503: A Deeper Look into Adoption and the Bible Transcript

Episode 503 Podcast > Full Transcript

Lori Holden, Intro:

My new book, Adoption Unfiltered, has three chapters in it devoted to religion and adoption. My coauthors and I each researched and covered a chapter. Sarah Easterly, an adoptee and a Christian, wrote about religion's pain points for adoptees. Kelsey Van der Vliet Reynard, a birth mom, wrote about religion's role in relinquishment. I, an adoptive parent, wrote about reexamining religious narratives that guide us on our journeys to adopt and, later, in the ways we parent our children.

In each case, we interviewed people of various faiths who had witnessed ways in which religion, not God, had caused harm. No parent wants to cause harm, at least not knowingly. So, what do you need to know about some of the unexamined ideas you may have around your religious messages and their effects on your child and their birth parents?

With us today is Amber Jimerson, a birth mother and a preacher's wife who has dived very deeply into this ocean of thought. When is the word adoption used in the Bible? Who uses it in the Bible and who doesn't? How have things been misinterpreted over the millennia, and what ideas and verbiage need some current critical thought? Are you open at this moment to seeing an old thing in a new way? I personally love it when that happens to me, which is why I've invited Amber on. We are so fortunate to have her with us today. Welcome, Amber Jimmerson.

Amber Jimerson:
Oh, thank you for having me.

I'm so excited to dig into this with you. But let me first tell you a little bit about yourself.


Great. I'm really good at this part.

Amber Jimerson is a birth mother of a 17-year-old in a semi-open adoption. Amber lives with her husband and their 4 children in Indiana, where her husband is a full-time preacher. I'm so excited because, the week after we're recording this, I get to meet Amber in person when our book tour takes us to Indiana.

Amber is currently completing her bachelor's degree in psychology, after which she'll pursue a master's in marriage and family therapy. For the past 2 years, Amber has facilitated a virtual support group for birth parents through the National Association of Adoptees and Parents, where she serves on the board. While adoption and theology are ongoing interests for Amber, she's also an artist, a painter, and a writer at heart. She loves being in nature, listening to podcasts, and reading too many books; a person after my own heart.


So, welcome again, Amber.

Thank you so much. I'm so glad to finally talk with you.

I know. This is wonderful. I've been really looking forward to this. So, that we can set up the lay of the land, why don't you start off by telling us about your coming into and your presence in both the spaces of religion and adoption? Probably religion first, I'm guessing, but you tell us.

Yeah. So, I think you summed it up in my bio, but my husband is a minister. I did grow up as a Christian, but really, I like to say I wasn't really indoctrinated. It was after choosing adoption that I came into a really conservative church that I had not grown up in, and that's where my husband has been preaching for the past, 12 or 13 years.

So, it's kind of interesting. I've always loosely believed in God. I didn't really know the Bible growing up. That did not play into my decision when I got pregnant at 16. My parents were disappointed, but super supportive, honestly. As soon as we did the pregnancy test, we had a conversation and just ruled out all of our options, and they just wanted to know what I wanted to do. And at the time, I wanted to parent. And so, they were supportive of that, and they had the father move into our house and, you know.

So, I didn't have a lot of religious baggage around adoption. It wasn't until coming into it later that I really was immersed in the maybe Christian adoption narrative. So, for the past – well, the whole time I've been here – I think I've been trying to dig into that, from a religious angle, and raise awareness and understand more deeply the connection between Christianity and adoption.

So, my presence in the space of adoption: right now, like you said, I've been, facilitating a support group. That's been an amazing experience. I don't know what I'm doing, but it's I really enjoy hearing people share their stories and getting to share that with them. So, like I said, I'm in a semi-open adoption, but I also typically say that I'm really indebted to adoptees because listening to them also helped me make sense of some of my experiences growing up. I had a lot of family separation. I was a very rage filled child and adolescent, and I did not see the connection between my family separation experiences and the behaviors and the feelings that I was dealing with. So, listening to the adoptee perspective and learning about more of the attachment research has really helped me because of those experiences. So, yeah.

