Monday, November 8, 2010

God's Mandate & the Modern Christian Orphan Movement

Lately I've been seeing a lot of blogs about orphans.  A lot of them are Christian blogs, talking about how God loves adoption and how he calls us to help the orphans.  And thus, they are considering adoption for those reasons.  I've been thinking about this.  I do not believe that modern, physical adoption in any way mirrors spiritual adoption.  However, God does indeed tell us to care for the orphan.

The orphan and the widow.
When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands (Deuteronomy 24:19).
In the Old Testament, provisions were made as a sort of Social Welfare program, to provide for families who had no male to provide for them (e.g. mothers and their children) as well as sojourners and strangers.  Women in that time could not own land.  If widowed, they would often marry a male relative to be provided for, to "redeem" her and whatever land/belongings that may be involved (Kinsman Redeemer).  For widows and their children who were not redeemed, they could provide for themselves by following closely after the workers in the fields and vineyards to "glean" what was dropped. 

This was no easy task; while it was against the law for the workers to pick up after themselves so that widowed families could glean, various Bible passages would lead us to believe that they may have been taunted and harassed by workers while gleaning.  The book of Ruth perhaps provides the best description of this part of the law being carried out to provide for sojourners, orphans, and widows.

Mention of "the fatherless" in the King James Version appears 43 times. Rarely are "the fatherless" mentioned in scripture without also mentioning the widowed along with them.

The UNICEF definition of "orphan" is a child who has lost ONE parent and has one still living.

We absolutely need to help and support orphaned and abandoned children.  However, we cannot view these children without also viewing the original context of their families. Where are their families?  What happened to them?  What are their needs?  Our Christian principles affirm this.  God rarely made mandates to meet the needs of children without also including their parents or families.  Christians need to understand that this new and improved "orphan movement" largely decontexts these children from their families as if their families do not exist.  God doesn't do this when he speaks about the orphan and watches over them, and we shouldn't either.

"One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed."  --Proverbs 28:27

This post is part of my series for November's National Adoption Awareness Month.


ms. marginalia said...

Excellent point. It seems to me that in many cases, adoption is one of the least feeling and charitable of options for widows and orphans. Whom does it really help? I know it depends on the situation, but it is worth some intense mulling over.

Third Mom said...

Well said. I couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Well said!

Tricia said...

Well said!

halforphan56 said...

Since I am an orphan, I feel the need to respond. Thanks for writing this. It is true that our society has morphed this into a reality that it isn't the Christian thing to do anymore to help the widow AND the orphan, but rather, society has developed the attitude of casting aside the widow and taking the orphan. Oddly, the bible doesn't say anything about the husband who loses his wife to death, leaving him with a handful of little orphans. But that is what happened to our family. Dad had no help to keep his children so the vultures came and took the baby. So much for Christians helping the poor.

Thanks for letting me vent.

Amanda Woolston said...


My thoughts about why the Bible does not mention widowers is that they were probably not seen as needing protection. In a Patriarchal society, men did not have the same oppression as women. They could inherit and own their own property. A widower would likely get remarried or have help from other family members to help them (my best guess). I'm glad you mentioned that because it has caused me to reflect on what adoption has done to fathers. While men in the Bible were able to provide for their families, fathers nowadays certainly are not with how adoption laws and policies are and many fight and fight for their right not to lose a child to adoption.

BGK said...

A logic lesson here: The equivocation on the word "adopt:" The context in which St. Paul used the term in Romans 8 in no way meant to remove a child from her culture or family. Example from St. Paul's culture: Julius Caesar "adopted" his nephew Octavian: At age 18 Octavian became the heir to Uncle Julius' will, enabling him to rise to power as Augustus Caesar. Octavian was not raised by Uncle J, nor was he removed from his parents or culture. This is "adoption" in first century Rome. Does it look more like child "sponsorship?" I don't know.

Certainly caring for orphans (or any vulnerable child) is a loving, biblical thing to do. It is commanded of the Christian in James 1:27. But that begs a couple of questions: what is an orphan, and what is the BEST way to care for them?

My own church has maintained an orphanage/school in Haiti for decades... "orphan" being the closest term I can find... the next closest being "church boarding school." These kids, and most of the world's "orphans" are NOT WITHOUT PARENTS or families, but their families are too destitute to care for them. Just a few dollars a day enables these kids to have an education, learn of Jesus, and most importantly to me, to stay in contact their families. Here's a biblical example: Hebrews 11:24. Moses was taken from slavery and raised in the king's castle. Surely that was at least as good of a proposition as a destitute Haitian child being raised in the States. But back to Hebrews 11: the Bible never calls Jochebed his "birth mother," and in fact Moses wouldn't call his "adoptive mother" his "mother." Think about it.