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As God cares for his children

09 May 2014

It is vital that the Church recovers its theology and responds to children in need of fostering and adoption, says Krish Kandiah


THE word "adoption" is used only five times in the Bible, and yet the theme permeates the whole of scripture. The very first family is a dysfunctional one, experiencing both fratricide and homelessness in the first few pages of Genesis, and the grand narrative of the Bible ends with a great multi-cultural family reunion in the Father's house, in the new heavens and earth. Recovering a theology of adoption is vital not only for the Church, but for every Christian and every society.

Adoption and the children of God

THE dominant ideas that Christians use to recount our conversion experience usually revolve around forgiveness, redemption, and rescue. All of these are wonderful truths, but adoption offers Christians an even more powerful description.

Rescue, forgiveness and redemption all mark the end of something: a crisis has been alleviated, an offence has been pardoned, or a debt has been paid. But adoption marks the beginning of a new identity. In adoption, a profound and intimate relationship has begun.

Rescued individuals have no necessary ongoing relationship with their rescuer; forgiven individuals have no necessary future promise from their pardoner; and redeemed individuals, like freed slaves, are no longer in an abusive, exploitative relationship.

But when God adopts us into his family, we are promised a never-ending loving, caring, intimate relationship with God the Father; and through the Spirit, Jesus becomes our true brother. We are accepted into the household of God: the Church. We are promised a vast future inheritance, and freedom from the power of sin.

So, in our self-understanding of our identity as believers, adoption offers vast resources and privileges. Faithfulness to scripture means that we must talk about this incredibly significant facet of our Christian experience: through adoption, we are accepted as the children of God by the Father of all creation.

Adoption and the character of God

IN PSALM 68, God is describedas "A father to the fatherless". This fundamental aspect of God's character is visible throughout the narrative of the Bible. He takes the "fatherless", such as Moses, Samuel, and Joseph; and the vulnerable, such as Hagar, Hannah, Jacob, and the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners, and places them in a family.

These characters do nothing to deserve God's grace, love, and acceptance - in fact, all of them have serious flaws and issues. By making these kinds of people his descendants and heirs, God reveals himself as a gracious father to the fatherless.

Our own experience of God is similar. When we became Christians, we did nothing to earn God's favour - in fact, we came with all sorts of emotional and behavioural issues - yet God the Father draws us into his family, and gently and patiently irons out those flaws.

God desires to be known as "a father to the fatherless", and so it is no surprise that he calls his people to model this aspect of his character by caring for vulnerable people. James 1.27 states clearly that "religion that God our Father accepts as pure and blameless is to care for widows and orphans in their distress." Who better to welcome those who need fostering and adopting than those who have experienced the reality of adoption themselves?

Adoption and the community of God

OUR adoption into God's family is not a peripheral part of God's plans for the universe. Rather, it is pivotal not only to the doctrine of salvation, to our understanding of the character of God, and to our witness in the world, but in the way that God exists in community.

In Galatians 4, St Paul writes: "But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship."

And, in Romans 8, he says: "The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship"; and: "It is through the Spirit's intervention that we are able to cry 'Abba, Father.'"

In order to give humanity the opportunity of adoption into his family, the whole Trinity was involved. The part played by God the Father was to send his Son. God the Son's part was obedience to the Father, even though that obedience would mean the humiliation of the incarnation, and the devastation of the cross. God the Holy Spirit is the agent who appropriates and confirms our adoption at an experiential level.

Because of this Trinitarian collaboration, adoption is a vital part of the missio Dei (the mission of God). In Romans 8, St Paul explains our adoption's eschatological significance, linking it to the consummation of creation. Thanks to the work of the Spirit in our lives, we who have come to faith are the "firstfruits" of what is to come.

The adoption of believers into God's family acts not only as a trigger to show God's character to a watching world, but also as the trailer for the restoration of all things that will come at the end of time.

This community of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - now includes us. God welcomes us into his family as those who have been legally, permanently, and equally adopted.

Adoption and the compassion of God

GOD the Holy Trinity was not in any way inadequate before the offer of adoption to lost humanity. The Godhead did not need adopted children to fill any gap, or meet any emotional deficiencies. Christians believe in the aseity of God: that God is fully sufficient and satisfied in himself.

Yet God the Father was motivated by human need to intervene in human history, sending his Son and Spirit to make our adoption possible. The Galatians 4 passage likens our fallen human condition to vulnerable children in need of liberation. God is moved by compassion not by necessity, and therefore acted to make our adoption possible.

It is this compassion that we are called to emulate. And the campaign Home for Good, launched last year by Care for the Family, the Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), and the Evangelical Alliance, is calling on the Church to model this kind of motivation for fostering and adoption.

One of the key messages of the campaign is that Christian fostering and adoption cannot be motivated solely by the wants or desires of adopters. Adoption should not just be about parents getting the kinds of children they want; but, rather, about the 6000 waiting children finding the parents they need. Christian fostering and adoption modelled on the compassion of God reaches out to meet the needs of others.

Understanding our spiritual adoption helps us reach out to adopt others, or to support those who are able to adopt or foster vulnerable children. Many Christian adopters report that the process of earthly adoption has given them more appreciation of their spiritual adoption.

This virtuous circle of theology, prompting action and action confirming theology, is a vital aspect of a Christian's experience, as the fostering and adoption of children from care often comes at great cost, with much pain.

