On Saturday afternoon, my fifth Together for Adoption (T4A) conference came to a close. Abort73 was one of dozens of ministry exhibitors in attendance, and I again had opportunity to lead a breakout session titled, "Opening the Door to Adoption by Closing the Door to Abortion." It was my third time to do so. Not many people come to my talks at these conferences. And understandably so. I'm a nobody, in terms of name recognition, and the subject of abortion isn't one people generally clamor towards (or do they?!). T4A invited me to participate in their conference author book signing, but here again, nobody was interested in my book.
Nevertheless, I am grateful for T4A's willingness to include Abort73 in their celebration of adoption. I don't know if they've received any push back for that decision, but I'm almost certain that our presence at least raises some eyebrows. After all, of the 50+ exhibitors, Abort73 was the only one focused on abortion. Of the 50+ breakout sessions, mine was likewise the only one about abortion. On one hand, that makes sense. This is an adoption conference, after all—not an abortion conference. On the other hand, abortion and adoption are inextricably connected. They compete against each other for "unwanted" children, and as things stand today, abortion is absolutely decimating the field. It only makes sense that those who promote adoption would focus at least some attention on combatting abortion. Know thy self; know thy enemy! Right?
At the risk of overgeneralizing, I don't think this is happening much within the growing evangelical adoption movement. Despite T4A's open arms to Abort73, the general vibe at these events, in regard to abortion, seems to be this: Let's pull back in our fervor over abortion and push forward in our fervor for orphan care. Of the sessions I attended, multiple passing references were made to abortion—each expressing the same basic sentiment: If we're going to be against abortion, we better be adopting children! Orphan Justice, a new book by Johnny Carr, was given to everyone in attendance. It includes a chapter on abortion that expresses much the same thing. It's certainly not a call to be more engaged in the active defense of abortion-vulnerable children. Rather, it's a warning to temper our fervor over abortion in favor of a more holistic "pro-life" agenda. Carr writes:
If Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, the foster care system will likely be flooded with special needs cases. Will we, as God's people, be prepared to take care of the children who were not aborted… ?… We fight and fight for the unborn but do relatively little for children who are dying every day from lack of clean water, food, or proper shelter. Can we really claim to be pro-life if we fail to consider the importance of caring for any and all at-risk children?… Standing for the sanctity of life involves so much more than wearing a sandwich board and protesting in front of an abortion clinic… we call ourselves "pro-life," but our lifestyles, our priorities, and our budgets often show that we are little more than "anti-abortion." … As long as there are more than 100,000 children in the U.S. foster system who are waiting to be adopted, I don't think we will ever be taken seriously. So let's turn that around. If we really want to make a statement about [abortion], let's start a campaign to get every adoptable child in the foster care system into a loving home.
The implication here is that the church is hyper-focused on combatting abortion but is largely indifferent to the physical needs of children after they're born. It's not a new assertion. Folks outside the church have been making it for years. Carr even cites one of its earliest public proponents, Barney Frank. For the first few years of my pro-life "career," while traveling with the Genocide Awareness Project, I heard the same thing from unbelieving college students across the country. Their recurring talking points matched Carr's almost exactly: If abortion is overturned, how will we care for all the unwanted children?! Why aren't you protesting against poverty and disease?! Why wasn't this money (cost of the exhibit) used to take care of children who are already born? What about all the kids in foster care?! How many children have YOU adopted?! Inferred in these questions is the assertion that we have no right to criticize abortion until we've sufficiently remedied a myriad of other social ills.
Those who disagreed with us rarely addressed the ethics of abortion. Instead, they simply accused us of being hypocrites—which is a smart way to argue when you're defending the indefensible. It never bothered me much, and I did my best to graciously address their assertions while bringing them back to the subject at hand. Privately, I would roll my eyes at the claim that Christians are obsessed with combatting abortion. If only they knew! Most of the Christians I've encountered want nothing to do with the public condemnation of abortion. I've said all this before. But what's to be made of the growing contingent of evangelical orphan-advocates who are now asking the same subtly accusatory questions?
