What Should Christians Think About Adoptive Parenting?

Guido Reni,
Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus (1635)

A week ago, a Democratic lobbyist named Hilary Rosen said that Mitt Romney’s wife Ann “has actually never worked a day in her life,” since she’s a stay-at-home mom. A lot of people, particularly stay-at-home parents, were understandably upset. But that doesn’t justify the response of the Catholic League, via Twitter, claiming that adoptive motherhood isn’t real motherhood:

Lesbian Dem Hilary Rosen tells Ann Romney she never worked a day in her life. Unlike Rosen, who had to adopt kids, Ann raised 5 of her own.

And while Rosen has apologized, Catholic League refuses to, and just sends out more defensive tweets, instead. I would have been more shocked at this sentiment, if I hadn’t recently heard something even worse from a Protestant commenter calling himself MackQuigly.  In response to a post I wrote on why the Marian doctrines matter, MackQuigly responded:

She [Mary] wasn’t perfect – she even lied publicly about who Christ’s father was – Luke 2:48.

It’s the same argument: that adoptive parents aren’t really parents.  What’s weird about all of this is that both of the speakers here are professed Christians, and Christianity has some really clear things to say about adoptive parenting.  Let’s review.

  1. Jesus Christ was adopted.  Obviously, given the Virgin Birth  (Mt. 1:23; Lk. 1:34), Jesus doesn’t have a biological father.  So God entrusts Jesus to the care of St. Joseph, who is responsible for, amongst other things, naming Him “Jesus” (Mt. 1:21, 25).
  2. James Tissot, Jesus Found in the Temple (1890)
  3. St. Joseph is considered Jesus’ father.  Ironically, the very passage that MackQuigly uses to “prove” that Mary lied about Jesus’ paternity begins this way:  “Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover” (Lk. 2:41), and then says that when Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem,”  “His parents did not know it” (Lk. 2:43; see also Lk. 2:27).  In the passage immediately preceding this one, Luke is even more explicit, saying that Jesus’ “father and His mother marveled at what was said about Him” (Lk. 2:33).  So Scripture is clear that, as His adoptive father, St. Joseph is Jesus’ father.  And the young Jesus Christ responds accordingly, submitting to the authority of both Mary and Joseph (Lk. 2:51).
  4. Messianic Prophesies are fulfilled through St. Joseph’s lineage. St. Matthew’s Gospel opens on this line: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1).  The Old Testament promised that the Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham and of David, so Matthew’s explaining how Jesus fulfills this.  What’s remarkable is that he measures the genealogy from Abraham down to “Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Mt. 1:16).  That is, he traces Joseph’s family tree, even though Jesus was likely a descendant of Abraham and David through Mary’s lineage as well.
  5. Christ teaches that biological fatherhood isn’t the only source of fatherhood. When certain Jewish interlocutors claim to be sons of Abraham (which they are in a biological sense), Christ rejects this notion of sonship, since they don’t follow the way of Abraham (John 8:31-47).  This ties in with the general pattern of the New Testament prioritizing spiritual fatherhood, the same reason we call priests father, or that St. Paul calls himself Timothy’s father through the Gospel (1 Cor 4:15).
    Henrik Olrik, Sermon on the Mount (19th c.)

  6. We are sons of God through adoption.  Ephesians 1:5 says that God the Father “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”  Jesus is the only-Begotten Son of the Father (John 3:16), while we are His sons and daughters through adoption.  We dare to pray the “Our Father” (Mt. 6:9) only because we believe that adoptive Fatherhood is true Fatherhood.
  7. The Church has a Patron Saint for Adoptive Children.  It’s St. William of Perth, himself an adoptive father.
So if you want to take the Catholic League / MackQuigly view that adoptive parenting isn’t real parenting, you have to do more than just reject the clear teaching of Scripture.  You would have to reject your own adoption as a child of God, a truly grave prospect.  Otherwise, I think whoever runs Catholic League’s twitter needs to apologize for an uncharitable and un-Catholic sentiment, and move on.
For a palate cleanser, here are a couple of great Catholic blogs from the perspective of adoptive parents: Just Showing Up, and He Adopted Me First.


  1. What a great and timely piece for a number of reasons.

    If you wanted to find a way to join in the great tradition of St Joseph, check out the following blog:


    And for a couple of families that are trying to bring home special needs children from overseas-

    http://ourfamilysmith.blogspot.com (I confess, this is my family!)

    http://bringingpeterhome.blogspot.com/ These are friends, and the husband, is a Catholic ObGyn in Metro Phoenix.

