Adoption has forced evangelicals to grapple with race relations

Before she and her husband adopted a son and daughter from Ethiopia, popular evangelical blogger Jen Hatmaker said she had a different view about race in America.

“A couple years ago, I would’ve said we’re moving to a post-racial society because I was so under-exposed to people of color and the issues they deal with on a daily basis,” said the white Christian author, whose home renovation to make space for their growing family of seven was recently featured on HGTV.

As evangelicals have turned their attention toward adoption in the past decade, families like the Hatmakers are grappling with race relations in a personal way, especially as national news spotlights racial tension in New York City; Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere.

A Gallup poll found that 13 percent of Americans believe racism is the country’s most important problem, the highest figure since the 1992 verdict in the Rodney King case sparked riots in Los Angeles.

Gallup noted: “After barely registering with Americans as the top problem for two decades, race relations now matches the economy in Americans’ mentions of the country’s top problem, and is just slightly behind government (15 percent).”

Gallup also found that nonwhites are more than twice as likely as whites to call race relations or racism the country’s most important problem.

As the Hatmakers’ son Ben, 11, creeps closer to the ages of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown – unarmed black teenagers whose deaths have put race into a national conversation – the family talks about race more frequently.

As the wife of a pastor, Hatmaker said her Austin, Texas, church of about 600 people is filled with an estimated two or three dozen adoptive families, including many who have adopted interracially.

White evangelicals have a complicated history with race: The Southern Baptist Convention was born with a defense of slavery, and many Southern Christians upheld Jim Crow laws. Even as more recent generations of evangelicals began to oppose racism, sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith’s 2001 book, “Divided by Faith,” found that most white evangelicals see no systematic discrimination against blacks.

Retired megachurch pastor John Piper, who is white, grew up in the segregated South and has spoken on his own history of racism, now has an adopted daughter who is black.

“Nothing binds a pastor’s heart to diversity more than having it in his home,” Piper wrote in his 2011 book, “Bloodlines.”

Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore says he now hears from white evangelical parents of black children who have concerns about race.

Adoption has forced evangelicals to reconsider all manner of issues, from poverty to race to health and international relations, Moore said.

Interracial adoption can be fraught with unseen road bumps, as some white parents find themselves navigating cultural differences. Linda Hargrove of Charlotte, a black mother of three black adoptive children, said she encourages her white friends who adopt to go the extra step with their children, like helping their black daughters do their hair with up-to-date styles.

“It gets me when anyone says love is colorblind,” Hargrove said. “You want to be able to help them to do well in life, to be aware that some people might treat you differently.”