jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

where are all the fathers?

I was talking with Dennis Adams today and he made a comment about a CoG orphanage and something struck a cord in me. There has been speculation and rumors for several months about the future of the Smokey Mountain Children’s Home, the flagship orphanage of the CoG. It seems at this point that there is, at the very least, a shift away from the traditional orphanage model towards a model of foster care. This leads me to share a few thoughts, and perhaps an appropriate Easter meditation.

One of the most unique New Testament passages is the so-called farewell passage of Jesus found in John 14-17. The setting is somber and the themes are powerful. Those themes include love, communion, unity (which includes the famous high priestly prayer in chapter 17), and perhaps most importantly the promise of the paraclete–the Holy Spirit.

The very first time that Jesus mentions the coming of “the comforter” (paraclete) he immediately utters these words, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). This then seems to be the primary promise of the Holy Spirit–spiritual parenting. We like to talk about Pentecostal Distinctives, but I would say that the primary distinction of Pentecost was the indwelling of God as Father/Mother. Thus, the most important thing we could do if we want to emphasize Pentecost into our faith tradition is to offer loving spiritual parenting to all children who come across our paths.

I believe that our sin is this, we have abandoned our children in order to make a name for ourselves. That is very ironic, as you only make a name for yourself by pouring into your children, who will carry your name into the future. When you neglect your own children for the sake of advancing your agenda you create an environment of foster care.

Foster care is a temporary intervention that brings greater monetary returns. It lacks the commitment to children that is required of an orphanage. Perhaps it is true that we are moving our orphanages away from a traditional model of caring for abandoned children in favor of the more lucrative foster care model. If so, it is only an outward sign of what has been happening among us spiritually for decades. We have neglected the promise of the Spirit, to not leave our children orphans, in order to use abandoned children to bring us greater returns.

6 comments on “where are all the fathers?

  1. Dennis J Adams
    March 22, 2008

    Now that is a “logos” from the heart of one who cares. My spirit-man resonates the same sentiments and truths. I believe whole heartily in having spiritual Fathers/Mothers (parents). I also have wondered why we have abandoned that in the Church.

    Having such people in your life creates a security and brings a practicality to your desires in determining your next important decisions. So much more can be said…!


  2. m.d. mcmullin
    March 22, 2008

    This is a deep topic.

    I agree with the question “where are all the fathers?’

    A couple of thoughts:
    1) Is our current cultural situation one where we have a lot of “true orphans”?

    I know several families who are providing foster care. They would love nothing more than to adopt these children. They are not permitted to because the biological parents (BP) will not give up their rights. In fact these foster kids go between their foster families and their biological families for most of their lives. In the cases I know, the BP receive money from the govt if they choose to “keep their kids”. There is no incentive for them to place them for adoption. These kids are orphans with 2,3 4 or 5 sets of parents.

    2 – What is the “fathers” are unable to provide the care the child needs? I know of a family with a child at the Home for Children. This child was adopted by the family but due to prior abuse never “attached”. This attachment disorder has lead to extreme behavior the family was unable to provide care for. The child is currently receiving excellent care in Sevierville and through prayer and Sprit-filled counseling is experiencing incredible healing and hopes to rejoin his family again.

    In these situations (which may be the exception not the rule) the Home for Children is providing a needed ministry. They are able to care for these foster children (orphans with multiple sets of parents) and the emotionally hurt (those families that need help dealing with a serious emotional need).

    How should the home handle these situations? Should they refuse the child whose drug addict parents won’t relinquish parental rights? Should they refuse the family who loves their child but lives in fear of what he/she might do?

    It seems in these cases being a surrogate or temporary family may not be ideal but is the best that can be hoped for.

  3. m.d. mcmullin
    March 22, 2008

    I just reread the post and something kind of stuck to me.

    Foster care is a temporary intervention that brings greater monetary returns.

    I guess this feels personal because my sister and her husband are currently providing foster care. “Monetary returns” are the last thing they consider when providing for these children they have grown to love. They would adopt them tomorrow and pay to do so if they could.

    I know you are speaking of the institution not families but I hope we don’t lose site that there is a need to take care of these children whose parents won’t let them go. Our current situation is not like the old days where you found a baby in a basket at the firehouse. Most of these kids are taken from parents who abuse drugs and these kids are often the bait dangled in front of them as incentive to get clean. (now there’s a sin of the system)

    I have a hard time thinking that those who provide care at the Home see this kids as little bags of money.

    Ok – I’m done soapboxing.

  4. Jonathan Stone
    March 22, 2008

    Mike, thanks for all of these thoughts and some great questions as well. Let me mention a few things.

