Who are the fatherless in the world today?
“Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.”
I just checked Facebook and Twitter after a day at work and wow – pretty much everyone who has a blog is writing about adoption ethics, the orphan crisis and what we as Christians can do to help without hurting.
It is time for this conversation to happen! When I took a sabbatical from blogging for a few months this spring, I needed a break. I was discouraged. After a year of relentlessly telling Christians to open their eyes to corruption in adoption – while also defending that adoption is can be beautiful when it’s truly needed – I felt so alone in the middle. While I may not agree with everything in Stuck or Child Catchers, I am thankful for these two extremes because all of a sudden people are wrestling with the truth about adoption.
With all the noise, I’ve been praying about what else needs to be said – if there’s anything helpful I can add to the conversation.
About two years ago, Family Hope Love stopped being a typical Christian mommy blog about our family’s adoption. Almost two years ago, we found out that the second little girl we hoped to adopt would never come home. She was “stuck”. We were heart broken. In my grief, I began to read everything I could about adoption. Ethics. Corruption. Trafficking. Orphan care. Poverty. Injustice. I read literally thousands of pages of research.
At the same time, I read through the Bible from beginning to end focusing on everything about widows, orphans and foreigners, the marginalized, oppressed and poor.
And somewhere between the stacks of white papers and empty coffee cups and notes in my Bible, I began to see the orphan crisis and how God’s people are called to respond in an entirely new light.
Following the Father of the Fatherless
Who are the fatherless in the Bible? From beginning to end, the Bible is a story about God, who calls himself a Father, adopting a fatherless people. God’s people are called to protect and provide for the fatherless in response to what we have received and as a reflection of the Father’s heart.
God’s compassion is not limited to the fatherless. Throughout the Bible, we see God’s heart for the “least of these,” (Matthew 25) including orphans, widows, strangers and the poor.
When Bible speaks of the fatherless, it is referring to children who would have been highly vulnerable in ancient Jewish culture. God designed children to grow up in families and with loving, protective fathers. The fatherless in the Bible represent all children who lack the protection and provision of a father. In a similar way, widows would have been vulnerable to exploitation. Men as husbands and fathers are called to protect and provide for women and children. Widows and orphans are particularly vulnerable because they lack the very person God intended to care for them.
It is interesting that the Bible seldom separates orphans and widows. From Deuteronomy to James, God calls his followers to defend and care for orphans and widows together. There is an assumption that widowed mothers are caring for fatherless children – and that these families are vulnerable.
If God’s compassion is not limited to orphans, should our compassion extend only to orphans who have experienced the death of at least one parent? Or as the people of God are we called to protect and provide for all who could be considered fatherless?
Who are the fatherless in the world today?
The modern equivalent of the Biblical “fatherless” is a term used by academics and journalists: orphans and vulnerable children. Like the fatherless in the Bible, orphans and vulnerable children in the world today are often destitute and defenseless.
This term recognizes that orphans are often among the most vulnerable children in the world. Yet at the same time, there are millions of children in the world who are not technically orphans but who are vulnerable.
The majority of the world’s orphans and vulnerable children live in vulnerable families. When the head of household is a single or widowed mother, an older sibling or an elderly relative, the family is more likely to be vulnerable. The one thing nearly all vulnerable families have in common is poverty. Families living in poverty may not be able to provide children with food, clothing, shelter, school fees or medical care.
As we think about the fatherless in the world today, I think it is helpful to consider the “fatherless” in three categories:
- Children who have experienced the death of one or both parents and who are truly orphaned, without the love and protection of a family. Some of these children live in orphanages or on the streets, others are trafficked into forced labor or prostitution.
- Children who are fatherless but not technically orphans, including children who have been abandoned or separated from their families by abuse or neglect. This group includes many children living in orphanages and on the streets as well as children who are trafficked and exploited.
- Children living with vulnerable families – or in other words the orphans and widows God calls Christians to care for in James 1:27.
As we consider the orphan crisis and how we are called to respond, we need to see that God’s heart extends not just to orphans but to all children and families who are vulnerable as a result of poverty and injustice. Yet, making a distinction between children who lack the love and care of a family and children who live in vulnerable families is extremely important.
This post was originally posted by Sara Brinton on Family Hope Love on May 30, 2013.