Adoption: It’s a lucky dip

It seems that not a week goes by without some kind of religious hullabaloo.

What is it this week?  A topic that is close to my heart.  Adoption.

I am thankful daily for the blessing of growing up in a loving family.  In my work as a teacher, youth worker and young adult pastor and now in my work in Bulgaria I know that this is not the norm for the world over.  I assure you that as I have my 33rd birthday today my family experience is not taken for granted!

I find it interesting that we Christians are often seen to be clamouring for influence.  For what reason?  Often it is couched in terms of saving those who don’t believe.  At other times the reason given is for social transformation –  a desire to limit pagan influence and un-Christian political manoeuvring.  At other times it is used to achieve change by lobbing the political process in order to impose(?) a Christian social ethos.   I would not say that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I will say that Christians who have grappled for such influence and now have it are giving the press way too many opportunities to tar Christianity with a certain brush, whether that be the dumb brush, angry brush, hateful brush, ignorant brush or clueless brush.  What we have seen in the last few days is certainly grounds for painting Christianity with the stupid and heartless brush.

I’m embarrassed and ashamed to be associated with the words that Pat Robinson (that’s a Wiki link for your convenience:)) communicated on live television last week regarding adoption. On the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) show called the 700 Club (Check out the discussion here) they did a special segment on adoption.  They checked out few families that had adopted and then zipped back to the studio for a discussion on the issues.  Robinson’s comments lacked logic, were insensitive and did not reflect the Bible’s treatment of a believer’s responsibility to orphans and the poor.

Lacked logic.

He begins with a caution and finishes on the same caution.  Once one adopts they can’t simply be dropped off at the pound like a dog if it doesn’t work out.  It’s a serious decision.  Who would disagree?  Well, probably you when you find out why he thinks it is a big decision!

He argues that they could have been influenced prior by demons and this of course means that you don’t know what behaviour will come out in time.  He also tells us that they could be brain damaged.  Later in the discussion he remarks or perhaps rambles: ‘[Adoption] can be a blessing if  you get the right child.  It becomes a part of the family and that child you love like your own.  But! But!… the child can be badly damaged mentally and emotionally… not enough food, love… [The Romanian orphans] are so emotionally scarred… [Orphans] never adjust to adulthood.’

His point: it’s a lucky dip.  You don’t know what you’re going to get.

Let me trace his logic through.  If you don’t know what you are going to get you should refrain from adopting – this was the pervading sense that he communicated.  If that is the reasoning for not adopting then you also shouldn’t choose to have your own baby through natural means, because the baby could similarly come out brain damaged, and or be socially or physically impaired in time.   You never know how they will turn out, right?  So don’t risk it – don’t have babies!  Hmmm…

But this is foolishness. A couple does not have a child by natural means in order to create a perfect child.  Of course they know that when the baby comes into the world there are many events that are out of the parents’ control that can impact how the child will grow up.  Let’s be realistic, even before the baby comes into the world there are many forms of complications that can affect the subsequent life of the baby and the parents.  That there might be possible future complications is no reason to refrain from having your own biological kids, nor from adopting children.


There is also a subtle, yet very hidden comment here, that those children with any sort of impairment are not desirable or wanted.  What a horrible thought!  That these children have no parents and are potentially damaged is precisely the grounds for which both believers and non-beleivers should consider adoption.  It is not something that one turns away from, but embraces with a sense of responsibility.

Further, Robinson’s discussion partner tries to pick up the pieces and basically admits that the children are sometimes, if not often, damaged: socially, emotionally, physically and/or spiritually.  But she does not shy away from her belief that it is a believer’s responsibility to look after these children.  Robinson offers a patronising comment (and it was patronising!), ‘Well it’s all real lovely…’ before the lady cuts him off to rightly put him right.  She said, ‘Well, it’s not lovely…’  And she is right.  Adoption might be construed in the media as a fad, but let us not paint adoptive parents in some flippant light.  The task that adoptive parents take on is not one that should be put in the New Year’s resolution basket along with losing 20kg and taking up water colour painting, as though adopting a child is something that you just do on a whim!  Adoption isn’t something that you just do, and of the adoptive parents that I know the idea, plan and actual adoption is something that is taken just as seriously as having their own baby by natural means.