And then I guess I also want to add that I'm getting ready to co-investigate on a study that will examine the formation and maintenance of relationships and communication between adoptive parents and birth parents. That's my first time stepping into the research realm, and I'm really excited about it.

Wow. That's fantastic. I can't wait to hear more about that as it develops. Is this part of your academic work?

No. Actually, it was really coincidental. An adoptive parent friend of mine is also a psychology professor, and he wanted to conduct the study. And our paths crossed, and he wanted to include me in the process so that he could have an insight to the birth parent side. So,

Well, I can't wait to see what comes out of that. Now, you mentioned in your bio that you're in a semi-open adoption with your son who is 17 years old now. So, you've been doing this for a long time. I'm not exactly clear what semi-open means because I think it's thrown around without a lot of consensus. So, can you tell us what it means to you?

Yeah. Well, I'll say I didn't know what it was when I entered into it. I remember my mom took me to the attorneys that were local. I was about 7 months pregnant when I decided that I wanted to pursue adoption instead. And I knew nothing about adoption, except maybe some, like, stories of closed adoption.

So, the attorneys presented to me a semi-open adoption. They said, “Oh, actually, you'll get to have communication. They'll send you live letters.” And I think it was, like, once a year for the first 5 years, and then when he is 21, he could come find you if he wanted to. And I thought that sounded great. So, typically, semi-open means that it would be mediated by a third party. You don't have identifying information on either end, and you don't have visits.

Now, I still say semi-open even though when he was 6, his parents actually reached out to me on social media. And they said, “Hey. We don't really like not having contact with you. What do you think about doing away with the attorneys?” And we exchanged addresses. They're in a different state, so we didn't have visits, but I did have a line of communication directly to her. I knew their names through Facebook. And then a few years later, we started writing letters.

But I still consider it semi-open or rather kind of open because we still have not had visits. And I feel like I have more communication with the parents than I do with him. So, there's really not much of a relationship, directly. So, I would still consider it semi. We were supposed to have a visit in 2020, but 2020. So, it's complicated. But that's how I would define it.

Great. Thank you for sharing that. And that makes sense about the semi part being mediated, but also, they did reach out to you and you have contact information. And, you know, he's 4 years away from that 21 that's in the agreement anyway. And so, maybe I'll interview you again in a few years. We'll see what that goes on. Do they know about your work in this space?

They know a little bit. I mean, we're still friends on Facebook, and so we haven't talked extensively. There's been some concern over the years because of the things that I was expressing, but they've never, I think, closed that relationship at all. And, actually, I recently sent them a copy of your book. I had reached out to her and I said, “You know, I wish that we were maybe a little closer. It doesn't have to be about him; like, just between us as adults. I'm reading this book and it's made me think a lot.” And she was like, “Send me the book.” So, I've sent her the book. I don't know where it will lead, but it's just, you know, the long game of adoption.

Well, thank you for sharing that. And, you know, one of the reasons I think that birth parents tend to be less heard, their voices less heard, is because they're less free to speak in these public spaces in the places that you speak. Because what if it costs them something in terms of access, if they are in a fully open contact adoption? And what if things get closed down or what if they don't like – Yeah. So, anyway, thank you for sharing that.

Let's get to our topic at hand. Tell us a little bit about what fuels adoption in the church.

So, I wanted to start by saying that even the term the church, is such a vast umbrella that it's totally an overgeneralization, and I'm going to have to speak solely from my experience within a particular faith tradition, which is the Church of Christ. There are many Christians and many churches and many individuals, and we can't really lump them all together.

So, with that said, after reflecting on the families that I have personally seen pursue or support adoption, I would say that what fuels that impulse is a mixture of compassion and faith and maybe social justice, misinformation, limited imagination, and maybe a little bit of paternalism. And so, while I know many Christians in the church who have come to adoption because of infertility, it really is not only a family building thing. I think it's seen more as a means of evangelism on the one hand, but I actually recently asked this question to a number of adopted parents.

