What happens when you google, “theology of fostering”?

addtext_com_MDYwNjQxOTQ0MjUThis morning I googled the phrase, “theology of fostering”. The results page returned the following hits:

7 adverts for fostering agencies/recruitment
5 links to sources that use fostering as a verb to develop something (e.g., ‘A theology of fostering ecclesial communities’), so not relevant
And that’s it: I’m not just talking about the first page of hits; those are all the hits!

The same search on Amazon results in, ‘Your search “”theology of fostering”” did not match any products.

The questions this (admittedly) rather crude pair of searches suggests is:

Where on earth is all the theological reflection on fostering?!?

What is the ‘status’ of theological thinking on fostering? Is it derivative of our thinking on adoption? If so, are we selling foster carers short by not providing a rigorous and specific framework for understanding fostering theologically? Obviously fostering and adoption are very closely linked but is there nothing that could, or needs, to be said theologically that is unique to fostering?

How do we develop excellent theological thinking and resources specifically on fostering that will resource the Church?

I have some ideas but I’d love to know what you think!

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Reflecting on the ‘Holy Family’ this advent

Reflecting on the Holy Family

A guest post by Dr Grace Milton

I suspect that the events we retell and celebrate during advent were not how Mary and Joseph expected their first child to come into the world. Aside from the social stigma attached (Matthew 1:18-19) the logistics of the birth were a nightmare. Had Mary and Joseph been in control of their own family planning, they would have perhaps attempted to time conception so that the birth would not coincide with a major census involving extensive travel and uncertain accommodation.

In many ways it would have made much more sense for Jesus’ birth to have followed biblical tradition and been the result of the miraculous pregnancy of a barren woman who was already married, socially and financially secure and who longed for a child of her own (a la Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth). I certainly would have been sympathetic had Mary responded to the angel Gabriel’s announcement with a polite, “No thank you. Joseph and I plan to wait until we are married and then we will have a baby”.

However, the birth narratives we see in the Gospels subvert expectations of family at a personal and a community level. While Mary and Joseph’s expectations of how their family would grow were undoubtedly flipped on their heads, the theological expectations of how the family of God would grow were also subverted and foreshadowed by the key players in the nativity. Through the Magi the gentiles are invited to participate in the birth (and work) of the Messiah and, through the Shepherds, the marginalised are brought into the heart of history.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husbands will, but born of God. (John 1: 12-13)

Throughout advent we are offered a glimpse of God’s view of family which is surprising and at times uncomfortable, but which ultimately exceeds our expectations.

Perhaps if we allow the Christmas narratives to challenge us this advent season we may consider what our expectations of family are (whether our own or our wider church family) and ask ourselves, what room is there in these plans for the vulnerable and the “outsider”?

Grace is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Birmingham and an Honorary Research Fellow at The Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education. She has recently begun working with Tim Davy (lead of the Fostering, Adoption and the Church research project) to develop a piece of research looking at fostering and adoption within Black Majority churches in the UK.
image  by Jeff Weese (Flickr: Nativity) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ANativity_tree2011.jpg
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What is marriage for and what has this got to do with fostering and adoption?


I was reminded recently of something the preacher said at our wedding, which now strikes me as deeply relevant when considering issues concerning vulnerable children, fostering, adoption and the Church.

He quoted from a letter written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written from prison in 1943. Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian who had been imprisoned for his opposition to the Nazi movement, and was writing to his niece, Renate, on the occasion of her wedding.

What really strikes me is the vision of the ‘other’ that is embedded in the purpose of marriage; as if to say that marriage is about you in one sense but is about so much more that you in another. This is how Bonhoeffer puts it:

“Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy institution, through which God wishes to preserve humanity until the end of time. In your love you see only each other in the world; in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations that God, for the sake of God’s glory, allows to rise and fade away, and calls into God’s kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, in marriage you are placed and given responsibility within the world and the human community.”

