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Perspectives regarding motivations for adoption by Christian adoptive parents: a qualitative study.

This qualitative phenomenological research study was conducted through semi-structured interviews with 21 self-described practicing Evangelical Christian families who have both biological and adopted children. The participants in the study shared numerous common elements pertaining to their shared perspectives. Here, we present the results specifically related to the reported motivations of the parents for adopting children. Findings included theological motivations to adopt (i.e., perceived biblical mandate, perspective of ministry, concepts of spiritual adoption, views towards God's blessings) and a perspective that some romanticize the nature of adoption. We discuss various theological and spiritual implications of the findings in the context of biblical teachings to care for orphans and show love to underserved populations. The results also are related to research literature addressing the stress often reported by parents who adopt children.


Significant research attention recently has been devoted to adoption practices, such as twins reared apart (Segal, 2012), the significant need for adoptive families (Howell-Moroney, 2013; Smolin, 2012), the psychological stress levels of adoptive parents (Belanger, Copeland, & Cheung, 2008), motives for adopting (Howell-Moroney, 2014; Wrobel, 2012), integrating adopted children of different ethnicities than their adoptive parents (Bailey, 2015; Bacchiddu, 2015), the role of charity in adoption (Waters, 2012), religiosity and adoption (Belanger et al., 2008; Wrobel, 2012), children who are adopted needing to feel as though they belong (Waters, 2012), and the purpose of adoption (Waters, 2012). This increased attention in research may be due to recent trends highlighted in the media and social media, particularly in the Western world. Especially following World War II, adoption placements grew exponentially, and the 20th century particularly introduced an increased trend in international adoptions (Selman, 2009).

Although adoption has existed throughout recorded history, some families historically brought unwanted children into their homes for the purpose of using them for labor. Classic novels such as Hugo's (1987) Les Miserables and the character Cosette stereotyped this type of untoward practice. The popular book (Montgomery, 1935) and television series Anne of Green Gables also addresses this phenomenon, albeit in a more romanticized way. In the modern era, however, more common motivations for adoption involve expanding one's own family, most frequently due to infertility. (Jennings, Mellish, Tasker, Lamb, & Golombok, 2014). Howell-Moroney (2014) has explored reasons for adoption aside from infertility and identified the three most common motivations for adopting: making a difference in a child's life, fulfilling an obligation to society, and altruism. Related to this finding, Waters (2012) described how adoption is a moral act, based on caritas (charity), but the act is not necessarily free from self-interest. As such, "many childless couples turn to adoption to satisfy their healthy, but frustrated, parental longing, but satisfying that longing is not the principal purpose of adoption" (Waters, 2012, p. 306). Adoptive parents report experiencing higher than average levels of psychological stress when compared to parents who do not adopt, especially for those who identify as having a "difficult child" or "dysfunctional parent-child interactions." (Lionetti, Pastore, & Barone, 2015). Additionally, adopted children overall tend to experience more life conflicts than do children who have not been adopted (Firmin & Fulmer, 2007), including issues related to developing a sense of identity and assimilating into the family.

While significant research literature has been devoted to exploring adoption practices in general, relatively few published studies have addressed perspectives regarding families who adopt for self-described religious reasons, particularly within Christianity (Wrobel, 2012). Surprisingly, for example, Google Scholar, PychInfo, and ERIC only produced two specifically-targeted peer-reviewed journal sources when searching a variety of word combinations, such as "adoption" or "adopting" with descriptors such as "Christian" or "Evangelical." Perry (2013) addressed the role that Christians possess in advocating adoption as an alternative to potential abortion, and Reilly and Platz (2003) addressed how some Christian families adopt children with disabilities as a means of helping underserved populations. Consequently, in the current study we seek to begin addressing this gap in the empirical literature. Our specific research question pertains to a Christian parent's perspective regarding adoption. In particular, we explore how parents who identified themselves as being Evangelical Christians frame their perceptions of adoption. Since the qualitative research method best answers questions regarding "why" or "how," compared to research questions addressing "how many," (Creswell, 2012), we employed this methodology. Our objective was to inductively understand the various life outlooks that Christian parents bring to the adoption process.



