Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Moses the Adoptee?

[I know this post is long, but I didn't know how else to deal with such a topic with more brevity.]

I. Moses the Adoptee?

We hear this one all the time--

But Moses was adopted! So don't you see--he exemplifies just how much adoption is God's work, God's gospel, God's way of saving children!

Although I can see how it would be easy enough to make such an assumption or inference, it is important to remember that the story of Moses was not originally preserved and recorded so that Christians in the 21st century would have a biblical basis for their current adoption theology and practices. Rather it was recorded to preserve the history of the Israelites and, within the context of the Old Testament as a whole, to demonstrate how God ultimately fulfilled the promise he made to Abraham and his descendents. The story of Moses has absolutely nothing to do with adoption.

Context is crucial not only when dealing with the Bible but with almost anything written or spoken.* You take something out of its original context and people can come to some pretty skewed conclusions.

As an exercise in reading text within its original context, since so many Christians use the story of Moses to support current adoption theology, let's look at the story of Moses as a whole--not just the part where he's a baby in a basket floating down the river.

Many know the background to the story--due to an edict put forth by the Pharoah, it is commanded that all Hebrew boys that are born are to be thrown into the Nile. Moses's mother manages to hide him for the first 3 months of his life but then begins to fear for his life as he grows too big to conceal. With great duress, she sends him down the Nile in a basket.

When the Pharoah's daughter does find this Hebrew baby floating among the reeds on the Nile, what follows? Exodus states that his sister is watching to see what would happen. Upon the Pharoah's daughter finding Moses, Moses's sister retrieves his mother, and Moses's mother is able to nurse him and continues to care for him until "he grew older." We don't know for how long or whether the Pharoah's daughter knew this woman was Moses's mother. Regardless, it's clear that initially Moses continues to nurse at his original mother's breast and to be cared for by her until he is eventually given to the Pharoah's daughter as her son.

Of course, Moses, like all of us, grows up to become an adult. And how does the rest of the story go?

He ends up having some "anger issues" and murders an Egyptian overseer--whom he had witnessed beating "one of his own people"--a Hebrew. Clearly, Moses continues to identify with his original people, the Hebrews, more than he does with the Egyptians.

After Moses flees, he has a spiritual awakening of sorts. And what does he do?

Ultimately, he ends up forsaking his Egyptian privilege and upbringing to return to his family and people of origin to help free them from their oppressors.

Read it for yourself in Exodus, and there is also a reference in Hebrews 11 stating, "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharoah's daughter...he left Egypt..."

So, if Christian adoption advocates and adoptive parents want to use the story of Moses as an example of adoption, then it should follow that adoptees, once they become adults, will forsake their adoptive countries and families to return to their birth countries and families to help free them from those who oppress them, right?

I find this incredibly ironic within the context of how often Christians use the story of Moses as an example of adoption in the Bible to teach that adoption is a biblical manifesto. If you don't like this interpretation, then remember the entire point is that the story of Moses doesn't have anything to do with adoption. It should not be used as a part of Christian adoption theology. (And really there should be no such thing as "modern Christian adoption theology.")

Don't miss the point here.

The point I am making is the misuse and abuse of biblical text--and in this case, specifically of the story of Moses--to support modern adoption practices by taking the original text out of context and chopping it up in ways that seem to say that the Bible and God teach an "adoption gospel"--that is, a command to go out and adopt, ie sell and buy the babies and children of families in distress.

It's VERY dangerous to use the Bible in this way. Look at history and all the awful ways Scripture has been used to justify unethical, even atrocious acts--the Crusades, slavery, segregation, prohibiting intermarriage among differing ethnicities, bombing abortion clinics, etc.

Want to use the story of Esther to support modern Christian adoption theology? Uh, well, she was adopted by her Uncle--a blood relative. But again, the story of Esther is in the Bible neither to support adoption nor to debunk it. It's original purpose has absolutely nothing to do with adoption.

What other stories are taken out of context by Christians to justify and concoct a modern adoption theology that never existed until now? As unbelievable as it is, I've even heard Christians use the family situation of Jesus to support modern adoption! This is just ludicrous.

