I was raised in a Christian household as an adoptee. My adoptive mother was a preacher’s kid and her mother was also an adoptee. Her mother, my adoptive grandmother, was born and adopted in 1938. I had the honor to interview her for Adoption.com. As you might imagine, adoption practices were radically different than they are today, or even in 1997 when I was adopted. My adoptive mother modeled my closed adoption very much after my grandmother’s 1938 adoption. My adoption was not closed for my safety, but for ease of emotion and because “that’s just what you did.” I have carried my adoptive parent’s faith into my adult life and made it my own. In growing in my own personal faith, I have learned more about what the Bible really says about adoption.
I did not find out I was adopted until I was 8 years old. When I found out I was adopted, naturally, I was curious and had questions. When my adoptive parents were met with these questions, my mother’s response was Matthew 6:24. This verse states that “No man can serve two masters, since he will hate one and love the other”. If you keep reading in Matthew, this verse is talking about money. You can’t love God and money. This part of the Bible had nothing to do with adoption, or open versus closed adoptions. I simply wanted to know more about my biology.
Some people will interpret adoption to be divinely appointed since we are adopted into God’s family. As a kid and young teen, I hated being told this. I never knew or understood why it bothered me so much, but now as an adult, I have figured it out. I believe that adoption was not God’s idea. At least, not in the sense that people meant it when saying it to me growing up.
In order to understand biblical adoption we have to go to the book of Romans. “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back in fear. Instead, you received the spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, Abba Father!” (Romans 8:15). When someone accepts Christ as their Savior, they are adopted into God’s family. The issue with comparing this to modern-day adoption is cultural differences. When the author of Romans, Paul, wrote this verse, the adoption in their culture was totally different from the legal adoption process we experience now. Adoption was the act of a grown man taking on a man’s inheritance, who was not his father. If a man did not have a son, he could select a young man in the community to give his inheritance to. The young man wouldn’t lose his family name, he wouldn’t have his identity changed, he would just get a great gift, by doing nothing. This is exactly like the free gift of salvation that Christ offers us, by nothing of our own works.
Being told that a Christian is just like an adoptee rubs me the wrong way. The Bible also refers to non-Christians as “children of the devil.” That would imply that me, an adoptee, is from some sort of devilish heritage. It demonizes birth parents, literally. So no, an adoptee is not the exact same as a Christian. For me, an adoptee and a Christian, the cultural difference makes Christianity much sweeter and more meaningful. I believe Christ chose me to have His inheritance! As Christians, let’s stop comparing adoption nowadays to adoption that Paul references in the Bible.
If we want to have an actual biblical adoption to refer to in the Bible, let’s focus on the story of Moses. The story of Moses is the closest example and comparison in the bible to the kind of adoptions we have nowadays. I had never really studied the story of Moses in depth until very recently. When I tell you this story hit me as an adoptee, I mean it. Exodus 2 starts off with the birth and relinquishment of Moses. At this time in history, Pharaoh was killing all of the Jewish baby boys. Moses’ mother loved her newborn son, so she kept him hidden for three months. For three months he stayed with his family until his mother knew she could hide him no longer. She made a waterproof basket, placed him in it, and set him afloat on the Nile. She had her older daughter follow after him to make sure someone saw the baby. We are then told in Exodus 2 that the very daughter of the pharaoh himself discovers Moses. She takes pity on him and decides to keep him. She tells her servant to fetch a nursing Jewish mother to feed him. The servant finds Moses’ birth mom, and he is with her until weaned, typically around the age of 3 in that culture. After he is weaned, he goes back to live with the daughter of the pharaoh who found him, and he is then her adoptive son.
As a child, I was told that adoption was God’s idea. I never liked that statement much. It refers back to the concept that salvation is the same as 21st-century legal adoption. It’s not. I think the Moses story is a much clearer depiction of God’s intentions for the kinds of adoption we have today. God saw the value in Moses knowing not only his heritage but having a connection with his birth mother. His mother made the decision she did in order to save him from the wrath of an evil leader. Moses was never lied to, and he didn’t have his identity hidden from him. He always knew he was a Jew, and eventually, he went on to be one of the greatest Jews of all time. If you aren’t familiar with the Old Testament of the Bible, Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt, saving their lives. Despite not being raised with the Jews, he was a Jew and he knew that about himself.
As someone raised in a closed adoption, but familiar with other people’s open adoptions, I will always be team open adoption. I do, however, completely understand that logistically this isn’t always a safe or possible option. Despite not always being able to be open in the sense that you have contact or have meetings with a birth parent, you can still be open. Every adoption allows for openness. We can have conversations with our children about their heritage and their story, adopted or not, even if their story is a difficult one. The only reference we have biblically for adoption is Moses. I believe God’s idea for adoption was an open adoption. He saw a dire situation, he saved Moses through adoption, but He knew the importance of not only Moses being with his birth mom, but Moses knowing his biological heritage.
Adoption is complex. No matter how streamlined and simple an adoption is, it is still emotionally hard. It always involves a child in need, and two sets of parents in need of two different things as well. Adoption is always born of loss, always. One family loses a baby in order for another to gain one. As an adoptee, it is my experience and opinion that all adoptees have a right to their biological information. It is dire for us to have, and sometimes our life depends on it. So is adoption God’s idea? I don’t believe so. But I do believe God does have the power to make us whole again, and adoption is no exception. Adoption can be a beautiful example of something extremely challenging and sad turning into something that flourishes and is full of beauty and joy. My life and my story are the perfect example of this, and so is Moses.