Research participants for the present study were, (with two exceptions) parents who had both biological and adopted children, who self-identified as being Evangelical Christians, and whose adopted children were currently college-age or younger. The exceptions included one family who had two adopted children only, and one family whose adopted daughter is now in her late 20's and no longer lives at home. The participant sample was selected through the qualitative research snowballing method (Berg, 2012). Initially, couples known by the researchers were contacted, and those who agreed to participate were asked if they would recommend other couples who might be willing to do the same. The parents who were contacted eagerly agreed to participate and indicated that they wanted to share their respective adoption stories with the researchers. In all, 21 families participated in the study and, in most cases, both the father and mother were interviewed. The ages of the adopted children at the point of their adoption ranged from five days to fifteen years old, with the mean age being 4.5 years old. The number of children adopted by the families ranged from 1 to 7, with the mean number of adopted children in the respective homes being 1.67. The length of time that the adoptive children had resided in the home ranged from one month to 21 years. Most of the adoptive parents were Caucasian, with the exception of two families in which one parent was Caucasian and the other identified as either Asian or other. The adopted children varied widely in ethnicity and age. Of 35 adopted children, 12 (34%) were Ethiopian, seven (20%) were Chinese, five (14%) were Ugandan, four (11%) were Ukrainian or Russian, one (3%) was Vietnamese and, of those adopted from the U.S., five (14%) were African American and one (3%) was Caucasian. Of the 35 children, 11 (31%) were girls and 24 (69%) were boys. Names used in the present article are pseudonyms.

One of the families (5%) adopted from foster care, one (5%) through a U.S. adoption agency, and 18 (90%) through an international adoption agency. Of those families who adopted through an international agency, 3 out of 18 (17%) initially hosted an orphan for a summer before adopting through the agency. Only one family mentioned their adoption agency (a nonreligious organization) by name, and no family mentioned that their agency had any religious affiliation. Of 20 families, three families (15%) said that their primary motivation for adopting, at least initially, was to expand their family, five families (25%) said expanding their family was one of multiple reasons for adopting [although three specifically mentioned it was not their primary motivation], and 12 families (60%) did not mention the desire to expand their family as being a motivation in their decision to adopt.


Since the study's objective was to better understand how Christian families come to understand the adoption process, we utilized a phenomenological research design (Sin, 2010). We conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews (Alvesson, 2011) and selected this procedure so that participants would feel free to respond to posed questions in ways that told their stories, answered the inquiry, and allowed families to take the interviews wherever they desired to go in the process. Because the interviews were semi-structured, not all families were asked identical questions, although all interviews focused around the general constructs of motivations, process, assimilation, impact, and faith issues.

Interviews were recorded and later transcribed by the research team. Following transcription, we applied an open-coding data analysis method (Maxwell, 2012), utilizing an inductive approach in order for themes to arise from the interviews. We applied constant comparison analysis (Silverman, 2012) to each of the transcripts, probing for common words, phrases, and concepts among the interviews. All research team members possessed copies of all the respective interview transcripts and conducted coding independently of the other research team members, using a line-byline data appraisal (Chenail, 2012a). After analyzing the transcript data, we then convened in order to assess which codes were most common and represented agreement among the researchers in the present study. Congruent with the protocol of Gay, Mills, and Airasian (2009), we asked key questions, conducted organizational review, visually displayed the potential results, and employed concept mapping as qualitative research techniques in order to develop codes into the overarching themes that represent the majority of the study's participants. All authors of the present article concur with the themes being reported.

The present study's internal validity was supported by applying a number of elements, which were embedded into the research process. One such element involved repeated meetings among the research team members in order to discuss the results from the constant comparison analysis. Codes were compared and consensus developed regarding which codes eventually became the study's reported themes. Collaborating in this way does not by itself ensure internal validity for a study. Nonetheless, Rapport et al. (2013) indicate that confidence in a study's reported findings is enhanced through such processes.

Second, generating a data audit (Rodgers, 2008) also strengthened the study's internal validity. Sometimes referred to as a data trail, this element involved reading through the respective transcripts in order to identify quotations by participants that supported the themes we report in the present study. Following this protocol helps to ensure that fraud does not occur in a qualitative study, and it also helps future researchers who wish to replicate and/or advance a qualitative study with other sample groups.

A third means of strengthening the study's internal validity involved the use of an expert independent researcher (Flick, 2006). In the case of the present study, this element involved inviting an individual with a national reputation in qualitative research to appraise each element of the research protocol, assessing the quality of the study's various phases. The independent researcher also examined the research team's data trail, ensuring that the results were sufficiently grounded in participant's transcript data.

Member checking (Mero-Jaffe, 2011) was a fourth means in which the present study's internal validity was enhanced. This process involved returning to the research participants and relating to them the gist of the findings we intended to report in the present research article. Participants were in essential agreement that our reported results reflected their stated sentiments.

Fifth, we wrote the present article using low inference descriptors (Chenail, 2012b). The study's internal validity was strengthened by using words from participant transcripts when describing research results. Doing so helps to ensure that the reported findings accurately represent the actual sentiments of the parents, and that the research team members are not superimposing their own constructs into the participants' perspectives. And finally, achieving saturation (Fusch & Ness, 2015) bolstered our assurance that we had conducted a sufficient number of interviews in order to conclude that the present article rightly reflects the sentiments of the research participants. In qualitative research, this means that we steadily found interviewees to report the same phenomenon and conducting new interviews did not result in adding new potential themes to the study. Qualitative research specialists such as Guest, Bunce, and Johnson (2006), Neuman (2006), and Oppong (2013) suggest that achieving saturation in a sample strengthens confidence in conclusions drawn and reported in a published journal article.

Newman, Ridenour, Newman, Smith, and Brown (2013) indicate that internal validity is a foundational requisite for thoroughness in a qualitative research study. It strengthens assurance that what researchers report as results in a study rightly reflect the sentiments of the individuals who were interviewed. In sum, we believe that the design and execution of the present study show the sufficient rigor expected in strong scholarship, as established by traditional qualitative research standards (Sin, 2010).


The participants in the study communicated numerous common elements pertaining to their shared perspectives. Findings included theological motivations to adopt (i.e., perceived biblical mandate, perspective of ministry, concepts of spiritual adoption, views towards God's blessings) and a perspective that some romanticize the nature of adoption. Additionally, the research participants also related various psychosocial experiences regarding adoption, including dynamics involved with assimilation into the family unit, various differences between adopted and non-adopted children, feeling as though friends are generally supportive but lack adequate understanding, legacies that likely are left on their biological children through the adoption process (i.e. non-adoptive children showing interest in future adoptions and having a heart for helping others), and various lessons learned (i.e., increased grace, unconditional love, general sanctification, and a better concrete understanding of abstract spiritual concepts). Due to publication space limitations, we are only able to report here findings regarding the participants' theological motivations for adopting children. Elsewhere, we will report the additional findings of the present study's data set.

Theological Motivation to Adopt

When asked regarding their reasons for having adopted children, parents in our study indicated that their motivation was primarily theological or spiritual in nature. When elaborating on these theological or spiritual motivations, four subthemes emerged from the explanations: a biblical mandate, a ministry, the result of spiritual adoption, and the result of blessing. Several parents did cite more than one of these subthemes as a reason for adopting. For example, 32-year-old Adrienne seemed to give a bundled list of all the motives why she chose to adopt when she said:
   [What motivated me] was the idea that I've always had
   way more than I need. And I feel like that God has blessed
   us to be able to bless others. And when we came to this
   church one of the pastors that was on staff did a message
   about how our vertical adoption with Christ should fuel
   our horizontal adoption for others here on his earth. And
   that just really hit home to me because I'm an adopted
   child of God. And I have more than I need. And God has
   blessed me with sufficient means to care for orphans.

However, as Adrienne continued in the interview, she elaborated on these points, explaining each facet as a distinct motivation culminating in her (and also her husband's) decision to adopt. This phenomenon held true to other families, as well: overall the four subthemes were communicated to us as being distinct in the participants' minds. A caveat to note is that, of some additional families interviewed who adopted after not being able to conceive a child, there was overall less of an emphasis on the theological or spiritual motivation to adopt. More commonly for these specific families, the primary stated reason for adoption was a desire to expand the family. We believe this dynamic is significant in our considerations regarding why some Christian families choose to adopt; the results shared below relate to the larger majority of the parents in the present study who, to our knowledge, did not experience issues with fertility.

Adoption due to biblical mandate. The first subtheme related by parents regarding their motivations for adoption was a biblical mandate to care for orphans. Several times, families specifically referenced the book of James, stating that faultless religion is the one which cares for widows and orphans. In addition to this mandate, some families cited the principle of caring for "the least of these," as found in Matthew 25, or the command to "love your neighbor" from Mark 12:31. All of these principles were viewed as a mandate for Christians to become involved in some form of orphan care. More so than any other subtheme, we found this category to be the one most often accompanied with directly quoted Scripture. Moreover, the cited passages often were memorized, or at least very closely paraphrased.

This particular subtheme was often accompanied by a matter-of-fact tone of voice. The underlying posture of the parents who cited this theme was one of obedience; they were motivated to adopt because they believed that caring for orphans was a command of God and that adopting was their mode of accomplishing it. When explaining this phenomenon, parents were very candid and did not pause to think about their answer. Adopting as a motivation of biblical mandate was a motive said to be full of trust and surrender to the Lordship of Christ. When this subtheme emerged, parents often included how they would use this principle as a teaching point to their biological children: because God had directed them to care for orphans, this action would be taken--simple as that.

The parents in our study also clarified in their respective interviews that adopting orphans was not the call of every Christian. There is a difference between caring for orphans, which they believe every Christian should do, and adopting an orphan, which they believe God only calls some to do. Mary's comments reflect the perspectives shared by most participants in this regard:
   James 1:27 speaks how taking care of orphans is the responsibility
   for every person that says he or she is a believer
   in Christ, and whether it's supporting other people
   adopting, or something like orphanages, or helping in
   some capacity financially, all of us are called to orphan
   care in some manner. So this is just the way the Lord said
   this is how you, at least in this point in your life, are to be
   involved in orphan care.

Evidently, the choice of these parents to adopt existed as a spiritual conviction. For them, adoption was framed in terms of being a command to follow in order to show spiritual obedience. When explaining their perspectives regarding this subtheme, parents in the study spoke as if they were very sure of themselves and consistently expressed these sentiments strongly. So while it should not necessarily be the conviction of every Christian to adopt orphans, it was a personal conviction for these particular parents (and therefore, required obedience) to enter into the actual process of adopting an orphan.

Adoption viewed as ministry. Most families we interviewed expressed that adoption for them was primarily seen as a means of ministry--evangelizing and discipling a child who likely otherwise would not receive the same level of spiritual input. From the vantage point of families in our study, biblical Christianity is passed down through spiritual influences in the home, and adoption is a means of providing such input. Jeremy summarized the sentiments of most participants on this point when he shared:
   We just think the church should be adopting all the time,
   because these children need parents, and specifically parents
   to raise them up in the knowledge and admonition
   of the Lord. And what a better way. I mean there's no better
   way, you have a captive audience. You get to train the
   way they view the entire world so there's not any better
   place for evangelism and discipleship than in the home.

This subtheme was driven by a subtle sense of altruism communicated by the participants in our study which, arguably, is at the heart of all ministry. Adoptive parents saw the need of a child and wanted to provide for it. We found that parents motivated by ministry were ultimately concerned with the spiritual nature of orphans; teaching the gospel to them, discipling them, and training them in biblical practices were presented as having the utmost importance in their adoptive endeavor. However, it is important to note that parents in our study also related ministry to adopted children in terms of providing physical as well as spiritual nourishment. As such, the concept of ministry was framed in a larger context than just providing intangible spiritual input. Rather, the element of "ministry" is viewed more holistically. Marie illustrated this point when she stated: "And then once you have a real face in front of you, someone needing a home and stability ... so, we were just confronted with a little boy and decided we would do everything we could for him." Another family spoke about how much their little boys just loved to eat, likely in part due to their malnourishment in their early stages of life. Providing sustenance was framed in terms of providing "ministry" to children in need.

In both a spiritual and a physical sense, families felt motivated to adopt because they were aware of a child who was deeply lacking something they needed in order to thrive. During the interviews, parents consistently spoke in a tender, shepherding way regarding their respective adopted children; this sentiment likely was due to parents being acutely aware of the intense need that these adopted children possessed, which their biological children never experienced. The way in which parents in our study spoke communicated profound care and compassion.

