Pastoring & Leadership

Black Lives Matter and Adoption

Taelor Gray

The recent shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille has given us cause to revisit the commentary on racism and police brutality towards the African American community. Many of us are trying to parse through feelings of rage, helplessness, and apathy while we are subconsciously still being rocked by the images we are seeing. As a pastor serving in a primarily white church context, I am wrestling with my responsibilities of graceful shepherding while struggling for words to articulate the echoes of generational oppression.

At Eye-Level

Here’s my thing: I don’t expect white people to truly understand the depth of these sentiments. I don’t believe most white people have the capacity to apply genuine empathy to scenarios and experiences they are generally removed from. I believe it is unrealistic and unhelpful to try to force eye-level compassion from someone who, without choice of their own, will reap the benefits of social privilege in this country.

I can appreciate those white folks who mourn with us, or those who are lauded as #woke to the things going on, and even those who seek deeper relationship with blacks and other minorities. No matter the attempt, however, a white person in this country will never know the full scope of what it means to be black in America. This isn’t meant to sound apathetic, I’m just trying to set a baseline expectation here. We should strive to understand one another, but I believe we also should acknowledge the disconnects as often as possible to provide context for our different perspectives.

Cross- Racial Adoption

All this being said, I think there is a pseudo-entry point to common ground. The more time I’ve spent building relationships within the white evangelical community, the more I’ve noticed a heightened focus and engagement with the subject of adoption. I’ve seen many white, middle class Christian families opening their homes to children of different ethnicities—many of them black children. There are mixed feelings in the black community about this practice, but in most cases what cannot be disputed is these children are given a loving, grace-filled home they otherwise may not have had.

There is a bold, beautiful display of the gospel when people invite a child born of isolation, poverty, and sorrow into a new family full of sincere love, rich fellowship, and wholistic provision. Parents treat these children as their own, no matter where they come from and what they look like. We should all praise God for such Holy Spirit fruit that moves into the hearts of families who take this action.

Where there is a necessary praise however, there is also a necessary prayer. There is a difficult challenge ahead for these families when confronted with the sinful, racist stains of our country. While many white middle class people will never understand what it is to be black in America, they are often adopting children who cannot escape this experience. Amidst the sincere love and protection these families offer, the world around them isn’t so easily convinced of the hope this represents.

For many, the color of someone’s skin is an indictment on the content of their character. Society doesn’t often celebrate the gospel witness. Even those who are driven by community service and acts of social benevolence view cross-racial adoption with a cautious tone. Even the extended family response can be one of trepidation and awkwardness. This child will forever stand out in family photos. This child will forever be a surprising anecdote during initial introductions. This child will forever be associated with cultural dissonance. The family will feel the tension of these realities while trying to balance their child’s past identities with their present one.

The Rest Is History

Considering this dynamic, I believe it is the responsibility of white families to introduce their black adopted children to their side of history. While the middle class white reality is their home environment , they will not be able to hide what they look like. All it takes is a cruel kid in middle school, a misplaced comment at a family gathering, a viral internet video showing a violent act against a black person, or a litany of other examples to launch white parents into an intense conversation about history and racial discord in this country.

This added layer of complexity can tangibly offer whites a bridge to racial sympathy. Many whites who argue that racist sentiments are overblown in our society are often without a close relationship with a black person. When you have adopted a black person into your family, the polar opposite has happened—you are now indefinitely invested.

Sadly, some white people choose to ignore this opportunity and raise their black children within the white suburban bubble without consideration of these factors. Since they lack the ability to convey the African American experience, they simply choose to teach majority culture assimilation. What they miss out on is the opportunity to truly connect with the burden of black people in America.

When your child is under attack by a societal perception that devalues his personhood, the response is no longer a passive one. Once you realize that the person for whom you’ve poured out your love and affection is afflicted in some way, there is a love-saturated cause to stand for them. This isn’t just an impersonal response to the monolithic cause of a people group; this is real compassion for your son or daughter. This affects you personally. This drives you to speak up and speak out.

As we champion the cause of adoption, we should also see a resurgence of advocacy among the white middle class with black children. Our gospel witness is on brighter display when we defend our own with a fierce love that can not stand idly by. With your children at stake, there is nowhere left to hide.

