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Adoption is part of our family’s story, as our two older sons both became part of our family via transracial adoption. When we've shared our adoption story over the past decade, we have at times heard something like, “Oh, that’s just awesome what you all have done.” At the Denver airport a few years ago, we even had a man see us from afar, approach us, and thank us for adopting (he was Ethiopian, and recognized our son Simeon’s features as Ethiopian).

While not intentional, both of these reactions reflect some of the potentially harmful concepts about adoption that Pastor Rich identified in his sermon this week: the savior complex and an attitude of gratitude

The Savior Complex: Christian adoptive parents are often influenced by verses like Psalm 82:3-4a: “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy.” As we advocate for those with less power, access, resources, and options, we must at the same time resist the idea that we are saviors. The savior complex can be incredibly damaging to adopted children, to biological parents who have placed children for adoption, to adoptive parents, and to churches inclusive of adoptive families. How can we as a church embrace the “united in service” part of our mission, while rejecting the mentality that we are saving people? In particular, where have we as white people viewed ourselves as saviors as adoptive communities, and we need to repent of that view?

The Attitude of Gratitude: Yes, kids should be grateful for their parents. But when we as Christians feed into the savior complex, it’s understandable that adoptees and those from their cultures of origin feel additional pressures to express gratitude for being “saved.” If you don’t yet watch This is Us (what have you been waiting for?!), the Randall Pearson character expresses this pressure so profoundly in Season 5. He acknowledges, that even as a 40-year-old adult, he still feels like he should display gratitude for what his parents did for him through adoption. How might we take this pressure off of adoptees and their cultures of origin? What if, rather than the adoptee, adoptive communities were the ones expressing outsized portions of gratitude?

Speaking of gratitude… I’m thankful we are taking the next steps as a church to discuss both the beauties and complexities of adoption. In addition to celebrating the welcoming of adopted children into families and our church, I'd encourage us to also recognize the loss, grief, and trauma that adoptees often face. As we as a church focus more on the voice and perspective of the adoptee, consider:

  • Checking out the recording of this week's Table Talk, with adoptees Mandie Mensah and Lydia Berkey
  • Watching This is Us. I'd recommend watching the whole series, as the writers and actors illuminate so many aspects of Randall's experience. But if you're not ready for that big commitment, there are also plenty of articles written about Randall's character as well.
  • Seek out additional perspectives of adoptees, like in this short NPR story
I’m grateful for Sanctuary and the collective effort to raise up children who love justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with God. May we resist the savior complex and attitude of gratitude and replace these concepts with a fuller picture of God's desires for adoptees and our Sanctuary framily.