The Pro-Life Ethic of Orphan Care
By Matthew S. Bracey
Free Will Baptists subscribe to the Faith and Practices of Free Will Baptists. As the name implies, our treatise follows the traditional dual concern for orthodoxy (right doctrine or belief) and orthopraxy (right practice). The latter sometimes goes by the name ethics. Often, when we hear the word ethics, we think of hot-button issues: abortion, biotechnology, capital punishment, sexuality, and war, among others. Our Treatise and annual resolutions have addressed some of these topics and others like them (nafwb.org/treatise).
However, ethics goes beyond controversial issues to include personal sanctification. For that reason, Carl F. H. Henry authored the superb volume Christian Personal Ethics and Leroy Forlines penned the excellent Biblical Ethics. Ethics covers everything from the individual Christian life to the biggest questions of our day.
Orphan care and adoption is one area of ethics where Free Will Baptists could and should increasingly invest. We already take this matter seriously (as we will see), and thank God for that! But, I believe we could do even more in our denominational subculture, especially given how firm a grip the culture of death (abortion) has on our country.
A Pro-life Ethic
Christian commitment to an ethic of life is based, ultimately, in allegiance to the God of life. In the beginning, God created life from the void—plant life, animal life, and human life—to flourish (Genesis 1:28), and He called it very good (Genesis 1:31). Thus, an ethic of life does not refer simply to the absence of death but more specifically, the presence of human flourishing. However, man, by his sin, introduced death into the created order (Genesis 3:19). That was never God’s will.
God redeemed man from death to life (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:12-13). Because life is more than mere existence, redemption also concerns a flourishing life. Additionally, Jesus founded the Church, comprised of the redeemed, to bear witness to the hope of God’s redemption. Consequently, the redeemed—the Church—testify to an ethic of flourishing life, because God is a God of flourishing life.
Orphan care arises from this ethic of life based in the doctrines of creation and redemption. Yet, often when we hear pro-life, we think only about abortion. Undoubtedly, abortion is an important issue in itself. But a pro-life ethic is broader than abortion. (As an aside, we certainly could gracefully counter by opening our arms and receiving orphaned children into our homes.)
Theological Principles for Orphan Care
An orphan, literally “bereaved,” refers to someone deprived of parents. From the beginning, God’s plan included children, as He directed humanity to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28), but it did not include orphans. Instead, man introduced orphanhood through sin. What is more, orphanhood does not refer simply to a domestic reality but also to a spiritual reality. Because all men sin (2 Chronicles 6:36; Romans 5:12), all people are orphans, since sin separates them from their Creator, their Father. Consequently, orphanhood is the fundamental human condition.
But God loved us orphans and offered to adopt us, in Christ by the Holy Spirit, into His family. The Scriptures testify to this rich theology of adoption, indicating God predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:5). Because Christians have received a spirit of adoption as sons we cry out, “Abba! Father!” or more literally, “Daddy!” or “Papa!” (Romans 8:15b). Thus, adoption is the divine solution to the orphanhood of man.
The biblical authors describe the gospel in many ways: economic analogies (redemption), familial analogies (adoption), legal analogies (justification), religious analogies (propitiation), and many more. While each picture testifies to different aspects of salvation, adoption brings to mind images of God as Father, the Church as family and household, and Christians as brothers and sisters. Such imagery offers great hope and encouragement amid a discouraging world.
Just as orphanhood is a sad spiritual reality, it is also a sad domestic reality. Just as God cares for the spiritually disenfranchised, He cares for physical orphans: “Thou art the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 10:14b); “Leave thy fatherless children, and I will preserve them alive” (Jeremiah 49:11a); and “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). Additionally, the practice of adoption even figures into the earthly life of Jesus Himself, as Joseph, the husband of Mary, cared for Jesus as his own (Matthew 1:18–25).
Practical Considerations for Orphan Care
What do these truths mean for Christians, both individually and as Free Will Baptists? They mean we take orphan care seriously, because we take God seriously. As we have seen, this pro-life ethic arises from the gospel itself. Yet it remains unfamiliar to many of us, perhaps because it is outside our common experience. Nevertheless, God pursues the care of those caught in spiritual and familial destitution. Consequently, so should we.
Challenges may arise. For example, those who consider adoption sometimes express concern they might not love an adopted child as much as they would love a biological child. Undoubtedly, some will show an ungodly favoritism, but that is not limited to adopted children (biblically, consider Isaac’s favoritism toward Esau and Rebekah toward Jacob). Favoritism is not the Christian way. God’s family includes Hebrews and Gentiles, and He does not love one any less than the other.
Instead, God “grafted” Gentiles into the family, giving them the same inheritance as Hebrews (Romans 11:17–24; Galatians 3:26–4:7; Ephesians 1:11, 14). All Christians are Abraham’s children by faith in God’s promises (Romans 4:16; Galatians 3:7). As a result, as we consider our ethic of life, the Spirit of Christ must animate how we view adoption, and orphan care more generally, rather than the spirit of this present evil age (Galatians 1:4).
Undoubtedly, many other challenges arise—personal, logistical, financial, etc. While space does not permit exploring all the barriers to adoption, many helpful resources exist to address them. Consider Russell Moore’s Adopted for Life or consult resources from helpful organizations, such as Franklin, Tennessee-based Show Hope, which exists to “care for orphans by engaging the Church and reducing barriers to adoption.”
A number of Free Will Baptist ministries give attention to the pro-life ethic of orphan care. FWB Family Ministries (fwbfm.com), with facilities in Tennessee, Virginia, and Arkansas, works not only with orphans but also with pregnant teens and young women, infants, toddlers, adolescents, teens, senior citizens, and families. Alabama FWB Children’s Home (fwbhome.org) strives to “provide a loving, Christian home to children hurting or struggling with life’s challenges or troubled domestic situations.” Harvest Child Care Ministries (harvestccm.org) in Virginia provides “abused, neglected, abandoned, or troubled children with a healthy home environment, caring parents, and a wholesome family life.”
I am deeply grateful for the work Free Will Baptists are doing in orphan care. However, I believe we can do more. Orphan care occurs in all kinds of ways: prayer, volunteering, financial support of individuals and organizations, spiritual witness, fostering, adoption, and more. I believe God calls some to volunteer, calls others to support an organization or family engaged in this work financially, and calls still others to adopt or foster (obviously a big decision).
These important opportunities are not limited to the infertile. Scripture offers this ethic to the whole church. Numerous families have gone down these roads, even after bearing biological children. And, every Christian can pray for people whom God has called to walk these paths.
I am grateful to be the beneficiary of this pro-life ethic. Although my biological mother raised me, my biological father did not; in fact, I have never met him. Instead, the person I affectionately called “Daddy” was my adoptive father. Bracey is my adopted name. In life, and even in death, he treated me as his own, just as he did my two sisters (his biological daughters). He may not have realized it, but my father exemplified this rich, pro-life ethic throughout his life, and my life has become a testament to the power of this ethic.
Indeed, orphan care is a beautiful picture of the gospel, and I recommend it to all who, through grace, are the adopted sons and daughters of God (2 Corinthians 6:18).
About the Writer: Matthew Bracey serves as vice provost and as a faculty member at Welch College, teaching courses in history, law, theology, and interdisciplinary studies. He holds degrees from Cumberland School of Law (J.D.), Beeson Divinity School (M.T.S.), and Welch College (B.A., History, Biblical Studies). He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics Public Policy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.