James 1:27 says this:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. “(NIV)
Another version says this:
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble…” (NKJV)
If you look at the original greek text of this verse and the context, it’s easy to debunk the pro-adoption spin people put on this verse.
First of all, we are admonished to “episkeptesthai” widows and orphans; this Greek verb means “to visit”. Strong’s concordance gives an additional translation that says “to care for”, but nowhere does the original Greek talk about adoption or taking those orphans to become our own children when we are lacking children ourselves. On the contrary, this verse calls us to “to visit” orphans, and to bring our care TO them; not to uproot them, change their names, and have them assimilate into another family. The word adoption (that does show up in the Bible as “huiothesia”: to place a son, which is never used in the context of adoption the way we know it in our modern day) is nowhere to be found in this call to visit and care for widows and orphans.
And what does it look like to “care/provide” for someone who needs our help? Does it mean to wipe out their family and their past, and then tell them to be grateful for it? Does it mean to remove the child from its mother, make the child our own, and remind them regularly how thankful they should be, even though they lost everything? Does it mean to take a mother’s child when they were struggling and tell them we would do a better job and are more worthy of parenting than they are? The statistics regarding the mental health, delinquency, and suicide rates amongst adoptees tell us pretty strongly that the “caring” that adoption says it does is not actually helping adoptees. Causing the trauma that adoption does – to both child and mother – does not sound like the best kind of “caring” a follower of Jesus is capable of. Not to mention, is it not what we are told to do anyhow.
Another issue with using this verse to support adoption is the fact that almost all adoptees are and were never orphans. In fact, it’s very rare for an adoptee to be a genuine orphan. Most of us have mothers and fathers, who simply were in a hard place when we were born. Instead of leaving a child with his or her natural parent(s) and helping the family as a whole, adoption takes the child and reroots him or her into a stranger’s family. Many adoptees feel more alone – more like orphans – in a two-parent adoptive family than children of single mothers do.
In cases where children may be “orphans” due to drug use and other issues, then the best “caring for” they can have is guardians who will not only care for their physical needs, but will also care for the deep heart issues that these young, vulnerable little ones carry. For many of us who were adopted, we may have had food and shelter, but our hearts were deep caverns that carried wounds we knew we could never give voice to. True “caring” is to rehabilitate and provide for all parts of the adoptee – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual; many of us were only provided for physically, and then were told to be grateful we were saved, even though we felt anything but. When Jesus cared, it wasn’t just for the body’s needs, but for the heart’s needs first and foremost. This is possible in adoption and fostering, but is the rarity amongst people who simply wanted to become parents when biology didn’t work out.
Lastly, what does this verse says about “widows”? The original Greek tells us that a “widow” (“chera”) was simply a woman without a husband. This could have been someone who’s husband had passed, or a single mother. What does caring for a single mother in crisis look like? It certainly wouldn’t look like taking her child and leaving her in a worse place. And remember, this is a package deal according to this verse: the widows AND the orphans. We are to visit and care for BOTH, simultaneously. I would challenge anyone who suggests that taking a child from a woman in crisis is truly “caring”?
It gets even more sticky when the person “caring” by taking the child is someone who benefits from doing so because they didn’t get what they wanted biologically. My adopters were NOT caring for my “chera” mother by taking me to fulfill their desire for a girl after they had 5 boys. Do you see the problem with this? “I am going to care for you by taking from you what I want while you are in crisis.” Is this what James was telling us we should do when we encounter women without husbands? Is this the episkeptesthai that James was talking about?
Family preservation – supporting families instead of separating – is much more a picture of the kind of “visiting” and “caring for” that the Bible calls us to.
But it’s messy.
And adopters don’t get the commodity they wanted.
And therein lies the problem.