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The orphan epidemic–how we got here

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A poor, sad litle child sitting against a concrete wall (Credit: olesiabilkei via Fotolia)

Today, 5,760 children will become orphans around the world.  Another 38,493 orphans will “age out” of institutional care with no family and no place to call home.  Sixty percent of these girls will become prostitutes; 70 percent of these boys will become hardened criminals.  Since 1990, November has been declared “National Adoption Month” in America.  With more than 100,000 orphans ready for adoption in this country, and as many as 210 million orphans worldwide, this is a worthy emphasis.

Why is the number of orphans in our society so high?  What does this issue say about our culture and its future?

In 1960, 5.3 percent of all births in America were to unmarried women; by 2010, the number had risen to 40.8 percent.  In 1960, married families made up three-fourths of all households; by the 2010 census the number had fallen to 48 percent.  Cohabitation has escalated tenfold since 1960.

These trends did not emerge in a vacuum.  In “The Great Emergence,” Phyllis Tickle shows how medieval fiefdoms became nation-states in which the tribe or clan was replaced by the family as the center of life.  So it was until women began working outside the home during and after World War II, and birth control enabled them to postpone or avoid bearing children.  The “sexual revolution” further disconnected traditional values from personal choices.  As George Akerloff noted, “By making the birth of the child the physical choice of the mother, the sexual revolution had made marriage and child support a social choice of the father.”

And children are paying a higher price than ever before.

How does God feel about them?  Jesus told his disciples, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).  How does he feel about orphans?  He is “Father of the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5) who warns us, “do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the alien or the poor” (Zechariah 7:10), for “cursed is the man who withholds justice” from them (Deuteronomy 27:19).

What does he want us to do for them?  “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).  “Visit” translates episkeptomai, “to care for,” “to meet the needs of.”  Of course, one very significant way we can care for orphans is to adopt them.

So here’s the question: will your religion be “pure and undefiled before God” today?  Will you intercede on behalf of orphans and other at-risk children in America and around the world?  Will you pray about becoming a foster parent or adopting a child?  Will you support ministries which help at-risk children and their families?

Jesus said, “Whoever receives one child in my name receives me” (Matthew 18:5).  Well?