Unification Sermons and Talks
by Reverends Walsh
On The Ethics of Adoption
by Thomas G. Walsh
My wife and I are adoptive parents. After undertaking strenuous but fruitless efforts to have children, we were blessed with a child offered by another couple in our church. The entire process of receiving and raising our son, Nathan, now four and a half, has been an extremely rich and moving experience, and there is so much that can be said on that score. However, the purpose of the reflections that follow are not to communicate the heartistic and spiritual dimensions of our experience, even though these are the most profound and important, but to seek to explore some of the ethical aspects. This brief essay is an attempt to advance the discussion of adoption within our movement both for the sake of those who have or who may come to be involved in adoption, as either a receiving or offering family, and for those outside our movement who wish to understand the practice.
The type of adoption most commonly practiced within the Unification Church is somewhat unconventional. Among the most distinctive features is the fact that the process of adoption is usually planned out, often by couples who know each other, prior to conception and/or birth. The couple who relinquishes the child does so purposefully, and not primarily as an act born of desperation or distress, a common characteristic of conventional adoption. In our case, my wife and I were approached by another church couple, friends of ours, who, aware of our situation, proposed the idea of bearing a child for us to adopt and raise. We happily accepted. Upon birth of the child we became parents.
As generally practiced in society, the occurrence of adoption is characterized by a variety of very mixed emotions, and moral conflict, especially for the birth mother/parents. On the one hand, a woman, often unmarried, finds herself pregnant and quite distraught about that fact; usually the pregnancy is unplanned, an accident the consequences of which are very undesirable to the mother. The options available to such a woman are: 1) to keep and raise the child; 2) to abort the child; 3) to relinquish the child through adoption. Each of these options raises moral questions. Is it appropriate to raise a child under conditions-poverty, mental illness, instability-that clearly dis-serve the interests of the child? Is it ever appropriate to terminate the life of a fetus/child that causes no health threat to the mother? Does relinquishment of the child harm the child? The mother? The father? The decision to relinquish the child is usually a painful one, made after the other options, to raise the child or to abort the child, have been rejected. While relinquishment often represents a conscientious act for the sake of the well-being of the child, there nevertheless remains a range of mixed and unresolved feelings. For a good discussion of relinquishment, see Stephen Post's "The Moral Meaning of Relinquishing an Infant," published in Thought (June 1992).
Most conventional adoptions are arranged by private agencies, social welfare organizations or, in the case of independent adoptions, attorneys. However, in our case, we were first approached by the offering couple. Only later, in order to comply with the law, did we contact an attorney and a social worker. It was clear to us that the offering made was not characterized by emotional and moral anxiety; the offering couple's decision was deliberate, unambiguous and, for all the magnitude of the generosity, wholly lacking in any expectation of reciprocity. It was as if, given their Unificationist life of faith, that act was understood from the beginning as eminently reasonable and worth doing. Of course, this may appear to some outside our movement to be as bizarre as arranged marriages. Even those who disapproved of arranged marriages may see such marriages as less morally problematic-since adults give full consent to participation in such a marriage-than this kind of adoption, which is seen as morally troubling precisely because it involves a child who has no right to give consent. Of course, this is true of all adopts; in fact, there's something fundamentally non-consensual about reproduction of any offspring. What child, after all, has any say in when, where or to whom he or she is born. Does any child choose his or her parents? Seen in this light, it seems less controversial that an adoption is deliberately planned, particularly when both sets of parents are dedicated to the well-being of the child. If we assume a fundamental interest in the well-being of the child in both types (conventional and Unificationist) of adoption, it would be difficult to argue persuasively that an adoption resorted to by birth mothers out of distressing personal circumstances is morally or psychologically preferable to an adoption which emerges as a fundamentally religious act of giving to others. Unification adoption, in my estimation, exemplifies Jesus' command, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
Adoption Moves to the Front Page
There is much talk of adoption recently. This is brought on not only by recent publicity surrounding several custody battles between biological and adoptive parents, but also because of the rising interest in openness and full disclosure about all aspects of life. Whereas in the past public discussion of adoption was avoided, associated with other uncomfortable topics such as illegitimacy and infertility, it is openly discusses today. For example, if you walk into a Wendy's today, you'll see a poster encouraging people to consider adoption; the poster features Wendy's founder, Dave Thomas, himself an adopted child. Furthermore, increasingly there is a demand by adopts to have full access to information about their birth parents. This is in contrast to the view of traditionalists who argue that secrecy remains the best policy so as to spare the adoptee from suffering any "genealogical bewilderment." Others argue that it is both respectful of the rights of the adoptee and conducive to the psychological well-being of the adoptee for knowledge of the adoption process and the birth parents to be presented straightforwardly, positively and in language appropriate to the age and readiness of the child, fairly early on.
