Before getting to the substance of the article, I want to make a few points. First, Professor Smolin teaches at Samford University, which is a Baptist-affiliated college that lists as one of its core values "belief in God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord." Second, the article is being published by the Regent International Law Review. Regent University, founded by the evangelist Pat Robertson, says its mission is "to serve as a leading center of Christian thought and action providing an excellent education from a Biblical perspective," and lists Christ-centeredness as its first value. Thus, I think it is safe to say that this critique comes from within the evangelical Christian community, not from outside it. I think that's an important point to note. Also, I think it is important to note that Professor Smolin is an adoptive parent; you can read a bit about his experience of adopting from India here.
As to the substance of the article, Professor Smolin describes it as follows:
The primary purpose of this essay is to demonstrate that the scriptural and theological analysis undergirding the evangelical adoption and orphan care movement is patently and seriously erroneous. Thus, this essay will demonstrate that, based on the standards, methods, and presuppositions broadly shared by evangelical Christians in analyzing scripture and theology, the evangelical adoption movement’s specific analysis of concepts such as “adoption” and “orphans” has been seriously deficient and has produced conclusions that are demonstrably false. The second purpose of this essay will be to indicate that these errors of scriptural and theological analysis have produced, and are producing, practices that in scriptural and Biblical terms would be called “sinful” and in more secular language can be called exploitative.And the professor brilliantly delivers on that description! After a cogent description of the Christian adoption movement and its theoretical and scriptural foundation, he systematically dismantles that foundation. First, he explains the modern American version of adoption:
In addition, from a legal perspective the Christian adoption movement presumes the kind of adoption which exists in the United States, which in comparative law terms is called full adoption. Full adoption involves a complete legal transference of the child from the original family to the adoptive family, so that after the adoption the child is a legal stranger to their original father, mother, siblings, and all other relatives, while being a full member of the adoptive family. Full adoption generally involves both a new name and a new identity for the child. In the version in existence in a majority of states within the United States, the law implements an “as if,” closed records system. Under this system, the original birth certificate and court records are sealed. Hence, adult adoptees are not permitted to discover their original name, identity, and family members and the original parents are not permitted to discover the adoptive identity of the adoptee. Thus, the law of the United States builds the protection and legitimacy of adoptive relationships upon the legal destruction and suppression of the original family relationships. Adoptive relationships in this system are designed to copy biological family relationships; since biological family relationships are exclusive—one mother and father per child---the same exclusivity is expected in adoptive relationships. The only way to achieve this kind of exclusivity is to deny that “birth” mothers and fathers are truly mothers and fathers, leaving the adoptive mother and father as the only true parents. The evangelical Christian adoption and orphan care movement has not critiqued the legal system of adoption within the United States, but instead presupposes it as the normative form of adoption, which can create expectations and presuppositions that minimize the significance of original family relationships for adopted persons.Second, starting with Jewish law and the Old Testament, he shows that no such adoption existed in that time. He illustrates how many examples relied upon as adoption by the movement -- Moses, most prominently -- are far different from adoption as we know it.
Third, Professor Smolin turns to the New Testament's portrayals of adoption, since the New Testament is the focus of the evangelical Christian adoption movement. He finds no more support there for the adoption movement than in the Old Testament. He notes that one of the stories relied upon -- Joseph's "adoption" of Jesus -- is completely unlike adoption:
If Joseph had “adopted” Jesus in the modern sense this would have required the repudiation of God’s fatherhood of Jesus, for God would be the “birth” father. Joseph, who was informed in a dream prior to the marriage that Jesus was the child of the Holy Spirit, surely did not intend this kind of displacement. Jesus Himself makes it clear, even in his childhood, that he answered ultimately to God his father, explaining his disappearance to Joseph and Mary by explaining that he had to “be about My Father’s business:” indeed, Jesus admonishes Joseph and Mary that they should have known this already. Since the Father-Son relationship between God the Father and Jesus is one of the primary themes of the New Testament and a basic part of Christian orthodoxy, it is spiritually obscene to envision Joseph’s act as an adoption in the modern sense.
[A] fundamental point is that neither Roman nor Greek adoption was focused on the adoption of child orphans. Adoption generally had nothing to do with providing for the weak, the poor, dependents, or children. Adoption took young adult males who generally had families and a position in society, and gave them a social promotion to a higher position in society through provision of a new legal identity; in exchange, the adopted adult fulfilled the responsibilities and duties of a son and heir of a great family, whether that meant leading the empire or managing an upper class, noble household. While it was theoretically possible to adopt a young child, such was rarely done, since such a child was unprepared to lead the empire or family and his capacities to do so in the future were still unknown.Indeed, adoption in the Greco-Roman context was not even about providing a family for an adult “orphan.” The men “adopted” by the Roman emperors generally were already related to those emperors through combinations of blood and marriage (their own and that of their mothers) in addition to their adoptions. The distinctive purpose of adoption within this web of family relationships was to make them heirs to the empire, not to provide them with a family.
For the Christian adoption movement, it is as though criticisms of adoption, the adoption movement, or adoption practices constitute a rejection of the foundational Christian gospel message.
Unfortunately, this perspective renders the adoption movement as astonishingly uncritical Any activity or movement unable to be self-critical inevitably becomes destructive and blind to its own errors. Thus, one of the fundamental harms of the Christian adoption movement has been so closely equating the modern practice of horizontal adoption with the gospel as to make criticism of such practices impermissible, contributing to an adoption system that lacks accountability and lacks practices, habits, and mechanisms of self-correction.
Professor Smolin also faults the movement for exploiting widows and the poor while seeking to assist orphans, demeaning the importance of original families, for encouraging adoption in situations where it may be inappropriate by employing inaccurate information about "orphans," and for its failure "to embrace the Biblical worldview where most forms of assistance to the “fatherless” or “orphan” do not involve adoption."
Professor Smolin offers his critique with the purpose of stimulating debate and dialogue WITHIN the evangelical Christian movement, and as I noted above, as an insider. He states of the theological and scriptural claims of the movement, "It would not be wise or prudent to receive such a strong set of new theological claims without examination." This article is a respectful but devastating critique of the evangelical Christian adoption movement, and as an insider, Professor Smolin uses the master's tools to dismantle the master's house.