October 10, 2007

Interview: J.B. Watkins on Transracial Adoption and the Gospel

JBWatkinsWe are in the midst of a series of interviews that seek to address adoption-related issues from a theological perspective. I am interviewing theologians, authors, adoptive parents, and a few adult adoptees about a number of adoption issues. Carolina Hope is committed to helping Christians think theologically about all things adoption. We believe that this interview series will help us accomplish this.

Today's interview is our second one dealing with the issue of transracial adoption. Our guest is J.B. Watkins, Senior Pastor of St. Roch Community Church, a multi-cultural congregation called to serve the St. Roch and St. Claude neighborhoods of New Orleans. Desire Street Ministries planted St. Roch Community Church in an effort "to replicate its model of incarnational ministry and indigenous leadership development." Danny Wuerffel, Executive Director of Desire Street Ministries, writes: "Desire Street Ministries exists—to revitalize impoverished urban neighborhoods through spiritual and community development. As a part of that mission, we consciously try to combat injustice and to share God’s heart for the poor." St. Roch Community Church was launched in January 2007 as a result of this mission. It is a community of believers that is committed to preaching the gospel in word and deed, discipling children, youth, and adults, and addressing the felt needs of these New Orleans' urban communities.

1. J.B., tell us a little about yourself and your ministry in New Orleans.

My name is J.B. Watkins and I am the Pastor of the St. Roch Community Church plant. Having been planted by Desire Street Ministries, we are a diverse body of believers affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America and located in the inner-city of New Orleans, Louisiana. St. Roch, as a core group, began meeting in February of 2007 for bible study with but a handful of people and plenty of children. Currently on average, we have about 20 adults and depending on the location, anywhere from 25-35 children attending our Sunday evening bible studies. As for myself, I recently joined St. Roch as the Pastor in August of 2007 by way of a previous ministry in Memphis TN. As a church, it is our desire to see the whole of the community by which we reside (St. Roch/ St. Claude), become transformed in every sphere of its existence by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

2. My wife and I adopted two black boys as infants. They are now five and three. How important do you think it is for white parents to connect their black children to the black community and their black heritage?

I believe that it is very important. As a child with black skin, he will somehow or another always be identified with those of the same skin color. As such, the opportunity should be afforded them to connect with the black community as well as their black heritage. This can have a very positive affect upon the child in that he will be enriched with the different experiences of being raised by white parents and yet having full access and awareness of his black identity. Not only would this prove beneficial for the children but for the different-race parents as well.

3. How can different-race parents help their adopted children deal with racism?

For one, I believe that it is very important to be truthful and upfront about it. The sad fact is that racism, though not as open or blatant as times past, is still very much so alive. This need not be hidden nor denied but carefully and sincerely explained.

But not only is it important to be truthful and upfront about racism, I also believe that this issue must be handled and addressed from a biblical perspective. I believe that the children should from an early age be made aware of the beautiful diversity of God’s creation, which includes ethnical backgrounds. And any attempt to discredit or deny such beauty must be attributed to the devastating effects of sin. In addition to such, different-race parents must help their adopted children to see and appreciate the culmination of the gospel—namely that day in which all types of people will equally, as it pertains to race, stand before the throne of the Lamb giving praise and thanks for what he has done. And not only will this be the case, it should likewise be reflected here and now.

4. Many different-race children struggle with the differences they discover between themselves and their different-race parents. How might the gospel influence how parents address this struggle?

As a biracial child with predominantly African-American features (skin complexion, hair, etc.), I have often struggled with such differences myself—my mother being biracial with predominantly Euro-American features and my father being African-American). One way in which the gospel may influence how parents address this struggle is to help their children to see that the gospel allows for certain differences and likewise celebrates them. It is an all-too common error to associate the reality of differences with problems. And this need not always be the case. Different-race children must be helped to understand that the gospel allows for differences and as such to be different in many aspects by all means ok.

5. Many multi-ethnic families live in non-integrated neighborhoods. They often fear that this will have negative effects upon their transracially adopted children. Is this a legitimate concern? If so, what can multi-ethnic families in this situation do to address this?

I believe that most concerns as they relate to transracial issues are legitimate, this particular fear included. While it would be a wonderful and profitable experience for transracial families to live in integrated neighborhoods, those who do not live in such can offset such fears in a number of ways. The most obvious would be to move to an integrated neighborhood. Another avenue would be to provide a way of access in which different-race children could be connected to environments or neighborhoods akin to their race. This could be done in a number of ways as well. Different-race children could be sent to schools that have a mixed population. Different-race parents can see to it that their different-race adopted children have opportunities to play with some children of the same race, which would open an opportunity for white parents with black children to meet black parents of black children, and that will in turn provide other opportunities to offset raising different-race children in non-integrated neighborhoods.