I think there's more to it than just that, because many people grew up seeing their parents open their homes to anyone in need. And not through adoption, just their parents were very giving, compassionate people, and their doors were always open. And I think that has created, in a lot of people, just empathy on the one hand and a desire to really share what they have with others. So, I really do want to emphasize that I think compassion is wrapped up a lot in the reasons that Christians pursue adoption. So, for all the criticisms of the church, the institution, there's something to be said for the sincere people.

But I think that if you have that background, so if you have that heart and that willingness to self-sacrifice for the sake of others, and you believe that you need to show your faith by works, and you need to save the lost. And then if you add to that, maybe some skewed information about an orphan in crisis or that adoption is the alternative to abortion, then you're going to have a lot of Christians pursuing adoption.

I think that adoption is not at all easy. It requires a ton of sacrifice and setting aside fears and all of that. But I think that in some ways, adoption compared to the idea of entering into the long term work of befriending and working with communities and people that are not like your own, maybe unbelievers or people that are dealing with generational trauma or low income situations, compared to that, I think adoption is much easier for Christians and for really insular church communities. It might be more attractive to Christians who feel some mix of, like, helplessness and judgment and a lack of sort of hope and clarity about how to even help, when it comes to entering into settings like that outside of their comfort zone.

So, in that way, is it only about faith and serving a child in need, or are there a variety of factors at play that might be tied up in our own comfort and fear and control?

I love all that. And point taken for sure about the church. Even while I was preparing for this interview, I was thinking, “It's not a monolith. Like, nothing in adoption is a monolith. Like, one adoptee is not all adoptees and one church is not all churches” and all of that. So, thank you for that. And also for those thoughts. What I hear you saying is kind of laying the groundwork for assuming best intention about adoption in the church.

I really like your point about the church not being a monolith. And if there's one thing we know about adoption, that none of us represents everything. No adoptee is all adoptees, and no birth parent is all adoptive parents, and no church is the church. So, thank you for that point. I was thinking that to myself when I was preparing for this interview.

And I really like what you were saying as well about assuming best intent from the church. It starts out with really good intentions of taking care of people. And especially in in a Christian religion, that's what it's all about.

I want to talk to you, Amber, about messages from the church and messages to the church or a church. So, first of all, will you tell us; what are some messages that churches tend to send out around adoption that perhaps with a better reflection may be a little bit misguided?

Yeah. So, there are a few that I can think of. I think probably the one that I hear the most is a comparison of adoption and the gospel, but it's a metaphor or a participation in the gospel or a reflection of the gospel. And something I am not sure that people recognize is that as a birth parent, it's pretty impossible to not hear that and think that, “Oh, I'm the darkness and the sin that my child needs to be rescued from.” And then also maybe tied in with that is seeing then adoption as a tool or a formula for evangelism, which there's a whole host of problems there.

And then if I had to think; let's see. Some of these that that come to mind are not particular to the church, but I think are really widespread. Like, I think in general, many people believe that it would be better for birth parents to maybe be out of the picture. But sometimes, that manifests in Christian circles as adoptive parents, who are Christians, are fearful of the bad influence that the birth parents may have and that their presence in their child's life might affect maybe the efficacy of adoption as a tool for evangelism.

And so, something I worry is that maybe parents are keeping birth parents at arm’s length, not because they're actually unsafe, but really because they're unchurched.

Another misconception, I think, is that adoption is an alternative to abortion. And with all of the political talk, that creates a huge motivation for churches to push adoption. If they believe that most people are coming to adoption because, well, they didn't want the child and they would have aborted them anyway. And so let's encourage adoption. Since they don't want this child, why not just give it to a family in need when that really isn't the reality of what we're seeing and why people come to adoption.

So, those are the main ones, I think, that come to mind.

I think that's a really good point. When adoption becomes about a second thing or a third thing, then everything gets a little bit mixed up and not as pure as about serving people; the original intent for it.

What are some of the differences between the context of adoption in the Bible and how we talk about it today?

Yeah. That's a great question. That goes along with, I think, some of the messages that we hear. So, for example, the idea that it's a demonstration of the gospel. I hear this so often; that we are all adopted by God. And so, that's our primary relationship to the creator is we are adopted. We're not related. We're strangers taken in.

