The Evangelical Adoption Whisperer

Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Updated and Expanded Edition)

  • Russell D. Moore
  • Crossway Books, 2015; 256 pages, $17.99

Dr. Moore shares that he originally wrote Adopted for Life as a resource to lessen the influx of office visits from families with questions on orphan care and adoption. Ultimately, he provided a much greater service with a far broader reach in this in-depth, articulate, and thoughtful review of the many sides of adoption. Touching upon the Christian theological implications, his personal story of becoming an adoptive parent, and his passion for the local church’s responsibility to engage in adoption, Moore’s book is an approachable and helpful guide for prospective or current adoptive parents, theologians, and church members alike—particularly in this second, updated and expanded, edition.

“Are they brothers?” “Have you met their real mother?” The Moore family, like most adoptive families, faced such questions from inquisitive strangers, questions that although not necessarily ill-intentioned were at their best ill-informed, and at their worst could cause children to question their sense of belonging in an adoptive family. Although frustrated by these questions, Moore’s responses did the good work of giving his kids a sense of belonging while giving strangers a gentle lesson in adoption sensitivity: he would share that they are brothers now or that they, too, had met their mother, his wife, Maria. Perhaps more interesting, though, are the insights these comments inspired in his theological understanding of adoption. The questions always bothered him, he shared, not only because they dealt with the identity of his family, but because they pointed him to his own struggle and that of all Christians to live out their belief in the authenticity of a gospel that leaves similar questions: “Are you really a son of the living God? Does your God really know you? Are these really your brothers and sisters? Do you really belong here?”

Questions like these lead to deeper questions of how a Christian theology of adoption should inspire Christians to live. Anyone at all familiar with Dr. Moore knows his pro-life position; however, his emphasis to see this position through the full of life in his support for adoption is especially meaningful. U.S. Congressman Barney Frank once memorably said that pro-lifers believe that “life begins at conception and ends at birth.” Those in agreement with Congressman Frank presume that the pro-life movement acts punitively and without compassion toward those facing the hard decisions that come with pregnancy. However, over and over, Moore calls Christians and the pro-life movement to a compassionate response that goes far beyond birth. Adopted for Life touches not only on the need to bring children into families, but to offer grace and assistance to women facing unplanned pregnancies, services and support to help struggling biological families to succeed, and love and compassion to families all over the world facing poverty and hardship.

As an adoptive parent himself, Moore is, as expected, a zealous advocate for adoption. However, his advocacy is well-tempered by reason and reality. Validating best practices, Dr. Moore argues that adoption should be, first and foremost, about the needs of children and that prospective adoptive parents must approach the task of adoption with a willingness to provide love and nurturing support—and not with the idea that children will fill some gap in their own lives (while recognizing, of course, that the desire to parent is certainly not a wrong one). Adoption comes, by its very nature, from hardship. Children become available for adoption as the devastating result of poverty, unplanned pregnancy, abuse, neglect, war, or disease. Moore acknowledges that it is a decision to take seriously and consider carefully, and he provides useful guidance for the differing considerations that will impact prospective parents facing infertility and those already parenting as they decide whether or not adoption is the right path for them. An overview is also provided on the important considerations of whether infant, international, or foster-care adoption is the right fit for a family. These considerations include what age and needs a family can appropriately care for, and a basic understanding of what the technicalities of adoption will entail, from the extensive paperwork to the important but seemingly intrusive homestudy. 

Perhaps most impactful is when Dr. Moore tackles the sometimes controversial conversations surrounding race and culture in adoption. Moore clearly and unequivocally addresses racism as wrong, lending tips on how families might respond when they face opposition from their extended family, communities, or churches because they have adopted a child of another race. Importantly, though, he also recognizes that race should not be ignored, but should remain a factor considered in adoption placements. Moore makes it clear, however, that a view that would leave a child outside of family instead of in one of different race or culture “loves the abstract notion of ‘humanity’ more than it loves real, live human beings.” Dr. Moore shares, through his own family anecdotes, the notion that a colorblind approach is not the answer in transracial or transcultural adoption. The race and culture of the parents and the child must be recognized, validated, and a family must all become, to some extent, all of the races and cultures each is made up of. A child should be welcomed into the traditions and practices of the parents. Likewise, not only does a child become a part of the parents’ culture, but an American family adopting from Russia must now, too, be in part a Russian family, in order to recognize that a child is welcomed into their new home as he or she is. This more nuanced approach does not deny differences, which might imply shame, but includes and honors them, warmly welcoming all as part of who the family is collectively. 

A point of contention not infrequently heard in the broader adoption community is that Christians who adopt may do so with the primary focus of evangelizing children and not of parenting. Moore addresses these types of concerns in a few places with grace and clarity. First, he acknowledges that Christians set out to evangelize through adoption no more than through parenting biological children. He adds, with good humor, that there is certainly something different going on: It is quite difficult to get people to show up for weekly evangelism; it would be even harder to get an eighteen-year, around-the-clock commitment with a lifetime promise of connectedness. He also acknowledges that where opinions differ on motives or approach, Christians should learn and grow from criticism and work side-by-side with non-Christians in an understanding that there is not only room, but need, for others in orphan care and adoption.

The book also contains encouragement for church-goers and church leaders that it takes far more than adoptive parents to create a culture and community of adoption. While separately Moore addresses the theological analogy of adoption and the gospel, he also provides some very clear and tangible ways that local churches can support and encourage adoption. Clergy might celebrate Orphan Sunday by teaching on adoption or might honor adoptive families, birth parents, or those facing infertility through special prayers. Ministries can be created especially to support adoption; these might provide support groups to adoptive families, birth parents, or adopted individuals; special trainings; adoption information sessions; fundraisers to help with the financial cost of adoption; showers for new adoptive parents; or other adoption-specific support. However, typical church ministries might also need to be adoption-informed in order to handle sensitively concerns that arise more frequently in communities impacted by adoption, such as multi-racial or multi-cultural families, sharing birth stories or baby pictures, or tending to special needs that may come as the result of traumatic pasts. Finally, every church-goer can serve as extended family and help in ways as unique as his or her own skills and abilities, such as baby-sitting, tutoring, mentoring, providing meals, or helping with the financial costs of an adoption. These communities of support are the very things that adoption professionals already know give families the extra support they need to give a child the love and nurturing care he or she deserves to thrive fully in family life. 

If someone is to be “The Evangelical Adoption Whisperer,” as Moore says a friend calls him, Dr. Moore wears the title well in this text. His humility, humor, education, compassion, and collaborative spirit make Adopted for Life an accurate but optimistic portrayal of the adoption process in all its difficulty and beauty. Moore’s work reminds Christians that this very process imitates and can direct them towards the same difficulty and beauty found in Christian gospel theology, which welcomes strangers into permanency in the family of God.

Megan Lestino, J.D., is Director of Public Policy and Education at the National Council for Adoption.