In Part 1, I pointed out a few important differences about the kind of legal adoption Paul had in mind when he used adoption as a metaphor for salvation. Part 2 is about what happens when we confuse Paul’s metaphor with adoption as we know it today.
More things to know about me as you read: I’m a mixed Chinese/German American transracial adoptee. I was adopted at birth to distant relatives of my (white) first mother. I love all my parents.
The painful things I share here are not an indictment of them, but a commitment to the truth of my adoptee experience.
My situation is unique, and I generally think of it positively. I am also a mother of 2 bio kids + 1 through legal guardianship. I am sensitive to the parent experience also. This is the perspective from which I write.
If you’re not familiar with the American Christian (often white and evangelical) depiction of adoption being “the gospel on display”, let me give you the Tiff Notes.
Essentially, the idea is that some human things (like marriage or parenting) are imperfect reflections of the “true and better” thing, which is Christ and the gospel. If you’ve ever read a Christian marriage book that draws lessons for the husband and wife relationship from the image of Christ and the church as ‘his bride’, this is the formula.
In this formula, the gospel (our salvation) becomes the “true and better” adoption. While human adoption is flawed, this perspective claims it’s value is in how it reflects the gospel of Christ. Therefore, choosing to adopt becomes a very Christ-like thing to do. This perspective also makes people very resistant to criticisms of adoption.
Oh and one more thing; Christians often state that “we are all spiritual adoptees.” Usually this is an attempt to relate to an adoptee, to validate or normalize their experience, but often the result is adoptee perspectives are universalized into being a non-issue, and our voices are silenced.
Originally, Paul used the adoption metaphor to tell us something about God. Turning it around, as if the metaphor tells us about ourselves or mandates modern adoption, doesn’t make sense.
Christians do not feel called to vacate charges against the condemned because of Paul’s use of justification as a metaphor, right? So let’s look at how our concept of adoption today leads us to misunderstand Paul’s metaphor.
Most people believe they have a child’s needs in mind when they set out to adopt. But remember, the spiritual adoption metaphor centers the desires and actions of God as our adoptive Father. Attempting to make that metaphor apply to adoption today will tempt us to move from a child-centered approach to a parent-centered one.
And in fact, prioritizing the desires and actions of adoptive parents is exactly what the adoption industry has done. This has caused a huge amount of corruption in modern adoption for over a century.
Centered around the desires of adoptive parents, adoption becomes the response to infertility or someone’s felt calling to help children in foreign countries or “unwanted” babies. This creates a demand that outweighs supply and children are procured in horrific ways. Opportunists will kidnap and sometimes sell children for adoption. We know predatory agencies coerce and trick vulnerable mothers into electing to adopt.
Focusing on adoptive parent’s desires blinds us to how the adoption industry works in opposition to family preservation.
While this was not part of my story, it is for many adoptees. We cannot ignore or dismiss their stories as isolated or non-representative cases. Adoptees often ask “How could God have desired for my family to be ripped apart by lies and deceit so that I could be adopted?” or “Why did God allow this to happen in order to answer your prayer for a child?”. The knowledge that it did not, in fact, have to be this way is a cruel burden that cannot be dismissed by the assertion that it was God’s will.
When we center adoption around the actions of adoptive parents, we tend to celebrate their savior-ism. We often want to comment adoptive parents on their great faith and obedience in adopting. To the listening child, this makes adoptive parents appear to be their saviors who deserve unending gratitude and obedience just as Christ’s actions should stir our hearts toward similar feelings toward God.
Claiming adoptive parent’s actions are Christ-like may not be wrong, but many adoptees and even non-adoptees hear this and assume the child is obligated to be grateful for their adoptive family no matter what.
I realized my adoption was centered around my adoptive family’s good deeds when I started speaking up about racism. I had relatives (not my immediate family) tell me that I was being ungrateful to them for challenging their racist ideas.
They attempted to shame me into silence by claiming they had “loved me like family”. It’s clear they saw my adoption as being about them, a validation of their righteousness. The implication was that I did not deserve their love, which I’ll talk more about in a second.
Expecting an adoptee to respond to their adoption like Christians respond to salvation is cruel. It makes it hard for adoptees to acknowledge or talk about any loss or grief they might feel. Reverend Keith C. Griffith said, “Adoption Loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.”
