Guest blogger Grace writes about being raised as an adoptee in a Christian family.
A trigger warning, I will be referencing the Bible and I know if you’ve grown up with religious trauma it can be a trigger. I do not go into details but it’s very important to note that my Adoptive mother was killed when I was 6. My Adoptive father (A/father) raised me and these stories are about him.
Adoption and parenting in the Bible
The idea of adoption isn’t new in Christianity or other religions. The Bible teaches throughout that all of humanity has been chosen by God to be welcomed into Heaven. More pointedly in Ephesians 1:5 the word ‘adopt’ is used: ‘God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.’ I think every adoptee hears that they were chosen at some point and many adoptees do feel, or at times at least believe, that they were indeed chosen. I was surprised how many times the word ‘chosen’ is mentioned in the Bible, either to describe how God adopted/chose us (His creation) or how humans should be adopted. In my Christian adoption, it was echoed at every stage: I was chosen not only to be adopted by a Christian couple but also chosen to be welcomed into something bigger than myself. I personally didn’t feel chosen or feel a part of something bigger, at least not Christianity.
I suppose the first thing to mention is that my A/parents changed my name. The name my first mom gave me wasn’t ‘appropriate’ for a Godly couple, so ‘Grace’ I became—after all, it was ‘by the grace of God they got me.’ I grew up hearing this every time my name change was mentioned. I asked repeatedly why they had changed it, and strangers would ask if my birth mom had given me that name. My A/father once told me ‘one of the special things about having your own children is you get to name them’ and he only wanted good biblical names for his children. Thankfully my sibling’s name was never changed as they had a biblical name. The idea that God gave His Grace and ‘blessed’ my first mom too, to be failed by services that should have protected her, has always made my insides crawl.
As for my childhood, I remember living a very God- and family-centered life. Our social circles were exclusively family, one or two old family friends, and the village church community. Every meal was eaten at the table together as a family, and every birthday party was held around my A/mother’s house. Life was all very family and church focused. The media we were allowed to consume was heavily controlled. I remember growing up believing every family watched VeggieTales, which for those who don’t know is a Christian television show retelling Bible stories by means of talking vegetables. One time in secondary school I heard that two people had got ‘stoned’ together and of course, I took it to be the very literal meaning of stoning I knew from the Bible. It took my friends a long time to explain drugs to me.
I believe my A/parents wanted to shield me from what they perceived as temptation in their special way, because such topics were never allowed to be brought up or discussed. A family member secretly one day showed me how to put a condom on a banana but made me promise not to tell my A/father, they were so worried he would find out and stop me from seeing them. My times with that family member are my only memories of fun or relaxation during my teenage years before returning to local authority care.
My A/father’s favourite way of trying to teach me was through the Bible itself—after all it had taught him. Mainly verses about ‘honouring thy mother and father’ and the fifth commandment Moses received from God were my A/father’s favourites. Ephesians 6 teaches ‘Children, obey your parents because you belong to the lord, for this is the right thing to do. Honour father and mother…if you honour father and mother, things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on earth.’ Weirdly when I was doing some research for this blog I found out that the verse continues ‘Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with discipline and instruction that comes from the lord.’ I think most people who grew up with a religious upbringing can relate to their adoptive or biological parents cherry-picking the Bible to find the best ways to try and alter undesired behaviour.
My experience with church
Church was like walking into a parallel universe where my A/father ran a Sunday school class. I remember watching him in his free time planning his ‘teachings for Sunday school,’ then all Sunday morning calmly teaching and nurturing other people’s children. It was like entering a different world for a few hours each Sunday: he was attentive, caring, gentle, and kind. Church changed his behaviour. It confused me because I was taught to believe that God sees everything. I often wondered if He (God) saw the change in my A/father’s behaviour himself.
When couples in the church wanted to adopt children for themselves my A/parents would often let them borrow us for a few hours to meet their requirements for childcare hours. There is still encouragement towards adoption within Christian circles and there is a UK charity dedicated to helping Christians adopt and foster, which of course brings more children into the church.
Father’s days at church were another confusing time for me. We learned about what kind of father God is to us. ‘God is patient, unconditionally loving and forgiving.’ The pastor would always find a way to connect it to the idea that our own fathers are like that. I don’t see many similarities between God and my A/father. The God I learned about was powerful, merciful, respectful, vengeful, and would love unconditionally. My A/father wasn’t any of that, at least not as I knew him. I suppose though to those children in Sunday school and his church community, he is all of those things.
I suppose my relationship with God is very much like my relationship with my A/father: complex and strained. I struggle significantly with something my A/father has decided to do and say as well as trying to understand why God has allowed it to happen. In my darkest hours, I’ll turn to God in my head to pray secretly as well as hope my A/father will hug me like he did after my A/mother died and just tell me everything will be okay. It won’t be real but I’ll believe it because at that moment I have my old church community, my A/father, and my God in that hug, it’s a very powerful feeling I can’t quite describe. However, I see how Christianity has been involved in adoption scandals across the globe, from stealing First Nation and Indigenous children to baptising Jewish children, and the rest, many ongoing! I see the pain the church and Christianity has caused and continue to cause, even by those simply turning a blind eye and replying with ‘not my church.’
Yet on the other side of the coin, I see how many Christians in certain parts of the world are persecuted for their beliefs. So much of my mind is conflicted between my faith and what I believe to be right and just. I’ve always felt more connected to Islam, it’s always made more sense to me regarding acceptance and understanding. I truly believe though that you don’t need any religion to be a good person. People aren’t inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ these objective attributes are usually situational. To my A/father I’m a ‘bad’ person living in sin. My partner is genderfluid, I don’t believe in Christianity the way he’d like, we live together outside of wedlock and I’m divorced. Yet I would describe almost everyone in my life as beautiful people who’ve acted incredibly human when life has kicked them. Who’s to say what’s right? Who’s even to say what religion is correct?
Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation