The following is an edited transcript of Russell Moore's podcast Signposts.
I had a listener who asked me how I told our children that they were adopted. At first I was reluctant to take that question because I assumed it’s just a very narrow niche of people for whom this would even be an issue: people who have adopted children and people for whom those children are still at home or still young.
But the more that I think about it, the more I think that actually applies to all of us in the body of Christ to some degree or other because all of us are dealing with our adoption into the family of God, and all of us are trying to reckon with who we were before our adoption into Christ. So I think there are some things that we can all learn about that and then also about the way that we can minister to families who have adopted children and who are working through that sort of question.
Here’s what I would say. The question assumes something that didn’t happen. What the question assumes is that we sat our children down and revealed to them that they were adopted. We have five sons; the first two are the ones that we adopted. I was speaking one time at an event and I had my fourth son, Jonah, a biological son, with me, and the person who was introducing me said, “Russell Moore and his wife have five sons, all of whom were adopted.” Normally, people say things and get little facts wrong in introductions all the time, and I do that too, but this time I stood up and said, “You know I don’t normally correct that, but I really feel like I need to right now because Jonah is sitting on the front row and he’s probably thinking, nobody told me that I was adopted.”
So with the first two children what sometimes people will think is that you sit them down and you say, okay, we are about to have a very difficult conversation with you, here it is, and you were adopted. That’s not the way that we did it, and that’s not the way that I would recommend anyone do it.
Instead what we did was to from the very beginning–our kids were a year old when we adopted them, the two that we adopted–and from the very beginning we were telling them their story. “This is what happened when we went to Russia, and here are the pictures of when we saw you for the first time, and here’s the day in court when you became our children,” and we did that all along as they were growing up.
Even when they weren’t particularly interested in it because you know when you’re three or four years old, you kind of assume everybody was adopted. You think people just sort of sprung up somewhere and you don’t really get the dynamics of biological connectedness except at the intuitive level, anyway. And so we are telling that to them even when they don’t care—for one main reason, and the main reason is we don’t want them to think that coming into our family by adoption means that there is something wrong with them or that this is something to be ashamed of; we don’t think that.
So, we would tell them their story about the adoption process in the same way that with our sons who came along biologically we will point out whenever we go to Louisville, we will point out the hospital and say, that’s the hospital where you were born. Sometimes we have stories that go along: “Jonah, you came along three and a half weeks early and a bunch of people had to come over to the house and watch the other kids and your dad was in Nashville at a meeting at the time and had to rush back home and then they sent us home and we had to go back at three in the morning”– all of those sorts of things, that’s just part of his back story and it is nothing that we are ashamed of, that’s just how you came into our family. We try to do the exact same thing with our children who came into our family by adoption.
Now, what happens though is that because in every situation with adoption, there is always some tragic back story, somebody died, somebody left, something happened, and so as you are moving on with your children, you are often going to have more and more difficult questions that are going to come up.
In my experience in dealing with families that have adopted, I have found that more often girls are the ones who raise those issues earlier, the kind of questions like, “Why did my birth mother place me for adoption?” And sometimes, “Was there something wrong with me?” That kind of identity question can come along with that. I don’t think that it’s because girls care more about that. I think it’s because girls are, at least in our culture, more verbal about their emotions than sometimes boys are and just because a young man is not asking those questions doesn’t mean that it’s not weighing on him.
So sometimes you are going to have tough questions and my counsel on that is to treat it exactly the way that you would a conversation about human reproduction. There was a time when the typical thing to do was to just sit the children down and say, here’s what sex is and here’s how babies are conceived and here’s where babies come from; it’s just kind of out of the blue.
I think the better way to handle that is to answer honestly but age appropriately all of those questions as they are coming along, so when your three year old says, where do babies come from? On the one hand you don’t want to say, “Why are you asking me that question? Wait till you are older and I’ll answer that question.” Nor do you want to say, “Okay, here’s a chart of how this happens”—you are going to traumatize a three or four year old if you do that.
I think a similar thing is true when you are talking about adoption. I think you realize what at this age can this child handle and speak honestly but in a way that discloses details at times that you think your child can handle it. So, you may have a situation where you have a birth family where there is substance abuse.
