LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As the father of two sons born in Russia, I was enraged by Vladimir Putin’s government ban on American adoptions from the former Soviet state, and I said so in every venue open to me. A Russian national (and evangelical Christian) responded to me via social media with a rebuke: “Russia needs the gospel, not Americans adopting our children,” he said. “Why don’t you Americans solve your own problems before interfering in ours?” I think his response is worth pondering.
We must first acknowledge that this reaction is precisely what the Putin government wants from Russians. The Obama administration rightly supported sanctions against Russia for its abysmal human rights record. The leftover KGB thugocracy responded by “punishing” Americans by cutting off adoption, knowing this would play well with jingoistic nationalism.
At one level, this is quite understandable. Imagine if the Cold War were reversed – the United States having collapsed into impoverished separate states and Soviet citizens adopting children from here. We’d probably see people screaming lines from “Red Dawn” at the new parents in the airports. The situation would be a blow to national pride. And that’s exactly the point.
This Russian evangelical’s taunt seems to assume “the gospel” is something that doesn’t address questions of national pride or public justice. It is simply “spiritual” in giving the way to heaven. But that’s not the kind of gospel Jesus or His apostles preached. The gospel not only proclaims grace, it also exposes sin and calls for repentance. The gospel of the Kingdom announces, as theologian Carl F. H. Henry put it, “the criteria by which God will judge men and nations.”
That’s why John the Baptist, in preaching the gospel, spoke also of sexual morality (Luke 3:18-20). That’s why Jesus, in preaching the gospel, talked about the economics of tax collecting and caring for the poor (Matthew 22:15-22; Luke 12:33-34). That’s why the Apostle Paul, in preaching the gospel, talked about self-control and the coming judgment (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11). The gospel confronts us in our sin – in that persistent, satanic temptation to shrug, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).
This is hardly unique to Russia. Jesus’ contemporaries thought they were making a merely political statement when they said, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). My Southern Baptist ancestors said they were simply protecting their Southern “way of life” when they cruelly denied justice to African Americans for more than a century. And, even now, many professing Christians think it’s none of the church’s business when we speak of the lordship of Christ over pocketbooks or hormonal glands. The gospel blows all of that prideful resistance away by offering mercy, but also by convicting us in sin.
The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has endorsed this Russian strongman’s wicked policy, as the church has done too often in history. At the same time, though, he has called on Russian Christians to adopt orphans. I can only pray this will gain traction.
The answer to orphanages teeming with doomed children isn’t, ultimately, American adoption. The answer is, ideally, a Russia so revived by the gospel of adoption in Christ that Christian families receive children even as they have been received into the household of Christ. Ultimately, of course, we seek a landscape devoid of orphanages, as American cities are devoid of slave auctions. To that end we pray the gospel would stabilize families and uproot the causes of orphanhood: poverty, alcoholism, illegitimacy, and so on.
Until then, we preach the gospel to every creature, including our Russian friends. And, until then, we stand for what Jesus cares about, including the “least of these,” those in foster care and in orphanages at home and around the world.
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. But a different gospel, one that says to the hurting, “Be warmed and filled” (James 2:16), is a gospel to which we must say “Nyet.”