The other one would be James 1:27. And that's pretty much the main verse that really has been translated or interpreted to say that pure and undefiled religion is to adopt or to support adoption, specifically. That isn't what the verse says, but it's what it's come it's come to mean in our modern context.

So, if we want to look at what the Bible actually says, which is important, the very first thing we can know is that there's no way the Bible is actually talking about adoption as we conceive of it because it did not exist then. It's a very modern new thing. All the ways that we practice it were not known to any ancient cultures.

What's also important is Christianity came out of Judaism. And so, it's really good to go back and look at what was Jewish law, what were their practices as that was the first nation that was represented as having a relationship with God. And there was no adoption practice in Jewish law. They didn't have a word for adoption until modern times, actually, as far as I understand it. And so, while, of course, they had orphans and children that were in need, they dealt with that differently. Especially because in Judaism, genealogy and your lineage was super important. So, typically if you had a dispossessed child, it was a good thing for you to take that child in, but they always kept their identity and their bloodline. That was, they were never considered – like the adopted family would not have replaced that.

So, we don't see that word used in the Hebrew scriptures. The only time that we see the word adoption used is by one writer in the New Testament. And that's important because the Bible is made up of tons of different books written by many different writers. And so, for only one person to use that word, you kind of wonder, like, why did they use it and what did they mean and who are they talking to?

And so, we know that in that time, the only secular cultures that actually did have a practice of adoption were the Greek and Roman cultures, and that is who Paul was writing to when he wrote his letters. And so, they had a really public, slightly different practices. So, we know we can usually think of Roman emperors that were typically adopted. And this was more of a lateral move. It was like a promotion and it was for the sake of the father. This would have been men who had estates or families or whatever. They needed to pass it on to an heir who was responsible and trustworthy. So, they would adopt young adult men. This was very much about inheritance. And the adults who were adopted still retained responsibilities and obligations to their first family.

And also, interesting – I think it was in the Greek. I'm not sure about Roman. I might have it wrong. It might be Roman. Because women could not own property, this was not – if a father adopted a young adult man, the wife was not considered to be the mother. It was not.

So, anyway, this was not the way that we think of adoption. So, whenever we read adoption, in order to get the full effect of what the original audience was supposed to hear, we would need to know things like that. And since adoption, as we know it did not exist, there was no domestic infant adoption. It wasn't a family building thing. This was a move of inheritance. And if you look at the actual scriptures, the context, there's always inheritance language there. So, there's a totally different meaning there. So, there's a whole thing, I guess, if you want to know more about it, I won't get into it, but I can tell you more if you want.

So, if that's not what it means, then then what do we mean? And what does what James 1:27 mean? Which I guess I should say it for anyone who doesn't know.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

So, orphans and widows, I've said this before, but you typically think orphans; babies, and, widows; people who are older and need visiting and help like that. But that's a phrase that's used many times in the Hebrew scriptures, and it's usually used with orphans, widows, the foreigner, and the poor. And we actually have examples of orphans and widows being ministered to, and it's typically single mothers and their children.

And so, if we want to know, like, well, what does James 127 mean? That would be ministering to vulnerable family units in a way that keeps them intact so they can stay together. And so really, like, this might be new information, but I feel like it's so much more expansive. If we can release our very narrow limited view of, “Oh, well, this means adoption” from these texts, then it expands our realm of possibility in ways that we can help people in need.

And it was pointed out to me one time that the term “orphans and widows” was meant to be like a unit. Like, you support the orphan and widow with parenthesis around the 2 of them. And, that changes the meaning of the whole sentence.

They always come together.



Yeah. Thank you for all that.

It's the fatherless and the widow.

Because especially in the context of the time that this was written, women and children didn't have ways to be taken care of other than somebody else stepping in for a deceased or lost father: husband.

Yeah. If you were to separate a mother and her son, that could mean death or just destitution for the mother in that time. So, that wasn't something that would have been practiced or encouraged.

