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.
I’m attempting to share a complex personal journey. Simply and accessibly.
This is a recipe for disaster. Which is probably good. Everyone loves a good train wreck. Can’t look away, right? Well, I hope that’s the case. At least, I hope sharing the train wrecks of my story hooks you and you stick with me to see what lies past them; past the uncomfortable confessions of my internalized racism, after the dormant pain of my adoption erupted, beyond the shocking reverse polarity in my white + asian biracialization.
It’s time to begin telling these stories.
What lies past, though?
Where is this story heading? Well, to a positive place, I think. A deeper understanding of self. More love for others. More appreciation of God’s endless beauty and creativity. This is an ongoing realization that I have only been seeing in part that which God is redeeming into a unified whole, a new creation.
So yeah. I’m ready. Here we go.
Too dramatic a header? “Born into a fog.”
Well, if you don’t like it, too bad. I like it because “fog” is kind of a misty, white intangible that disorients you and keeps you from seeing what’s coming. Then before you know it, you’re crashing into something.
The fog was part broken relationships.
My biological father was married with kids. My biological mother was not his wife. The pregnancy shut it down. No further contact. I was born into a brokenness that carries an inherent trauma. And I didn’t even know it. You’ve probably heard differently about the impact of adoption on adoptees, but I’ll challenge you on that in the future.
The fog was part adoption into a white family.
I was adopted at birth. And yes it matters that my family is white. I grew up without anyone who looks like me and it turns out, that matters a lot. More on that later. For now, know that I am both white/anglo (of the German flavor) and east asian (the Chinese variety). I appear ethnically ambiguous to some and “What kind of asian are you?” to others.
Both my adoption and my ethnicity were always spoken about positively by my adopted parents.
Unfortunately, they had a very elementary understanding of race and ethnicity. And they had a shortsighted view of how adoption would impact me, the adopted child. Naturally, I inherited their perspective that my adoption was meant to be and, “Everything Is Awesome!”
Therefore, I learned to only see the positives about my adoption and the superficial positives about my ethnicity. I did not have language or space to talk about the parts that were not positive.
I knew my family loved me, but I also observed that everyone else saw me as separate and not belonging. So I felt loved, but I also felt that I didn’t belong. It was confusing.
I was told that my ethnicity was good, but my experiences taught me that it drew negative attention, unwanted personal questions and expectations about my behavior or abilities that I didn’t understand. So ethnicity was good but it made people treat you bad. This was disorienting.
I was taught that we should NEVER treat people differently because of their skin color. Yes, we could notice that God made people to look differently and that was a great thing. But I was told in so many words that racism was mostly a thing of the past. Good people aren’t really like that anymore. And we were all good people. Therefore, it was a non-issue.
So if someone treats you differently from your friends, it’s likely not because they are white and you are not. It’s probably because of other reasons.
This approach to racism has been termed “colorblindness”.
The idea is that we see people and not the color of their skin. Which is well-meaning, but the practical implications when carried out are actually dangerous and harmful. More on that later.
Being raised “colorblind” did not prepare me.
When it would happen, when I was treated differently because I looked differently, I did not recognize this interaction as race related, as THEIR wrong belief and behavior. So I internalized it. I interpreted it to mean something was wrong with ME. Somehow these recurring negative experiences were my fault. To make them stop, I had to change something about myself. Or at least I had to prove, somehow, I wasn’t who I appeared to be (i.e. someone who wasn’t white).
What does that mean, exactly? I will write a lot more about what this means and what it looks like later. For now, hold this idea in your head: when a child of color is not guided through understanding negative race-based experiences, they will make sense of it in their own way.
Without a voice of wisdom speaking God’s truth
against the specific sin of racism,
children will grasp around in the fog for answers
and wind up trapped in lies.
I was trapped in a fog that hid racism from my sight. I couldn’t see what was eating away my self-worth and God-given identity. Not seeing or understanding what was attacking me, I assumed my wounds were self-inflicted.
I assumed I just had to be more like my family and friends who didn’t have these problems; family and friends who all happened to be white. This wasn’t a difficult assumption-jump to make because their culture was my culture too. I valued the same things they valued and elevated the same behaviors and beliefs and ways of seeing/doing things.
Without ever being explicitly told or taught this, I associated the White Way with the Right Way.
I just had to work harder to think and act like them and everyone would see that I was just like them and I would be fine.
This misunderstanding of ethnic identity and racism had other side effects. I saw my “true self” as my inner self; the good student, the promising musician, the bookworm. Meanwhile, in secret, I prayed to God above that the dormant genes of my german biological mother would take over and I’d slowly become a blonde-haired and blue-eyed beauty by adulthood. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but I believed that if God answered that prayer, then my appearance would match my inner self. Then I’d be comfortable in my own skin.
I couldn’t see any of this until my 30’s.
My whole life, I tried seeing myself as just another (white) person whose ethnicity did not matter. To better identify with the family that raised me, I sought to embody the best of our (white) culture. I had constructed a positive view of my (white) self. The (obvious to me now) problem was this was NOT who God created me to be. At least not the full picture.
I looked in the mirror one day as a 30-something new mommy and realized my reflection did not compute.
I was not embracing the part of me that was not white. God had given me a physical appearance that carried the image of an ancestral heritage from which I was completely disconnected. And that mattered. It matters because it is the history God gave me, the landscape He painted for me and placed me in. I had not been able to see any of that in the fog. I had not let any of that context inform my understanding of His purpose for me.
Until I escaped the fog, I would not be able to see where I was or what my place was in the work God was doing around me. It was time to get out of the fog.
So here we are. I am waking up to what God has for me. I am re-learning who God made me to be. There is more to me than I thought.
I am claiming this space on the internet where I can relate and release. And there is more to come. Thanks for reading along.