Some anti-adoption voices today, such as Kathryn Joyce in The Child Catchers, are critical of Christians who adopt with a sense of "rescue." But I am standing firm on the use of the term.
When my wife and I began the adoption process, we learned from social workers about the dangers of “rescue” language in connection with adoption. Our social worker wanted to ensure that we were not setting out merely to do a child a favor, but that we had a deep need in our heart for a child. This need, we understood, would ultimately provide a healthier basis for bonding than would be afforded by rescue. While I wholeheartedly agree with that rationale, I think we should not apologize for using the word “rescue.” Let me offer a few reasons why rescue is appropriate.
First, to rescue the vulnerable is a biblical concept. In fact, it is a mandate: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it?” (Proverbs 24:11-12). Many of us are familiar with the fact that the Bible speaks of the fatherless forty-four times, nearly always in conjunction with a command to rescue or provide. These commands to rescue are even accompanied with a warning if we fail to do so. For example, “Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; he will take up their case against you” (Proverbs 23:10). If God is unequivocal in His command to rescue the fatherless, we should be unashamed to name this as our mandate.
Second, the needs of orphans deserve and demand rescue. The need for rescue is evident in the reasons that children become orphans in the first place. Children become orphans because of abandonment due to poverty, disease, gender inequality, or stigma of disability. They are orphaned by death due to war, natural disaster, or disease. Children become orphans due to legal action from abuse, neglect, or incarceration. They become orphans when their parents are unable to care as a result of drug or alcohol abuse, or mental deficiency. The need for rescue is also evident when we consider the dangers orphans face, such as unclean water, malnutrition, lack of shelter, and lack of education or opportunity. Orphaned children face a much higher prospect of disease, becoming victims of sex trafficking, or being conscripted as child soldiers or slaves. As orphans age, they have increased mental health problems and self-destructive behaviors such as drug use, crime, and turning to prostitution. This litany of dangers and tragic circumstances warrant a strong determination to “rescue.”
Third, rescue language can counteract the risk of adoption exploiting children in the effort to “find kids for families.” Adoption organizations and agencies are clear that their role is not to find kids for couples, but to find parents for children. The hesitation to find kids for parents is well-founded, and based on a concern that over-zealous parents, attorneys, and agencies will do “whatever it takes” to find a child. If finding a child were the only motivation for adoption, then there may very well be an increased risk of inadvertent or malicious exploitation. On the other hand, when couples are more occupied with rescue, they will look for children who are truly in need, not who fit their needs. In this sense, rescue language may provide the extra patience, time, and investigation to determine that the child adopted was truly in need of parents (and of rescue).
Fourth, “rescue” is how adopted children speak of their experience. Our agency asked adoptive children, once they became adults, to write and tell us about their experience. I have a stack of these letters in my office. In nearly every one of these letters the adult adoptee speaks appreciatively of the fact that he or she was rescued. They recount the immediate problems from which they were rescued, and they speak of the gloomy future from which they were rescued. Based on these letters, I am beginning to wonder of the people who eschew rescue language have lived too long on university campuses.
Fifth, rescue language is appropriate because it is true. Most children who are adopted were in the midst of dire circumstances at the point of their adoption, and also were facing a bleak future. I have a friend who unashamedly admits that he adopted purely for selfish motives. He adopted a young boy with disabilities from Russia. People often tell him he “did a good thing” but he flatly rejects that compliment, because he only wanted to have this boy as his son. The truth is, however, it is irrelevant whether this benevolently selfish father recognizes or accepts credit, because either way, his son was rescued from a future as an orphan. Rescue is what he did, regardless of whether this was his motive or whether he was conscious of the fact.
Daniel Nehrbass, Ph.D.
President, Nightlight Christian Adoptions