A letter dating from 1 B.C. records the wishes of a husband to his wife regarding the upcoming birth of their child:
If – good luck to you! – you bear offspring, if it is a male, let it live; if it is a female, expose it.
“Expose it” refers to the practice of exposure, where babies were left out somewhere like the sewer or the town dump to die, unless someone came by to take them in and care for them.
With the outbreak of Christianity in the Roman Empire, “someone” finally did start to show up to rescue these abandoned children. Christianity began to teach, as Judaism did prior, that infanticide was wrong. Early Christian writers, apologists and theologians began to speak out against the immoral practice. Not only did the early Church teach on the subject, however, they acted upon it.
|Photo from RGBstock.com by J. Solis|
Though it brought about numerous negative repercussions, the Christianization of the Roman Empire did bring about the beginning of the end of infanticide in the Western World. While virtually every significant, ancient civilization practiced infanticide prior to the Holy Roman Empire, Christianity brought about a change through consistent teaching and application of inherent value of human life, created in the image of God.
The recent increase in adoptions among Christians is a worthy step in recovering and recapturing one of the things that made early Christians distinct from their culture – a demonstrable recognizing of the worth of every human being.
It was not just that early Christians refused to engage in the killing of “unwanted” babies, those who were an undesired gender (usually girls) or had some physical defect. Christians began going out to the sites where infants were left to die and rescuing them.
Modern day Christians are not simply speaking out against abortion, they are not only acknowledging the commands to care for orphans, they are actively engaging in being consistently pro-life by adopting children who would otherwise be considered “unwanted.”
A Christian adoption movement has become a recognized phenomenon, as multiple Christian adoption agencies have reported an increase in interest and actual adoptions. Numerous theologians and pastors, like Russell Moore, have been sounding the call for Christians to live out the Gospel through adoption. Anecdotally, I know of several families who are currently in the adoption process or have recently completed an adoption, while still having children biologically.
One could say this is a new trajectory of Christian life, seeking to practically live out theoretical commitments on the issue of life. It would be more accurate, however, to acknowledge this as a recapturing of an early church distinctive or a reclaiming of the heart many first century Christians had for the most helpless around them.
As I argued last week, understanding history is important for our faith. It can help us to maintain orthodoxy and confront heresy. History can show us areas where we have improved, but it can also remind us of areas where we once were making a difference in culture and have recently, for whatever reason, abrogated our duty.
Christians rescuing orphans from around the world to raise them in homes where they will be loved is nothing new. May we continue to grow in loving our neighbor, whether they live across the street or around the world, in exactly the way they need to be loved and in the manner to which Christ has called us to love them. May we love the orphan as only Christ in us can.