Imposing spiritual adoption, where God knew us and chose us though we did not deserve it, onto modern adoption leads us to a wrong view of vulnerable children. We now know trauma is inherent in adoption, even for a newborn. Adoptees frequently struggle with rejection or abandonment and adoption trauma can manifest at any point in our lives.
Talking about adoption in a way that implies adoptees are like the undeserving and wicked sinner is spiritually abusive.
While it is true we do not deserve salvation, we should never state that a child “did nothing to deserve adoption”. Yet I have heard and read this multiple times, even from adult adoptees themselves who have internalized this message.
The truth is, no child deserves to lose their family.
The truth is, all children deserve a loving family.
I could not see the trauma of my adoption until I was pregnant with my first child. Suddenly, I remembered a story my adoptive mom liked to tell about my infant days. I kept pushing her away, she recalls, so she prayed over me and rebuked a spirit and I finally relaxed and let her hold me. This story always made me feel ashamed but I was too young to articulate that. I responded as expected, showing gratitude for my mother’s overcoming love. When I finally understood my adoption trauma I realized my mother’s story is the spiritualized version of a stressed infant, struggling to adapt without my familiar mother and refusing to bond with a stranger.
I no longer feel ashamed by that story. However, it hurts to know that, as a child, I was allowed to get the impression that something was wrong with me. Really, I was normal. I was behaving like any healthy infant would. It was my situation, my separation, that was wrong.
Spiritualizing adoption attempts to make a triumph out of a trauma. Triumph demands praise, but tragedy and trauma require lament in order to heal. I did not begin lamenting my adoption until my 30’s.
Conflating spiritual adoption with modern adoption blurs the lines between God’s family and adoptive families. While we often stop short of equating being under the old authority of sin to the child’s first family, children are good at filling in the blanks. At least I was.
Without being told, I put my first father and the Chinese ethnicity I inherited form him into the place that sin and wickedness occupy in the spiritual adoption metaphor. My child brain took this comparison to places my parents did not intend. They would’ve corrected me if I’d asked, but I didn’t. Instead of questioning, I simply internalized.
I sensed that I should never look back to my first father or Chinese heritage. God had given me a new life through adoption, both spiritually and here on earth, so I should never turn back.
As a transracial adoptee already struggling with internalized racism, this mix up was spiritual proof that Chinese people and culture was inferior and suspect.
A current biblical counseling site still tells adoptive parents to minimize the importance of their child’s heritage. Without the adoptee perspective to shed light on why this is damaging, many Christian adoptive parents don’t think twice about that!
To me, my adoption does not look like the adoption Paul was using as a metaphor for salvation. Making my adoption about the gospel left me unable to see how adoption had truly impacted me. I had pain I did not acknowledge and therefore could not bring to God.
When I began to process this, I realized I had to deconstruct my faith. I had to cut out the lies and correct the half truths. At times I felt like I was losing my faith. I can see why so many adoptees raised in the church grow up and never come back. I don’t believe any Christian adoptive parent would knowingly risk this.
Family, we need to start sitting in the uncomfortable truths of adoptee stories.
This is definitely a topic I’ll cover more, but I want to leave you with a few thoughts right now.
When I think of spirit led actions to help children in need, I think of passages like James 1:27, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”
From my adoptee perspective, I see the emphasis on helping vulnerable families through the hardships that cause family separation instead of assuming family separation and jumping to adoption.
I see the doctrine of adoption as a beautiful picture of what God has done for us, but not as a mandate for how we must show God’s love to others. Surely opening our homes and families to children in need is a Christlike thing to do, but there are many ways to do that. Ethical modern adoption is merely one of many options. I would argue adoption should be the last resort, but I’ll save that for another post.
This isn’t the definitive word on adoption in the Bible. Just my thoughts. And I haven’t even mentioned adoption-like stories from the Old Testament (Moses, Esther, Ruth, etc)? I will write about those in the future so please follow my blog and join my reader list.
Since this blog is new, I planned to ease into the transracial adoption posts. Truth is I have no idea how to start. Instead, I’m jumping in with these words I originally typed up for a Facebook group. Topic of the day: Centering white parent perspectives on transracial adoption .
There is a celebrity Facebook talk show called Red Table Talk featuring Jada Pinkett Smith, Gammy (her mother) and sometimes her daughter, Willow. I’ve only watched two of their episodes and both times it was because of some questionable ways they were discussing race-related issues.
