Law, Gospel, Abortion, And Adoption

The morning of June 25, 2022 was a morning unlike any I had ever experienced. On that morning, like everyone reading this article, I awoke to a post-Roe v. Wade-America. Born the same year as the original Roe decision, I had never known civil life without it. But, now, thanks to a 6-3 conservative majority ruling, the abortion industry, once propped up by Roe, finds itself on its heels for the first time in nearly fifty years. To be sure, the ultimate legal victory that would outlaw this immoral practice across our land has not been won—that’s not what Roe’s overturning was intended to accomplish. Still, I rejoiced that day, and I rejoice now, that Roe is no more.

So, as the high-fives diminish and the news headlines give way to other crises, what’s up next for the pro-life movement and the Christian church on the abortion issue? The answers to this and related questions are many and diverse. There are a myriad of legal, civil and, of course, spiritual issues that will need to be resolved in the months and even years to come. It’s hard to tell what unintended consequences Roe’s demise will have for us tomorrow. Ready or not, tomorrow will come.

One arena within the greater pro-life complex that I would like to address herein, and that I feel reasonably competent to speak to, is the matter of adoption and its relationship to abortion. Beginning on June 24 and following, I read (and continue to read) numerous social media posts and interactions from well-meaning pro-life advocates, with each post serving as an individual call to action for pro-life and Christian folk everywhere. I will not link to any in this article, as I have no intention of “throwing shade” on them. I am in material agreement with them—with Roe overturned, new and continuing pro-life efforts will be necessary for the sanctity of the unborn, and ultimate legal defeat of abortion in America.

That said, I have grown somewhat concerned with a common refrain coming from many pro-life Christians. That messaging goes something like this: “Now, that Roe is overturned, the real work begins. The church must roll up her sleeves and get busy! Time is wasting! We must get ready to rescue the children who would’ve been aborted! This is what it means to be followers of Christ—this is true religion!”

I say again—nothing of what I’m about to say is intended to materially change the enthusiasm of us all who otherwise align with the pro-life movement. I am a pro-life Christian and always have been. Even so, our tribe is not infallible and sometimes might benefit from a little self-reflection to see that we are “in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5).

My pushback comes at a point that will probably feel awkward to some, if not many. For those of us who cut our teeth in the halls of modern, American evangelicalism, the forcefulness and enthusiasm with which we speak about our “mission” and the “church’s mission” is assumed. We are to be enthusiastic soldiers in the Lord’s Army, and if we’re not as loud as the guy next to us, it could be a sign that we’re not as on board as everyone else. In fact, it could be cause for us, or someone else, to question our faith altogether.

As a three-time adoptive father, I know full well the work and effort that is required to complete the miracle of legal, earthly adoption. For those of us who cannot simply write a check, my wife and I know the road of fundraising, of investing personal funds, and of applying for grants in order to cross the mountainous financial obstacles. We know the sleepless nights of wondering if the adoption will encounter legal challenges, of dealing with the special needs that almost every adoptive family will face and, finally, of pursuing the attachment bonds with the adopted child that will ensure a healthy, successful adoption and “Forever Family.”

Still, I’m at least somewhat uncomfortable with what feels like a “works-based” approach that some seem to take, not just in these days, but for much of the evangelical resurgence in the adoption and foster care community since at least 2009.

I’m concerned that our adopted and foster care children will hear us saying that we see them not as souls to be loved, but as projects to be completed. I’m concerned that we will inadvertently buy into the world’s criticism of us all (that pro-lifers are simply “pro-birth” and care not for the child once born), and turn the joy of receiving adoption as a kindness and grace from God into a law to be slavishly kept. I’m concerned about the language of “rescue” that seems to crowd out the language of “anticipation,” where the former builds anxiety and the other hopeful expectation.

We must not allow adoption to become a type of litmus test that only “super-Christians” engage in.

For those of us in Reformed circles, the distinction that we make between the law and the Gospel is foundational to our understanding of redemptive history. It may seem out of place, but that history involves our adoption as sons by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We understand that our adoption comes to us in a series of grace-driven events that theologians call the “ordo salutis.”

With this in mind, I’m asking those of us in the pro-life, adoption community to slow down and ask: If adoption is a gospel issue, as we say, then why do we sometimes sound as if we understand it, mostly or even substantially, as a matter of law? Is there an unintended risk that we take if this is true, wherein we miss out on some of what God is doing in us and in our adopted children when we erroneously locate our understanding of what adoption is (even in its earthly iteration) in law-keeping, rather than embracing it as the fruit of our justification?

In other words, is adoption, at bottom, a work of law that churches and Christians must fulfill in order to meet an ethical checklist (every true Christian . . . ), or is our pursuit of welcoming children into our homes, to include the very desire for such, rightly understood as the fruit of the Spirit’s work in us? I submit that the latter is not only greater than the former, but holds out to everyone involved in adoption the greatest opportunity to experience the joy of truly loving and caring for “the orphan” (James 1:27).

Our welcoming of children into our homes via adoption is indeed a good work, but importantly, it’s the fruit of the Spirit’s enabling us in every way, and providing for this always sanctifying, sometimes heart-breaking, yet joy-producing journey that guides us toward glorifying God and enjoying him forever. Indeed, we as Christians adopt because God first adopted us.

Finally, consider that we are called to “let [our] light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). This exhortation to us gives us a clue as to how we should see and tailor our adoptive efforts. Embedded within is the light of the gospel which Christ accomplished on our behalf, rather than the result of our law-keeping.

It’s true that adoption is, in various ways and at various times, an arduous task in our experience of it. But, what it actually is, dare I say “ontologically,” is a glorious gift of God’s grace for us sinners. Yes, we work it out, and in so doing we lose sleep, we shed tears, we wrestle with anxiety, and we pray without ceasing.

But, when our work is done, let us come back to God with empty hands, praising him for the children he has or may yet bring into our homes, and never forget from where the grace to abide for those precious littles souls comes. With gratitude in our hearts, let’s be ready to experience the myriad ways in which adoption is as much about our own sanctification as adoptive parents as it is the provision to a child of a “Forever Family.”

Once our hearts and minds are properly oriented to the nature of adoption, then we can roll up our sleeves, and get down to the grace-driven work of adopting children created in the image of our great God.

© Joshua Waulk. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. “Indeed, we as Christians adopt because God first adopted us.”

    This was a big reason for my wife and I to start looking into fostering and adoption.

    Thank you for a good article.

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