Orphans have come up in conversation several times lately, and I’ve noticed that some people seem to think I’m automatically on board with any organization or fundraiser involving the “plight of orphans.” The thing is, I’m not. Sure, I think all children deserve homes. I hope more people become willing to adopt kids who are waiting for families. What I’m not interested in is labeling these kids as orphans or “the least of these,” or buying t-shirts and wall plaques with orphan-related Bible verses on them.
Here’s the thing. Some people who are adopted do not identify with the orphan label. Fellow Christians, I love you, but y’all are slapping that name on EVERYTHING lately and it’s becoming almost offensive. And I know, I know, you’re using the Biblical definition of a fatherless or abandoned person. But think about that for a moment from the adoptee’s perspective. Some of them may very well be orphaned, as in, they have no living biological parents. Others have distinct memories of their biological families, who are still living. Even if they don’t remember them, they may know that their birth family is still alive.
My kids are in the latter groups. They do not consider themselves orphans, and neither do I. They have living biological parents. They were not fatherless. Just because their birth family wasn’t a very good family doesn’t mean they don’t exist. To package all of that backstory into a cutesy orphan label is to deny their personal history. You can’t re-write someone’s story for them. It’s not OK. It minimizes and trivializes their losses, and honestly, it seems like the whole point is to make the adoptive families and fundraisers feel better about rescuing someone.
April also happens to be autism awareness month. For the record, I have no issue with autism awareness. These two topics are linked in my brain, though, because my friend Kai so eloquently summed up the problem of making real human beings into some kind of poster child for an issue. She said, “I’m all for the awareness part…. I’m not ‘inspirational’ or ‘special’ and, disappointingly for all involved if you’re into that kind of narrative, haven’t overcome anything with the power of love, or voodoo or autism whisperers.”
She was talking about autism, but what she said resonated with me as I was thinking about adoption. Maybe these “orphans” don’t want to be your inspiration and feel-good message. What if they don’t want you to call your adoption events “Orphan Sunday?” Have you asked very many of them?
My Hannah will talk about her experiences before and after adoption with people she trusts. She’s quite open with many people about her status as an adoptee, and laughed heartily when I mis-stated her birth date once and a woman nearby asked, “you can’t remember her birth date? Weren’t you there?” But she’s not down with an attitude of pity. She’s no orphan, thanks, and never has been. Neither does she want to be considered a charity project.
Would you like it if someone showed you love or kindness and then turned around and announced they were doing so because God says it’s important to minister to the least of these, or the orphans, or the fatherless, or whatever other label they thought applied to you? Here, I brought you some chicken soup, sick person, because I’m doing God’s work! Oh, you thought it was because I liked you? Sucker….
While we’re at it, can we also simmer down with the “we’re all orphans adopted by God” thing? No. We’re not all orphans. Please don’t minimize their experience with a trite turn of phrase. Love God. Love other people. Love children. Just don’t label and use them for your own spiritual gratification.
Want more on this topic? I highly recommend reading The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption (Amazon affiliate link).