SEBTS conference addresses realities of adopting across cultures and races

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Understanding the proper motivation and implications for adopting cross-culturally and trans-racially encapsulated the Adopted Conference April 6.

Hosted by the Kingdom Diversity Initiative of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) at Wake Forest Baptist Church, 120 people heard from couples and individuals on the expectations and challenges that come with cross-cultural and trans-racial adoption.  

“We’re not here today because this conversation is popular,” said Walter Strickland, associate vice president for diversity and assistant professor of systematic and contextual theology. “We’re here today because we understand that racial reconciliation and adoption are pressing matters for around the country.” 

“We are all called to rear our children with the full recognition of the brokenness in this world and introduce the restorative power of Jesus Christ into that particular brokenness,” said Strickland. 

Of ethnicity, Strickland challenged the notion of colorblindness, explaining that instead of ignoring ethnic differences, parents need to care for the needs that are unique to their child’s background. 

“Because we live in a Genesis 3 world, ethnicity creates conversations that we have to have for our children to flourish in their identity that God has given them,” said Strickland. 

Of culture, Strickland noted the importance of parents celebrating their child’s cultural heritage by actively participating in aspects unique to that background. The gospel also gives the child a new identity in which he or she can celebrate both their birth and adopted cultures. 

Of race, Strickland explained that this concept is a social construct that allows for the negative and positive traits to categorize different groups of people. Parents adopting children of other races prepare their children for the conflict that their racial difference will bring, explaining that this should be a natural byproduct of raising a cross-culturally adopted child. Strickland said parents must “do the work of undercutting the negative categorization of race in America.” 

Matthew Mullins, assistant professor of English and History of Ideas and associate dean for academic advising at SEBTS, spoke on the proper motivation for adopting trans-racially.

He noted that three improper motivations include guilt, colorblindness and a having a savior complex. Mullins explained that guilt sometimes comes from the America’s damaging history of slavery and treatment of African Americans. Mullins said if guilt is the motivator, “you’re being more motivated by fear than by love.” 

In regard to colorblindness, Mullins said this sentiment disregards the God-given uniqueness of the child. He explained that this mentality will stifle their parenting and ability to properly prepare their child for the future. 

Mullins called the savior complex mentality the “most insidious” of the three improper motivations for adoption because of the way that it is deceptively biblical in the command to care for orphans. 

“The difference between saving a child and caring for it is that the savior complex always carries with it a feeling of superiority,” he said. 

Conversely, Mullins gave two good motivations for adoption: love and, by extension, openness. Love involves the willingness to sacrifice preferences, learn another’s background, and die to self, he said. He explained that one of the ways to do this is to enter into relationships with people from the child’s background. 

Kyle Johnson, an African American who was adopted at 17 by white parents, explained the tension of “living in two worlds at one time.” Johnson, a student at SEBTS pursuing a Master of Arts in Christian ministry and the youth director at Word Tabernacle Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, explained that while there are unique challenges that come with living at the intersection of two cultures, living in that reality has given him an appreciation for both. 

Breakout sessions were held throughout the day. Topics included “Beauty Talk Part 1: Am I Beautiful?,” Beauty Talk Part 2: How to Do My Child’s Hair, “The Myth of Colorblindness,” “Unique Issues With International Adoption, “‘The Talk’ for Black/Brown Boys” and “Birth Parents Are Not the Enemy.” 

At the end of the conference, Strickland interviewed a panel of those who walked through adopting cross-culturally and trans-racially. Panelists included Colin and Shante Adams, Ben McRoy and Mullins and his wife, Jenny. 

Adoption agencies were represented during the conference, including Carolina Adoption Services, Lifeline Children’s Services and Bethany Christian Services.

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