I was asked to watch their episode entitled, “Should White People Adopt Black Kids?” and share my thoughts on it in the Be The Bridge Facebook group from a TRAdoptee perspective. So I did. Then, a couple people asked to share my thoughts beyond that group. So I’m making it a post that can be shared more easily.
Watching this episode with white adoptive celebrity mother, Kristin Davis, was disheartening. It seems Jada and Gammy had concerns about white people adopting black children, so they found a white adoptive mom from their world to validate their concerns but also assuage their fears and put a bow on the topic. That’s it.
While there were some potentially good questions and a few basic but important points made by Davis, overall this episode is problematic. It lacks substance, perpetuates a few stereotypes (e.g. black families don’t adopt through the legal system) and generally is not a helpful watch for anyone. Unless your first and only question was to know what the adoption process was like for Davis. There are many people doing a much better job of having these discussions.
If they had titled this, “How White People Adopt Black Kids”…I might’ve given it 4 stars.
I had a lot of thoughts and questions watching this conversation unfold, but I’m going to choose just 8 points to discuss; the 7 points I originally wrote in my post in Be The Bridge’s Facebook group plus 1 bonus point for you here because you’re special. [wink] If you watched the episode and then read through all these thoughts, my hope is that you’ll see how exhausting this discussion can be for TRAdoptees.
What do I mean when I say “centering” the white/parent perspective? I mean that point of view is treated as if it is the most important perspective. I mean that the way the topic of transracial adoption is being discussed assumes that the white adoptive parent’s opinion, feelings, experiences and interpretations of things are the most interesting and sufficient for understanding transracial adoption. Spoiler alert: They are not.
So, by the title of the show, we expect a tough conversation about transracial adoption, but we enter a discussion with ZERO adoptee voices. And not even a mention that it is important to listen to adoptee voices.
No meaningful conversation about adoption, especially transracial adoption, should ever exclude the voice of adoptees.
There are lots of us transracial adoptees who are grown and out here happy to share our experience and stories. But still…when folks want to talk about adoption…very few come to us or listen to us. They still go to the [white] adoptive parents to tell them all about it.
This is a problem because:
This was mentioned in the comments of my original post and it just makes this RTT episode all the more icky for me.
Now, I have absolutely zero confirmation that what I’m about to share next is at all related in any way. However, my point is that this happens a lot (adoptee voices being ignored).
About a month ago, a well-known adoptee advocate who is herself a black transracial adoptee posted this on her Facebook page:
I cannot imagine someone more qualified that Angie to answer the question; “Should White People Adopt Black Kids?” PLUS, she is dynamic, comfy in front of the camera, and would make for a very engaging guest on RTT.
Read Angie’s Post: Do Transracial Adoptees Know Anything About Transracial Adoption?
Jada and Gammy have some good questions. Gammy even starts off with a very common but important observation on TRA: “Love is not enough”. Yet, when the discussion gets going, they seem to accept very soft and even shallow answers from Davis.
For example, when asked why she decided to adopt at all, she could not articulate why. She says some things like; her friends were doing it and she would feel incomplete if she weren’t a mom and it was a very spiritual kind of thing. These are red flag answers for me.
Later, Davis says that there is a lot of soul searching already done before filling out a pre-screening adoption questionnaire. That may be true but she did not reveal the fruits of that.
What do I expect, you ask?
If those are her truthful answers, why are they so bad?
With all the knowledge we have now, I expect APs to have more substantial reasons for stepping into difficult work of adopting a child. The “I felt unfulfilled” answers are not good enough anymore. I would expect that APs answer that question by turning the focus off of them (where it nearly always is) and bringing attention to the real issues of adoption.
Davis had a weird balance of talking about difficulties of adoption but then also giving the “…but it’s all good” vibe. For example, when asked about adopting her second child and how that came about she says...”one day there he was”. This is one example of the kind of problematic language that is so common in adoption stories that is cliche and default. This particular phrase erases the birth mom from the adoption story. It implies the child just appeared out of nowhere. This phrase disconnects adoption from the inherent trauma of a child being separated from their first family.