Adoption and the Church of God

BECAUSE adoption occupies such an important place in every Christian's self identity, in the very character of God, and in God's purposes for the universe, it is incongruous that fostering and adoption do not occupy a cen-tral place in the life of the UK Church.

Travelling around the UK, I often find churches who have no experience of fostering or adoption. I have also come across many stories of families who have chosen to mirror God's adopting love by deliberately choosing to foster or adopt children who have many challenges - but found that the Church was unwilling to accept them.

I have met a church leader who was told that he should be disqualified from eldership because he could not "control" his adopted children. He was seen to have failed the leadership test of Titus 1.4: "whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient." I have met a young mum crying in the church carpark because her son was banned from Sunday school for not sitting still.

Fostering and adoption are rarely preached about from our pulpits, or included in the lyrics of our worship songs. The specific challenges of fostered and adopted children -scars of chaos, trauma, displacement, or disabilities - are rarely talked about in our parenting classes. The heartache of adoptive families is rarely acknowledged in our counselling courses.

It is time that we rediscovered the riches of adoption theology, and it is time we put that theology into practice; so that the Church can be a place where all of us can appreciate our own adoption, and support others involved in fostering and adoption.

Adoption is the call and privilege of every Christian. Through the redeeming grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, every believer knows God as our father, and Jesus as our brother. But, perhaps, we are too often ignorant of our privileges, and too often negligent of our responsibilities to pass on the compassion and grace of God to the thousands of children in our towns and cities that desperately need it. My prayer is that, as we recover a theology of adoption, this will change.


Krish Kandiah is the Executive Director for Churches in Mission at the Evangelical Alliance, and author of Home for Good: Making a difference for vulnerable children, published last year by Hodder & Stoughton. A theological conference on adoption will take place at St Mellitus College, London, in February 2015.


Al Coates has fostered and adopted six children with his wife, Paula, and is now training to be a foster-care social worker

I WAS 27 when Paula and I got married. She's ten years older than me, and quickly pointed out that we needed to think about having children. Nothing happened, and though there were no obvious problems, time was ticking on, and the window for IVF was closing; so we needed to make some decisions.

Then we met some people from an adoption agency, Phoenix Community Care, and decided that this was the way for us.

We agreed we'd take whoever needed a home, and, after getting approved, we were offered a group of three siblings aged six, three, and 20 months old. We said "yes", like mad, enthusiastic fools, and they came to us in 1999, settled in well, and we adopted them in 2000.

By 2005, our eldest was 13, they were all at school, and we decided we had a house big enough to foster two more children. We were approved, and we took in two sisters, aged three months and 15 months, for respite care. Not long after, we were told that their foster carer wanted to retire, but only if we'd take the girls; so we looked after them.

They had daily contact with their birth mother, and they weren't freed for adoption, which became quite traumatic for them. A family had come forward to be special guardians, but they weren't able to fulfil that role, and, eventually, people began to ask why we couldn't adopt them. In the middle of 2008, after a long and protracted process, we adopted them.

In 2011, Paula bumped into their aunt, who told her that our youngest girls' birth mother was pregnant again. Without skipping a beat, Paula said we would take that child, if the mother was still in the position of not being able to care for young children. The baby came into care from birth, and at the end of April she was adopted by us.

Each one of our children has had a different experience of the care system, and we're a rag tag bunch: one looks Greek, one's black, one looks Mexican, and so on. But when our children came to us, they didn't join us, we became something new together with them.

People try and canonise us, but every child comes with challenges and uncertainties, and every child is a gift from God. Adoption is a wonderful privilege, and, as my wife would say, there's enough children to go round.

Reporting by Johanna Derry


Last year, the leader of Southampton City Life Church, Paul Woodman, launched a campaign to find foster homes for 40 children

FOR the past three years, my wife Susannah and I have offered respite and short-term care for children younger than our own. We have a daughter who's 14, and a son who's 11; so we foster children up to the age of 11. We regularly look after two boys, brothers aged five and six, and a brother and sister who are two and three.

When I was 16 or 17, I was effectively homeless. My parents had broken up, and, although I wasn't in official foster care, I was taken in by a Church of England vicar and his family, who looked after me, on and off, for two or three years. It wasn't that my parents didn't care, but I knew I had a safe place to go if I needed it. They gave me a key. It was a very significant thing to be trusted with a key to their house.

In 2013, in the face of cuts, leaders of faith communitiesin Southampon asked the local council if there was anything we could do. The council came back with a list which included things you'd expect, like youth clubs. But they also asked for help to find foster placements.

Faith communities in the city pledged to find 40 new foster and adoptive homes. We made an artwork of 40 keys on a board, and gave it to Southampton fostering team as a sign of our commitment.

When you have one family in your church who fosters or adopts, you see the ups and the downs, and it changes the way you think about church. As you have more foster children in your Sunday school, for example, you will have more challenging behaviour. When someone is looking after five or six children, they need help and support.

Some people might not be able to foster, but they can support families who do. People have become approved babysitters - "safe" people, who can give foster carers a night off. Others contributed [financially] so that people could move to bigger houses, to take on children. That's really creative and generous.

The churcheshave really stepped up over the past year. We have ten families approved, and another 50 in the process of being approved for fostering or adoption. Even though we've met the original target, there are always more children who need homes. I want to take people into my home, include them, and value them.

Reporting by Johanna Derry

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