Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Race and Adoption in America
By Jedd Medefind
January 26, 2015
Even as we celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this past week, it’s hard not to feel a shadow over the land. For many whites, it is the wrecked illusion of a post-racial America. For people of color, it is the numerous recent reminders of how elusive Dr. King’s dream remains. Yet as disheartening as the bird’s eye view can be, a closer look yields many micro-trends that give good reason for hope. These include the notable growth of interracial marriages, up 28 percent from 2000 to 2010 and now comprising one in every ten marriages, and the increase of multiracial churches across the United States, actively cultivating communities of authentic relationships.
Another micro-trend is the growing number of cross-racial adoptions, particularly among committed Christians, who adopt at rates more than double the general population. A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal noted the increasing numbers of churches embracing a vision for adoption and foster care:
Foster children are also likely to be of a different race from their new adoptive parents. As more and more evangelical churches take up the cause of adoption on a large scale, their congregations have begun to look like the multiracial sea of faces that Christian leaders often talk about wanting. But it does involve parents giving up on having children who look like them. All of this makes the growing evangelical interest in adoption seem particularly countercultural….
Just before Christmas, the Religion News Service wire carried an article exploring the implications of this growing reality, titled, “How adoption has forced evangelicals to grapple with race relations.” Along with reflections from John Piper, Russell Moore, and Jen Hatmaker, the article draws also from one of the sharpest critics of Christian adoption and orphan care, Kathryn Joyce. Joyce has directed much reproach at what she labels Christian “orphan fever.” Yet she acknowledges that she has been surprised by the extent of thoughtful attention to race among adoptive families.
“Self-critique is happening with a lot of conversations focusing on big issues like racial justice, social justice, class, privilege,” Joyce said, saying she first heard about [Trayvon] Martin’s 2012 death on an evangelical adoption forum. “These parents, mostly moms, were thinking about race early on because they had this personal connection.”
I can personally say that nothing has challenged me to get serious about race issues more than becoming a cross-racially adoptive father. I grew up in highly diverse public schools. My basketball and soccer teams, weekend hangouts and yearbooks were all a smattering of ethnicities – Asian, Latino, Caucasian and African-American. Race seemed little more than a colorful backdrop for far more important matters of friendship, studies, and sports together. While I still value those relationships deeply, I also now recognize how different the world looks when viewed from another vantage point-- not from the casual, rarely pondered comfort of a majority culture, but from within the rarely spoken tensions and impediments felt when being in the minority.
I see and feel those realities more deeply – admittedly in a limited, secondhand way – in my love for my daughter, whose skin is dark and lovely. I yearn for her joy, grin at her irresistible belly laughter. I also ache for the insecurities and invisible barriers she will face in the world beyond our home – some of these likely springing solely from the color of her skin.
I definitely don’t consider myself an expert on race because I have a black daughter. But I do find myself noticing and caring about race far more than I did in the past. And I desire more than ever to be always learning and listening – especially to be able to love, understand, and support my daughter along the unique journey she will walk, and also to better love my friends of other races as well.
Countless other adoptive parents have shared similar emotions with me. They feel this passionately. They'd be the first to say they are learning as they go and often stumble. But it seems they are stumbling in the right direction.
I also see that what these adoptive parents feel for their children carries consequence far beyond their own home. The questions and conversations and intentionality spill outward, impacting extended family and friends, churches, and even entire communities. At a time when the thin veneer of a "post-racial" America is in tatters, cross-racial adoption is not a sweeping cure for racial tensions any more than inter-country adoption is a sweeping cure for the global orphan crisis. I yearn to see more adoptions happening locally-- foster youth of color adopted into communities of color; orphaned children globally adopted within their country of birth. But I also see again and again that until every child needing a family can find one nearby, adoption across such boundaries can play a powerful role in transforming a single life, a family, a church, and sometimes even more.
Isn’t that how lasting change happens after all?
A version of this article first appeared on SharedJustice.org, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice.
- Jedd Medefind serves as President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans and is author of the book, Becoming Home: Adoption, Foster Care, and Mentoring--Living Out God's Heart for Orphans.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”