I know of one situation where a young man found out that his birth mother had been a prostitute and he was really shaken by that. His parents didn’t want to talk about that when he was ten years old but it is part of his story and they want to be honest with him about that later on in the fullness of time. So, unfold that in an age-appropriate way but don’t ever act as though you are threatened by having the question. When that child is coming to you asking what their birth mother was like, what the birth father was like, why did they do these things, don’t take that personally as some sort of repudiation of you.
This is a child who is trying to answer the question that all of us have to answer: Where did I come from? What are all the factors that made me me and how do I explain the narrative of my life? We are all grappling with that in various ways.
Now, here’s why this is important for everybody. It’s important for everybody again as I said before, because we all have to deal with that. We all have a tragic back story, we were all, Ephesians 2, previously those who were in a different family and now we are in the family of God. Something happened to move us into this new family that is happening by adoption and we all have things that have gone wrong in our lives.
I think the same thing is true there, when we are dealing with that, we need to have a sense of honesty about where we came from. You can’t go back and fix it. You can’t go back and make it some other way, so we deal with that honestly and, yet, at the same time, we say, “I’m here in the body of Christ, I’m here in the family of God and I’m not here accidentally.” That’s what the doctrine of adoption is seeking to teach and that’s why in Ephesians and in Romans and in Galatians the doctrine of adoption is tied into with the doctrine of predestination election.
Now whatever you think about predestination and election and how that relates to human freedom really doesn’t matter at this point. What matters is that we know that we are here and we didn’t kind of accidently get here. The shepherd came looking for that one lost sheep and brought us back out of the wilderness and so we are welcome, we are wanted here, and that is something we have to work through all of our lives.
Sometimes we are going to look back and we are going to say why did God allow me to go in my own direction for so long? Or why did God allow those awful things to happen to me back there in my past? And sometimes we don’t have an answer to that, often, I think maybe even most times we don’t have an answer to that.
God just doesn’t give us decoder rings to be able to figure out why everything that’s happened in providence has happened to us. But what we do know though is that God has been at work in our lives from not only before we were born, but throughout all of cosmic history and working all things together for the good for us that we would be conformed into the image of Christ that He might be the first born among many brothers and He knew that we would be in his family, He wanted us in his family, He has actively brought us into his family, and in some way those back stories that we all have, all have some meaning and purpose.
There’s a reason why Jacob is walking with a limp after wrestling with God at the river side. There’s a reason why Joseph is thrown into that pit and ends up being a ruler in Egypt who is able to provide the grain that the Israelites will need, and the other eleven brothers and their tribes would need in order to survive in the land of Canaan in order that through them would come the Christ. In all of those things we don’t know what their meaning is, we don’t know why God permitted those things to happen, but we know that God is Father and we know that God is good and we know that God is sovereign and we know that we are welcome when we are here in Jesus Christ.
So, I think we need to remind each other of that. We need to teach each other that. We, when things start to go wrong or things start to be dark, say “Hey, remember who you are,” just like that family has to do with that kid who was adopted and says “Hey, where’s my birth mom?” and you say, “I don’t know. I don’t know why that happened to you, but here’s what I know: you are my son, you are my daughter, I’m glad you’re here and I’m never going to leave you, I’m never going to forsake you, you are always going to be part of our family.” We need to hear the same thing for those of us who have been adopted into the family of God.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstock.com
Publication date: October 24, 2016
This weekend Planned Parenthood turned 100. As several politicians and pro-choice supporters publicly celebrated the milestone, many Christians and others committed to defending life and human dignity mourned.
While supporters see a century of Planned Parenthood as an era of choice and physical autonomy, many of us see it as an era of death, both of unborn humans and of the consciences of millions of women and men. Many Americans cannot hear the words “Planned Parenthood” without remembering a series of videos that revealed leaders of the organization having cavalier lunch conversations about the best prices for infant body parts. And we also remember the explicit social Darwinism of Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger, and her vision to create a society with fewer
“undesirables”—including minorities and the disabled.
Every human person naturally ought to recoil from such ideas. But for a Christian, especially, such language ought to trigger in us thoughts of Jesus of Nazareth, who identified himself with human nature, taking on flesh and dwelling among us (Jn. 1:14). He was an “embryo.” He was a “fetus.” He was a nursing infant. He was a child. He is an adult.
