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Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Dr. Mohler is a theologian and ordained minister, and serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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When Adoption Fails, the Gospel is Denied

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The tragic spectacle of a seven-year-old boy sent flying alone back to Russia, returned by an adoptive mother in the United States, has caught the attention of the watching world. Torry Hansen put the boy on a plane and sent him back to Russia with a note explaining that she could not handle him. Later, her own mother told the press that Torry Hansen had wanted a child she could love, but did not find that love in this boy she had adopted from Russia and promised to love for life.

The horror of the situation was captured in language by Patricia Cogen, who told CNN that this American mother has returned her own son to Russia "like a pair of pants that didn't fit."

Understandably, outrage has marked the Russian response. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced Thursday that all adoptions to parents in the United States would be put on immediate hold. The United States Department of State promised to make a resolution of this issue an urgent priority. At present, at least 3,000 American families are at some point in the formal process of adopting a Russian child.

Indeed, Russia now ranks third among the source nations for American international adoptions. Russian pride is deeply wounded by this fact, and the outrage toward the return of this one boy has become a lighted fuse on Russian anger.

Clearly, this sad situation has become a focus of international outrage. Even in these morally confused times, most people have responded to this news with outrage and deep sadness. The picture of that tiny boy, sent back to a Russian orphanage, simply breaks the human heart.

Of course, far more is at stake here, for Christians understand that adoption is a central metaphor of our salvation in Christ. As the Apostle Paul writes:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. [Romans 8:14-17]

We who through the redemption accomplished by Christ have "received the Spirit of adoption as sons" are now "children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ." Central to this adoption we have received in Christ is its irreversibility. We are not adopted for a term, but for eternity. We are no longer orphans, but are now and forever by the mercy of Christ the children of God and heirs with Christ. The adoption we have received in Christ is not reversible or conditional -- it is eternal and unconditional.

We are told that Torry Hansen wanted a child to love, but found that the boy she adopted from Russia was not that child. She claims that the boy has serious psychiatric issues and that she could not handle him. She sent him back to Russia as a boy rejected by his adoptive mother.

This is not only a rejection of a boy, unspeakably tragic and ugly as that act is -- it is a refutation of adoption itself. The bottom line is that this mother did not want her son anymore.  The Gospel points us to a very different reality. As Russell Moore expresses this great truth, "The New Testament continually points to our adoption in Christ in order to show us that we're really, really wanted here in the Father's house."

The wonder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this -- not one of us is worthy of adoption. In our sinfulness, not one of us has any claim on the Father's love, much less a right to adoption. But, the infinitely rich mercy of God is shown us in Christ, in whom believers are adopted by the Father. And this adoption, thanks be to God, is eternal and irreversible.

We have been given adoption as a gift and as a sign of the Gospel. The adoption of any child is a portrait of God's grace. Just as every earthly marriage points in some way to the marriage supper of the Lamb, every adopted child is a pointer to the Gospel. Thus, any failure in adoption is a slander to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

When adoption fails -- whatever the reason -- the Gospel is denied.

ADDENDUM: I deeply appreciate the readers who wrote me with concerns about this article. More than one couple wrote me armed with their own experience in adoption. Their concern was that I had left no room for adoptions to fail for legitimate reasons. I understand and appreciate this concern. As one committed parent explained, adoptive children can come with all sorts of pathologies and disorders, some of which may pose a real and present threat to the safety and integrity of the home.

I cannot imagine what a family in this situation would experience, but this excruciating reality can also happen in homes where the children are present without reference to adoption. In such a case, the parents may be forced with a truly horrifying need to remove the child from the home. The issue is not adoption, in itself, but the presence of a child that, for whatever reason, cannot be handled in the home.

As so many adoptive parents have written, there is no excuse for putting a child on a plane and sending him back to Russia. Had this been done with a child to whom this mother  had given birth, it would have constituted child abandonment, at the very least. This act was a moral atrocity that endangers not only this young child but thousands of others, waiting for adoption by American parents. They, too, are victims.

I now believe it was a mistake for me to end the article with the line: "When adoption fails -- whatever the reason -- the Gospel is denied." There is a sense in which this is undoubtedly true, but in a fallen world there may well be failure which no loving and committed parent can prevent. These parents may have done all they can to serve the Gospel of Christ, rather than to discredit it. In such cases, the failure should not be laid at the adoptive parents. I am thankful for the opportunity to clarify this point, and I am thankful for the kindness of readers who helped me to make this clarification.

I have also appreciated what I have heard from readers who were themselves adopted. They wrote to speak of their thankfulness that their adoptive parents loved them to the end. As more than one expressed, they are thankful that their adoptive parents did not wait to see if their adopted child would love them back before deciding to keep them. That, as we may easily see, is how the Gospel is visibly confirmed in adoption.

Posted April 20, 2010 12:55 a.m., EDT

Patricia Cogen, "Torry Hansen Should Have Sought Help," CNN AC360, Wednesday, April 14, 2010.

"Russian Boy's Return Casts Pall Over Adoptions," National Public Radio, Thursday, April 15, 2010.

Russell D. Moore, Adopted For Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, 2009).

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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