I encourage white families to study black history, educate your children about their heritage, and prepare them for how society will treat them. It is not enough that you “saved” them from harmful circumstances, not when you can also show them that the same love that caused you to act equips them them to stand against the sin in our surrounding world.

You may be the parent explaining to your son and daughter their slave heritage and how it affects them. You may be the parent explaining the nuances of the Black Lives Matter movement. You may be the parent explaining the significance of a black president in this country. I implore you to be ready with full hearts and courageous intentionality. Their hope in the gospel may depend on it.

17 thoughts on “Black Lives Matter and Adoption

  1. Becky Uhl

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. As a white woman going through training to adopt from foster care and being open to transracial adoption (we already have guardianship of our Mexican/Navajo/White great nephew), this is very helpful. Praying for you and everyone at RAAN as you continue in your ministry. God bless!

  2. Amy Medina

    wow, what a powerful story. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Chuck Kinsey

    I hesitated for a day to comment on your post just to think through my 23 years of experience as a white adoptive parent of an African-American child. Most of what you mention are concerns that my wife and I shared with all other participants in the required training we received to be licensed. We were all steeped in white privilege and largely uninformed in black history or black experience. We all knew it and through assistance of the Christian agency with which we worked, participated in a mentoring program linking us with an African-American family to help us with everything from hair care to broadening our understanding, awareness and circle of acquaintences.
    I agree with your assessment that most white folks can not apply genuine empathy in scenarios and situations they are removed from. I would go even further to say that none of us will ever fully understand how it feels to live as a black person in America even if we develop empathy. I do, however, find your description of interracial adoption as a “pseudo-entry point to common ground” to be inconsistent with our experience.
    I already described our starting-point: relatively isolated and uninformed. We committed by the grace of God to overcome instruments of both parental love and a bridge to racial reconciliation. We knew that reconciliation required our repentence and far more change on our part than anyone else. Additionally, we knew to parent a child of another race meant more than a few classes and some superficial social interaction.
    We took our child first as foster parents committed to work as much as possible to keep her in contact with her extended family. As scary as it was, the court mandated goal was reunification with her birth mother. Although a case worker would have taken the baby to visit her mother in prison, we chose to do this ourselves. Over a period of months it became clear that she was incapable of caring for a child and she herself asked if we would be willing to adopt T but keep her as a part of her life. We eagerly and solemly agreed.
    As months progressed we helped find shelter when T’s mom got out of prison and developed deepening friendships with aunts, cousins and extended family. Still we lived in a homogeneous community and we’re deeply involved in a homogenous church. This frustrated me. Our congregation even partnered with an African-American church planter who espoused the “homogeneous unit principle” he learned in seminary. This also frustrated me. Soon, though it became necessary to move to another state. We committed both to keep in contact with those we were leaving behind and also find new community connections including a more diverse church.
    Like most of the US the neighborhoods where we relocated were largely geographically separated with poor schools in the areas with no white population . Our children were now in school so we chose a neighborhood bordering a nonwhite neighborhood which had many nonwhite children and teachers. We could not find a good interracial church so we began attending 2 churches every Sunday with additional midweek activities. What we experienced for the entire 9 years we did this was a deep distrust of us among many in the black church and marginalization of our black daughter. This was no surprise, just disappointing. We accepted this knowing fully that this is how nonwhites have been treated in many white churches. But when a job transfer was offered we prayerfully accepted it after discovering an excellent church in a diverse urban neighborhood nearby. Schools were poor but we believed our children had the foundation to succeed anyway. They didn’t, but that’s another story. What we have experienced here has been community that affirms our daughter and our family. Our children have strong self identities. And we revel in our unity and differences. What is mind-boggling to me is that our pastor (black) and predominantly black congregation has selected me to be examined and trained as an elder (EPC).
    In your description of interracial adoption as a pseudo-entry point to common ground you described issues of awkwardness in family activities and dissonance between past and present identities. We have NEVER felt awkward, although often amused. Our daughter is not some anecdote but has served to challenge and change people’s way of thinking. Yes, we lost some “friends” and one of our extended family. This was their loss, not ours. On the other hand, I was astounded when my elderly brother-in-law who was known for being tough and not accepting of diversity wept when he first held our baby and welcomed her as family. This type of acceptance with clear regret for past ignorance was common in our family.
    T never was raised to have a past and present identity but one unified and rich identity embracing both black and white. If you speak with her you will find no identity issues nor regrets for how she was raised. I am sure there are other families with similar stories to ours. Likewise, I am sure there are those who did not open themselves to the full heritage of their adopted child(ren). It would actually be better for you to hear from children raised in interracial families than parents like me. But I believe properly done wit full embrace of culture and history, interracial mixing in all of its forms is beautiful and one of many keys to overcoming division among people who all carry the “imago dei.”

