A friend who is very bright, thoughtful, culturally astute and theologically articulate wrote a blog in which he encouraged black churches to shoulder its responsibility for the black orphans in need of a home. I should mention, Anthony is also black. In it he referenced a study done by the Evan D. Donaldson Adoption Institute. It focused on adoptions of 800 black children into white families and found that “the colorblind approach may actually harm black kids if they are not consciously connected to black culture.” This statement was used to support the challenge for the black church.
While I agree with Anthony on a majority of issues, including the beauty of salsa dancing, as well as the stated goal of increasing the number of orphans finding a home, I find its basis troubling. I will ignore, for purposes of brevity, the question, what would the apostles make of churches identifying and distinguishing themselves based on the skin-color of its congregants? What is distressing is the implication that because trans-racial adoptions may have some negatives, it would be better to let black, Christian families adopt black, orphan children.
A question comes to mind, should sociology should be allowed to dictate Christian ethics? Might not a consortium of sociologists conclude that racially homogenous churches meet the felt needs of people best? Have not anthropologists attacked the work of white missionaries among pre-literate societies upon similar lines? Ought North American churches, therefore, to let the indigenous tribes in New Guinea fend for themselves? Given the data, should we not celebrate the multiplication of mono-racial yellow, brown, black, white and red churches and discourage racially-diverse congregations?
I do not deny that there have been negative impacts upon cultures by white missionaries with colonialist tendencies. Nor do I disagree that homogeneity in social group has some value. Trans-racial adoptions, in a racially wounded country such as our own will, inevitably, create challenges, difficulties and struggle. But, as a Christian, that is hardly determinative. The question, will my child face issues of race confusion and identity? is simply not controlling when it comes to the issue of fulfilling biblical mandates. At least this was the conclusion of my wife and I when we adopted a little boy from Mozambique, Africa several years ago. Struggle is inescapable. But it may just be that relational struggle is the point. After all, why would Jesus hand-pick mortal enemies to be a part of his inner circle? Had He instead selected all 12 students from the local rabbinic seminary, there would, doubtless, have been an improvement in group dynamics.
Getting back to the blog. Let’s imagine that we are reading a study commissioned by the University of Jerusalem. It is a careful analysis of 800 dark-skinned Jewish children adopted by light-skinned, upper-class non-Jewish families. Since it is a sociological study it is performed with utmost objectivity and is thus free of all bias. We trust its findings. It concludes that “the colorblind approach may actually harm these Jewish kids if they are not consciously connected to their Jewish culture.” If taken seriously, this would no doubt raise some troubling issues in the minds of these charitably-motivated light-skinned couples committed to inter-racial adoption. It might even put a freeze on it entirely as they conclude that Jewish orphans ought to be raised by Jewish parents to be good Jews, keeping Sabbath, eating kosher and, if males, experiencing the unavoidable racial requirement of circumcision. This is all perfectly logical and perfectly supportable by scientific data.
Now let us add a couple more details. This scenario takes place in Rome and the context is the early church. Further, a lawyer and expert in Jewish Law is called in to help shed some legal light on the subject. His name happens to be Paul. He carefully listens to the data and then looks at the congregation comprised of rich and poor, slave and freemen, male and female, Jewish and Gentile and says, “the sociological data is incontrovertible, you Gentile families need to stop adopting Jewish children, if you want to take in an orphan make sure he is a Gentile, and if there are Jewish orphans in your midst, you really need to find nice Jewish families for them lest these poor, little ones grow up emotionally traumatized and racially confused. For as you know, though we are all members of the body of Christ, race still matters a lot—as the objective sociological data pretty well establishes.”
My wife and I are in that tiny demographic of white families that have adopted a black male child. We hoped to help him maintain an appreciation of his homeland—his “roots,” so to speak. But, early on he made it clear he wanted to entirely disavow his connection to his birth-culture and wanted to identify himself exclusively with his adoptive family. I make no value judgment about his decision or of our own compliance. At sixteen, he appears to be amazingly well-adjusted. But, who knows, we could be utterly mistaken. That is not the point. He may yet face serious issues of race-confusion. But, that is not the controlling issue either.
This is the point: his first year here my wife took him to a store to purchase roller-skates. She asked a young black man who worked in that department if he could give her some help finding the right size for her son. He was taken back momentarily as Patty indicated the cu, skinny, little dark-skinned boy at her side. “Is this your son?” he asked, unsure he had heard her correctly. She nodded and explained that we had recently adopted him from Africa. He looked directly at Patty with a mixture of admiration and approval. “Wow!” he said, “that is so awesome. You don’t see a lot of white families adopting black children.” He smiled at Bentu, bent down and gently, but very seriously, issued an exhortation to this little, black boy reflecting the respect he seemed to believe this act had earned my wife: “You make sure you listen to your momma now, and you do what she says.”
This young black man had seen something more important than racial homogeneity. He was expressing, as best he could, his recognition of and appreciation for something much larger, more vital, more—eternal, infinitely more so, than the transient accidents of racial identity. He was momentarily pierced with the weighty beauty of reconciliation; not spoken of with rhetorical flourish, or written about in dense and turgid prose, but lived out in a quiet, nameless family he might never see again. This is the inherent power of inter-racial adoption, it is like the bold black cross smudged on the forehead of Christian penitents on Ash Wednesday (which happens to be today). It is an intrusively visible mark that wordlessly declares this truth: “though I am at heart a radical, independent, self-protective sinner in desperate need of cleansing, I have received grace. And because of the forgiveness and mercy Christ has extended to me, I want to do more than talk about breaking down walls, in some small but real way, I want to remove at least one intractable brick.”
This act is a wordless affirmation that through the Cross the hegemony of race has been dismantled and destroyed for, to paraphrase Paul, “He is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the racial barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two men. Consequently you are no longer to consider yourselves as Gentile (black) or Jew (white) but members of one body, a holy temple, a corporate dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit (Eph. 2:14-22). Simply put, the out-poured blood of Jesus and His pierced body, of which we, His people, partake in the Blessed Eucharistic meal, has relativized race, rendered it not insignificant, but no longer controlling– regardless of what the sociologists may say to the contrary.
Patty and I didn’t adopt an African child because he was black. We adopted him because God told us, basically, “I have selected this fatherless boy to be a part of your family.” Then He got really involved, in ways we still can hardly believe, so that it would become indisputable that this is what He wanted. The inter or trans-racial significance barely entered our minds until we arrived in the U.S. on Thanksgiving Day, 2001.
Anthony is right, black churches need to adopt a lot more orphans, so do Anglo, Caucasian, Asian, and Latino. However, it must be obedience not race that controls the decision. However, in a nation with a history of oppression like ours, it would be one of the most stunning and beautifully transgressive acts of obedience for black families to make room for children of a different color, even if the color was white.
Anthony’s article can be read at http://online.worldmag.com/2010/02/10/adoption-together-with-the-black-church.