It's not that these questions are unimportant. They're just not primary. And in most instances, they're simply smokescreens—designed to cloud and confuse the issue. Here's what I mean. Abortion is unjust whether anyone is willing to take care of "unwanted" children or not. And abortion is unjust whether born children suffer from poverty and disease or not. And abortion is unjust whether kids are stuck in foster care or not. And abortion is unjust whether families are willing to adopt babies or not. All of these considerations are irrelevant to the ethics of abortion. Even if none of them were being satisfactorily answered, abortion would be no less heinous. In public debate, you're better off not even answering such questions—lest you give credence to the assertion that you have to earn the right to oppose abortion. The best response to such inquiries is to simply ask a follow-up question: What does that have to do with whether abortion is right or wrong?
Imagine if such expectations were applied to other social justice issues. Does anyone suggest that, unless you're able to house displaced girls, you have no right to condemn sex trafficking? Does anyone suggest that unless you're able to be a foster parent, you have no right to condemn child endangerment? Does anyone suggest that unless you're able to house battered women, you have no right to condemn spousal abuse? It's good to be part of the solution, but this insistence that those opposed to abortion must personally remedy all the problems its elimination might create is unreasonable and dishonest. To my vantage, it's a burden of expectation that is entirely unique to the abortion issue. Abortion proponents have masterfully wielded this charge against the church for some time, and now the church is turning the same weapon upon itself. In 2006, Shane Claiborne wrote the following in his book, Irresistible Revolution:
I am still passionately pro-life, I just have a much more holistic sense of what it means to be for life, knowing that life does not just begin at conception and end at birth, and that if I am going to discourage abortion, I had better be ready to adopt some babies and care for some mothers.
Let me reiterate that adopting babies and caring for mothers is glorious, God-exalting work! May more and more of us pour out our lives in such service of love. I don't take any issue with the assertion that God's people should be caring for women and children in these ways. What I do take issue with is the assertion that God's people are overly obsessed with combatting abortion—and the inference that adoption and/or foster care is a necessary first step for anyone who publicly opposes abortion. This notion that being "pro-life" has relatively little to do with abortion was an integral piece of President Obama's election campaign—one that helped convince countless believers to vote for the most ideologically pro-abortion president in history. And now it seems more and more Christians are embracing it.
Again, I am not arguing that we don't care for children after they're born, but I am arguing against the suggestion that the best way to combat abortion is to simply promote adoption—as numerous orphan advocates imply. In fact, I would argue that this assertion is almost entirely backwards. The best way to promote adoption is to combat abortion, and the numbers bear this out. According to the National Council for Adoption's most recent publication (Factbook V), "hundreds of thousands of families are now available to adopt [unwanted] babies.... there are many families hoping to adopt for every one adoptable infant." In other words, it is not a lack of adopting parents that is driving the abortion epidemic—which is why adding more willing adopters to the pool of available families is not the solution. So long as adoption and abortion are viewed as moral equivalents, why should we be surprised that 67 women choose abortion for every one woman that chooses adoption? It's the easier route. No need to reveal a pregnancy. No need to endure eight more months of carrying a child. No need to suffer the pain of child birth. No need to endure the emotional trauma of giving your baby to another family.
No, the way to combat the horrific discrepancy between abortion and adoption is not by finding more families willing to adopt. It's by finding creative, strategic, and prophetic ways to communicate the injustice of abortion. When the horror of abortion is sufficiently understood, the difficulty of carrying to term and placing for adoption becomes much less prohibitive by comparison. Johnny Carr references the 100,000 children who are currently in foster care as an indictment against the church's perceived obsession with abortion—but this is comparing apples to oranges. Most of the children in foster care are not available for adoption. Those that are available are not infants. That's not to say the church doesn't have a responsibility to adopt these children, but their placement in foster care has nothing to do with abortion. Infants that are available for adoption do not wait to be adopted.