Physical adoption as a result of spiritual adoption. During the course of hearing the parents' interviews, it became clear that they felt motivated to adopt "horizontally," as a result of their "vertical" adoption. In other words, their understanding of how God had spiritually adopted them reportedly motivated these particular parents to adopt other humans in turn. Because these Christian parents had experienced love from God and had been accepted into his family, they felt like that same love should be an outflow of their hearts, as a means of practical spiritual application. Gary shared the sentiments related by most families on this point when he stated: "The reason to adopt is because you're displaying the kind of love that God showed us, that He loved us even when we didn't love Him back, and continues to love us even though we don't always display that love back." Carl similarly said that he and his wife's primary motivation for adoption was "we just felt like we were adopted spiritually by the Lord through Jesus. And I felt like the horizontal application of that was adopting."

When explaining this subtheme during the respective interviews, parents spoke on this point in a tenderhearted manner and were often pensive, as if reflecting on their own experience of entering into God's family. It was in this subtheme that we most clearly saw the parallel between spiritual adoption and human adoption. Whereas the subtheme "adoption due to biblical mandate" was personally but externally motivated, in this instance, adopting was more intrinsically inspired. What fueled the human adoption was not necessarily God metaphorically "speaking" to the parents in a subjective way (or asking something from them) as much as it was the actual experience of spiritually having been adopted, according to Scripture. In this way, a deep connection was drawn between the spiritual and the physical elements related to adoption. Parents genuinely felt as if their spiritual adoption could be, at least in part, represented by a tangible, human adoption.

Adoption due to blessings. A fourth, consistently communicated subtheme was the participants' stated motivation of adopting as a result of having been blessed. This perspective reportedly stemmed from participants' awareness of having been blessed on multiple levels and wanting to extend that blessing to others. The idea communicated during the interviews was that the parents did not want to be selfish with what they had been given but, rather, to be generous. Whereas the previously discussed theme of "adoption viewed as ministry" possessed altruistic undertones, this present theme even further exemplified the effects of a giving spirit. Ellen, as one of many examples regarding this point, discussed how she had been moved by the idea that she "always had way more than [what she needed.] " Hannah elaborated even further, stating:
   God gave us our house, he gave us our car, he gave us our
   job, he gave us everything and what does he want us to
   do with it? I believe, I think he didn't just want us to go
   to work, wash our car, watch TV, and we felt like he was
   saying, "I want you to fill your house with kids--adopted

This desire to pour forth blessing was said to stem from what seem to be two very differing emotions, yet these feelings frequently conjoined. On the one hand, parents seemed to feel almost guilty regarding all that they possessed, resulting in a desire to bless others, as if the parents were convicted about possessing so much, when orphaned children have so little. On the other hand, the participants also communicated a biblical belief that everything one possesses, including gifts and talents, belongs to the Lord. Since their very lives belong to God, then it follows (in this line of thinking) that people should glorify him with everything they have been given.

This subtheme differs from the subtheme of ministry because of the parents' "starting position." Parents who adopted primarily due to ministry reasons purportedly did not pay significant regard to material wealth or other more "worldly positions" in order to provide for an adopted child. In contrast, parents who reported primarily adopting due to blessing saw their wealth, their positions, and other various blessings as reasons in and of themselves to adopt. The biblical theme of "to whom much has been given, much is required" is reflected in this sentiment. Parents expressed that they had been blessed with so much and that the only appropriate action to take regarding those blessings would be to pay it forward to those who were less fortunate. When speaking about this particular subtheme, parents communicated the contents of their respective interviews with a sense of both dutifulness and vibrancy.

Christian Ronianticization of Adoption

When discussing motivations for Christian adoptions, most families expressed that they felt it was far too easy to only think about the appealing aspects of adoption. These romanticized ideas include gaining a new child, caring for someone who previously lacked love and support, the opportunity for guiding a child spiritually, and having a positive influence on a person. Indeed, it was many of these experiences that reportedly served as a foundational motivation for adoption, as discussed above. Since adoption generally is considered by adoptive parents to be appealing, it is natural for a family to think of the heartwarming aspects of what their adoption may be like. However, reportedly few families adequately anticipated the challenges that also accompany adopting a child. Many parents knew that the adoption process would be difficult--they were just not aware of how challenging it would be until they actually found themselves in the experience. One parent illustrated this point similarly to most participants, when asked what advice he would give a family considering adoption: "Have no expectations. Don't go in thinking you will save the kid, because it will be a pretty hectic process for you."

