Cover Story

Walking the talk

For pro-life Christians, is every child a wanted child-even if it means adopting transracially?

Issue: "Cultural Genocide?," April 2, 1994

Terri Cooney, 48, and her husband Jim, 54, were just providing foster care for infant Nathan. They already had two children-both white-one by birth and another by adoption. But as the months went by, their attachment to Nathan grew deeper. The fact that he was black and they white mattered less and less.

For a full 18 months, Nathan stayed in their home as social workers sought to resolve legal issues with the child's birthparents. Nathan's delay had to do with locating an absent father to seek consent for adoption; but it isn't uncommon for black children in America to endure such lengthy delays in processing, most often while a black family is being sought to take the child.

By the time everything was straightened out, Bethany Christian Services was concerned about taking Nathan out of an already stable family environment.

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"Would you be wiling to adopt?" Bethany asked the Cooneys.

The said yes, and have since adopted five more black and biracial children. Their decision was made after much prayer and was based on believing "God wanted us to do this." Terri says, "We felt it wouldn't be a bed of roses. We weren't foolish."

But some influential portions of the black community argue the couple was wrong to adopt Nathan. And compared to the seemingly apathetic attitude toward adoption needy children amount the majority of American evangelicals, the Cooneys' actions might look radical to some.

Race is a heated subject of debate within adoption circles nationwide. Transracial adoption, which is usually whites adopting black or other minority children, has been under attack.

Some say it ruins a black child's cultural identity. But many Christians black and white see transracial adoption as a sound option, although one infrequently employed. Only 1 percent of all adoptions in America are whites adopting black children, according to one respected journal, The Future of Children.

Given the rise in black and other minority orphans and the biblical mandate to care for orphans, many say that more Christians will need to adopt-some, transracially.

Will that happen? Says Terry Schlossberg, executive director of Presbyterians Pro-Life: "the problem of care for children in our society is reaching astronomical proportions. I think the church is out to lunch on the subject."

If a society is judged by how it handles its children, as pro-lifers often say, then what about adoption? And what about transracial adoption? Ultimately, are American Christians-black and white-walking the pro-life walk, or just talking the anti-abortion talk?

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) reportedly was infuriated in 1989 by a Cincinnati, Ohio, case in which a black child was quickly taken from white, Christian, foster parents after they expressed a desire to adopt. The reason: The child allegedly needed a black home. The child was killed not long after by an abusive black adoptive couple in upstate New York.

As a result, Metzebaum last summer crafted the Multiethnic Adoption Act, which originally was designed to fight discrimination against couples seeking to adopt transracially.

Se. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) is co-sponsoring the bill with Metzenbaum. "The goal of ending discrimination in adoption placements is one which I and Sen. Metzenbaum have both shared," Coats told World. "I believe this bill will help decrease the length of time that children wait for adoption, protect the best interest of the child in adoption and foster-care placements, and prevent discrimination."

The bill cleared committee in October and should go to the Senate floor before summer recess; proponents say they are holding off until they fell confident they have the support needed for passage. They are shooting for a unanimous voice vote.

Even then, the bill will likely face tougher scrutiny in the House, where the 28-member Congressional Black Caucus is likely to be influenced by the bill's opponents.

Metzenbaum and others had expressed alarm at the growing number of adoptable foster children-especially black children-stuck in America's foster-care system.

From 1986 to 1991, America's foster-care numbers jumped 53 percent, from 280,000 to 429,000 children. About 38 percent of those children are black, though blacks only constitute 12.5 percent of the nation's population. The rise in orphaned or abandoned black children is even worse in America's big cities. In Detroit alone, 80 percent of foster children awaiting adoption are black, according to The Future of Children.

The number of black foster children needing care due to AIDS-stricken or drug-addicted mothers is increasing. Abandoning babies has become common. Seventy-five percent of the 20,000 "boarder babies" abandoned in hospitals nationwide last year were black and tested drug-exposed. A portion ended in foster care.

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