Should single Christians adopt?

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Last year, I wrote an article for Home for Good on how our churches can support single adopters and foster carers.

It was generally well-received, but one commenter asked – and I’m pleased he did – whether adoption was something we should be encouraging for the single brothers and sisters in our church communities. After all, he said, as a church leader he wouldn’t advise a single woman to undergo IVF, so was there any difference?

He wasn’t being offensive or argumentative. He was simply wondering aloud, acknowledging – after considerable theological study – whether there might potentially be some discord between the Bible’s understanding of children being brought up by two parents, and our culture’s understanding of the ‘right’ of any adult human to have a child, regardless of marital status.

I’m so glad he brought this up, because I know that too often I’m automatically swept along by the culture (read: social media), without even running things through the filter of the Bible. Instead of filtering our culture through the Bible, we filter the Bible through Twitter. And that’s just not a healthy way of doing things.

There is, of course, an element of cultural understanding when trying to apply the Bible to our lives – after all, many of the battles we face today weren’t around at the time the Bible was written. But that doesn’t mean we should make up our mind about an issue, then work the Bible round it.

So, in this case, should single Christians adopt?

Should single Christians adopt? What does the Bible say?

A willing single parent

Around ten years ago, I was pretty surprised when a single friend of mine declared that if she hadn’t found a husband by a certain age, then she would apply to adopt as a single person.

I think my shock came from simply not knowing anyone who had done this before (it’s a lot more common now, and also I know more adopters!). I asked my friend whether she felt that the Biblical model of parenthood was mum-and-dad together, and she responded with yes, she did believe that, but that there were plenty of less-than-perfect parenting situations around, including those with two parents. She felt that God understood the brokenness of families, and would rather children be raised by a stable, single person than no one at all.

My friend gave me a lot to think about, before we’d even considered adoption for ourselves, for which I’m grateful. Although she later met and married her husband, and had children with him, the passion God put in her for adoption has been realised, in part, by becoming godmother to our Monkey, who is adopted.

My views have changed

A decade down the line, and I’ve given this matter some serious thought. I’ve done a whole load of reading and writing on adoption. I’ve prepared Bible reading notes on the subject (they’ll be in March 2020’s issue of Inspiring Women Every Day if you’re interested!). I’ve met a huge number of adopters and foster carers, of all faiths and none, in person and online.

I’ve come to the conclusion that single adoption is not only acceptable, it’s a faith-filled, Biblical model which has the potential to teach the whole church family something important about God’s sacrificial love for each one of us.

A Biblical command to multiply

How have I come to this conclusion? I’m going to start by stepping back from this question, to get a broader Biblical view of what God asks of us when it comes to children generally.

Firstly, God commands us as a human race to multiply, increase in number, fill the earth. He gives this command to the first ‘married’ couple, Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:28) and again to Noah, his wife, their sons and their wives after the flood (Genesis 9:7).

Unlike our 21st-century way of thinking of parenthood as a ‘right’, in the Bible it is a commandment, a model of self-sacrificial worship as we battle the sleepless nights and lack of time for ourselves, in honour of the God who has asked us to keep His human race going.

This is not to say that parenthood can’t also be incredibly fulfilling, nor the thought of it painfully difficult for those who are dealing with infertility. After all, our desire to procreate and give ourselves up for the lives of our children is entirely God-given.

But the primary reason we have children naturally is not to fulfil our own need to be a parent, but for the good of our communities and, above all, to honour God.

In other words, while it is not specifically outlined in this way (although implied in places like Ephesians 6:1-4), birth children are ideally raised in a family which includes mum and dad.

But, of course, we’re an imperfect people and life doesn’t always work out so well. Through death or desertion, children will not always be able to be raised by their biological parents, so God gives an additional, very different commandment – to care for vulnerable children.

A Biblical command to care

In the Bible, this commandment to care for orphans is never aligned with the commandment to fill the earth – in other words, it is not a commandment given specifically to married couples. So who is it addressed to?

Initially, it is addressed to the Israelites as a community. In Deuteronomy, for example, when God is giving the Law to His people, the word ‘fatherless’ appears eleven times. The Israelites are told, “Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice” (Deuteronomy 24:17).

This is supported in the New Testament, when James writes – again to a community rather than an individual or couple – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

The crucial difference here is that while the command to multiply is given to married couples, the command to care is given to the entire community.

God has a particular concern for those who have very little, and when we care for them, we glorify Him by expressing an essential aspect of His character.

But there are many ways to fulfil this commandment. David fulfilled it by ensuring that Mephibosheth, disabled and disempowered by the culture, would always be provided for (2 Samuel 9). Job fulfilled it by ensuring legal representation for those with no voice (Job 29). And Joseph fulfilled it by adopting Jesus, and raising him as if he were his own flesh and blood (Matthew 1:18-25).

We might fulfil this commandment through prayer, financial giving, or supporting families we know. But let’s not forget that, in today’s culture, vulnerable children need forever families. And some of us will be called to physically provide them.

Adoption is ‘Parenting-With-Extras’

I’m not saying that adopting is simply ‘care-giving’, whilst biological parenting is ‘proper’ parenting – definitely not. When we adopt or foster, we become parents in the fullest sense, raising, teaching and nurturing our children, regardless of whose womb they inhabited. (You can read my *strong* thoughts on that right here!)

The distinction I believe the Bible makes has more to do with who can offer what is being required. Married couples can offer a continuation of the human race. Adoptive parents can offer a safe, loving, stable home for a child who needs one.