Parents were very open to discussing various difficulties of adoption, along with the inherent joys, when speaking about their respective motivations for adopting. They communicated that it should be undertaken only by families who are motivated to the point of seeing the rearing process through to completion and enduring trying instances. From the perspectives of the individuals we interviewed, adoption is not for the proverbial faint of heart. Michael illustrated the sentiment when he stated: "There's a lot more to the parenting than there is to the [adoption] process." Following the initial excitement of bringing the child home for the first time, reportedly it was common for families to feel as though their home dynamics temporarily were in chaos. Although families claimed that the disarray eventually faded and home life gradually became more stable, the parents in the present study recommended that other potential adoptive parents possess stalwart motivations to see the adoption through the fun times as well as the challenging ones. Janet summarized the sentiments of the participants regarding this point when she stated: "Marriage is romanticized. Having kids is romanticized ! Because you're not there, and you hear the reports, but we don't understand the depth of the sacrifice, and so that can be hard. I shouldn't say it can be, it will be hard." The adoptive parents in our study unilaterally made it clear that the adoption process is not always euphoric, and the initial transition requires an unwavering motivation. Parents expressed that there will be various points in time when the family will most likely experience various struggles, and parents must be motivated to take the long view when considering whether or not to adopt. Alex related the perspectives of most interviewees saying, "And even before we brought him home, we chose to love him regardless of his issues and I think that helped us persevere the tough times." Similarly, Martha stated:
   I'm going to say that adoption in ways is an invitation
   into God's university for humility. It's a labor of love to
   have an adoption, not physical pain, but the mental is
   really hard to deal with. I would say you have to look long
   and hard at your motivation to adopt. It's a very hard
   situation. They're coming from something broken and it
   has to be dealt with. Watching them heal is going to be
   hard, especially the first year [and] the first year is when
   they push buttons. I would say we really had to die to ourselves
   a lot. We have to deal with why we are adopting.
   People adopt for a lot of reasons and sometimes people
   don't always go through all the reasons why they are
   adopting which makes it complicated.

We specifically here cross-reference the parents' stated motivations for adoption, as discussed above, and the warning of romanticization, as discussed presently. Across the board we heard parents express theological or spiritual reasons for adoption, yet the interviews also revealed the hard reality that many times, irrespective of the parent's well intentions, the adopted child will not "fulfill" the parents' motivations for their adoption. For instance, one mother joked that her domestically adopted eight-year-old boy was winsomely unthankful for having been adopted because he now had more rules to follow. One father expressed his hurt that his adopted daughter struggled with accepting his love, thinking that it was conditional. Even more somberly, the parents acknowledged that their adopted child(ren) may never turn to Christ or walk in his will--a heartbreaking prospect for all Christian parents.

And yet, by and large, the participants in our study told us they found joy in adopting their child(ren) and concluded that adoption is worth all of the potential heartache and struggles. Even though adoption may be severely romanticized, and all of the motivations to adopt may not be brought to fruition, parents still emphasized the divine purpose of adoption and the providence of God in their respective experiences. Adoption may not be glamorous, but it was said to be close to the heart of God--and it is good.


Theologically, God has adopted Gentiles into his family in the same way that he has loved his chosen people Israel (Soulen, 2004). The idea of human adoption is reminiscent of the theological truth that Gentiles, who were once foreign and apart from God, have been "grafted into" the primary vine along with the original heirs, the Israelites (Romans 11). Pertaining to identity, we are defined, not by the blood of genealogies, but by the blood of Christ in whom Christians live (Ephesians 1, Romans 6)--much like adopted children are not defined by their blood (genes) but, rather, by their acceptance into a family. Other parallels in human and spiritual adoption also exist, such as believers' salvation [in the Bible] is often described using the legal language of being "adopted" into God's family as sons and "co-heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:14-17). Christians who adopt ("horizontal adoption") therefore potentially can be seen as imitating God's work ("vertical adoption") on a human scale (Smolin, 2012). Thus, adoption is a significant issue both in human existence and theologically.

The points above are noted because the Christian parents in our present study drew heavily on such biblical principles when explaining to us their respective motivations for adopting their children. Although not all participants explicitly referenced such a developed theology of adoption, many did reference specific components of theological adoption. For example, the "inheritance" associated with adoption, the "grafting in" process that occurs in adoption, the "pruning" experience as a result of assimilating a child into a family, and the "legal process" of adoption, all of which were meant as explicit theological references. It was evident that for these individuals, the choice to adopt and the understanding of adoption was not only psychological, sociological, or emotional; it was also theological. These individuals seemingly already had studied various passages, were attuned to spiritual metaphors, and had been educated theologically regarding the roles of religion and adoption. While none of the participants actively opened Bibles in order to read scripture portions during the interviews, they frequently cited various passages in the Bible and often referenced particular texts or biblical principles. The parents seemingly had pre-considered what the Bible teaches regarding adoption and appeared ready to engage in interview questions in meaningful and thoughtful ways.