II. The Bible and Adoption

This misuse of biblical text creates a culture within Christianity in which anyone claiming to be a Christian can justify basically any act by manipulating Scriptures and using their "faith" as the justification for their behavior. This of course has been going on for ages. But more recently, adoption has become the "act of faith" that Christians justify. And it is misguided theology.

The "adoption" of humans by God was NEVER intended to be used as a justification or promotion of modern adoption. The use of this metaphor in the Bible was originally intended simply to teach people about the relationship of God and humans--not to introduce an "adoption gospel." This relationship involves a perfect God and a "lost" humanity. The "adoption" of humans by God is required because, according to the Bible, humans have been separated from God--we have left God by our choice to sin, our choice to rebel, whatever you want to call it.

Clearly, the parallels between adoption by God and modern adoption are completely flawed and incongruous. Our adoption by God has no place being used as a call to adopt children from other nations and families. Those adopting are certainly not perfect, and the children being adopted are not in need of adoption because of some sin they have committed. (I could write a whole other post addressing this topic alone--and perhaps I will need to...)

Using passages in the Bible that refer to adoption to teach that God commands Christians to engage in modern adoption is equivalent to using Scriptures that refer to say, Jesus as our Shepherd, to command all Christians to go gather up all the sheep of the world and take on the profession of sheep herding. That may seem absurd to you, but that's basically what Christians are doing when they use Scriptures (out of context) that discuss adoption to say that adoption is what God demands of us.

Now, of course, there are Scriptures that refer to caring for the orphans and widows throughout both the Old and New Testament. These often can also be translated as the "widows and fatherless." Regardless, however, these Scriptures again were not preserved or originally written so that Christians would en mass go out and adopt, ie sell and buy all the babies of the world. Taking care of widows and orphans does not translate to exploiting women in crisis so that Christians can coerce her into relinquishing her baby to be sold and bought by Christians. And yet, in practice, that is what is happening in modern adoption. (An interesting one to read is 2 Kings 4. Again, it has nothing to do with adoption, but it certainly reveals how a man of God chose to help a widow in danger of losing her two sons as a result of unpaid debts.)

Again, I will state that the Bible is grossly misused and manipulated to support modern adoption theology and practices among Christians. Ultimately, the Bible was not originally written to be used as a manual for modern adoption practices--modern adoption practices didn't even exist when the Old Testament and New Testament were being lived out and eventually recorded.

But let me stop there and recommend an excellent paper written by Professor of Law at Samford University, David Smolin. In this paper, he deals very deeply and specifically with the biblical basis (or lack thereof) of the recent development of adoption theology, "OF ORPHANS AND ADOPTION, PARENTS AND THE POOR, EXPLOITATION AND RESCUE: A SCRIPTURAL AND THEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE OF THE EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN ADOPTION AND ORPHAN CARE MOVEMENT."

 III. Conclusion

Ultimately, I really hope that Christians will allow themselves to question their theology and to think more critically about what the Bible says (or doesn't say) about adoption.

Christians have chosen not to think critically about what they've been taught about adoption. Christians are choosing willful ignorance over the truth. And often there is a dangerous culture of unquestioning conformity in Christianity along with a culture of rationalization that uses one's faith as a divine mandate to do pretty much anything at all--this can lead to a very emotional, self-absorbed way of seeing the world--and has led to abusive, oppressive adoption practices.

I find it ironic that Christians so often recoil when others, whether fellow Christians or not, question the status quo. The very person that Christians claim to follow was persecuted and ultimately crucified because he would not stop questioning the status quo, and in particular among the religious leaders of the time.

If Jesus were here today, I believe that he, too, would question much of the current status quo within the religious world--modern adoption beliefs and practices not excluded. Of course, I'm not claiming to know the mind of Jesus or of God. But based on the Bible I have read, it is clear that the Bible was never intended to be used as a platform to promote modern adoption theology and practices among those who call themselves Christians.

And honestly, do we really picture Jesus coming to earth and telling poorer families to give their children to those who are richer, or telling the rich to take care of orphans and widows by actively seeking out and taking the children of the poor?


*Just a disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be a biblical authority, and I am certainly not a Bible scholar. But I also do not believe that one need be a scholar or a genius to read and understand the Bible for its plain, contextual meaning.

(Also, I would like to thank my husband for all the patient discussions and conversations we have had regarding this issue.)