I went to the courthouse to witness the adoption of a beautiful, spunky little girl. Her parents swore to love and protect her, and the judge declared that she was no longer “Baby Girl,” but had a new name and a forever family. The girl, sensing something worth celebrating, clapped her little hands, and we all laughed and dabbed our eyes.
Of course, not everyone was at the courthouse for such a happy occasion.
As I waited in the hallway, I watched an officer escort a group of young black men with chains around their ankles. You could hear them coming; the metal clinked against the floor. It was impossible not to look up.
I have no idea what laws those men broke, or whether those laws were fair, or whether the law enforcement was just, but I do know that it looked an awful lot like slavery. Heads down, ankles chained together, being herded like cattle towards their fate.
It was straight out of a history book.
As a white, middle-class woman, I don’t have a lot of experience with the criminal justice system. I don’t know anyone in prison. I’ve never witnessed a trial. But I know the statistics: black men in America have a 1 in 3 chance of going to jail in their lifetime. Which means that 1/3 of black men will, at one point, be in chains just like the ones I saw. Some of them will be bound because they are dangerous to society. Some for petty crimes. Some, like Freddie Gray, will die in their chains.
It’s hard to know what to say in the face of such statistics. As I watched the men walk by me, all I could think was how pervasive the spirit of slavery has become in our world. We stamp it out in one form, and it mutates into another. It uses poverty, corruption, and inequity as its allies. It dehumanizes people, treating their lives as disposable. And yet, it’s so easy to ignore.
If you’re like me, and it doesn’t personally affect you, it’s easy to look the other way when men walk past you in chains. It’s easy to assume they deserved it. It’s easy to forget that they’re human. That, as my friend Monica would say, somebody loved them.
Thank God that in a world where there is slavery, there is also adoption.
After the men disappeared down the hallway, I witnessed what happens when people open their lives and hearts to another. At the adoption, the parents were reminded that their soon-to-be daughter would have all the rights and privileges of their family. She would receive inheritance. She would be entitled to the support of both parents. They would be expected to protect, guide, care for, and love her as if she were their biological child.
Even though it was a legal ceremony, it was truly beautiful to watch.
In the Christian tradition, the opposite of slavery is sonship. The symbolism of the adoption coming after the chains wasn’t lost on me: I believe in this form of redemption. I believe that the spirit of adoption can overcome that of slavery. That’s what Jesus came for, to make us children of God.
And we, too, can step into this spirit. We can adopt the cause of another, sharing our rights, resources, and privileges with those who need them. We can take responsibility for people who are not biologically related to us, treating them like family.
We can listen to them, cry with them, get angry with them. We can stand with them, looking that evil spirit of slavery in the eyes, and say, No more.
Today, I want to say, as I’ve said before, that black lives matter. The lives of the men I saw matter. Freddie Gray’s life mattered. Whoever they were and whatever they’ve done, their lives are not disposable. They are children of God, and I pray today that His spirit of adoption will overcome this epidemic of slavery-spirit in America.
I pray that we will all walk in the spirit of adoption, valuing all people and loving them as our own.
Photo: Ben Sutherland, Creative Commons