We found it intriguing that adoptive parents had developed such distinct motivations for adopting. Although Christians sometimes express "my faith compelled me to do this," it can be less easy to articulate exactly how one's faith may compel a certain action or response. The four subthemes that emerged in the present study regarding motivations to adopt illuminated the distinct mechanisms by which participants' faith impacted their outcomes of adoption. The four subthemes of adopting due to biblical mandate, for the sake of ministry, as a result of one's spiritual adoption, and due to received blessings seem to indicate underlying and overlapping apparatuses, although the four do remain distinct. First, there seems to be an internal/external component at work in these themes. While adopting due to biblical mandate and adopting for the sake of ministry seem to be more heavily externally motivated by the purpose of furthering the kingdom of God, adopting as a result of spiritual adoption and adopting due to received blessing seem to be more heavily influenced by internally-oriented feelings. Second, there seems to be a construct that emphasizes one's connection with God versus one that emphasizes the outflow of that relationship toward others. While biblical mandate and spiritual adoption seem to be more strongly influenced by the Christian parents' relation to God, adopting for the sake of ministry and adopting due to received blessings appear to be more strongly influenced by the Christian parent's relation to the adopted child. Table 1 summarize the points we make in this segment of the article's discussion.

We recognize that no one motivation for adoption is morally "better" or more praiseworthy than any other. Rather, the respective manifestations are simply different from each other. Since relatively wide diversity exists in the kingdom of God, it is natural to expect diversity to exist in the pathways of a Christian's motivation to adopt.

Howell-Moroney (2014) notes that many parents who adopt indicate possessing high levels of altruism. Findings from the present study are generally congruent with this previous research, as briefly discussed in the present article's subthemes of adoption seen as ministry and adoption due to blessings. Our participants described themselves in terms of desiring what is best for the child(ren) whom they adopt and with motivations to please God and obey the principles in his Word. Naturally, some self-motivation likely is present in all life decisions, but we did not hear participants in our study describing such sentiments as being paramount. The parents' Christian beliefs seem to have a reinforcing effect on altruistic outcomes, which is consistent with previous findings by Howell-Moroney (2013).

The levels of stress admitted by the parents in our study is consistent with other research findings (e.g.. Stillman, 2015). Various challenges noted by our interviewees appear to be generally common among a relatively wide cross-section of parents who adopt children (Pinderhughes, Matthews, & Zhang, 2015). The Christian parents in the present study underscored the importance that individuals who consider adopting children acknowledge such challenges and give them due consideration prior to signing adoption papers. Trials that adoptive parents undergo should be understood as being part of the emotional and psychological cost of adoption. While the various stressors noted by our study's participants likely were universal among most adoptive parents, Belanger et al. (2008) suggest that religiosity may help some parents cope with such strains. We believe that the participant's trust in God helped in enabling them to deal with these stressors, as they often referenced the comfort he gave them in difficult times.

We believe that the results of the present study can be utilized by Christian counselors, social workers, psychologists, and pastors who work with families contemplating potential adoption. In particular, families should receive intensive engagement prior to making finalized decisions to adopt children. Pastors should discuss with their respective congregants the assumptions, apt theological understandings, and perceived convictions of families as they consider adopting. Christian social workers who possess biblical and theological backgrounds also should help families reflect on implications that families' beliefs potentially can have in how they apply child rearing practices once children are adopted. Christian psychologists who conduct required adoption evaluations that qualify families legally to adopt children can potentially integrate various findings from the present study into the appraisal process. Christian counselors who provide therapy to particular adopted children can consider family sessions in order for parents and children to discuss openly the parents' reported theological convictions that led to the choice for adoption.