Now, Davis did use her privilege to speak positively about birth moms. She challenge how often they are ignored or misrepresented. I do applaud her for that! But that only makes her falling back on this weird adoption-ism seem extra out of place.
Today, we know better. We must do better. Let’s not give these glossy phrases about adoption a pass. Growing up hearing that kind of thing; “One day, there you were” inches into ‘rainbows and unicorns’ territory.
In the teasers for the episode, the term “White Savior” gets thrown out. This is a real issue and controversial topic! There is so much meaty stuff that could be discussed here but the conversation stays in the white comfort zone.
When Jada pitches it to Davis, she whiffs it with another milquetoast answer. Her response is to confirm that the White Savior is not a myth. Haha. Was there any doubt? But then she says she doesn’t come across that, though. Translation: It’s real but it’s rare.
It bothered me that Davis’s counter to the reality of White Saviorism was to argue the extreme by saying, well, we can’t say, “don’t try to do anything good because your skin is white.” This is a terribly common way to silence people bringing up real concerns by creating a false dichotomy. I don’t believe Davis intended it this way but I believe it reveals how unequipped she is to have deep conversations on this topic.
There are so many other important ways white people can help vulnerable families that do not involve adopting non-white children. Why don’t we talk about that? Why do we assume white people helping = white people (separating families and then) adopting.
In the unexpected focus on Davis’ adoption process, Jada references a sample questionnaire that is apparently indicative of what hopeful APs fill out in their screening process. There was a question that asks hopeful parents to check which races/ethnicities they would be willing to adopt. Davis mentions feeling like she should not exclude any of them.
She says that it ‘was’ her opinion at the time that the question itself was racist. Probably because she used to think that bringing up race at all was racist. However, she doesn’t go on to mention how her opinion on that question changed. Jada and Gammy do not press on that either. No one talks about the significance of that question further.
There are good reasons a racially aware AP would self-select out of raising children of certain races/ethnicities. Addressing that would have made for a much more nuanced conversation.
Instead, Davis merely focuses on how that question made her feel uncomfortable; because she would “feel racist” to exclude any racial categories. This, again, is what it looks like to center white parent feelings and miss the point entirely.
Don’t misunderstand me. It is good that the white AP is broken hearted over the racism her black children encounter. However, do Jada and Gammy (or any self-aware, non-white person) need a white mommy to tell them what every day anti-black racism looks like? No.
Yes, they did ask her how raising black children has opened her eyes. There were many other ways she could’ve answered. It was not helpful to hear her unpack the two minor situations she recounted.
I recognize that Davis is in process with unpacking her white privilege and I applaud her progress! She merely shows here that she still has a lot of work to do. Again, I question why she was chosen to speak on this topic. If we want to hear from white APs, I would personally rather hear from one who can talk about how their eyes have been opened racism without the “…and can you believe that happened?!” vibes. Yes. We believe it. We live it.
We should note this whole conversation is shaped by some economic privilege. You might’ve missed the bit where Davis talks about the difficulty finding a good school. A school where they will not be the only black kids and they will have black teachers. Jada commiserates with her about how difficult that is in Los Angeles! Wha?
My husband and I used to live and work in Los Angeles. There are lots of schools with black children and black teachers. Something tells me, though, that those schools not even on their radar. I used to do photo shoots in the gated Pacific Palisades neighborhood where Jada and Will raised their children. If that is the view of Los Angeles you have, then…okay…maybe you would find it difficult to find a certain kind of $chool with diverse demographics.
Even more subtle still is Davis’ description of her adoption process. She reveals the adoption agency she went through was above average. She does not seem aware that her experience is likely not a fair representation of the vetting and preparation process that many other white APs experience. I’m glad for her but my guess is she has more options and resources than most.
I understand that Red Table Talk and others like it will always be celebrity fluff. Not the places we should go to for complex topics and nuanced learning. I get that they script and edit to get clicks and views. At 3 million and counting, the strategy clearly works.
Even so, if I ignored all that and generously assumed the intent of this Red Table Talk episode was to dive into the complexity of transracial adoption…the impact of this episode is still a poor one.
The impact of this episode feels like another erasure of transracial adoptee perspectives. It feels like yet another “not all white people are racist” production. So much that needs to be said, heard and understood about transracial adoption and whether or not white people should adopt black kids was given a pass because a white adoptive parent’s experience is still more important than the non-white adoptee’s.