  4. Jason Duke

    Taelor – First of all, thank you for writing this! My wife and I needed to read it. As a fellow Pastor in McKinney, TX, we have adopted a beautifully black baby girl, named Blessing, who developed some health problems after we began to foster her, but by the grace of God she is doing much better now. We continue to serve in foster care with other children, in addition to our 3 boys. We have already begun to think through some of the things that you mentioned in your article and intentionally seek out some of our local friends and church members to help us begin walking through these significant issues as she grows older. But as we read through this article the reminder of what lies ahead of us hit us hard and causes us to trust in His plan with a Godly fear and trepidation.

    I’m responding to your article because I would like to gain knowledge, and secondly begin a dialogue with fellow pastors inside and outside of my community concerning your point of adoption. I believe you adequately described the approach of many white people when it comes to the practice of adoption. Throughout our few years of fostering and then meeting many other families who have adopted, my wife and I have picked up on one significant detail…it is that we have found very few black families who have chosen to adopt. Even in an area like McKinney, Tx, the so called “Bible Belt”, a relatively affluent area where there is a large population of “well to do” black people, an area that is not perfect when it comes to problems of ethnicity, but is making great strides when it comes to Churches/Pastors working together and being united, even here we do not see many black families fostering and/or adopting, let alone doing so with white kids.

    Even though I spent the first 11 years of my life in a very ethnically diverse area, I know I’m ignorant to what it is like to grow up in the shoes of a black person. I will not begin to believe that everything is equal, but I would like to understand more about the thought process and possible reasoning why this highly valuable group of Saints within fostering/adoption is missing. What can we do to change the tide? How do we start the conversation? What can be done? I pray you see my heart in this and know that I would love to learn and see where God may take this.

    Please feel free to reach out to me any way you choose,, 214-793-4726, facebook, what have you. Thank you for your consideration.

  5. Amy Medina

    This is excellent. I am a white American, married to a hispanic American, and living in Tanzania. We have adopted four Tanzanian kids while living here, and now they have US passports. Having black kids has made me SO much more in tune with racial issues. Even though they don’t experience racism in their own country, I anticipate that they will someday in the U.S. I watch the news with horror and think, “What if that was my son?” I know I will never completely understand, but trans-racial adoption has made me extremely motivated to try.

  6. Rachel

    Pastor Gray, Thank you for this article and your thoughts. You are spot on ! Before becoming an adoptive mother,I was very naive to the racial injustices our nation still faces today. I really had no idea what my children and our family would face being a multi-cultural family . We live in the Columbus and I hope we can attend your church to hear a sermon.

    May God bless you.

  7. Jeff Bys

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I think this is a very important subject that needs much discussion. I hope you are correct about a heightened focus on adoption in the white evangelical community. My observations have been much more pessimistic, but I have very high expectations of the Church in this area in light of James 1:27.

    I am white, my wife is white, and 9 of our children are white. Our 2nd oldest, who is now 22, is black. We met him when he was 14, he came to live with us when he was 16, and we adopted him on his 18th birthday. I love him dearly. He is my son. He has experienced things that I will never understand and that hurts me. I long to make this a better world for him and to shield him from realities that there seems to be no escape from. Before he came to live with us, I would have been one of the whites trying to argue that racist sentiments are overblown in our society. I know now that is not the case. Since we did not meet him until he was a teen, we were not the ones to explain to him his heritage. We have, however, had many discussions with him about it.