This trend toward increasing interest in adoption is encouraged by other pressing factors, not the least of which is the problem of runaway illegitimacy. Long a cry of conservatives lamenting the destruction of the family, now even many former advocates of single- parent families find the evidence too sordid and pronounced to deny. Adoption is seen in our society both as an alternative to abortion and as one way to rescue children from being victimized by the circumstances of their parents. Generally speaking, conventional adoption often functions as a kind of refuge for the innocent by- products of usually out-of-wedlock sexual acts which result in unplanned and undesired pregnancy. The decision to relinquish a child is most often a virtuous act, a sacrificial act which affirms the integrity of the life and well-being of the child. At the same time, the conditions which gave rise to the need to relinquish the child are often filled with moral ambiguity. One way to put this is to say that, traditionally in our society, adoption is not an original moral intention; the pregnancy is not for the sake of adoption, but rather the adoption is a solution to the problem of pregnancy. It is for this reason, most probably, that society has historically tended to have two minds about adoption; on the one hand, adoption is noble, both in regard to relinquishment, particularly given the ease with which the abortion alternative presents itself today, and in regard to assuming parental responsibility as adoptive parents; on the other hand, adoption is associated with extramarital sexuality and illegitimacy. Adoption in the Unification Tradition
Unificationists seek to restore our world through the creation of restored families, through parents and children living God's ideal. Such restoration is fundamentally linked to a religious and theological conversion whereby one discovers the meaning of True Parents, our divine purpose (Three Blessings), and the human responsibilities that go with sexual expression, marriage and child- bearing. In this sense, then, adoption would seem to have little place in Unificationism, since adoption is generally understood as a practice resulting from the experience of distressed parents who are unwilling or unable to care for their offspring, and this situation would seem not to fit Unificationists, committed as they are to the having and care of children. Adoption would seem to emerge only in the case where the birth parents became incapacitated due to illness or death.
Furthermore, phenomena such as illness, death and childlessness raise profound theological questions. Should unwanted illness, death or childlessness persist in the community of God's providential people? Are such occurrences the result of some personal or ancestral sins? How could God not intervene to overturn the tragedy of childlessness in a good Blessed couple? Is God powerless to do so? Are these events related simply to natural laws that God does not interfere with? If childlessness is punishment for sin, then adoption could be viewed as a violation of the law of indemnity, like offering someone food during their seven-day fast. On the other hand, if the causes of childlessness are more complex, then adoption may be more like offering food to a starving person, not a fasting person. This latter motive is what generates the Unification practice of adoption.
Adoption in the Unification tradition derives from basic Divine Principle teachings, particularly the ideal of sacrificial love and the Three Blessings. In this sense, adoption is not the result of the distress of the biological parents, but a result of their love for others, guided of course by the theological awareness of the centrality of children for Unificationist couples. For this reason, the Unification model of adoption differs from the model offered by society at large. In Unificationism, offering a child for adoption is an act of faith and altruism. But even more importantly, relinquishment within Unificationism is not a solution to the birth parents' problem, but an effort made by the birth parents to solve a problem for the adoptive parents.
But why do this? Doesn't such action defy both reason and nature? Won't such action harm the child? Within Unificationism, the primary theological justification for such an act is the awareness that having children is basic to the fulfillment of God's ideal; couples bereft of children are then somehow incomplete and in a state of what might be called theological and heartistic poverty. Some couples, therefore, have been motivated to dedicate one of their own children-to-be to a Blessed couple unable to have children. This is basically an act of sacrificial love. One might compare it, albeit with differences of degree, to such acts as giving blood or bone marrow, donating an organ, offering a portion of one's wealth or private property to the needy, or giving one's life for one's country or any effort to save the life of another. Sacrificial love has always been a concept somewhat difficult to incorporate into conventional philosophical systems, and hence its origin and place of promotion has more often been within religious traditions. Civilizations in which the religious impulse of self-sacrifice has been marginalized find such impulses alien and puzzling, even aberrant. And no doubt there are those-and I am speaking here not simply of persons hostile to anything done by the Unification Church-who view Unificationist adoption practices with concern. The concerned would most likely question the outcome of such adoption practices, e.g., possible psychological damage to the adopted child or the mother. This question, however, is an important consideration for any form of adoption, and recent evidence seems to suggest that it is traditional, "secret" adoptions-coupled with social insensitivity, ignorance and even social bias against adoption-that are most debilitating psychologically.
The concern about adoption is reasonable. For example, some psychological literature indicates, for adopts as compared with non- adopted children, a relatively high degree of psychological difficulties. The reliability of such data has more recently been disputed, and counter-evidence put forward indicating that adopts score as well or at times even better than non-adopts in regard to the question of psychological health, intellectual development, etc. A particularly useful discussion of this topic is found in Talking With Young Children About Adoption by Mary Watkins and Susan Fisher (Yale University Press, 1993). Furthermore, Unification adoptions are open, thereby leaving the child with access to the birth parents for medical records, for satisfying curiosity, and for whatever ongoing relationship might be appropriate. Evidence suggests that open adoptions where neither set of parents suffer from unresolved guilt feelings or misgivings which can get projected onto the child are conducive to the psychological well-being of the child. Even more importantly, and as was stated earlier, Unification adoptions do not originate in crisis or out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but in a deliberate, religious ideal of serving others, giving to others. In this way the theological and moral image of adoption is raised to a highly elevated position. While certainly religious ideals can be abused, the Unificationist practice of adoption also can be found acceptable even by the standards of full disclosure and informed consent required in liberal society; and there seems to be no logical way that liberal society can affirm an adoption called forth by any number of ambiguous motivations and disclaim an adoption called forth by deeply religious and altruistic concerns.