    First, I used the analogy of the HFC moving more into Foster Care as a launching pad, but never made any disclaimers and qualifiers. I should have, because others misunderstand me. It’s not a perfect analogy. I don’t think that the HFC is making a mistake in this. I guess they could be. I just don’t know much about it. Also, I have a deep appreciation for the HFC, and some people that are very close to me are heavily involved there. I had in mind the spiritual issue of “abandoning our children.” You mentioned you understood that, but I felt the need to assert that one more time since I did not properly explain it in the post.

    Second, your description of the common situation with foster care is very true. I work in a middle school in Whitfield County, GA, working with “at-risk” kids. I work quite often with exactly the kind of situations you mentioned. Our school services a small orphanage for young girls, and about 20 of our students live there. I also work a lot with our school social worker. I have encountered a lot of tragic situations. But some of his stories are beyond words. You’re right about parents who use their own children in order to receive Government Assistance checks and Social Security benefits. Most often these parents are strung out on Heroin, Meth, or Cocaine, and they usually have other ‘disabilities’ that complicate an already ‘impossible’ situation. I have not encountered many foster parents who were in it for the money. But that problem has existed in the past and from what the social worker at our school tells me still happens from time to time. But again, and as you said, I did not have these families in mind at all. Still, I see why it can be “personal” to you.

    Third, and this is just a personal aside, Attachment Theory is an interest of “my therapist.” She is currently doing her dissertation on using Attachment Theory to talk about the role of relationships in church congregations, and to explore how insecure attachments might be “overcome” through healthy relationships within religious communities. Of course, Attachment Theory and insecure attachments are different than Attachment Disorder, which you mentioned, but it all grows out of the same research. We also have friends in the same situation that you described. This is too common among children adopted over the age of 2. And the data on that has made couples leery about adopting older children.

    Third, this is an enormous crisis in our culture. I did not really have all of that in mind when I made the post. However, I’m glad you brought up the literal problem from which I was making an analogy and spiritual application. My hope for the future of the church (and yes I do hope for the church’s future) is that the church would become salt and light in a dark world. I hope that the church would focus in areas where the government or other human solutions have failed. The Church should lead the way in resolving intractable conflict; the Church should lead the way in disaster relief; the Church should lead the way in environmental solutions; the Church should lead the way in public education; and yes, the Church should lead the way in caring for children who have been abandoned by their own parents.

    In order for that to happen I think we will have to solve the problems within ourselves. I do not believe that we can lead the way in ministering to abandoned children if we are abandoning our own children. We cannot lead the way in mobilizing relief efforts when we cannot utilize some basic management principles on our own organization. But I believe that the Lord will help us become what we are called to be. So, don’t get off of your soap box–I’ll jump up there on it with you!

  5. m.d. mcmullin
    March 23, 2008

    I understand you were speaking symbolically about the issue of abandoning our own children for others. I agree that we have a lack of spiritual fathers and mothers.

    Many have chosen to better themselves in the system than parent their own children. In a sense they are addicts as well who are obsessed with gaining repsect, affirmation, recognition and power and will trade their own children to get it.

    I feel blessed to have had many Spiritual parents during seasons in my life. I know that with that comes the responsibility to take in orphans of my own. When I get to Cleveland I’d love to share more of that with you and how it led us to adopt a literal child.

    I’ve heard a lot of negative things said about the HFC in the attempts of some to have it closed (I certainly don’t mean this post). I don’t know much about the politcal side of the issue. I guess I know of some situations that have really benefited from the HFC.

    Perhaps my conversation with my sister today made me even more sensitive to those in the foster care system.

  6. Jonathan Stone
    March 23, 2008

    Mike, I’ve heard of these things too. It’s really unfortunate. It seems that the current administration has tried to make some pretty aggressive cutbacks. On the one hand, I applaud that they recognize that something significant has to happen. On the other hand, the things that they have gone after have seemed like the worst possible targets. And so, thankfully, few of those have succeeded. The 2.5% deal at the last G.A. was a case in point. The administration offered up COGWM. The pastors seemed to take it as a challenge–“You don’t think we’ll cut this do you?” They voted through, but the members were shocked and shot it down. That goes back to the previous post about what gets cut and who decides it. There are things that could be cut without a huge fallout. But the administration keeps choosing these things that are hard to understand (granted it might be easy to understand from their perspective, maybe it’s even a good idea, but to everyone else it seems crazy). Why would they not consult the people on these things? You cannot expect people to embrace radical cuts when they are made unilaterally, not to mention when they are made, ahem, with heavy hands.

    Anyway, I appreciate all you shared. And I look forward to hearing your story about adoption after you get here in a few weeks.

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This entry was posted on March 22, 2008 by in crisis, faith, general, intergenerational, issues, missional, sustainability.
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