    I sincerely hope you are right and that many more white evangelicals adopt children of all races. I hope all evangelicals do, no matter their race. As you say, “Our gospel witness is on brighter display when we defend our own with a fierce love that can not stand idly by. With your children at stake, there is nowhere left to hide.” What a great point! Adopting my black son has helped me in so many ways. Definitely something I wasn’t expecting or even looking for. I have grown so much from being his dad. I have been awakened to so much from being his dad. I have been blessed so much by being his dad. We have gone through some really tough stuff, but we count it all joy. And we move forward all the better for it.

    One thing I would add to what you have stated, is the need for the Church in America to get back to the Gospel. We need to understand what it means to be adopted by God as sons and daughters. And if we are adopted, we are brothers and sisters with all those adopted by God. If we really understand that, maybe our gospel witness will be on brighter display as we defend our own with a fierce love that can not stand idly by.

    God bless you brother!

  8. Lisa harding

    Thanks so much for this! I’m a white mama of two African-born boys and I need all the help I can get in this area. For years I’ve been reading and watching everything I can to better help me understand the nation my sons are growing up in. I still have a lot to learn (since my only personal experience is ‘rich white girl’) and I REALLY need to learn from black voices! It breaks my heart to know that the racial arrogance that’s still alive and well in America will likely spill onto my kids. Even if they ride the coattails of my white privilege for the years they live at home, eventually – they will be black men in American society all on their own. What negligence it would be on my part to avoid preparing them for that simply because it’s new turf for me or (worse!) because it’s uncomfortable turf for me! I’d love to hear more from you or if you know of links, other teachers, etc that would be helpful…. please pass it on!! What do you think white parents should emphasize as we teach our black kids about this topic? I want them to know what’s true according to history and experience AND what’s true according to scripture. Thanks again!

  9. Molly D

    Thanks for posting this article. I really appreciated the insight. Grateful for voices like yours.

  10. Pete

    Love this. I appreciate the call out to ‘not stand idly by’, especially when transracial families are in the awkward middle; too white to be understood by blacks, too black to be free to be idle. Occupying this space is still something I’m navigating.

    My only language nuance – ‘as their own’ is a bit of a difficult term for adoptive families. Adoption is a valid, legal, and biblical way for children to enter families. Once it is complete, children are their parents and parents have their children, there is no treating a child as their own because they are.

    With that is the call towards incarnation. To be present fully in the hurt of black culture.

    With love –

  11. Paul

    Pastor Gray
    Thank you for your thoughts. I am one of those white parents that have adopted an AA daughter and seek to adopt an AA son, Lord willing, in about 2 months. I agree with you that I don’t have the capacity to fully empathize with the black experience in America. I don’t see your statement as racist but rather one that should be obvious to Christians. I don’t see lack of empathetic capacity as a result of the many sinful character flaws I posses but rather as the result of human depravity that naturally limits our ability to truly understand each other as God understands us. Therefore I strive to understand as best I can and leave the rest to God for I know not only that He is the only One that truly understands but the only One that can truly effect change.

    While I appreciate the praise of our “Holy Spirit fruit” I would also like to clarify that through adoption God has given me a daily reminder of how I entered His kingdom. Adoption like marriage is a picture of my salvation. Therefore my wife and I don’t see ourselves as the ones who blessed anyone but rather we are the beneficiaries of God’s blessing in giving us one of His children to raise. This blessing is increased many times over because we are able to get a glimpse of Heaven where “children” from every tribe tongue and nation have been adopted into God’s kingdom.

    I also have been burdened in how I am going to communicate the many issues of diversity in America and the American church. I already see the challenges in trying to find children’s books or toys or dolls that only look like white kids. I can already see my daughter’s look of confusion when she is used to looking at white parents all day and then looks in a mirror at herself and sees something different. We have already seen her pause and back up in confusion and hesitation when we give her to one of our AA friends to hold. She is told everyday she is beautiful, loved and precious but she is also learning she is different. What I wish for is a curriculum or list of resources that are written by Reformed AA Christians for children that helps explain the issues of the black experience in America and the American church from a Biblical world view starting from slavery and continuing to current events that will help her understand her identity as a AA in America but also as an image bearer of God.
    Any ideas on how I could accomplish this?

