All in the Family

FROM EGG FREEZING to genome analysis, desirous parents with sufficient funds these days have many choices for starting a family. But what about children born to parents who can’t care for them—at least not at the present time? With 400,000 children in foster systems across the United States and a quarter of them awaiting adoption, it is a pressing question.

Some evangelicals increasingly are taking their cue from a particular biblical passage in the first chapter of James, verse 27: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God ... is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress ...”

From this verse has come the “127 movement,” dedicated to supporting prospective foster families within a church community. Project 1.27 in Colorado was the first group founded under this banner back in 2004. Its goal was to provide the state-mandated orientation and training, from a Christian perspective, to potential foster parents. If a family ended up fostering or later adopting a child, then the movement’s members would serve as a support network.

“We had 875 legally free kids waiting to be adopted in Colorado and twice that many churches,” recalled Project 1.27 director Shelly Radic. “We thought, ‘Wow, that’s just not right,’ so we began to build relationships with county social services and child services at the state level, and then connect with churches and private agencies to set up training.”

Since foster systems are run by individual states, so too are these faith-based support movements.

“We do recruiting, orientations, and training. We’re not a placement agency,” explained Radic. “We follow state guidelines, invite people to come who might be interested in foster care and adoption, tell them about the trauma and the hard things the children may have experienced, help families see what their process would look like, and talk about building a support team as a high priority.”

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Holding On and Letting Go

I WAS PRESENT when my uncle died. I didn’t plan to be, but once I understood his end was near it felt right. I had been the flower girl at my aunt and uncle’s wedding, the ritualized beginning of their life together, so witnessing this milestone event of my uncle’s death seemed appropriate. And I wanted to support my aunt, I told myself.

My aunt is my father’s youngest sister. They are the last living siblings from nine brothers and sisters; both their parents are also long gone. My aunt wears this fact like a veil. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable; sometimes it’s the only thing she sees. While my parents’ divorce had kept me apart from my aunt for much of my life, it seemed important, the fury of those old family dramas now covered with dust, to offer my aunt support in her husband’s last days, hours, then moments. She was hardly alone. My aunt has three grown daughters, and my uncle comes from a huge family, most of whom were packed into the hospital room where he died at 2:20 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2013.

My aunt told me she was happy to have me, a representative from her side of her family, present. So I was there. For her, I said.

But to tell the truth, I was there to learn. I have plenty of information about the beginning of life. People in my generation received hours of tutoring, lecturing, indoctrinating, and warning about puberty, childbirth, birth control, and “safe sex.” Although we were actually not given much information about sexuality—I had to learn that on my own. But I knew even less about death.

In those days during my uncle’s passing, I felt the need to understand what some call the great mystery, the last journey, the final frontier. When my uncle died, would there be a bright light, a cold shudder in the room? Would time stop? Speed up? Would angels descend on clouds of harp music? Would there be someone or something to lead him from his physical body when he passed? Where was he going? Was he ready?

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Grace at Home: Thoughts on Christian Parenting from the ‘Village Priest’

Child hand inside a parent's, mickyso /

Child hand inside a parent's, mickyso /

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Joy Carroll Wallis' chapter of the book Faith Forward: A Dialogue on Children, Youth and a New Kind of Christianity.

“Offering your child to God is a way of offering yourself to God again, and it felt that way to me. For the religious and not, there is a powerful spirituality in the birth of a child. Already, we’re learning a little about the unconditional love of God for us in the way we feel about our own child. Through one of the most universal human experiences, parent after parent is taught the lessons of love and life. And all is grace.” Jim Wallis, following the birth of his son, Luke

Jim and I grew up in Christian families, which brought with it both advantages and disadvantages. My father was a clergyman in the Church of England in the inner city of South London. Jim’s parents were the founders and leaders of a Plymouth Brethren congregation in Detroit. We both rebelled and returned and our stories are well documented in the books we have written.

One of the best gifts that we experienced as the children of Christian leaders was that of an open home. Exposure to family, and friends from many different cultures and walks of life helped shape us. But, more importantly, it allowed us to grow up participating in the ministry of hospitality – and that has stuck. The Wallis home is known to be an “open house.” Our guest room belongs to many people: from a professor teaching a course in town, to a church leader participating in a fellowship program or conference; from a patient recovering from major surgery or illness, to a summer intern visiting from a far-flung part of the world. To add to this, the basement and boys’ rooms are often filled with teenagers or most of a baseball team, and our dining table is full to capacity on a regular basis.