Christian marriage is not ultimately about the married couple. It is about the glory of God, which is seen in part in the working out of the couple’s ‘responsibility within the world and the human community’.

This is important when we think about issues surrounding the vulnerable and marginalised. This vision of marriage contains an ‘assumption of otherness’, which causes us to look together-but-beyond-ourselves to society. For some this will mean embracing the needs of fostering and adoption, not as something outside of ‘the norm’ of family life but as something that is at its very heart.

Click here for details of Bonhoeffer’s book:

Letters and Papers from Prison (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010)

For more on vulnerability, I wrote a post back in July on Vulnerability is the Norm

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/food-couple-sweet-married-2226/

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Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the Church – part 5

Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the ChurchReason five: Because, at our best, it is what we have always done

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

Further reading
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

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Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the Church – part 4

Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the ChurchReason four: Because it explains, expresses and celebrates who we are

The apostle John famously declared that ‘We love because he first loved us.’ (1 John 4:19) What better way to demonstrate the love we have received from God than to express it? What better way to celebrate the love we have received from God than to show it to others?

Could the same be true in the sphere of fostering and adoption: ‘The people of God care for the vulnerable because God cared for us when we were vulnerable’? ‘We adopt because he first adopted us’? Of course, not every individual or family unit can adopt or foster but we the Church can all support those that do.

In an article on ‘Adoption in the Bible’, David Bartlett summarises the language of adoption in the Bible in the following way:

  • Adoption is a powerful image for God’s activity with humankind because it makes clear that membership in God’s family is always the result of God’s activity.
  • Adoption is a powerful image because adoption transcends the boundaries and barriers set by biological and ethnic identity. Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free – all can be adopted. And all become part of the same family.
  • Adoption is a powerful image because it can be used both of individuals and of peoples. Israel is adopted by God’s activity, but so are King David and the kings that follow him. Jesus is adopted at his baptism or at his resurrection, but the whole Christian community is adopted into the family along with its elder brother.
  • Adoption language often implies that the adoptive parent names the newly adopted child. It reminds us that the identity of faithful people is in the identities God gives rather than the identities we give ourselves.
  • Adoption language points both to the present reality of God’s grace and to the future promise of participation in God’s glory…
  • Adoption language allows believers to lay hold of the two sides of God’s parental role as we see it in the adoption poems in the prophets. On the one hand, they are called to live under the parental discipline of a wise God and to expect dire consequences if they fail. On the other hand, we know the God who adopts them may chastise them but will not let them go. (p. 395, my emphasis)

For the biblical writers, adoption language was the norm for describing who we are before God. One of the wonderful things about the renewed sense of energy in the Church for recapturing the language of adoption is that is helping us see more clearly what has always been there. We are adopted children of God. The more we are attuned to this aspect of our identity the more normal it will be to move from the vertical (God has adopted us) to the vertical (what is God calling us to do on behalf of vulnerable children in our midst?).

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

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Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the Church – part 3

Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the ChurchReason three: Because it is a justice issue

The story within which we have been called as Church is the story of God’s mission to reconcile all of creation to himself. One of the great strides of the second half of the twentieth century was the growing understanding the big story of God’s mission (the ‘missio Dei’) as a holistic endeavour. As well as a commitment to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins, the Church is called as part of our participation in God’s mission to live out the characteristics of the Kingdom of God in society (expressed, for example, in the call in Micah 6:8 ‘to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God’.

In Monday’s post we saw that a passion for justice is an essential part of who God is. One way in which the Church in the UK can celebrate and express this Kingdom characteristic is to seek goodness, wholeness and ‘shalom’ in society. And this has incredibly practical implications for looked after children.