And the Bible?

He calls on the Bible to caution his viewers – count the cost he says, three times.  WOW!  Count the cost!  I’m pretty sure that when Jesus is talking about counting the cost in Luke 14 he is not talking about adoption.  Well, I suppose if adoption is a synonym for being a disciple of Jesus then he has a point, but that is far from plausible, perhaps even comical (in the sad sense).

And what does he do with this famous text:  Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you (James 1:27)?  Clearly nothing!

And what does he do with the very prominent usage of adoption in the Bible to understand salvation.  Like this one for example: He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… (Ephesians 1:5)?  Again, clearly he doesn’t do anything about this text.  He has not been able to see that he was a damaged person and that because of this God adopted him into his family through Jesus Christ.  That he/we have been adopted by God through Jesus is truly a beautiful thing that we should never lose sight of.

Granted, Robinson did release this statement on his personal website:

Today, on live television, I misstated my heartfelt dedication and commitment to helping orphans. For decades, I have supported adoption, and have helped tens of thousands of children worldwide.

I wanted to say, but it didn’t come out the way I intended, that adoption is not for everyone.

The mother of three adopted children, who wrote in about her boyfriend’s issue with her children, did a wonderful, unselfish act to adopt and I respect her immensely. Yet, adoption might not be a fit for her boyfriend. If that is the case, she needs to find someone who better shares her passion for adoption.

Adoptive parents are taking on enormous responsibility, both emotionally and financially. Quite frankly, they need as much disclosure as possible about the child’s background and health to assure the best fit and be prepared.

In answering the letter writer, this is what I meant to say. If any doubt remains, I ask you to please look at what I’ve done over the years to help orphans.

Pat Robertson

I accept his apology, but unfortunately the damage is done.  Few will read the apology, but millions will hear his ‘misstated comments’.

We should be careful with influence.  If is a dangerously powerful thing.


8 comments on “Adoption: It’s a lucky dip

  1. Excellent article (again! – Must be that clear post-Soviet era Bulgarian air). You pick the eyes of the stupidity of this man so sharply. It would seem that he actually does not understand the gospel. BTW – there is a hilarious comedy sketch by Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan, who, in mournfully announcing that he wants to adopt talented foreign kids (a la Brad and Angelina) makes this bitter observation: “Pasty-faced, uncoordinated Irish kids? I can make ’em meself!)

  2. Dylan Hartland says:

    You know its funny, I have known you for a very long time, although granted in the last ten years I havent seen you at all, but still I had no idea that you, like myself were adopted.

    In relation to comment Pat Robinson made I can kind of see what he meant, although completely said it the wrong way.

    From a physiological point of view he is right, With me at least, Im not sure my parents understood or knew what they were getting. Growing up (pre-teenage and then teenage years)
    I was a mess mentally. I didn’t understand who I was, I didn’t understand why I was different and Why I found everything so hard. By this I mean not really understanding where i belonged.

    Dont get me wrong my Parents loved me and gave me the best of everything but because I failed grasp these questions and answer them, mentally, things became harder and harder.

    All this lead to my parents having to deal with a lot of ‘bad’ or ‘erratic ‘ behaviour which at times, most times left them pulling their hair out, (and yes in frustration their belts).

    So yes in a way I completely understood what he meant.

    I think though that even though I was very much loved and cared for and whether or not my family were rich or poor, in my case the former, I still would have been the same.

    Sometimes it just comes down to the kid or the kids DNA if that makes sense to anyone?

    I was born in New Zealand and Adopted out of an Orphanage when I was 1 years old. But still I think that, that, nine months in my mothers womb was probably where the most damage was done. My mother was VERY young and had me at only 15 and by this age was heavily into drugs and smoking and drinking. Im constantly surprised that I turned out as good genetically as i did.

