A Better Way to Talk About Adoption

We need to be careful about over-spiritualizing the way we talk adoption in the Church

There are a multitude of articles on the internet of things not to say to adoptive families or to children who are adopted. Most of these articles and blog posts result from painful and awkward situations with well-intentioned people who perhaps don’t know how else to respond. The Christian community is not immune to such blunders as we see rising numbers of families adopting.

While being aware of politically correct, or even common courtesy rules of conduct around adoptive families is important, I believe there is a bigger conversation that needs to be had in the Church regarding adoption and the danger of over-spiritualizing it.

I applaud families and individuals with a heart for orphans. After all, I am where I am today because a loving couple sensed a calling to adopt and found a Christian agency that supported them on their journey to China.

However, there is something missing in our narrative of adoption and faith. As a church and a community welcoming children with broken pasts, we need to be aware of how we frame adoption in spiritual terms and how that can hurt children who are adopted, who grow up and continue to be the recipients of our misguided remarks, no matter how well-intentioned.

Although I can testify through my story of the faithfulness God demonstrated to me through adoption, I can also testify that growing up adopted and growing up in the Church comes with struggles. I went through a period of intense struggle and doubt, along with questioning and anger toward God, because of the perspective of adoption and faith I had learned from church and felt I was not allowed to question.

Fixating on the miracle of how God brought me to my family never allowed any room to mourn the reality that I had been abandoned.

So here are a few things I have learned of how the Church could better support those who are adopted in our community:

Don’t Negate the Painful Aspects of Adoption.

I believe that my story is able to bring glory to God through the difficult situations I went through, but knowing that truth doesn’t negate the painful aspects.

I had my adoption story memorized from the time I started speaking English—how God brought my parents to China so I could be adopted into a loving family that would teach me about Jesus.

I still believe this to be true, but fixating on the miracle of how God brought me to my family never allowed any room to mourn the reality that I had been abandoned. It never gave space to consider the pain my birth parents faced in choosing to give me up.

Growing up, I often had Romans 8:28 and other feel-good verses about bad things being turned to good spoken to me from well-intentioned people who couldn't understand or maybe didn’t want to think about what it actually meant to be adopted—that adoption arises from tragedy. There is truth in these verses, but they should not be used as a band-aid to negate the pain that is inevitably involved in adoption.

Be Careful With Using Adoption as a Spiritual Allegory.

We need to remember that the allegory relating physical adoption and spiritual adoption is only an allegory, and using it as an explanation or justification to adopt hurts both the family and the child.

Physical adoption is a shadow of spiritual adoption and is not a complete parallel to how we are adopted into the family of God, because physical adoption is still adoption into a broken family with broken people. When we frame adoption in a spiritual sense, we elevate the adoptive family as the savior for the child.

Practically, this played out for me in that I put my family on the same level as God. And when they inevitably fell from the pedestal I had placed them on, it crushed my faith in God. If I am adopted into God’s family like I was adopted into my physical family, does that mean God is going to let me down like my parents had? Would God break his promises to me like my parents had broken promises to each other?

Consider the Other Side of the Story.

I believe adoption is part of God’s plan for me, but that does not mean that God could not have worked in another way, family or country.

As adopted children grow up, how will we receive and accept them in the Church? Have we provided space for them to ask questions, to have a part in the narrative?

So often I feel the story I have is the only narrative I am allowed to consider. I feel that if I allow myself to think of anything else beyond what has happened, such as being adopted into another family or even staying in China, that that could not have been God’s best for me. That somehow my birth parents had no value in God’s eyes because God didn’t provide them the means or ability to keep me, since I was “meant” to be in the family I am in now.

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Often this is unintentional. People mean well when they try to comment on adoption, but they don’t realize the judgment they are casting on the other side of the story. And whether it’s criticism of another culture and society or the devaluing of another family or ethnic race, using spiritual language to affirm the way an adoption story has played out always leaves someone on the losing end.

Each child who has been adopted and each family who has chosen to adopt will have a different story and a different experience. I am simply speaking from my experiences.

But having grown up in the church and having walked away and now slowly finding my way back, my heart goes out to children who are adopted. As these children grow up, how will we receive and accept them in the Church? Have we provided space for them to ask questions, to have a part in the narrative? Or are we telling them what the narrative is and using faith and the Bible to back up our claims?

Adoption is messy and faith is messy. But I believe God calls us to be a part of the mess, even—and especially—when we don’t have the answers.

