Hart and Humphrey Dobson put it, ‘the best environment for raising children is marriage because the spouses have committed themselves to each other, and thus their children, for life. No other kind of relationship provides this environment of stability and permanence for children’.
From a slightly more philosophical and theological angle, Timothy Jackson argues that ‘stable marriage is the ideal setting for raising children … not simply because two parents can be more efficient than one but also because two can more fully model, in their interpersonal relations, the give and take of love’.
Writing from the Roman Catholic perspective, theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill maintains that adoption serves children, the adoptive couple as well as society. It serves children because it provides them with a safe and nurturing environment. It serves the couple because it enables them to fulfil their desire to have a child, to extend their love to another. And, writes Cahill, it serves communities ‘by relieving social and economic stress in some, and by challenging others to expand their membership and belonging’.
Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. This article was first published in The Bible Speaks Today (August 2013).