Well, thank you for shedding light on all of that. If you could get a message to church leaders, yours or anyone else's, what would that be? What's your message to churches?

You know, I've had to think about this recently. I like to say every year I reflect on how effective am I being at conveying what I'm trying to say. And sometimes you need to simplify. So, my sentence lately has been, it is not that the church is lacking in compassion. It is that the church is lacking in imagination. And when we lack imagination, we sort of take that compassion and set it along the tracks that have already been set before us, whether or not they're actually achieving the aims that we are hoping that they achieve.

And so, kind of like what I was saying by releasing our preconceived ideas from a biblical interpretation, if we can have some imagination, I think, beyond the tracks that have been set before us, I think we’ll find so many opportunities. If compassion and, like, this desire to share with those in need and to show our faith by works is what is drawing us to adoption, then I think imagination would really expand our view to be able to see other ways that may be really more helpful over the long run than just adoption.

There's a book that is very Christian, but if you're a Christian, I highly, highly doubt it. It's called When Helping Hurts, and it has nothing to do with adoption. And yet if you read it, I think you'll find that it has almost everything to do with adoption. It is about taking a critical look at missions work through – the authors are very experienced and just have a lot of experience in missions, and they've found what works and what doesn't. And they point out several issues in our framework for helping those in need.

And one thing that they point out is, without realizing it, unless you were to talk to the people you're seeking to help, sometimes the ways that we try to help people sort of hammer down that person's dignity. And I think being able to uphold and prioritize a person's sense of dignity needs to be at the forefront of when we're trying to help people. And the only way you can do that – you can't do that if you're coming into a situation with a sense of superiority or if you think, “Oh, I have something to give to you. You would be helpless about me. I have all of the answers. Let me come in and help you.” You really need to level the ground and reckon how some humility and recognize this is a mutually beneficial friendship and participation. And I don't see that in adoption sometimes.

So, in 2 ways, one, I think sometimes – I mean, I'm going to talk a lot about family preservation, but I'm not saying that adoption is never the right decision. But I wonder, like, there's a really common example of the agencies that'll pull out this paper that has the 2 columns, like what you can provide a child and what an adopted family can provide a child. And it's really meant to bring out the sense of, “I'm totally inadequate. I have nothing to offer and someone else has what is needed here.” And sometimes, I think that's how we approach trying to help people. It was like, “Let me help you. You can't do it.”

And so, this book talks about the importance of having an approach that you come into that situation asking, “What is right with you? What is going well? What are the gifts that you have? What do you bring to the table? How can we partner with you?” And so, it's really validating their dignity and, not playing off of shame.

Whereas adoption, it's almost like, “Oh, you have all these fears. Yeah, you're right. You are inadequate. Let us, the church, come and help you.” And then we wonder why I see so many adoptive parents who would love to have more openness, but the birth parents are just – they're gone or they're relapsing or they're just caught in these perpetual cycles. And I wonder how much of it is because of that inherent shame and those dynamics of, like, superiority and inferiority, in addition to the grief, obviously.

So, I guess my message for the church is, what are ways that we could actually – I know it's hard because again, the short term relief of adoption is always going to be easier. But what is more, I think, really in line with the gospel and what is more in line with really reconciling all of us together than walking alongside people for the long haul and really entering into these spaces that are unlike our own and really loving people who are different from us.

So, on the one hand, that would really encourage Christians not to just pursue adoption, but to really, instead of taking a child outside of the community and isolating them and bringing them into the church, how could the church come out and enter into the community and really do the work there?

But on the other hand, even when adoption happens, it's the same problem, because how well are we integrating the birth families? Are we able to actually love the birth family? Like everyone, I think, does a great job of praising birth families when they choose adoption. But over the long term, I see a lot of difficulty with adoptive parents in knowing how to navigate an ongoing relationship when most of their friends are just church people. They don't have a lot of experience being around people that aren't like them, have different lifestyles, different beliefs, and now they've adopted and they don't know how to integrate that birth family.

