It’s a topic most people don’t associate with our singles demographic:

Adoption.

Crosswalk.com has broached the idea of singles becoming adoptive parents in articles from 2011 and 2009.  Which, considering the overall dearth of conversation on this subject, is a lot of content.

Should we be encouraging singles to adopt?  We generally assume it’s a negative thing when parents become single, either through divorce, or the death of their spouse.  Raising kids is hard work – even with two parents.  But intentionally adopting a child when you’re single?  Wow.  That just sounds odd, or wrong, to many of us.

But is it?

No state has laws prohibiting an adult from adopting based solely on their marital status.  From our government’s perspective, since plenty of kids need to be adopted, one parent is better than none.

More importantly, though, since we evangelicals are to advocate for what God says is right and good, what part about our religion being James 1:27 doesn’t apply to singles?  Would you prefer having the state raise children, even if it’s through the pseudo-familial mechanism of well-meaning foster parents?  How many people in our prisons today got there in part because of non-existent parental relationships?  To what degree could we evangelicals actively participate in lowering the rate of abortion in North America by not marginalizing the willingness of single adults within our faith fellowships who might be open to adoption?

Religion that God Our Father Accepts

Granted, God created the roles of both father and mother to be complementary, providing between them a solid foundation of support for the nurture of well-developed offspring.  This is why leaving adoption to married couples has been the normative perspective among people of faith.  And undoubtedly, having both a dad and a mom provides the most ideal environment for any child.  No one person can play both roles well.

Still, isn’t having one parent better than having none at all?  How much of a crisis do we recognize the orphan status as being?  Maybe it’s not optimum, but is single parenting implicitly harmful?  Despite the death of a parent, children can nevertheless be raised by their surviving mom or dad into productive, responsible adults.  Even divorce doesn’t automatically destroy a child’s future.  How much less punitive would be a child’s ability to grow up knowing that they were chosen, even if it was by one person, and not two?

Besides, however they’ve come to be single, spouseless parents and their families should find support networks within our communities of faith to supplement the childrearing skills they inevitably lack being without a spouse.  Many evangelical churches already provide robust family programming, but as our society becomes ever more diverse, how stigmatized should single parents remain?  Yes, accountability and responsibility are biblical concepts, but they’re also two-way streets, aren’t they?

Which brings us back to singles intentionally becoming a parent through adoption.

Good idea, or bad idea?

Is it better to leave a child in foster care someplace, or for that child to have at least one adult who makes the commitment to raise them as their own?  Not that foster parents can’t provide society with considerable emotional resources that children needing foster care would be utterly destitute without.  But isn’t having the permanency of adoptive care even better than the tentative nature of foster care?

Of course, one of the practical reasons for why adoption is pursued mostly by married couples concerns its cost.  Adoption isn’t cheap, and unless you’re a single adult who’s independently wealthy, being married with access to another income can better address adoption’s pricetag.  However, if a single adult’s wealth comes from a high-intensity career that demands a considerable proportion of their attention, are they truly suited for the time-sapping rigors of parenthood?

To Look After Orphans In Their Distress

It’s at this point where some people might wonder if adding single adults into the pool of prospective adoptive parents denies married couples of better chances to get suitable children.  After all, if we can agree that two parents are better than one, isn’t inviting more singles to consider adoption straining the selection process?

To answer that question, first consider the reality that even though the number of singles in our society is increasing, the number of singles who are prime candidates to be adoptive parents will likely remain small.  Singlehood may be trending upward, but that doesn’t mean the reasons people are single also make them suitable candidates for adoption.  For example, we evangelicals shudder at the rise of births out of wedlock in our society, and those births mean that just because somebody’s single, that doesn’t mean they don’t have kids who need their care.

Yet consider another reality: that there’s no shortage of kids needing to be adopted.  Hard numbers showing how many children are waiting for adoptive parents don’t exist, either here in the United States, or internationally.  The reason for this largely involves the fact that many potential adoptive scenarios involve fluid birth-family dynamics.  And in various countries across the globe, the terminology we use for “adoption,” “orphan,” and “orphanages” doesn’t match local customs for determining when a child truly has no biological family support.

As far as foster care is concerned, at least here in the United States, government statistics for such programs show that the number of children waiting to be adopted has been declining, from 135,356 in 2006 to 104,236 in 2011.

But even in decline, each one of those numbers still represents a child needing a parent.  And if a single parent may not seem ideal to some people, some of these kids don’t appeal to adoptive parents, either.  Kids in foster care tend to possess their own set of personality disorders; either biological ones, or ones stemming from the ostracism they’ve developed knowing they’re parentless.  Then there are the kids with physical disabilities, who pose tremendous challenges for both a mom and a dad together.  Imagine what providing for their extraordinary needs would be like for a single parent.

Then there’s the issue of ordinary childcare.  If you’re single, you’re the sole breadwinner, which means you’ll likely be at work all day.  Sure, many two-income married couples send their kids to childcare, and maybe a similar arrangement is still better than leaving kids in foster care, but economic factors fall disproportionately against the prospective single parent.  One of the reasons our country’s social safety net is overburdened is because many single parents can’t afford to raise their biological children.  Love is indeed a wonderful thing, but it can’t pay the rent.

But it does all come down to love, doesn’t it?  We may not be married, but that doesn’t mean we singles don’t appreciate love, or don’t know how to demonstrate it.  Even if most of us are not in a position to adopt, increasing the dialog in our faith communities on the subject might help open up doors for kids who need parents – even just one – who will love them in a pattern reflective of God’s love for us.

After all, if we’re not looking at every method at our disposal to help meet the needs of orphans, what might that say about our faith?

From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.

Publication date: December 20, 2012