To look after vulnerable children is, for the Church, to continue what we have always done when we are at our best.
Reflecting on the rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark suggests that:
‘Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope… To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family.’ (p.161)
In the Ancient Roman world it was common practice to ‘expose’ unwanted babies; that is, leaving them out in the open to die or (at rare best) be rescued by a benevolent stranger. The Church became vocal in its criticism of this practice and there are suggestions that this critique was accompanied with action; that is, rescuing these abandoned children. As Gerhard Uhlhorn put it, ‘When we first meet with the mention of adoption and bringing up of foundlings, this work appears not as a novelty, but as one long practised.’ (p. 186)
There isn’t the time or space for great amounts of detail concerning the innovation and compassion with which the Church has in its history cared for vulnerable children. Certainly, there have been tragic and reprehensible abuses of the care systems put in place. But, at its best, the Church has always advocated on behalf of the vulnerable and put into practice our calls for society to protect and nurture children.
To encourage your Christian community to mobilise and support those involved in fostering and adoption is just one way of expressing this rich history and to participate in something that has been ‘long practised’.
To summarise this week’s series, we have seen that a commitment to fostering and adoption is aligned with the very essence of what it means to be Church. It reflects who God is, the story into which he has called us, a commitment to justice and shalom that marks our mission, our identity as adopted children of God, and our history of working out our faith in society.
A commitment to supporting fostering and adoption makes sense of where we have come from, who we are, and to whom we belong.
Read part one of the series: Because of who God is
Read part two of the series: Because vulnerable children occupy a significant place in the biblical narrative
Read part three of the series: Because it is a justice issue
Read part four of the series: Because it explains, expresses and celebrates who we are
John Aloisi, Orphan Care, Adoption, and the Church: Historical Reflections and Contemporary Challenges
Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity
Gerhard Uhlhorn, Christian Charity in the Ancient Church