Dr. Rick Morton on the Gospel and Orphan Care
Dr. Rick Morton shares a brief talk on The Gospel and Orphan Care: A Biblical Perspective on Adoption and Foster Care. This talk was given during the 2022 Stand for Life Campus Tour on November 1, 2022, at Cedarville University. Dr. Morton serves as Senior Vice President of Engagement for Lifeline Children’s Services.
For the next few minutes, I’m going to have the opportunity to talk to you about the gospel and orphan care. And probably the ironic part about that is, and there are a lot of memories that are kind of flooding back to me even tonight, standing in this venue, being here with you. 20 years ago, I was teaching in a college a lot like this and was teaching the Bible, but part of the thing God taught me along the way is that I was teaching his word, but I didn’t really believe all of it.
And that came crashing down on me one night. We were sitting over supper, my wife and me, just the two of us, we didn’t have kids at that time. And over dinner she just kind of hesitantly said, she said, “Honey, I’ve been praying and I’m just really convinced that God wants us to adopt.” And y’all like, I freaked out on the inside. I immediately thought, no way. Absolutely not. I’ve seen shows like Dateline and 60 Minutes and stuff like that, and I don’t want those people on my front lawn. That sounds complicated. It sounds difficult, it sounds hard, and I just kind of dismissed it. My wife didn’t play fair. Instead of leaving open Bibles around the house and pictures of waiting kids and needy families and all those sorts of things, she prayed.
Like, how dare you cheat like that, right? But she prayed, and I kind of know what that feeling is like about being pursued by the hounds of heaven like Francis Thompson talks about in his famous poem. But it wasn’t that I was being pursued with the gospel to salvation. It was that God was trying to pursue me, I believe, to have a fuller understanding of what he was up to in caring for orphans and how that related to the gospel. And at the end of the day, that was the question that was really messing me up. I didn’t doubt that caring for orphans was a good thing. I didn’t doubt that we saw pictures of caring for orphan and vulnerable children all through the scriptures. But what I really couldn’t reconcile in my mind was, is it really a gospel thing? And I want to stand here tonight to tell you 20 years later that yes, I believe it absolutely is a gospel thing.
And I think in large part, when we in the middle of a world that’s talking about adoption, that’s talking about orphan care and those kinds of things are being tossed around as we consider what it means to protect the sanctity of life and what it means to honor the Imago day. As we come to grips with that, I think one of the things that we need to repent of and we need to press into is that as the church, in a lot of ways, we’ve failed to put the gospel on display by caring for orphan and vulnerable children in the way that God intends for us to do it. And I think there’s some consequences to that. There was a recent Barna study of teens worldwide, and this is what they found. It’s talking about teenagers. They said, it’s rare that teens think poorly of Jesus says Barna, which found that most of them have a positive perception of him with 49% of teens describing Jesus as loving, 46% believing that he offers hope. And 43% say that he cares about people.
But despite these positive perceptions of Jesus, only a quarter of teens think that Jesus makes a real difference in the world today and less than a quarter believe that they can have a personal relationship with him. And I just want you to consider the question for just a minute. Is it possibly that we have obscured the gospel because we’ve been so scared of sliding off into the social gospel that we failed to put the gospel on display by doing some things that God’s calling us out to do? And I’m afraid the answer for too long has been yes. Think about Israel. Part of Israel’s missing the mark was their misunderstanding of what God had chosen them for. Isaiah 42:6 says, “I am the Lord. I have called you in righteousness. I will take you by the hand and keep you. I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations.”
Now, we know Isaiah was talking about Jesus, but he was talking to Israel and he was telling Israel that in the way that they lived, that they were supposed to be a light to the nations and to chart the way and to show the nations the way, according to what God was going to do in redemption through Jesus. But we know that they were supposed to call the nations to follow God by being, as the Bible says, a peculiar people. Israel was supposed to be weird and there were supposed to be weird in ways that illuminated God in his redemptive plan. And a huge part of that peculiarity was to care for orphans in a way that reflected God’s redemptive character and in a way that was in stark contrast to the nation’s around them.
