WASHINGTON – The Christmas story includes the act of adoption, and caring for orphans is both gospel and mission, contended theologian Russell Moore in a lecture on Tuesday.
The gospel aspect without the mission aspect makes adoption a mere metaphor, said Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a lecture titled "Adopted for Life: Orphan Care and the Christian Mission" at the Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C. The mission aspect without the gospel aspect makes adoption just another cause, "just another wristband," he added.
Moore is himself an adoptive father. He admitted, though, that he did not always have a scriptural understanding of adoption. When his wife first suggested the idea, he told her he first wanted his "own kids," as if adopted children were in a different category than biological children.
"I didn't know what I was talking about," Moore said. "I assumed that you had two different categories -- real children and adopted children."
But through his own act of adoption, he came to understand.
"My mind was totally changed and my life was totally changed once God created a real family through adoption in a way that I never would have planned on my own," Moore recalled.
The act of adoption in the Christmas story shows that family is not simply about genetics. Real, true families are also created through adoption, the Baptist theologian said. When the Gospel of Matthew establishes Jesus' authority as Messiah, Moore pointed out, it did so through Joseph's, not Mary's, bloodline, even though Joseph is not Jesus' biological father.
When the word "adopted" is used in scripture, Moore explained, it is always in the past tense and never used as an ongoing adjective. One who is adopted does not remain adopted but becomes a true family member.
"This sense of reluctance that many Christians have ... that adoption is simply a 'plan B' for infertile couples, shows that often we have more of a Darwinian understanding of what love is about and what family is about than we do a Christian understanding of what love and family is about," Moore said.
Caring for orphans is the responsibility of the entire Church, not just certain individuals, Moore said, citing James 1:27. This does not mean, though, that all families are called to adopt. The only thing worse than a family that should adopt not adopting, Moore continued, is someone adopting who is not prepared to adopt. But, the entire Church is called to care for widows and orphans in some way using the diversity of gifts found within the Church. When Church bodies carry out that mission, they are following the example in the Christmas story.
"As those local congregations start to welcome in those who previously were deemed to be unwanted, or unrecoverable, we're walking in the steps of a Middle Eastern day laborer named Joseph of Nazareth, who taught his son by adoption how to speak the words 'Abba,' 'Father,'" Moore concluded. "Those words that through the spirit of that son, those of us who are in Christ now by adoption, cry out, the Gospel says. And that is good news. That is good news for a world that is hurting, for children and women who are in peril. But it is not good news from a group of privileged rescuers, it is good news from a group of ex-orphans."
A video of Moore's talk can be found on the Family Research Council website.