It simply isn’t right that the life chances of looked after children are so much poorer than those in permanent families. Consider these statistics:

There is a 40% gap in GCSE attainment between children who are in care and those who are not. Only 12% of looked after children achieve five or more GCSEs (including Maths and English) at grades A-C. The figure for ‘non looked-after children’ is 52%

Children leaving the care system are about six times less likely to go on to higher education than other young people

About 40% of care leavers are not in education, employment or training, compared with a national average of 15% of all 19-year-olds

“children and young people who are, or have been, in care are over five times more likely than other children to get involved in the criminal justice system” (Prison Reform Trust)

About a quarter of prisoners were in care at some point in their childhood or adolescence

30% of homeless people were in care

There is an intolerable inequity going on around us. The Church’s call to advocate for a more just society simply must address the lack of wholeness and shalom experienced by children in care. Despite the many efforts of many excellent people who work in the care system, could we not do more to improve the life chances of these young people.

What could your Church community do to improve just one of these statistics? In the light of these statistics, and the many stories behind them, what does the LORD our God require of us?

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

[stats from:

http://www.thewhocarestrust.org.uk/pages/leaving-care-what-happens-post-16.html ]

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Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the Church – part 2

Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the ChurchReason two: Because vulnerable children occupy a significant place in the biblical narrative

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible tells a big story (the big story) of God’s purposes to restore the whole of creation to himself. This is the story in which we find ourselves, encompassing the past, present and future of the Church.

In a previous post I noted the characteristic of vulnerability in this grand narrative. Let’s think about just some of the examples:

  • Consider the plight of the outcast baby Ishmael in Genesis 21 whom God sees, protects and enables to flourish;
  • Consider the helpless baby Moses in Exodus 2, floating on the Nile in his basket, who went on to lead God’s people out of slavery;
  • Consider the unnamed (trafficked) servant girl in 2 Kings 5 whose wisdom puts Kings and Generals to shame;
  • Consider the fatherless children whom Job protected and nurtured, who ‘grew up with me as with a father’ (Job 31:18);
  • Consider Jesus himself. What could be more vulnerable than a child born in his circumstances? The God of the universe chose the vulnerability of an embryo inside a young girl to enter the stage of history as a human being. Born into hardship and suspicion. On the run at an early age with his family, fleeing for his life (Matthew 1-2).

The biblical ‘norm’ is for God’s purposes to be fulfilled in and through vulnerability. These are the embedded traits of the biblical narrative, of the Church’s story. What could be more natural, then, than for Christians in the UK to recognise and resonate with the vulnerability we see and experience in society and to be involved in (and support those involved in) fostering and adoption?

Read part one of the series: Because of who God is

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Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the Church – part 1

Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the Church (public domain image https://pixabay.com/en/dna-biology-medicine-gene-163466/)Reason one: Because of who God is

To mark national adoption week (19-25 October) here in the UK I’m going to post each weekday on a different way in which caring for vulnerable children is at the heartbeat of the character of God and the calling of his Church.

Today we’ll consider who God is:

17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:17-19, ESV)

This brief text from Deuteronomy dwells on God’s supremacy and authority. Israel’s God, the supreme authority in the universe, chose to dispense his power in such a way that those at the opposite end of the power spectrum benefited. What this text seems to show is that it is in God’s nature to fiercely protect the vulnerable and it is therefore a requirement of God’s people to reflect this commitment in society.

It simply won’t do to consign advocacy and action on behalf of the vulnerable to an optional extra. This, of course, will mean more than just engagement with fostering and adoption but the framework for the Church’s calling is defined by the character of God and the character of God is marked by, among other things, a commitment to the poor and vulnerable.

In the UK today this commitment is not restricted to looked after children, but it absolutely must include them.

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Calling all academics with a passion for Fostering, Adoption and the Church!

Man with Megaphone (creative commons)One of the aims of this project is to produce ‘rigorous published research that raises the profile of fostering and adoption in the academy and the Church.’

We want fostering, adoption and the Church to be on the agenda of academic communities.

We want fostering, adoption and the Church to be a more common theme in scholarly journals and at conferences.

We want the academic community to serve vulnerable children by thinking deeply, rigorously and creatively about how Church and society can support them better.

We want Church communities to see that academic theology, Biblical studies and missiology have important roles in motivating and supporting Christians in fostering and adoption.

Are you an academic with a passion for fostering, adoption and the Church? Are you a student wanting to think and write about this topic?

We’d love to gather a network of scholars interested in fostering, adoption and the Church. Whatever your field of study, drop Tim a line and let’s connect: tdavy@redcliffe.org

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Jesus blessing the children: why it isn’t a ‘nice’ story and why it calls us to action on behalf of vulnerable children

Cranach the Elder Christ blessing the childrenVery little, if anything, was included in the Bible simply because it was ‘nice’. The account of Jesus blessing the children cannot be summed up or contained by the word ‘nice’. In reality it could be argued that this act was deeply subversive, striking at the very heart of the Church’s attitudes and actions towards vulnerable children.

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13-16, ESV)

As Judith Gundry puts it, ‘Little children were the weakest and most vulnerable link in the social chain and therefore in many and profound ways dependent on God’s rule being implemented in their lives.’ (pp.153-154) This is how one should enter the Kingdom: needy and vulnerable.

But this is not just a story of how to enter the Kingdom; this is also a story of God’s embrace of the marginalised. This is an account of subversion and transformation. Previous accounts in Mark of people bringing others for Jesus to touch them suggest the genre of a healing or miracle story (see, for example, 3:10; 5:41-42). There is something to learn about the Kingdom of God here, and the business of the Kingdom of God is transformation.

Echoing language of Jacob’s ‘adoptive’ blessing of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. 48), Jesus’ embrace of the children ‘can be seen as an adoptive embrace, an assumption of a parental role’ (Gundry, p. 156), which, in the light of the cross, foreshadows a gift of inheritance seen in the salvation achieved at Calvary.

Andries van Aarde even goes as far as to suggest that the children in this story are effectively street children and that by embracing and blessing them, Jesus is reversing their rejection, marginalisation and exclusion. They are no longer outsiders; they now belong:

“To bless your children is to accept them into your home; to not bless your children is to abandon them. Being put out of the home was often the lot of unwanted children, such as the handicapped. The same fate fell on children born of unlawful unions (cf. Wis 4:6). Physically and mentally disabled children, the blind, those with only one eye or one arm, the leprous, the deaf, and the mute were often ostracized in this way.” (p. 139)

van Aarde’s contention is that, by blessing these marginalised children, Jesus was reversing their plight, from exclusion to inclusion, from rejection to embrace.

Ephraim Radner (quoted by Anne Richards) helps us tease out the implications: “To bless something, in the New Testament, is to disclose its goodness as from God, as from God’s creative hand for God’s life-giving purpose.” (p. 117) Later, Richards says,

“The bestowing of blessing is a serious business, since it emulates the primordial acts of God. Blessing is also not about external attributes like a getting a gold star for a particularly good piece of homework; it is about naming the essentials of things…

So every child who is excluded from school, every ‘difficult’ child, every child who goes off the rails, every adolescent stomping off in a huff, every child who brings ‘shame’ on the family, these are pronounced ‘good’ by Jesus in the act of blessing. There is no child anywhere who deserves less than the unconditional love of God, and if we want to share God’s kingdom then we too must find ways to allow such children to come to us and be blessed and to discern where children can find and know themselves blessed.” (p. 118, my emphasis)

So, not simply a ‘nice’ story but a necessary and challenging one. As followers of Jesus will we seek to imitate his blessing of the children by seeking the embrace and shalom of children on the margins?

Further reading:

van Aarde, A., Fatherless in Galilee: Jesus as a Child of God (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2001)

Gundry, J., ‘Children in the Gospel of Mark, with Special Attention to Jesus’ Blessing of the Children (Mark 10:13-16) and the Purpose of Mark’, in in M.J. Bunge, T.E. Fretheim ad B.R. Gaventa (eds.), The Child in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), pp. 143-176

Richards, A., Children in the Bible: A Fresh Approach (London: SPCK, 2013)

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