The safest place on earth - Part one

Becoming a church that welcomes adoptive families

By Michael Munroe

This may not be easy to read; it wasn’t easy to write. But I think this is something we all need to face . . . and then go about praying and seeking to change. I’m speaking of our churches and how they relate to and support (or fail to relate to and support) adoptive and foster families.

If numbers could talk

A 2002 nationwide survey commissioned by The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption revealed many interesting things regarding Americans’ views and attitudes about adoption. One finding was particularly relevant to local churches. When asked “where would you turn for information or advice about how to adopt,” 52 per cent of married couples indicated they would turn to their local church. Thus, it is clear that many people at the front end of the adoption process think of their local church as being a good place to go for information and advice about adoption. Sounds positive, right? Hold that thought.

Now fast-forward to the post-adoption period – that period of time after the adoption has been finalized and many families begin to encounter some of the unique challenges that come with being an adoptive family. FamilyLife’s Hope for Orphans and Focus on the Family conducted an internet-based research study in early 2007. This study (click here for a summary that I've prepared) included detailed responses from over 400 adoptive families in an effort to find out more about their post-adoption experiences. Given that these families were all constituents of FamilyLife and/or Focus on the Family, it is safe to assume that the overwhelming majority of them regularly attend church, and probably an evangelical church at that.

The results of the study were tabulated and presented at a conference in Colorado Springs in May 2007, and the findings revealed some very interesting results. For example, the study found that people were nearly twice as likely to turn to their local bookstore (20.5 per cent) as they were to their pastor or local church (11 per cent) for support or help in dealing with post-adoption issues. In fact, even though well over half of the respondents reported encountering various post-adoption issues and challenges, only 9 per cent of respondents indicated that they first turned to their church for support in dealing with post-adoptive issues. And overall, more than half of the families who responded indicated that their pre-adoption counselling did not adequately prepare them for their post-adoption experience.

Equally interesting was the discussion that followed the presentation of these results at the conference, when parent after parent said in plain, unambiguous terms “my local church is not a ‘safe place’ for adoptive and foster families – particularly for those who are struggling.” These parents told stories of how they and their children were ignored, misunderstood, shunned and left to deal with their struggles, isolated and all alone. Some even told stories of being judged because their children, many of whom were adopted after spending years in institutions or being shuffled from foster home to foster home, did not “fit” the perceived mould of the model child in the church.

My heart literally broke as I heard these parents detail their realities. How ironic it is that a majority of people starting out on the adoption journey think of turning to their local church; but when families respond to God’s call to adopt and begin to encounter some of its difficult challenges, they suddenly realize that the church is actually one of the least relevant and most unhelpful places they can turn. They come face-to-face with the reality that their church is not a safe place for families like theirs.

Is the local church the safest place on earth?

Several years ago Larry Crabb wrote a book entitled The Safest Place on Earth. The book focuses in large part on the transformational power of authentic Biblical community. Borrowing from Crabb’s title, I believe that our local churches should be – in fact they must become – the safest place on earth for all who seek to belong and connect even in the midst of their brokenness, heartache and hardship. It seems to me that this reality should be no less true for adoptive and foster families. Yet, as evidenced by the results of The Jordan Project and by the stories of many more Christian families, the undeniable reality is that far too many adoptive and foster families simply do not believe, and have not experienced, that to be the case.

And yet, there is a growing movement of sorts in local churches as more and more Christians across the United States are raising their voices on behalf of the “fatherless” around the world and in our own communities. Increasingly local churches are launching adoption, foster care and orphan care ministries of various kinds, and beginning once again to clearly communicate God’s heart for the “fatherless” as revealed in Scripture. These churches are leading the way for people to become more involved and invested in the lives of children in response to the Biblical mandate to care for the orphan and the “least” among us.

However, we must be honest and acknowledge that, as our churches raise the banner and sound forth the call, an increasing number of families will respond by exploring adoption or foster care – and I believe that many will move forward in faith to adopt and foster. Thus our churches will find themselves at a critical juncture that requires them to decide whether they will fully embrace families that God has called to foster and adopt and whether they will be willing to make the necessary changes to do so. Fundamentally our churches must decide whether they will simply proclaim God’s love and their concern for the fatherless “outside their walls,” or whether they will also fully welcome them back “inside the walls” as cherished members of the church community. In short, our churches must decide if they will become the “safest place on earth” for adoptive families.

Read part two of The safest place on earth 

Michael Munroe and his wife, Amy, are the proud parents of four children, each of whom were adopted. Together they lead Tapestry, the adoption and foster care ministry at Irving Bible Church.