And sometimes, I think a sense of inferiority and superiority is, is sort of maybe implicit in that child's upbringing, which has so many damaging effects to the adoptee and, of course, to the birth family. I'm speaking as a birth parent.

I think that's a really good point about the power dynamics. And we touch on that in Adoption Unfiltered, especially Kelsey, our birth parent representative also. She talks about that a lot; this inherent power dynamic we have between adoptive family and birth family, and then adoptive parent and adoptee, because it's a parent child relationship until, we're aiming for autonomy and we're aiming for an evening out of that power dynamic, but that power imbalances it will eventually become a power balance. And so, how do we, even amid the imbalances, how do we give power when we can? How do we bring decision making in and make it more collaborative and all that? So, I think that's a really good point that you bring up.

I've been following your Instagram feed for a while, and it's @firstfamilysupport. And I noticed that you had taken a course on ethics. What thoughts did this course unleash for you around religion and adoption? I imagine that was quite a catalyst for you.

Yeah. I had taken a course, and then I just finished this training, so I couldn't do this study. So, it was a refresher. But I think it ties into even my point about dignity because some of the – I mean, ethics is in part based on this respect for persons. And as I had to memorize these terms like informed consent and coercion and undue influence and unjustifiable pressure, I could not help but notice the parallels in the way that adoption professionals or people who are trying to encourage adoption engage with expectant parents, especially.

So, when you are researching a study, it's the responsibility of the researcher to recruit participants in an ethical way, obviously. And so, they have outlined some common pitfalls, like just things that would require safeguards. And so, one, recognizing that there are vulnerable populations that you have to be really careful with. And these vulnerable populations, among these are people who are pregnant, minors, those who are educationally or economically disadvantaged. And when I think about adoption, that's those are expectant parents.

And so, with vulnerable populations, if you're trying to recruit them, you need to be really careful that even what would be considered normal practices for a non-vulnerable person could be, coercive for a vulnerable population. So, I think in the adoption reform community, we hear the word coercion a lot, which is like the threat of harm. And some people have been forcibly threatened into choosing adoption for sure.

But terms that I hadn't heard were undue influence, which is the excessive and unwarranted, like, an inappropriate reward in order to gain compliance. So, you're trying to induce them with an inordinate reward to do what you want or what you think would be best for them.

Free housing.


Housing while you're pregnant.

Exactly. Exactly. And well, and speaking to that too, when you're trying to get participants, you want to let them know that they're in no way obligated to complete the study. If they want to back out at any time, they can, and there will be no consequences to them. So, your example is, you know, sometimes there can be those inducements to pregnant women. And then if they change their mind, it comes at great consequence. And that's really unethical.

The other one is unjustifiable pressure. So, anyone who's in authority or has some sort of commanding influence, you have to recognize that there's an inherent pressure there. So, if I look at adoption, that would be maybe parents, adults, doctors, nurses, social workers, any church leaders. If you are trying to induce them to choose and opt, that's pressure; automatically.

So, like a researcher, if you're a doctor and if you are going to do a study, even if you don't care and you would be fine if your patients declined, there's an automatic pressure there; an inherent pressure, just because it's a doctor-patient relationship or a student-teacher relationship. So, then ultimately, you also have to get informed consent.

And that really struck me because I know something that I have struggled with is I've heard so many stories over the years and about outcomes and adoption, adoptee experiences, birth parent experiences, but I think I'm probably not a home, I guess. Sometimes I wonder, “Well, but that's not always the case. You know, it's not guaranteed that they're going to have, you know, this adverse experience or whatever. So, do we really need to inform people, going into making this decision, when they may not actually ever experience that?” But that is actually part of informed consent.

So, when you're letting people know what they're about to do in a study, you have to tell them everything, even if it's some random guy, only one of them, ever experienced some crazy thing that will probably never happen, you let that person know, like, “This is a possibility. It's rare or whatever.”

You're letting them know absolutely everything, any foreseeable hazards, even if it's just, “Well, you may experience some discomfort.” You let them know everything so they can make a truly informed decision and weigh the risks for themselves. And so, you're not persuading them. You're helping them to avoid any sort of unrealistic expectations. And that's to make sure it really truly is a voluntary decision on their part.

