Not Christian Enough

An Episcopal couple was all set to adopt a Philippine boy until the orphanage found their faith lacking.

By Pam DiBona

My husband of 15 years and I would like to adopt a second child. Having come out well on the other side of a first adoption process through China—Jenny is now six and a constant source of laughter and joy—we thought we’d embark on the adventure again. This time, we are looking at “waiting children,” those who have medical needs, or are considered too old for adoption through the routine process. For a year now, we’ve been going through pictures and requesting doctors’ assessments, while considering the impact on our family of taking in children from all over the world, and with all sorts of issues.

Finally, in July, we requested information about a little boy in the Philippines. Matthew Luke is 3 1/2, in an orphanage since he was 1, abandoned by his mother and unclaimed by his father. While he is deaf in one ear, he already knows his letters, and is described as a kind surrogate older brother to the younger children in his institution. Before making a full and formal application to adopt, we were asked to supply a letter of introduction addressing a question regarding our faith: were we practicing Christians?

No problem! A reformed Catholic, I am now a full member of the Episcopal Church, where I serve on the vestry. Adam grew up loosely Presbyterian, and now is also a confirmed Episcopalian. We attend services every week, send Jenny to Godly Play classes every Sunday, and donate time, treasure, and talent to our progressive parish and to the community in which we live.

We composed a carefully worded and respectful letter, faxed it off to the Philippines, and waited.

Though we knew we shouldn’t get our hopes up, it was tough not to. We couldn’t help picturing Jenny skipping along the sidewalk with her brother. We rearranged furniture in our minds so that there would be room for a train track for two. There were whispered updates to our friends—afraid to let Jenny know we were close to getting Matthew, but too excited to keep it to ourselves.

And then we received a letter from the Philippines via our agency in Massachusetts, where we live. The orphanage, which is run by Southern Baptist missionaries from a church in El Paso, Texas, wanted to know more about our spiritual beliefs, and sent us a list of questions. Could it be we were just not quite Christian enough? It’s not too much to ask, they said, to wonder about our position on homosexuality; after all, the American Episcopal Church has elected “homosexuals” to leadership positions. Do either of us condone homosexuality? And are we biblical Christians? Do we believe in evolution? And why is it, they wondered, that our surnames are different? Finally, an aside to the Philippine Adoption Board: Is this the only family open to Matthew Luke?

“Obviously, they’ve never been to Massachusetts,” our agency contact observed. Yes, this Commonwealth of Satanic Worship, where we allow same-sex marriage, vote for Democrats, and—gasp—women sometimes keep their maiden names!

I have to admit I was taken aback by the orphanage’s list of questions. Aren’t we all seeking the same outcome, to help abandoned children find loving families? Should it matter if we’re Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or atheist? I tried to take the orphanage director’s place, laying out a hypothetical situation in which the roles were reversed: our progressive church, led by a lesbian priest, runs an orphanage and we are asked to place a child with a Bible-thumping evangelical family. Chances are we would think he was being condemned to hell for all eternity, too.

Yes, we wrote back, we do belong to the American Episcopal Church—and we try to emulate Jesus’ practices, serving the poor, studying the Bible together, and loving all people. Even those who identify themselves as homosexual or, worse, vote Republican. And isn’t there a place for science and religion to coexist? After all, my two science degrees have not prevented me from believing in a higher power. And gosh, why are our last names different? I can’t remember—but it hasn’t affected our commitment to each other, or how we view our marriage.

We closed with a plea to please, think of the children. Won’t it be better to open up another spot in their fine orphanage rather than keep Matthew there, waiting still longer for a forever family?

We just received their reply. The dialogue has ended. Matthew will stay in the Philippines—and the government says it’s unlikely he will ever be adopted because he has three qualities that make him less desirable to prospective families: he’s male, he’s an older child, and he has a disability.

Convinced they have the corner on righteousness, they’ll do anything to uphold their point of view. And if that means depriving an orphan of a loving, open-minded and open-hearted home, well, that's the price of eternal glory. It’s far more important, after all, to save a little kid's soul than it is to save his life.

WWJD? Something tells me, anything but that


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Pam DiBona lives with her husband and adopted daughter in Arlington, MA. They plan to fly to the Philippines next year to adopt a little boy from a welcoming Roman Catholic orphanage.

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