To a large extent, these tactical disagreements are rooted in differing perceptions of reality—namely the church's relationship to the issue of abortion. Is the church today fixating on abortion and ignoring orphan care, as Carr and others assert? Or is the church largely ignoring abortion because of a failure to see it as orphan care, as I assert? No doubt, the truth lies somewhere in between. We both see the world through different perspectives, and I almost tremble to disagree with a man like Johnny Carr—whose professional and personal care for orphans is beyond commendable. While my own marriage is routinely stretched to the breaking point by the "normal" stresses of life—with our two healthy biological children—Carr and his wife have adopted three special-needs kids. I hardly feel qualified to question him, and yet I must. In defense of my position, I present the following, admittedly anecdotal evidence.
I have been at The Justice Conference, where Abort73 was the only abortion-related ministry in attendance (out of 150+ exhibitors)—and where the injustice of abortion did not receive any programatic attention. I have been at the the National Youth Worker's Convention, where Abort73 was the only abortion-related ministry in attendance (out of 167)—and where not one of the more than 150 breakout sessions addressed the issue of abortion. I have been to Christian music festivals, where band managers have forbidden their musicians to wear Abort73 shirts (because of the connection to abortion)—while orphan-care ministries have been trumpeted from every stage. I have been told by multiple Christian publishers that books on abortion are unsellable—no matter who writes them. I have heard R.C. Sproul say that of all the books he's ever written, the one with the shortest shelf life was the one on abortion. They couldn't give it away—and he identifies the biggest strategic error the church has made in regard to abortion to be its silence.
But even if these examples are inconclusive, I will make a final appeal to the personal experience of any church-goer who reads this. Based on your observation, what percentage of evangelicals in America regularly put on sandwich boards to go "picket" their local abortion clinic? If it's true that the church is giving inordinate attention to the issue of abortion, it would have to be more than 50%, right? But, is it 50%? How about 25%? Or maybe 10%? Obviously, the hard numbers aren't available, but I would confidently assert that such behavior is representative of less than 1% of all evangelicals. Easily. And yet this is the example that is given as evidence of our fixation on abortion. Carr further asserts that Christians will "fight and fight for the unborn," and will give to "anti-abortion" causes—but have little time, money or energy to care for children after they're born. Here again, I invite your consideration. For what percentage of Christians can we say that their "lifestyles, [their] priorities, and [their] budgets," are primarily directed towards "anti-abortion" activities? For my part, I'll stick with my earlier assessment—less than 1%. Does anybody really think that more Christian dollars are flowing into "anti-abortion" activism than are pouring into orphan-related ministries like Compassion and World Vision?
I would suggest that Carr is taking aim at a caricature of the evangelical church in America—one that may have been representative 20 or 30 years ago, but is no longer representative today. In so doing, I fear the take-away for most people will be something like this: Ya, I should just keep my mouth shut about abortion and focus on caring for women and children in need. The first problem with this conclusion is that the children who are threatened by abortion have more pressing needs than anyone else in the world. Their very lives hang in the balance—and you can't serve their needs by simply caring for the needs of children who are already born. You can, however, care for their needs by caring for their pregnant mothers—something Johnny Carr strongly commends and which I heartily endorse. Secondly, if Christians are already indifferent to abortion-vulnerable children on a practical level (as I believe they are), then arguments like Carr's simply give solace to their apathy. They make us feel better about ignoring politically unpopular justice issues in favor of politically popular justice issues. What is intended to provide a biblical re-centering instead tips the scales even further away from abortion-vulnerable children.
One of the difficulties in talking about the church in broad, sweeping terms is that it results in massive amounts of over generalization. Such categorical shorthand can be helpful, but it's also dangerous—so let me close by trying to make this personal. If you are living a life of obsessive devotion to combatting abortion, but are calloused and indifferent to the born people around you, repent. Open your eyes to the millions of born orphans who are suffering around the globe. If you are living a life of obsessive devotion to widows and born orphans, but are giving nary a thought to the tiny human beings who are daily ripped apart in your region, repent. Open your eyes to the millions of abortion-vulnerable orphans whose living parents want them dead. And if you are living a life of obsessive devotion to yourself, which we all tend to do, and are ignoring born orphans and unborn orphans, repent. Ultimately, obsessive devotion to any cause simply makes us narrow and idolatrous. It is only obsessive devotion to Christ that allows us to live and love beyond ourselves and beyond our cause—which is the only truly effective way to serve our cause.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.