    Thank You Again

  12. Natasha

    I can agree with what you say. It’s a blessing that these children are being adopted. I believe that even if a person adopts a child that is not of the same ethnicity they should teach the child where they come from and what their history is. Whether the child be Eastern European, Asian, African or African-American, Hispanic or Latin. Try the cuisine, purchase books, talk about different customs, attend things in your community to open them and you up to that. When you as a parent open your child up to these things you give them a different perspective. You are showing them the love of God, you are showing that they even though they are not the same as you but you love them, care for them and what to see them do their best no matter what. Assimilating a child to what is normal for you is not healthy because they will soon get the understanding that there is something about them that you didn’t like because that difference was never discussed or mentioned. Raising a child of a different race and or ethnicity should make that parent step out of the box into that uncomfortable zone to make their child feel comfortable.

  13. Taelor Gray

    Thank you so much for your prayers. I’m thankful for people like yourself who are relying on the same grace that I am as we move forward. May God continue to show Himself strong in our weaknesses!

  14. g

    Thank you pastor Gray for sharing your thoughts on some in the church who are trying things to right an historic wrong in the church that has been created and perpetuated by the church. We may not ever fully understand, but the evidence is becoming more clear every day in most churches. Forgive us as some of us prayerfully stumble toward solutions. forgive those of us who are hatefully blind yet. Thank you for taking the heat that always comes from with in when one speaks on these things. Praying for you now.

  15. Conrad Deitrick

    Wow, John N. That’s what we call “blaming the victim.”

  16. Taelor Gray

    Good morning John, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

    First let me say I’m disappointed in your conclusion from reading. I have to assume that your opinion was settled after reading the paragraph you mentioned. I think it’s important to note what I actually wrote: “I don’t believe most white people have the capacity to apply genuine empathy to scenarios and experiences they are generally removed from” is very different than “whites can’t empathize with blacks.” Let me ask you, are you white? My statement was meant to outline an observable difference in how many white Americans process an external circumstance not inherently familiar to them while black people wrestle with this reality every day. I’m trying to display compassion in acknowledging that white folks will never know what it means to be black in America…but thats ok. Just setting the expectation because I think in many cases I think it’s been unfairly forced upon white people to be “woke” regardless of how much they actually know. The article itself is an attempt to explore the deeper empathy people can share in spite of ethnic differences and cultural distances. I hope you’ll hear that now. I’m a sinner, so I know my words aren’t perfectly stated, but that was the intent.

    I love my white brothers and sisters, and I truly was trying to provide some leeway in this discussion for us all to be fallen humans as we continue to rely on grace. By the way, my son is only 2 years old, so I’m going to hold off on the YouTube videos as long as possible 🙂

    Peace to you bro

  17. John N

    Pastor Gray,

    Your thoughts on this subject are timely, if for no other reason, to demonstrate the fact racism is a human sin. Racism, contempt for white people, is clear in this sentence of yours:

    “Here’s my thing: I don’t expect white people to truly understand the depth of these sentiments. I don’t believe most white people have the capacity to apply genuine empathy to scenarios and experiences they are generally removed from. I believe it is unrealistic and unhelpful to try to force eye-level compassion from someone who, without choice of their own, will reap the benefits of social privilege in this country.”

    White people don’t have the “capacity” to genuinely empathize with blacks? There is the heart of racism. When one ethnic man looks at another ethnic man and denies what God, by His Spirit, gives to all men that call upon Him, he is a racist. You deny what is essential to redeemed image bearers. Wake up.

    Did you discuss with your son this week that a black racist in Dallas killed image and sword bearers because they were white? Did you have that conversation? Did you take him to Youtube or other social media to see black men and women praising and celebrating their black “brother’s” stand for “social justice?” Is your son aware that in your home town, Columbus, OH, a large and growing group of black racists, the so-called Black Hebrew Israelites, meet every year to spew hatred toward whites and call out to their god for whites to be enslaved? Are you “woke” to this?

    Black racism is thriving in the US, and it is racist hate groups like BLM and a racist “first” black president that are inciting violence and hatred. Shame on them.

    Black racism is sinful as white racism, and it flourishes today. It is everywhere, and shamefully it is a common sin of many black Christians who are not “woke” to it. When blacks stop hiding this sin in their hearts, then we may see some real progress in race relations, at large, and within Christ’s church.

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