Blindsiding Christian Adoption

Sadly, news broke last week that Michael Oher, the former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle whose story was featured in the Sandra Bullock-starred 2009 movie “The Blind Side,” is suing the family that supposedly adopted him. Oher claims the Tuohy’s tricked him into signing a conservatorship instead of adoption papers when he was 18 years old, granting them rights over his story and career. He wants them to end the conservatorship and hand over any money rightfully owed to him.

The Tuohy’s, for their part, describe themselves as “heartbroken” over the accusations and claim the conservatorship was pursued only because legal adoption was not possible given Oher’s age. They also claim Oher blackmailed them by demanding $15 million over threats to go public with a negative story. By all accounts, the family was already wealthy before meeting Oher, and they insist Oher has already been paid his equal share of the small amount they received from the movie.

I’ve sat in enough counseling rooms between disputing parties to know its best to reserve judgment until all the facts are revealed. There are always multiple factors to consider and at least two sides to every story. Unfortunately, it looks like the courts will have to settle this one.

However, not everyone suspended judgment. For some, this story provided a golden opportunity to participate in a favorite cultural pastime—bashing Christians. Shortly after the news broke, Jill Filipovic published a CNN opinion article titled, “Michael Oher’s lawsuit against his ‘Blind Side’ family raises urgent questions.” Filipovic has already rendered her judgment: This unique case invalidates the entire practice of Christian adoption.

Filipovic writes, “It’s also difficult to take Oher’s story out of the context of the abuses rife within Christian adoptive communities. In the last two decades, it has become trendy for White Evangelical families to adopt children, often children of color and often children from poor countries, as part of a broader mission to spread God’s word . . . Evangelicals, according to this ‘orphan theology,’ are called to spread the Gospel by adopting children. This both Christianizes the children and uses adoption as a way to create arrows for Christ—more people to spread the Gospel. And it has the added benefit of imbuing the adoptive families with a sense of charity and goodness; they are often applauded by their community members for having hearts big enough to take in poor, suffering orphans.”

Filipovic is right to point out the horrific abuses and injustices that have been perpetrated in the name of Christian adoption. As a Christian pastor and adoptive father, I join her in grieving such examples and repudiating anyone who would undertake adoption for the reasons she lists.

My issue is not that Filipovic calls out these horrendous examples, but that she misleadingly paints the entire Christian adoption movement with one broad brush. The truth is that I personally know dozens of Christian adoptive families, many of whom are close personal friends, and not one of them would fit Filipovic’s disingenuous description.

Why do the Christians I know adopt? Because they are heartbroken over the thought of a child of any ethnicity or from any region of the world growing up without a loving family. Motivated by the love of Christ who gave himself to adopt us, the adoptive Christians I know want to replicate that selfless love by pouring their lives into serving orphaned children.

Filipovic seems oblivious to the difficulties of adoption. Government regulations and opportunistic profiteers often conspire to overwhelm prospective families with exorbitant fees. Children often enter new homes with trauma and serious medical conditions stemming from neglect and abuse. If these families are really after the psychological satisfaction of “a sense of charity and goodwill” and applause from their communities, there are certainly easier ways to attain these goals. Yet, in spite of these obstacles, many Christians press on, motivated by the love of Christ, hoping to provide loving homes through foster care and adoption.

Further, the spread of the gospel is a byproduct of Christian adoption, not the cause. Of course, children who grow up in Christian families will be more likely to follow Christ. You could make the same argument against Christians birthing children. Christians pass our beliefs and values to our children just as people who share Filipovic’s beliefs and values do with their own. It’s called parenting. Filipovic fallaciously ascribes the worst examples she can find as motives for Christian adoptive parents everywhere.

Here’s the truth: Filipovic perpetuates a secular ideology that elevates racial identity as ultimate. Under this view, it’s better for an orphan of color to rot of neglect in an orphanage than for a white Christian couple to provide a loving family and home. Under this ideology, the most important thing about a person is the color of their skin. Christians must celebrate the uniqueness of racial and cultural diversity, but we must reject this tendency to make these differences ultimate. What binds human beings together is not skin pigment or ethnicity, but the dignity we share from being created in the image of God.

Christians, don’t let the secular naysayers confuse you about truth, justice, and beauty. Don’t let them call evil good and good evil. Follow Jesus. Love orphans. Speak the truth in love.

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