    It in some ways, all of this, good or bad, defined who I am today as a person.

    Above all I guess I was lucky. I ‘Landed’ in a very good family from a very good back ground with a great supporting network around them and no matter how much I acted out or misbehaved they always kept on loving me and eventually and even after the the death of my parents I to found my way in life, my own network and support group.

    One of those things was sport. Swimming and playing Basketball (yes Dan I still think im good at it but know Im crap hahaha) Surf Life Saving and Hockey have been for the most parts the best parts of my life and have lead me to some great places in my life.

    The other was meeting people like you Dan and Rob Cain and Warwick but above all though you helped me to meet God and even though for a long time I used church to just feel apart of something (and more to the point meet girls) and for an even longer time didn’t even understand who or what God was or about it was the fact that I kept going and surrounding myself with people that was good in me and believed in me that eventually got me to where I am today.

    So I guess, yes after much ramblings, I have forgotten what we were talking about…

    But hey it was great to chat hahaha

    • Hey Dylan thanks for the comment.

      Really insightful and interesting. I should set the record straight from the outset and say that I am not adopted – sorry for giving that impression. When I said that adoption is close to my heart what I was referring to was that we are in the middle of adopting ourselves and we work with orphans here in Bulgaria.

      I think we all see where Robinson is coming from with regard to his comments, but the way that he communicated his point was inappropriate and misguided. If your folks were to listen to that discussion all those years ago when they were deciding to adopt you then it may have been a different story for you. Caution is of course needed, but above all we need to encourage people to engage with the idea of adoption with care and discernment.

      Also, as I pointed out, some of his arguments were nonsense. We prospective adoptive parents don’t need random arguments to think about, but rather the real issues of which you helpfully mentioned a few in your comment.

      Hope the hockey is treating you well!


  3. 2tensions says:

    I remember being in China a few years ago, and meeting a bunch of Christian Westerners there. In their spare time they would visit local orphanages to care for the children there. What impressed me most was the number of Western Christians who had deliberately adopted significantly physically and mentally disabled children. I’m not sure who Robinson is, but I think that a better position to take (as you expressed in your article), would be to seriously encourage Christians to consider giving up the philosophy of pursuing personal comforts and security as a central purpose in life, and to replace it with a central philosophy of costly love, as modelled by Jesus who said to anyone who would listen “Follow me!”

  4. Jim Starcev says:

    Figured I had to comment on this. Dan you did a great job with the article, I can accept Pat Robertson’s apologies and I thought his co-host did a good job of minimizing his comments. But speaking as someone who adopted two of the “Romanian Orphans” he referred to, what he said was very insulting and not Biblically sound. My two Romanians are now both sixteen, we adopted them 15 years ago. Both are great kids so I guess per him I got the luck of the draw, but even if they weren’t, I would love them like my kids. Because they are my kids. We are all damaged. We all need God’s grace. We all need to be loved. Orphans especially. Yes you need your eyes open when you choose to pursue adoption. Yes there are risks. But if we avoided risk in life, we could do nothing. We would never help strangers, we would never do charitable work in “questionable” areas, we would never move to Bulgaria (that would be you Dan, not me), etc. Our God is a big God and sometimes he calls us to do big things. And sometimes he calls us to do little things. And lots of times we ignore both, but that would be another article.

    There are millions of orphans that need families and there are millions of families that need orphans. The enrichment to lives is a two way street. Stories like this that may dissuade families that could so benefit and provide so much benefit are a shame. There is a lot of mis-information that is spread about adoption, but God is bigger than that and He can still reach the families that need to be reached.

    • Thanks for your perspective Jim – you’ve been there and done that! I thought about you and your family as I heard his words, ‘[Romanian Orphans]… never adjust to adulthood’, but I thought at the time that the Starcevs have done a great job of giving their kids a great start to making him eat his words:)

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