An attack on vulnerable humanity is an attack on the image of God. And that image is not abstract. The image of God has a name and a blood type. The image of God is Christ Jesus himself (Col. 1:15). Every human image-bearer is patterned after the Alpha and Omega image of the invisible God.
And at the Cross, Jesus stood with and for humanity in suffering. We are often told that abortion is ethical because the “products of conception” aren’t “viable,” that is, they cannot live outside the womb. This suggests that the value of a human life consists in its autonomous power. But Jesus was conceived in the most vulnerable situation possible in the ancient world—as a fatherless orphan. He lived as a migrant refugee outrunning with his family the Planned Parenthood of his day, the King Herod, into a land hostile to his own. He died helplessly convulsing on a cross, dependent on others even for hydration. Even in death, Jesus counted himself with thieves and was buried in a borrowed grave. In his humanity, Jesus wasn’t “viable” either.
Moreover, like the dead orphans of Planned Parenthood, Jesus was seen as valuable only in terms of his “parts.” The soldiers cast lots for his clothing (Mk. 15:23). With the very King of Israel standing before them, the Roman soldiers could see his value only in terms of how much money they could fetch from his garments. That should shock the conscience.
The cross should remind us that Jesus hears the cries of the suffering, even those whose cries are unable to be heard. But the cross should also remind us that Jesus saves sinners. The 100-year legacy of Planned Parenthood is horrendous, both in terms of social injustice and in terms of personal sin against God. What can wash away such sin? Nothing. Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
As we lament and protest Planned Parenthood, it may be tempting to despair, thinking we are powerless in the face of such well-funded and well-protected evil. But we cannot forget Jesus. All the royal rage and blood-thirst in the world could not stop God from accomplishing his purposes through the Messiah child.
God used a young virgin and a quiet carpenter to preserve the life of the Savior. Let’s follow their example of obedience and fight the spiritual powers that seek to kill, steal and destroy, by carrying the Gospel of the baby who came to give life, and life abundantly. As we stand against the abortion industry, and the culture of death behind it, let’s point to Christ. He was here long before Planned Parenthood, and his kingdom will be here long after Planned Parenthood has been utterly forgotten.
Publication date: October 18, 2016
You know the guy I’m talking about. He spends hours into the night playing video games and surfing for pornography. He fears he’s a loser. And he has no idea just how much of a loser he is. For some time now, studies have shown us that porn and gaming can become compulsive and addicting. What we too often don’t recognize, though, is why.
Recent research indicates that millions of men are debilitatingly hooked on leisure. Some economists and social scientists are even voicing concern that the amount of men who play games instead of work is a real threat to economic growth. Additionally, the epidemic of pornography is so pervasive in our culture that Time Magazine recently devoted an entire cover story to the testimonies of men whose lives had been harmed by their addiction.
In their book, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, psychologists Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan say we may lose an entire generation of men to pornography and video gaming addictions. Their concern isn’t about morality, but instead about the nature of these addictions in reshaping the patten of desires necessary for community.
If you’re addicted to sugar or tequila or heroin you want more and more of that substance. But porn and video games both are built on novelty, on the quest for newer and different experiences. That’s why you rarely find a man addicted to a single pornographic image. He’s entrapped in an ever-expanding kaleidoscope.
There’s a key difference between porn and gaming. Pornography can’t be consumed in moderation because it is, by definition, immoral. A video game can be a harmless diversion along the lines of a low-stakes athletic competition. But the compulsive form of gaming shares a key element with porn: both are meant to simulate something, something for which men long.
Pornography promises orgasm without intimacy. Video warfare promises adrenaline without danger. The arousal that makes these so attractive is ultimately spiritual to the core.
Satan isn’t a creator but a plagiarist. His power is parasitic, latching on to good impulses and directing them toward his own purpose. God intends a man to feel the wildness of sexuality in the self-giving union with his wife. And a man is meant to, when necessary, fight for his family, his people, for the weak and vulnerable who are being oppressed.
The drive to the ecstasy of just love and to the valor of just war are gospel matters. The sexual union pictures the cosmic mystery of the union of Christ and his church. The call to fight is grounded in a God who protects his people, a Shepherd Christ who grabs his sheep from the jaws of the wolves.
When these drives are directed toward the illusion of ever-expanding novelty, they kill joy. The search for a mate is good, but blessedness isn’t in the parade of novelty before Adam. It is in finding the one who is fitted for him, and living with her in the mission of cultivating the next generation. When necessary, it is right to fight. But God’s warfare isn’t forever novel. It ends in a supper, and in a perpetual peace.