Historically, adoption has been practiced in most societies. According to Fustel de Coulanges, writing in his work The Ancient City, "The duty of perpetuating the domestic worship was the foundation of the law of adoption among the ancients. The same religion which obliged a man to marry, which pronounced a divorce in the case of sterility, which in case of impotence or premature death, substituted a relative in place of the husband, still offered to a family one final resource to escape that so much dreaded misfortune of extinction; this resource was the right of adoption." That is, adoption has its classical roots in religion. De Coulanges states: "To adopt a son was then to watch over the perpetuity of the domestic religion, the safety of the sacred fire, the continuation of the funeral offerings, and the repose of the manes [spirits] of the ancestors." For the same reasons that marriage was imperative, and celibacy forbidden, having children was imperative, indicated by such practices as the Levirate among the Hebrews, whereby the brother of a childless widow's deceased husband [for example, see Tamar in Genesis 38] was called to seek to have a child with his brother's wife. Other cultural practices include that of having a daughter's marriage partner brought or adopted into the home of a family without a son. There are instances too where "ghost adoptions" occurred, wherein a widow would adopt a son in the name of her deceased husband. Likewise there have been practices where the husband of an infertile wife could seek to have children either by a second wife or a concubine.
Jack Goody has pointed out, in Production and Reproduction, that "From Julius Caesar and Augustus onwards, a considerable number of emperors, failing to beget sons, adopted them instead." In times of war when many sons were lost, families had to rely on adoption to continue their family lines: "The two great families of the second Punic war were forced to continue their lines by adoption." One might pause here to note the reality that there are quite a few Unification women who spent their most fertile childbearing years working in the mission field, and only started their family life in their significantly less fertile mid to late thirties.
In the Unification tradition, adoption is not practiced simply to produce a male heir. Most important is the completion of the forms of love: children's love, siblings' love, conjugal love, parental love and grandparents' love. Just as one's spiritual life is developed through the experience of God-centered conjugal love, so is one's spiritual life developed through the experience of loving give and take with your own children. Just as forms of celibacy and the renunciation of family life have been viewed by some as a vehicle to the fuller experience of God's love, Unificationists hold the opposite-that the experience of love within the God-centered family is directly related to one's experiencing and manifesting God's love.
Thus, while the Unification tradition does not permit the spouse of an infertile husband or wife to employ the services of another (polygamy), and while neither the Levirate nor any form of donor sperm/egg/uterus is practiced, the practice of adoption is accepted and encouraged. In general, Unificationists seek to have relatively large families so that there is a range of interactional dimensions between siblings, e.g., having both brothers and sisters, younger and older siblings, etc. So, adoption is thought of as neither an alternative to abortion nor as a means of providing a better home for a child the biological parents cannot properly care for. On the contrary, adoption occurs out of a religious motive: to provide another blessed couple with the opportunity to love and care for their own children. Adoption is thus an act of love on the part of one Unification family toward another.
But, one may ask, what of the offering parents, and especially the mother? Isn't the relinquishment of a child going to leave deep psychological scars? Is relinquishment a decision she/he will live to regret? Generally speaking, a sacrifice made with a clear understanding and a proper motivation is not one that one lives to regret. Undoubtedly, in the case of offering a child, the birth parents (especially the mother) experience physical and emotional pain. The decision is a very personal one. It is not a fundamental duty or requirement for Unificationists to offer children. No act of love can be reduced to duty, and certainly not coercion. The extent to which I serve others is a personal decision. Of course, the prospect of offering one's child is much more challenging a consideration than offering one's material property or simply one's time. The bond between parents and children is very deep. Hence the rationale for offering one's own flesh and blood can only come from a source equally deep and profound: God. One must pray and reflect on one's inclination; talk to those who have offered and those who have received children; talk to adopts. Pray about someone you know who cannot have children. Know yourself.
It is my hope that this essay will stimulate others to think, talk and in various ways communicate about adoption in the Unification tradition. One can always benefit greatly by speaking to members of Unification families who have been involved in adoption, including those who have chosen to adopt, for various reasons-not the least of which might simply be the scarcity of opportunities to adopt from Blessed families within the movement-outside the movement. Although there is no official adoption "agency" within our movement, one might hope that, in the future, each Blessing association would take up the issue and encourage better communication, particularly since some childless Blessed couples become socially very handicapped, and often marginalized, in the child-centered culture of our movement. But, more important than any agency or bureaucracy is the growing heart of care and concern of one family for another. Therein lies the heart and soul of Unification adoption.
Download entire page and pages related to it in ZIP format
Table of Contents