And so, I just wondered, you know, what would that look like? And not only with adoption professionals, but I see this a lot in the church for those who are really – I've been asked, honestly as a birth mother a long, long time ago. I've been asked by people in the church to go talk to an expectant parent and let her know the statistics on single motherhood and try to persuade her to choose adoption. And I didn't feel comfortable with it even at that time a long time ago.

But I don't think people realize the impact of what they're doing and how careful – and honestly, for professionals who do realize, and this is their job, there really ought to be some oversight and some safeguards in this regard.

In that same series that you were doing, which I thought was so well done, you had a conversation about inherent good and relative good. Can you tell us about that?

Yeah. So, this actually came from David Smolin a long time ago. He was speaking about Christians and how adoption has become an unquestionable good. And anytime anything is unquestionable, I think you should take note. But if I could explain it, I would say, going back to talking to Christians, I want to disentangle the principle of compassion and care from the structure and legal practice of adoption.

So, we could imagine compassion as being an inherent good. Compassion is good. The end. But adoption is an ever changing framework for expressing that compassion. And so, that is a wholly relative good because what determines the goodness of it is the practices which initiate it and the practices by which it's sustained.

There, unfortunately, are so many examples of this, so many domestically, historically, currently. But the one that sticks out to me is if you've ever – I would recommend watching the documentary, One Child Nation. I didn't realize it was going to play into adoption. It's on China's one-child policy. And if we're talking about inherent and relative, then that documentary investigates how under the policy, in some areas, children were kidnapped by third parties and sold to agencies for profit, and then were adopted internationally. And on the records, it just said they were abandoned by the side, they weren't wanted because of the one, you know.

And so, is adoption an inherent or a relative good? Obviously, the adoptive parents would have had no clue; no idea. They were getting a lot of misinformation, But in that case, those practices, those wrongful and unethical practices were not good, because adoption, when we talk about adoption, we're talking about a practice and something that can be reformed and changed and is ever changing and should be ever changing. And that is not equivalent with compassion itself.

That's so true because something as complex as adoption cannot be just labeled good. There's so many aspects of it that we really have to continually be thinking critically about it. We'll include One Child Nation in the show notes as well as the book that you were citing, When Helping Hurts.

Oh, yeah. Like you were saying, it's so complex and we really have to exercise caution because not only do you have that corruption, but when you add into that, high emotions and personal desires, it becomes really vulnerable. As we wrap up a couple's desire to have a child with possible corruption and exploitation and these vulnerability of biological families and then you add profit into that, it becomes really complex. And so, there really does need to be a lot of caution and that's it's good to have caution.

So, a lot of what we're talking about with that caution is being able to do some ongoing critical thinking about what is happening here at this point in time with my own motives, my church's motives, society's motives, all of that.

So, let's talk a little bit about this thinking. I'm sure that you, like most parents, care about cultivating a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset in our children. I know I do. And as a former educator, I was really hoping that my students would have like an open mindset and open to new information when it came and looking for openings and always having an input coming in to be refactored.

You've spoken about fundamentalism as a mindset and not just an aspect of religion. Let's talk about what happens when parents have that rigid or fixed mindset in their parenting and not only such an emphasis on fundamentals, how it affects the kiddo, but how it can also affect the parents, when we're being so basic.

Yeah. Well, something that was sort of an interesting realization to me was that I had had so much experience in a fundamentalist church that I equated fundamentalism with Christianity or with religion. And then what happens if you go to many different communities and contexts, you begin to realize that it's not a religious thing, it's just a way of thinking. And it's a way of thinking that anyone could have.

And so, fundamentalism is many things, and you could have a theological discussion about that and how it applies to religion. But a fundamentalist mindset is really about the oversimplification of really complex questions. And it's characterized by an inability to learn from opposing views, recognizing your own limitations. It's not very good at listening to others who are different than you or challenging its own ideas. And it tends to believe that not only are the answers simple and common sense, but that you have them and you can deposit that information into someone else's brain.