6. Some black pro-lifers began a website that addresses the impact of abortion upon the African American community (blackgenocide.org). Here's what their website's intro page says: "Although black women constitute only 6% of the population, they comprise 36% of the abortion industry's clientèle. The leading abortion providers have chosen to exploit blacks by locating 94% of their abortuaries in urban neighborhoods with high black populations." Are you aware of any efforts within the black community to establish crisis pregnancy centers in urban areas and/or to encourage Christians to provide homes for these African American children?

I am not aware of major efforts within the black community to do such, though there are a few. This problem can be the result of a number of issues including, political and religious views as held by some black leaders. Yet it is my belief that amongst the major programs and agendas being set within the black community, such efforts should be included.

7. How receptive is the black community to transracial adoption in general? What are some areas of concern that they might have and how does the gospel address those concerns?

I believe that the answer to the first part of this question depends upon what sector of the black community one is considering. The reality is that there is a major gulf between the African-American community of the middle class and the African-American community of poor urban areas. Nevertheless, I believe in general, that the black community taken as a whole is cautiously receptive—if not in action, in mindset. As to the concerns, I believe that they do not differ much from that of the white community. For it would be equally as hard, if not harder, depending on who you ask (in light of the history of this country), for black parents to raise white children. What will whites think about black parents raising white children? What will other blacks think about black parents raising white children? How can black parents keep their adopted white children connected to the white community and identity? These are questions that will naturally arise in transracial adoption.

The answer to such concerns of the black community regarding this issue is basically the same as that which is and should be given the white community. And that is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for all ethnic backgrounds to celebrate and to also share with one another.

8. Some supporters of transracial adoption believe that being a Christian obliterates all of our natural differences. They believe that Christianity ought to be blind to all ethnic distinctions and differences. What are your thoughts about this? Wouldn't it be better to say that Christianity relativizes them?

I believe that Christianity ought to be blind to all ethnic distinctions and differences only as it pertains to salvation and Christ being offered to all (Galatians 3:28). I do not believe that Christianity ought to be blind to all ethnic distinctions and differences simply for the sake of unity; which is where this line of thinking often comes from. I do believe that Christians should strive for unity by recognizing, utilizing, and celebrating various ethnic distinctions and differences. I am reminded of the various people and positions that God used in Scripture to bring about his plan of salvation. He used, prophets/prophetess, priests, kings, men, women, Jews, Gentiles, with their various personalities and backgrounds. It is my belief that we are to likewise relativize not only our various positions and gifts but also our various ethnic distinctions and differences in advancing the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

0 comments on “Interview: J.B. Watkins on Transracial Adoption and the Gospel”

  1. Great interview! Desire St Ministries (and their offshoots) have been one of my favorites since Historian Karen Kruse Thomas introduced me to them at Bethlehem a decade ago. There is so much in this interview to say AMEN! to. I particularly resonate with Mr. Watkins addressing the sad reality that racism is alive and active in our world. History shows that it's not just the USA that struggles with this, it's an unfortunate factor in every country, that some will choose to value and judge others by their racial makeup. Racism affects people everywhere.

    As the adoptive mom to 6 AA/NA children I have been blessed with the opportunity to walk through racism with my children. My being white doesn't spare them the racism, rather it took me into it kicking and screaming at the injustice of the reality. Seven years into parenting AA kids, living in a integrated inner-city neighborhood, and dealing with the realities of hate and ignorance expressed - I have no regrets. Our life is richer from living hip to hip with our neighbors, for walking through suffering with them, facing their despair, and raging with them at the injustices that come when Sin is allowed to conceal from our eyes the beauty of every person God created.

    Keep up the great interviews - I hope to meet JB and his beautiful family in person someday and to celebrate the way God builds families that please Him through earthly adoption.

  2. [...] Adoption Article Another interesting article on transracial [...]

  3. Transracial Adoption and Self-Identity...

    Check out this intriguing interview with J.B. Watkins, Senior Pastor of St. Roch Community Church, a multicultural congregation in New Orleans. J.B., who is bi-racial, offers some good suggestions about how white parents who are raising black children ...

  4. My wife and I are in the process of adopting from Guatemala (of course, recently, it looks like we may not be able to after all, which has been heart wrenching for us - http://www.tillhecomes.org/blog/?p=73.)

    Do you think that hispanic children have the same difficulties as desribed here? Currently, my wife and I live in a predominantly hispanic community, but we will probably be moving north within the next year to Montana or Idaho where something like 98% of the community is white.

  5. When adoptive parents adopt a child who looks different from them, they are now becoming a multi-racial/ethnic family. Certainly the experience of a child adopted from Guatemala is different from a child who is black and has white parents. But there are similiarities as well:

    First, you are now a conspicuous family; therefore, there will most likely be more curiosity about your family and how it was formed. This can require you to establish some proper boundaries as well as a good sense of humor in certain situations.

    Next, because you are a mutli-ethnic family, you need to approach life as such--not just a white family adopting a Hispanic/black/Asian child. Your family is now changed forever. You need to acknowledge and celebrate other cultures--and not necessarily just your adopted child's heritage.

    At adoptionlearningpartners.org there is a great educational program called Conspicuous Families that addresses the issue of transracial/ethnic adoptions.

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