In other words, Israel was supposed to live to care for orphans and to provide for them and to give to them and to do that when all of the other nations around them were victimizing orphans so that the nations would wonder what they were up to and why they were up to it. But see, I don’t think that stopped with Israel. I think it extends on the other side of the cross today. As the church, when we adopt children, we reflect the adoptive character of our God. When we provide temporary care in foster care, we reflect the protective and provisional heart of our God. When we engage parents who are broken and separated from their families in foster care, we show that we believe in the full reconciling power of the gospel and we take seriously the ministry of reconciliation that’s given to the church.
When we engage in adoption, we do that in ways that honor and care for birth parents who are created in the image of God. We can testify to our full acceptance of the sovereignty of God and the worth of our creator and whose image those birth parents are fashioned. You see, orphan care I think is an indispensable part of a whole life, pro-life ethic. Orphan care gives evidence to our trust in Christ and it gives evidence that matters to a lost and dying world. This is kind of the way I think of it. We have three kids, all who were adopted from Ukraine.
All of our kids now are adults. So our daughter’s 26. We have a son that’s 21. We have another son that’s 20. When our sons were younger, they just about ate us out of house and home. I literally scanned our neighborhood covenant to see if I could keep a cow in the yard because it just would’ve been easier than buying all the milk I had to bring home. On Saturdays my boys liked for us to go shop at Costco, right? Some of y’all are still doing that now, right? You go to Sam’s, Costco, you cut laps around and maybe if you feel really guilty, like you put on a coat or something and try it on and then cut another lap so they maybe won’t recognize you.
My boys did it. It was great. It was a free lunch and we got to shop while they stayed occupied. But the truth is, Costco didn’t intend that our kids would make a buffet off of the samples that they had put out on Saturday. What they were intending was that we would go and we’d get a little morsel of something and then go buy like a 95 pound bag of it to go get freezer burnt in our freezer. But y’all, that’s a little bit or what orphan care is when we engage in adoption and when we engage in caring for vulnerable children, we’re doing a little bit of something like that. We’re putting a taste on the lips of the world of the kingdom of God.
We’re pointing forward to a reality to say that we believe that one day there’s going to be a day when there will be no more children who’ll be deprived of parents by death or addiction or all the things that cause that. There won’t be widows anymore because there’ll be no more death. There won’t be sojourners because we won’t draw lines between things and fight over things that don’t belong to us because Jesus will reign and the earth will be new.
And until that day, I think we’ve been given the opportunity to care for orphan and vulnerable children as a tangible way of demonstrating to the world that we believe the gospel, that we trust the gospel, that we trust Jesus, and that we believe that the kingdom of God is a coming reality. It’s real in our lives today, but it’s going to be real in a much more tangible way in the future. And so two final things I want to leave you with. The first is that that adoption and caring for orphans is ultimately the work of the church. Governments and NGOs are going to come and go, but the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is going to endure forever. The second thing is that this is the work of every believer.
James 1:27 is written to the whole church, and I think it’s really interesting that the end of James 1:27, all that stuff about keeping oneself unstained from the world. None of us think personal holiness is only written to a few of us. We believe it’s all of our responsibility. Well, why is it then that the church so easily believes that only a few people are called out to adopt, or only a few people are called out to foster, or only a few people are called out? See, I believe there’s something everyone can do. Perhaps the reason that young people, and maybe even people in general in our world are struggling to see the truth and the life in the gospel is because we fail to display it in ways that Jesus has called us to, like caring for orphan and vulnerable children. So I want to ask you to do something tonight. Let’s resolve to put a taste of the kingdom of God on the lips of our neighbors and the world by how we choose to care for orphan and vulnerable children in our king’s name.