    A family that has adopted and continues their story:


    “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me” Mt 18:5

  2. Thank you so much for the link, Joe, and for this wonderful post! I find the Catholic League’s remark rather disheartening and a teeny bit infuriating. 🙂 I certainly did not agree with Ms. Rosen’s ridiculous statement, but to call adoption into question is beyond inappropriate. Anyway, I so appreciate your words here!

  3. I was about to write a blog post describing my recent experience in the People’s Republic of China. There I had the privilege of witnessing a transcendental father-son relationship spring into existence in an eye-blink, quite independent of the accompanying legal adoption process.

    I was going to conclude that, hitherto, I had unconsciously thought of our spiritual adoption as being a second-best option, God’s faute-de-mieux for us. I had thought this was a Calvinist or Protestant error, perhpas the result of too much dwelling on forensic justification. Perhaps, though, it’s just the error of anyone who hasn’t seen adoption in action.


  4. The outrage that the Catholic League feels is legitimate, but not properly focused.

    It is outrageous that BY CHOICE a child is denied a father, and offered a counterfeit: a second mother.

    That said, the Rosen household isn’t short on mothers, and the League’s contrasting Rosen with Romney is completely off the mark in substance, though I agree with them in tone.

  5. Dr. Ray just spoke on this on his show yesterday. It’s a modern mentality. He has 10 adopted kids, and when asked by one if he would have loved him more if he was his biological child, responds “How much do I love your mother? Is she related to me biologically?”
    The irrationality of the denial of our ability to love beyond our own blood is par for a world that denies Christ and fights against the reflection of divine intimacy even within marriage.

  6. I took the Catholic league statement to be against gay adoption, not adoption itself. Many people will say that gay adoption is better than foster homes or being in, “the system.” Hate to break it to them but gay marriage is also a “system” we created and does not replace the father-mother model that God created.

  7. “JAMES 1:26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

  8. Thank you for this post! I agree that it is rather degrading to parents of adoption that they are not real parents. My wife and I both have a heart for adoption. Our struggle is weather we adopt internationally or locally. My wife, who speaks Mandarin, has wanted to adopt from China for a while now. We have just heard about the growing child trafficking trade that even impacts well respected adoption agencies in China, which is compounding the issue. We do not want to further the child trafficking. Does the Roman Catholic Church have an agency that adopts children from China? This is one of those problems with being pro-life and trying to do things the right way for all of God’s children.

  9. As a father of two foster children and two adopted children (who started off in our home as foster children), I can say that all those children are “my own.” I am a teacher, and students are often stumped when they ask if I have any children of my own and I tell them that all four are my own but perhaps they meant if I have any biological children. Would that more Christians embraced the call to be foster parents! It’s not for everyone, but there are so many kids right down the street who need good homes. What better witness to a pro-life worldview?

  10. Thank you for this. As an adoptive mother of 3 I appreciate this blogpost. My kids ears perk up when they hear the scriptures about adoption. We think they are special because they were adopted twice- once by my husband and me, and once by God at their Baptism.

  11. As an adoptive and foster parent and a new convert(Easter Vigil 2012!), your post caught my attention today! Sad comment from the Catholic League – and fortunately, a sentiment that our family doesn’t encounter too often. Your post, though, is the first time I’ve thought of Joseph’s role as a model for my own – welcoming the children that God has given to our family and fully embracing that privelege of parenthood. And for Catholics, I wonder if adoption and foster care are facets of an openness to life?

  12. Yeah, I think their point (the Catholic League’s) was that Rosen didn’t have to carry those kids for 9 months and give birth to them and then raise them as good parents, not as a charity. The job of raising kids at home only gets harder every time the mother gets pregnant and has to take care of the child in her and the one’s around her. Nothing should be taken away from the act and love of adoption, but on a very innate and emotional level, conceiving a child is different from adopting one, it just is. I don’t know how many funny conversations my family has had about who my son looks like more, myself or my wife…that doesn’t happen with adopted kids. That’s just a silly example I know, but the two are just inherently different, wonderful, but different.

  13. Joe,

    I know I’m showing up a little late to this post but I had to speak a little frustration with a personal issue I have with “adoptive” parents. I have relatives who are Evangelical Christians who have chosen to become “sterile” due to their Protestant acceptance of sterilization. They did not want any more of their “own” children and instead wanted to do the best “Christian” thing and begin adoption. I think this is another interesting scenario for the issue of sterilization. I applaud them for their willingness to adopt, but have a problem with not wanting any more of their own so they can pursue their ministry “calling” to adopt.

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