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Adoption: re–discovering what it means to be family

Adoption: re–discovering what it means to be family

Following news of a new National Adoption Strategy, Abbie Allison considers how the Bible’s radical ideas about family could help to shift our understanding of adoption. 28/07/2021

“There is no substitute for a loving, permanent family.”

So said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson when asked about a new £48m National Adoption Strategy launching in England this week. This new initiative seeks to improve adoption services and help place more children with families, encouraging more people to adopt by providing better post–adoption support, therapy and activities.

There are nearly 3,000 children waiting to be adopted in England, and the children least likely to be adopted include BAME children, disabled children, sibling groups and children over the age of four. These are horrifying stats in themselves, but more concerning still is that the likelihood of children ending up homeless or in prison in the future is significantly increased if they are not placed in stable homes. Care leavers make up 25% of the homeless population and nearly 50% of under 21–year–olds in contact with the criminal justice system had spent time in care.  

These children’s futures are at huge increased risk and yet as a society we tend to focus our time and resources trying to help people who have already fallen through the cracks, while not giving sufficient attention to a main cause – the lack of offers of stable homes. Christians are leading the way when it comes to adoption and fostering, but it strikes me that the number of churches raising awareness and funds to tackle the effects still outweighs the number of churches actively encouraging their members to adopt.

At a recent Home for Good event I heard from an adoptive mother, who had chosen with her husband to adopt rather than try to have biological children – the experience, although not sugar–coated or downplaying the effects of the trauma the children had experienced, was transformative for the couple as well as the children. Yet their choice seems surprising, even sacrificial, because most couples who are able to reproduce naturally do not consider adoption as a first choice – it is just not on their radar. Why is it not considered an option for most people starting a family? And how can we normalise adoption in a way that is liberating for both children in care and prospective parents?

The Bible regularly speaks both directly and indirectly in terms of adoption, and can help us understand its value and potential. For a start, the Bible literally calls us to take care of the orphan. The clear biblical attitude to children is that they are precious and we should cherish every child, not just our own (Matthew 19.14). We are reminded often that we ourselves are adopted into God’s family – the ultimate example of what a life–transforming difference adoption can make.

The Bible offers a far wider, more inclusive and freeing vision for family than it is often given credit for. The perfect ‘nuclear’ family is a relatively recent, Western invention – there is no blueprint for an ideal family in the Bible, and the New Testament repeatedly blows apart our society’s narrow understanding of what family looks like. Time and time again, the New Testament suggests that loyalty to the spiritual family is what is really important, for example when Jesus is asked about his family, he replies that “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12. 46–50). The disciples in the New Testament form family bonds not just through their shared faith but through shared practices such as eating and working together. Some of Jesus’ final words, asking his disciple to take care of his mother, re–shaped the boundaries of family, and highlighted that what matters is looking after those who need it regardless of genetic relationship: “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” (John 19:25–27).

Moreover, while the biblical meta–narrative of salvation initially comes through blood, with Abraham as the father of the nation, crucially it is then is extended to all: through Jesus, the seed of Abraham, the Gospel reaches beyond a particular bloodline to the Gentiles (Galatians 3.16). Christianity is inherently a faith that is not limited to blood relations and therefore calls into question the importance we place on having children that are biologically related to us, opening up exciting possibilities and visions for family.

These radical ideas of what it means to be family could help to shift the narrative and understanding of adoption in our society, at a time when it is desperately needed. If genetic connection to children is less important than we imagine, and adoption transforms futures that are otherwise at risk, we can be inspired to think afresh about family regardless of our personal fertility or belief status.

“Have you considered adoption?” infertile couples are often asked when they share that they are having difficulty conceiving. The challenging, and liberating, reply should be “Have you?”


You can find out more about adoption, including a full list of Adoption agencies, on the First4Adoption website here.

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 Photo by Steve Shreve on Unsplash

Abbie Allison

Abbie Allison

Abbie was Communications and Events Officer at Theos between 2019 and 2022. Prior to this, she worked as a fundraiser for a national homelessness charity based in the North East of England. She holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Bristol.

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Posted 28 July 2021

Family, Society


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