Adoption is full parenthood – but it is not merely parenthood. It comes with the additional complexities of a child who has experienced trauma in early life.

In God’s strength, a single adoptive parent acts as both Mum and Dad to her child. She spends years parenting a traumatised son or daughter with patience, compassion and empathy. She never stops advocating for her child when none of the professionals are listening. She is not afraid to go through hard times with her child who has had a rough start to life. She sacrifices her social life, her church involvement, her job and sometimes even the possibility of a marriage partner – all to fulfil God’s command to care for the vulnerable.

A single Christian adopter does not adopt out of a selfish desire to become a parent at any cost, but with a willingness to pour himself out on behalf of another. In doing so, he reflects Jesus, who poured himself out for us before we’d even turned to him for help.

A challenge for all of us

The call to look after vulnerable children is addressed to us as a community, both in Deuteronomy and in James. So if we know someone who is adopting and fostering (single or otherwise), the onus is on us to wrap around them with care and support.

When we are talking adoption or fostering, it shouldn’t make a big difference whether the parents themselves are married or single – if they’re Christians, then their church community should be sharing their burdens and their joys alongside them.

‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ as the old proverb goes. God has always been calling communities to take seriously the job of caring for children, but particularly when the child cannot live with his birth family.

None of us can raise children on our own – we weren’t meant to. Married couples with children, whether biological or adopted or both (like us), need the support of their church family. Single parents with children, whether biological, adopted or both, also need our support.

Over to you…

What I am learning is that God’s call to care for the vulnerable is not restricted to certain types of people, and it’s certainly not restricted to people based on their marital status. Single adopters are to be encouraged and affirmed in the part they’re playing in God’s Kingdom.

Maybe God is calling you to care for a vulnerable child through adopting or fostering – or to support someone who already does this. Home for Good is a great place to start if so.

And I write regularly about adoption, parenting and faith on this blog, so sign up to hear about new articles, as well as gain access to my VIP Library of free e-books and printables to support you in your parenting.

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adoption, fostering, blended families, blended family, birth children, mixing biological with adopted

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for this Lucy. I do struggle when people say that a single mother has been both a mother and a father to their child. My mum raised 3 children on her own. Did she have to work twice as hard? Yes. I think single mothers verge on superhuman. Was she a father to us? No. I at times sorely missed having a father, because a father is not just a second mother, he is different. There were things we lacked by not having a father, from the practical (mum could not teach my brothers how to shave their face) to the formative (I did not have a father’s love modelled. I did not know what it looks like for a man to love a woman well.) These things were wonderfully modelled by our amazing church family, as I’m sure you include in your suggestions about church support of single adopters. But I did not have a mother and father squeezed in to one amazing woman, I did not have a father.

    Hope that makes sense!

    So great to read someone think about it through the lens of the bible, rather than the lens of the world, thank you!

    1. It totally does, and thank you for sharing. I agree – there is no ‘replacement’ for having two parents. You did not have a father, and that was a loss to you. I suppose that in the case of adopted/fostered children, the sense of ‘loss’ is already there. They are already having birth parents ‘replaced’ by others. My husband and I are married adopters – our boys don’t feel the loss of a father, because they have one in him, but as they grow older they may well mourn the loss of their birth father. It is such a complicated issue!

  2. I’ll admit that I’m not 100% convinced everything here, although much of what you say I would certainly agree with. Some things I shall need to think about further:

    1. If a single friend came to me to suggest that if they hadn’t found a partner by a certain age they would adopt, I would be concerned about whether or not they’re actually looking for a partner. I realise that there is a biological limitation (primarily for women) that is behind such a statement, but it does raise a few red flags for me.

    2. As per the above comment, a single parent won’t ever manage to be both Mum and Dad. I think to suggest this is falling into a modernist trap…

    3. Whilst I would be inclined to agree that being adopted by a single parent is better than not being adopted at all, I am slightly wary that this is a false justification.

    4. Similar to (1), I would want to be very clear that someones motivations were primarily selfless, not least because (even within a committed “village”) they will lack the accountability that having an additional parent (should) have.

    Still – some great food for thought 🙂

    1. Good points!
      1) Yes, good to be aware of potential red flags, although I think that in this case my friend was expressing a preference for having children WITH a future husband over becoming a single parent/adopter. In this, she would agree with much of what you say here. And she was open to adoption even when she married – it was not, in her opinion, a ‘second-choice’ path.
      2) No, a single parent can never be mum or dad. But there is an extent to which they try to ensure that their children’s experience is not harmed by not having two parents. Certain jobs or tasks they might do which, had they had a living partner, might have been taken on by them. So, in this sense, they are playing the role of both, even though they can never be both.
      3) This is not my primary argument – I agree, we mustn’t justify a false reading of Scripture because of what things look like through our cultural lens. My main argument is that the command to care for vulnerable children comes to everybody, regardless of marital status – in fact, it comes to communities, emphasising something quite counter-cultural to our 21st century was of raising children. This is quite different to the command to ‘fill the earth and multiply’, which is only ever given to married couples.
      4) And this is where the church comes in, to offer accountability, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, a sounding block, advice, experience, and so on. This is why we need to wrap around our single parent friends, offering to them and their children what they can’t do on their own.

  3. Well done for encouraging and affirming single people called to adoption Lucy! I agree with Claudia that fathers and mothers have different roles to fulfill and children will always grieve the loss of a parent…. it’s so encouraging to hear you had a supportive church family Claudia… it takes a Church to raise a child! X

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