One day when just the members of our family were sitting down to eat dinner, Jim asked who would like to say grace. Jack, who was about four at the time, looked around and said, “But we don’t have enough people!”

Want to Win the War on Poverty? For the Sake of the Most Vulnerable, Let's Work Together

Created by Brandon Hook/Sojourners. Photos: Nolte Lourens/Shutterstock and bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock

The only way to win the “war on poverty” is for liberals and conservatives to make peace — for the sake of the poor. That would be the best way to mark the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in his January 1964 State of the Union address. Making peace means replacing ideologies with solutions that actually solve the problems of poverty. With both Republicans and Democrats speaking out on poverty this week, and the recession slowly receding this should be an opportunity to find the focus, commitment, and strategies that could effectively reduce and ultimately eliminate the shameful facts of poverty in the world’s richest nation.

For any proposal, the basic question must be whether it helps more people and families rise out of poverty and realize their dreams. This means setting aside political self-interest and thinking beyond our too often inflexible ideologies.

New & Noteworthy

Sister Churches: American Congregations and Their Partners Abroad by Janel Kragt Bakker / The State of Arizona by Catherine Tambini and Carlos Sandoval / Walking the Disciple's Path: Eight Steps That Will Change Your Life and the World by Linda Perrone Rooney / Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family by Susan Katz Miller

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Julie Polter is Senior Associate Editor at Sojourners.

My Brother John: A Eulogy for the Living

Stone cherub in London cemetery, nagib /

Stone cherub in London cemetery, nagib /

For some months now, I have been ruminating on the writer John Podhoretz’s eulogy in Commentary magazine for his sister Rachel Abrams upon her death, from stomach cancer, at age 62. Commentary effectively being the Podhoretz family house organ, and the Podhoretzes effectively being the mythological family of the origin of neoconservatism, the essay would be of interest to anyone interested in cultural and religious sociology — or at least to me.

I, too, come from a family that has also tended to think of itself in somewhat mythological, contrarian terms — This is what Langstons are like — so a meditation from the heart of another large, bustling family is an immediate and natural draw for me.

But lay that all aside. The eulogy wins, and haunts, because it is the passionate remembrance of a sister by her brother. Despite their being part of a prominent East Coast family, its focus is relentlessly on the small acts of family and home that transfigure quotidian existence. Podhoretz dwells lovingly on Rachel as a housewife, a lifetime foul-mouth, an exuberant and dedicated mother, an artist, and finally a writer who let loose with political commentary in her late fifties as online blogs began gathering steam.

“I loved you, Rachel,” he concludes poignantly, in words I could read over and over. “I liked you. And oh, oh, oh, how I admired you.”

So much of that poignancy is derived from direct address to his sister, who is no longer there to receive it. Having just hit 45, Dante comes to mind: midway-through-the-journey-of-our-life-I found myself within a dark wood for the right way had been lost. Who can know how our days are numbered? The lesson for me is that I should tell of how I love my brother John, even as he lives.

The Isolating Power of Family-Centered Language

Family silhouette, Ye Liew /

Family silhouette, Ye Liew /

Until recently, I had always been in the majority. I am Caucasian, middle-class, healthy, and always did well in school. I had never had a personal label others would speak carefully about so as not to offend me. I had never been hurt by words people tossed around ignorantly to describe me. When taught appropriate ways to refer to a racial or ethnic group, I did not exactly understand why some words were preferable over others. Still, because I generally did as I was told, I followed the social rules. It certainly did not make much difference to me. In my preparation to become a teacher, learning “person-first” language (such as, “a child with a learning disability” rather than, “a learning disabled child”) was easy enough, even if I could not identify with the reason behind it.

I still cannot pretend to understand what it feels like to be the subject of the examples I described above. However, I have come to a point in life where I am in the minority and the language people choose to use stings and isolates. I am 27, single, and my father has passed away. It seems everywhere I turn in the Christian world — churches, organizations, politicians — I am excluded, because I am not part of a family.