Top Comments

Tara VanderWoude


Tara VanderWoude commented…

Kelsi, I hope your thoughts and truths are shared far and wide within the Christian community. As a fellow adoptee (Korean-born), I'm grateful for the gracious yet firm words you wrote to discuss something so complex. As the "Christian adoption movement" (even those three words cause some adoptees to shudder) has grown by leaps and bounds, churches must learn from those who have firsthand experienced the realities of growing up adopted within the church. Of course not all adoptees will be comfortable to publicly share, and so I'm appreciative of your voice.

Allowing adoptees to discuss these realities and complexities without casting judgment or applying the spiritual Band-Aid is imperative. It's true that we can both wonder about our past AND love our present, feel our losses while also understand the gains, and have affection for more than one family and/or culture. So much of adoption is both/and rather than either/or.

Thanks again for sharing. I pray that it is read with open minds and that it might create change within our communities.

Cindy Dutton


Cindy Dutton commented…

Friends of ours had three biological children, and adopted four siblings also. People would often ask "which ones are adopted?" And my favorite reply of theirs was "Oh, I keep forgetting which!"


Dana Crooks Kawata


Dana Crooks Kawata commented…

As an adult who was adopted as a baby, I have to say that my experience has been much different. I have always known that God plucked me out of one situation and gave me to a family that couldn't have children. I have always believed that God had a purpose for my life, but also a plan for my birth mother and my parents who raised me. I have never had the negative feelings of abandonment or rejection that this author and others have expressed. I even have learned later in life that a grandparent had a difficult time accepting me as a granddaughter. I see that as her problem and she missed out on a relationship on a deeper level with me. Having a faith and relationship with The Lord has probably eased some of these feelings for me. Praying for other adoptees, that they will see Gods hand in their lives!

Vivian Joan Bester


Vivian Joan Bester commented…

the they say, " different strokes for different okes". Adopting and being adopted is know easy issue. For whatever reason you were adopted, some adoptive parents are guilty of doing the right things. Some have ulterior motives. Being an adopted child even though you try to love, you are left with some guilty conscience and one finds it difficult to be part of.
uUnless a parent or both have been adopted they will never know how their child felt. yAs

donna hecke


donna hecke commented…

Thanks for the article. I am an adoptee and appreciate her perspective but I have a different view that does not completely line up with hers but it is based on my experience just as hers is. For starters...I am thankful that I was not aborted...I do NOT feel abandoned because my birth mom made a plan for my life. I DO believe that God knew that my adoptive parents were chosen by God and that THAT was not a random accident just as my birth is not random because He is a Sovereign God. As an adoptee I dreamed about my mom and what she might have been like...wondered about why...wanted to know my story...It was a mystery but no one even the church could control my ability to process it and ponder it. I am alarmed however when Christians say that when you choose an adoption you are choosing to give your baby up or that you are giving your baby away. That hurts mostly because it is not a accurate picture of what birth mothers goes through. I am sure we adoptees all process our experiences differently and that is what we need to be sensitive to. We all need space to process it. Maybe listening to peoples stories and asking questions might be a better approach. NO doubt it it messy but most things in life worthy of love and life are. Abortion is messy too and so is parenting, divorce etc. I don't know anyone even home- grown children who at some point in their life do not struggled with their identity and possibly even wished they had been adopted or even been born into another family. Bottom line we are all a mess in need of a Savior...Thank God for the Gospel of life. Thanks for the opportunity to share

Doug Tegner


Doug Tegner commented…

Kelsi - thank you for an honest, thought-provoking testimony and challenge. As a pastor for 35 years who works closely with foster and adoptive families, and as a former foster parent myself, I now see that aspects of my shepherding and message were short-sighted. Thank you for sharing your story and insights!

Lim Seonyoung


Lim Seonyoung commented…

This is a wonderful article. I'm a korean adoptee and I found it incredibly difficult trying to find a so called identity growing up. You're constantly trying to "fit in" but as one adoptee said in an article, you never quite fit in because you are never truly american in the sense because of your physical appearance and never quite korean because of your cultural upbringings.

Finding an identity in Christ was even harder but God really taught me that I never truly was an orphan who was abandoned (even though physically I was), I was spiritually bought at a price and for that I am so grateful. Like Donna mentioned above, God helped me understand that I was not aborted and because of this grace and love, I could find peace.

I hope all adoptees are able to find that peace in their hearts one day.

You can read more about my story on my website.


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