Moreover, these addictions foster the seemingly opposite vices of passivity and hyper-aggression. The porn addict becomes a lecherous loser, with one-flesh union supplanted by masturbatory isolation. The video game addict becomes a pugilistic coward, with other-protecting courage supplanted by aggression with no chance of losing one’s life. In both cases, one seeks the sensation of being a real lover or a real fighter, but venting one’s reproductive or adrenal glands over pixilated images, not flesh and blood for which one is responsible.
Zimbardo and Duncan are right, this is a generation mired in fake love and fake war, and that is dangerous. A man who learns to be a lover through porn will simultaneously love everyone and no one. A man obsessed with violent gaming can learn to fight everyone and no one.
The answer to both addictions is to fight arousal with arousal. Set forth the gospel vision of a Christ who loves his bride and who fights to save her. And then let’s train our young men to follow Christ by learning to love a real woman, sometimes by fighting his own desires and the spirit beings who would eat him up. Let’s teach our men to make love, and to make war... for real.
A version of this article originally appeared at DesiringGod.org.
Publication date: September 14, 2016
Several years ago, I quipped before an audience, “Election years make people crazy.” And that was before I had any idea what was coming in 2016. For families with children, this election year brings unique challenges, since the campaign this year feels often like a reality show that breaks only for the Olympics. How do we talk to our children about what they are seeing all around them?
The most important step is to combat fear. That’s true in any election year, due to the way that partisans—and, sadly, especially Christians—speak in apocalyptic terms every four years. “If Barack Obama is elected, we won’t have a country left in four years,” was said many times in 2008. “Our country can’t survive the reelection of George W. Bush,” others said in 2004. Elections have consequences, yes. Elections are important, yes. But elections are not the pinnacle of history—for either good or for bad.
Our children should see that we are concerned about our country, but not that we are wringing our hands over the election. As Christians, we have an Apocalypse revealed to us. This isn’t it.
The second is to avoid tribalism. Many Americans see political candidates the same way they see their sports teams. They reflect in the glory of the winners, and despair with the losers. My side is all-good; your side is stupid and evil. If you have a candidate in this year’s election, explain to your children why you support that candidate. But also explain why other people would support one of the other candidates, and do so in a way that is as fair as possible to those views.
Another way to do that is to show where you and your candidate disagree. This will be true, even if your candidate is a write-in candidate of your choosing. If you agree with a political party or a political movement 100% on everything, you probably haven’t found a party platform but a new biblical canon. You want your children to see that your conscience is dictated by something (or, rather, Someone) more than the pull of whatever mob has the right bumper stickers.
Beyond that, model what it means to glean news from multiple sources. Don’t simply listen to the reassuring voices of whatever media outlet will tell you your candidate (again, if you have one) will win.
The third is to educate about the issues. Talk to your children not just about the issues that are raised in the debates and in the television ads, but also about the issues that aren’t raised at all. Ask why candidates might not want to talk about some pressing questions. That will teach your children not just about citizenship, but about human nature. Don’t just talk about issues that your child will see immediately affect you. Look at how public decisions affect those without much power—the unborn, the immigrant, the indebted, the elderly, the refugee.
Finally, keep the gospel the gospel. Show your children what matters most to you, and that’s the kingship of Jesus that is not of this world. When you see faith used cynically by politicians, point it out to your children as what it is. There will come a day when your children will wonder whether the gospel is just a cover for some cultural or political agenda. Make sure they see from you that you know that, while the gospel has social and political implications, politics is not the gospel.
Moreover, make sure they see that you are not enmeshed psychologically with your candidate or your party. You are united to Christ Jesus, and you don’t need some other would-be messiah. Sometimes that means that after you’ve talked about the blessings of living in a democratic republic, after you’ve discussed the implications of the election on various issues, that you smile and shrug and say, “But it’s only the presidency.” Your children should see that while you respect the office of President, you do not see it as ultimate. They should see that your greatest hope for one of them is not that he or she would be president of the United States. It’s that he or she would be a ruler of the universe, as a joint-heir of Christ Jesus, sharing in his inheritance, reconciled by the blood of his cross.
Publication date: September 8, 2016