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Campaign calls for Christians to adopt needy kids

Times Staff Writer

Evangelical leader Rick Warren came to the heart of the religious right movement last week to criticize a narrow focus on abortion, homosexuality and pornography as un-Christian.

Strikingly, top Christian conservatives agreed.

During a three-day summit here, members of Focus on the Family and Campus Crusade for Christ joined Warren and dozens of other pastors from across the nation in a pledge to devote more of their resources and clout to helping children in need.

“We’ve got some people who only focus on moral purity and couldn’t care less about the poor, the sick, the uneducated. And they haven’t done zip for those people,” said Warren, a mega-church pastor in California and author of the best-selling “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

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Warren hastened to say that he also opposed abortion and gay marriage. But too often, he said, Christians these days are defined by their “big mouth” -- what they argue against, not what they embrace. He pointed to a verse from the Book of James that calls caring for orphans an essential element of a “pure and undefiled” faith.

“It’s time for the church to stop debating the Bible and start doing it,” Warren said.

The summit was the start of a campaign to enroll more Christians as adoptive and foster parents.

Over the next six months, Christian media will be saturated with stories and ads touting adoption and foster care as a scriptural imperative, an order direct from God. Tens of thousands of pastors will be urged to preach about the issue, set up support groups for couples considering taking in troubled kids, and even invite state child-welfare officials to talk to their congregations.

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With hundreds of thousands of churches in America and 115,000 children awaiting adoption, “we have a chance to make a difference,” said Mark Andre, who directs the fledgling orphan initiative at Focus on the Family ministries.

Andre called the campaign heartfelt, genuine and divorced from any political consideration. But in a movement that long has entwined faith and activism, political overtones were inevitable.

Several speakers talked of an urgent need to settle children in Christian homes that have “both a mommy and a daddy” -- an implicit rebuke of same-sex parenting. Others suggested Christians could bolster their case for protecting the “pre-born” by proving that their concern for the child extends beyond the womb.

Adoption was portrayed as a tool for evangelism. The campaign calls for “every orphan experiencing God’s unfailing love and knowing Jesus as savior.”

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Foster parents typically are permitted to take children to church but cannot force religion on them. They must adhere to other state guidelines as well, some of which may contradict their faith.

For instance, many states do not permit spanking or other physical contact to discipline foster children. That can be vexing for parents who hold that corporal punishment is sanctioned by the Bible. Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson, a child psychologist, teaches parents to discipline their children with switches.

Despite such potential points of disagreement, Christians who have worked closely with child-welfare agencies in Colorado, Texas, Florida and other states say the partnership can be immensely rewarding.

In Colorado, a coalition of 75 churches has helped congregation members adopt 23 children in the last two years. Two dozen more children have been placed in homes and are waiting for the adoption to be finalized.

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“Many of these parents had not thought about coming forward to take children from the child-welfare system,” said Sharen Ford, a supervisor with the Colorado Division of Child Welfare Services. “It was the furthest thing from their minds,” until their pastors started preaching on the topic and inviting state caseworkers to visit with photo albums full of children waiting for homes, she said.

“Then they began to embrace the idea. They were more comfortable with it.”

If more churches take on such initiatives, they’ll have tremendous potential to transform the child-welfare system, said Tom Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption. “These organizations have great reach,” he said.

Experienced adoptive and foster parents, however, have urged pastors to temper their calls to serve God with cautions about how tough it can be to take in such children.

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A few months ago, Kevin Moore, 54, welcomed three young foster children into his Colorado Springs home for a little more than a week while they were between placements. “I have six kids, so I’m not a rookie at this,” Moore said. “But after we were done, my wife and I were like, ‘Wow. That was hard.’ I never worked so hard in my life.”

The foster children had medical problems and lashed out against any attempt at discipline or order, Moore said. Hardest of all: “When you take on a child in distress, that distress ends up back on you. We really felt the weight of their pain.”

Now Moore and his wife are asking God for advice on whether to keep at it.

“We struggle with ‘Do we do it again?’ I’m supposed to give my life away for others,” Moore said. “But I’m like, ‘Lord! They’re getting gray up there!’ ” he added, running his hands through his close-cropped hair. “What do you want me to do?”

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stephanie.simon@latimes.com


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