Limitations and Future Research

All research publications should identify and report the study's limitations (Price & Murnan, 2004). Since the present sample was primarily obtained from a semi-rural Midwestern area of the U.S., and all qualitative research is context-specific (Willis, 2007), future studies should explore additional samples in order to advance the present study's findings. Potential examples include investigating samples from a diversity of American geographical regions, multiple ethnic backgrounds, wide age ranges of parental ages, and socio-economic backgrounds among the various parents. Additionally, all qualitative research by nature possesses limited external validity when focusing on a single research study (Gibbs, 2007). External validity of qualitative studies is strengthened through replication of respective studies, and confidence is built when findings are consistently reported across time, samples, and contexts (Miller, 2008). Consequently, as future researchers conduct the same study that we presently did in future time periods, using a variety of samples (such as were named above), and in various contexts--such as American and international--then greater confidence can be placed in the validity of our present findings. Robust qualitative research results theoretically should be similar across various milieu.

Future researchers should consider using the findings from the present study as part of a national survey of Christian parents who adopt children. The quantitative component could add valuable insights to the qualitative results reported in the present article. And finally, future researchers should conduct the present study with parents who are ethnic minorities, comparing the results with the findings from the present study. Little is known, in general, regarding the perceptions of minority adoptive parents; it would be helpful to know more about the particular perceptions of Christian minority adoptive parents. Additionally, the psychological stressors/challenges of adoption should be given attention in future research in order to learn more about how Christian Evangelicals articulate various challenges (noted in the present article) in light of their faith. As such, future research can focus on how parents' faith potentially fosters resilience as adoptive parents.


In summary, participants in our research study reported having given significant theological consideration to the construct of adoption prior to having made their respective decisions to adopt. They framed their motivations primarily in terms of attempts to fulfill spiritual purposes, rather than self-serving motivations. Participants believed that parents who consider adoption should educate themselves regarding the realities of how adoptions can unfold on multiple levels. We believe that the findings from the present study can be integrated into the professional practices of Christian psychologists, social workers, counselors, and pastors.


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Author Information

FIRMIN, MICHAEL W. PhD. Address: Cedarville University, 251 N. Main St. Cedarville, OH 45314. Title: Professor of Psychology. Degrees: BA (Biblical Studies) Calvary University; MA (Biblical Studies), Calvary Theological Seminary; MA (Clinical Psychology), Marywood University; PhD (Counselor Education), Syracuse University. Specializations: Ohio Licensed Psychologist.

PUGH, KELLY C. BA. Address: East Tennessee State University, Department of Psychology 420 Rogers-Stout Hall PO Box 70649 Johnson City, TN 37614. Title: PhD Student in Clinical Psychology. Degrees: BA (Psychology), Cedarville University.

MARKHAM, RUTH LOWRIE EdD. Address: Cedarville University, 251 N. Main St. Cedarville, OH 45314. Title: Associate Professor of Psychology. Degrees: BA (Sociology, Psychology), Grace College; MA (School Psychometry), Ball State University; EdS (School Psychology), Ball State University; EdD (School Psychology), Ball State University. Specializations: Ohio Certified School Psychologist.

SOHN, VALERIE A. BA. Address: 200 Seminary Dr. Winona Lake, IN 46590. Title: Graduate Student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program. Degree: BA, Cedarville University.

GENTRY, EMILY N. Address: Cedarville University, 251 N. Main St. Cedarville, OH 45314. Title: Senior in the Cedarville Psychology Major.

Author Note: Michael W. Firmin, Department of Psychology, Cedarville University; Kelley C. Pugh, Department of Psychology, East Tennessee State University; Ruth L. Markham, Department of Psychology, Cedarville University; Valerie A. Sohn. Department of Counseling, Grace College; Emily N. Gentry, Department of Psychology, Cedarville University.

Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to Michael W. Firmin, Cedarville University 251 N. Main Street Cedarville, Ohio 45314. Phone: 937-766-3242. Email:

Michael W. Firmin, Kelley C. Pugh, Ruth L. Markham, Valerie A. Sohn, and Emily N. Gentry

Cedarville University
External/Internal Constructs Regarding Adoption Relationship

                    Externally Oriented   Internally Oriented

Relationship With   Adopting because      Adopting as a result
God Emphasized      of biblical mandate   of spiritual adoption

Relationship With   Adopting for sake     Adopting due
Child Emphasized    of ministry           to blessings
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Author:Firmin, Michael W.; Pugh, Kelley C.; Markham, Ruth L.; Sohn, Valerie A.; Gentry, Emily N.
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Article Type:Report
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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