And so, when I think about that as a way of life and how that has really contributed to, really, our inability to connect with that. I think we see a lot of polarization in our country in many, many ways. And a lot of that, I think, comes from that difficulty of sitting with discomfort and ambiguity and reaching out and believing that it is important to build bridges with people who are different from us.

And so, when it comes to adoption, obviously, I think that very few people would argue that it isn't complex. And so, as parents, I mean, I'm not an adoptive parent, but I do I experienced this with my kids, religiously. That's always been very important for me to prioritize wonder and validate questions. And we take more joy in the questions than in the answers.

But if you're very uncomfortable with discomfort and if you also really wanna avoid pain, and most people do, then if your child does express or has any sort of complex feelings or thoughts that are kind of hurtful or uncomfortable, then you're going to really wanna jump to a positive conclusion. You wanna tie up that conversation neatly. You wanna make sure they have the right answers and the right perspective; whether it's about adoption or religion or whatever. And I think that's really fear based, honestly.

And so, I think to combat fundamentalism, you really want to expand your comfort with discomfort and to develop an appreciation of wonder and uncertainty and just bitter sweetness.

And I just wanna say to listeners, if you're listening and wondering, “Oh, my gosh. What if I am bringing too much fundamentalism into my parenting?” That thought in itself, that wondering, probably shows that you're not because you're capable of letting in new ideas and this self-reflection and self-examination. So, on the other hand, if you're like, “I would never do anything like that,” that might be more of a sign that there's something here to look at.

Amber, what are some of the takeaways for adoptive parents you have, in terms of how we talk about adoption with our adoptees, as well as parenting in general? And by that, I mean, discipline, problem solving, attachment, anything like that.

I won't give parenting advice because I am a parent. It's all easier said than done. And I'm just out here winging it, it feels like. But in keeping with the theme of this conversation, and I think compassion and dignity of the biological family, I would ask, how are you talking about the biological family with your adopted child, not just adoption in general, but really how are you showing and demonstrating compassion and respect for their family of origin? And then for those in the church, are you holding birth families at arm's length? And rather than, I don't know, getting into the mess and demonstrating, loving people who are different from you and really integrating them into your family.

I love your point about compassion because that, as you established early on in our interview, that's one of the main tenets of Christianity. And adoption is showing compassion to people who need help. So, I can appreciate that.

It is time for our last question, Amber, that I'm asking of all Season 5 guests. What do you wish that all adoptive parents knew from Day 1 or from this moment?

So, there are so many answers that I could give here. But again, in the spirit of this whole conversation, I would rather leave parents with a seed to take and plant in their own time, in their own way.

So, I wish that all adoptive parents knew the irreplaceable value of curiosity, of wonder, of stepping aside, and perspective taking. If all adoptive parents could enter into this long game of adoption with that heart for curiosity and for listening and really trying to imagine experiences that are not their own, I think not only would there be obviously a tremendous benefit to the adoptees and birth parents in their lives, but honestly, I think that's how you treasure up an abundance of rich and complex knowing about life and humanity.

And so, to be able to do this requires a willingness and an ability to pause and ask questions where we would much rather give answers. It requires a belief that there is room for both you and for me and for the whole of our experiences. And it requires trust that facing and sitting in difficult emotions and conversations would not be the death of us, but rather the birth of so much more depth within ourselves and between us and those who we love.

I love all of that, Amber, and it fits so much into my own journey as an adoptive parent, where at the beginning, I thought open adoption meant contact. And over the years, I've come to expand that so much more to openness and adoption, which I've talked about a lot. But it requires so many of those qualities that you just mentioned, curiosity and wonder. I always throw in groundedness and humility and connection and self-reflection; looking inside first. When you want to blame everything out there, don't forget to also look inside what's going on. So, I really appreciate all of that advice. Thank you.

Oh, I love all of your thoughts there. That's beautiful.

Great. Well, thank you so much for being here with us today and sharing your expertise, your curiosity, your really deep thoughts. It's just been a pleasure exploring all of this with you. Thank you.

Oh, thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking with you.

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