I am very thankful for my church. It isn't perfect, but it has challenged me to have a deeper faith and put it into action. I would not be the same person I am if it weren't for my church.
My senior pastor is an adoptive parent and frequently uses adoption metaphors in his sermons. Our church does not really promote adoption any other way, though there are many families with adopted children, but adoption does come up in many sermons. I had a record-scratch moment, however, when our pastor extended his adoption metaphor and spoke of people not fully committed to belief in Christ as "still in foster care." I was not a fan. Foster care is not step one with adoption as step two. I brushed it off as maybe something he said off the top of his head. But then there was another sermon, this one that dug into me more deeply. The metaphor was that we are adopted children of our Father, but we often act like foster kids that fight against their foster families, or foster kids that no one wants to adopt.
This time, I had to e-mail my thoughts.
The two beliefs being expressed that I found dangerous were 1) foster kids need to be adopted and 2) foster kids have behavior problems.
Many foster kids do not need to be adopted and the initial goal of foster care is reunification with birth parents. If adoptive parents are God in that metaphor, what are the birth parents? And on more of a level of thinking how people in the congregation hear these messages, what do foster kids in the congregation think when they hear they need to be adopted? What if that is their fear? Or maybe they were excited to be on the road to adoption, but now they have just heard "foster kids that no one wants to adopt," and they think, that must be me, whether it's true or not?
I would love to hear a sermon that had an illustration of redemption through reunification of a family. I constantly sing a chorus about God making all things new, praying and pleading for the families that have been broken to be made new. If I'm ever a part of a case that goes to reunification, I might suggest it, or maybe I'll have to start preaching!
Second, yes, many foster kids do fight against their foster families. I should know, as I have been the target of much negative behavior lately in a cry for attention. But the danger of mentioning foster children only with behavior problems is that it reinforces a misconception that kids go into foster care because of their behavior problems. Some people think this, even though kids only go into foster care due to abuse or neglect by their parents' actions. And even if they don't have that misconception, are behavior problems really the association we need with our foster children? When volunteers work with foster children within the church, maybe they don't have a lot of experience with foster care, but they have heard several negative associations with behavior and foster kids. A foster parent brings a kid to a program and has to explain why they can't be in photos, etc., and the volunteer's memory flickers back to the sermon illustration with the behavior problems. Can't we have something better to associate our foster children with, when there is already so much stacked against them?
I worded my e-mail a little more tenderly (I'm guessing I'm preaching to the choir, so I'm being more direct here), and got a quick, sincere, and apologetic response. I'm so glad I said something, and I think it has brought me closer to my pastor rather than pushing him away.
For any Christian readers involved in foster care, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts!