Reshaping the Church

How does the church care for widows and orphans?

Posted July 14, 2023

by Zoe duMond

“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” Exodus 22:22-24 NIV

The Old Testament laid down several very strict laws concerning how God’s people were supposed to live. Many have fallen away or become irrelevant since the coming of Christ, such as the laws for sacrifices. However, those which specifically concern morality, justice and the Ten Commandments still make up the core tenets of modern Christianity.

One specific law which has stuck strongly with Christians is the commandment to protect the widows and orphans. Exodus 22:22-24, as quoted above, makes very clear the punishment for those who “take advantage” of them. The punishment, so to speak, would fit the crime. To harm a widow or orphan would be to create more in the smiting of the one who broke God’s sacred law.

The neediness of the widows and orphans in the world is thankfully not just recognized by Christians. One example of this is the non-profit, Children International, which states of themselves, “Children International does not have a religious affiliation. United by a common vision — bringing people together to end poverty for good — our supporters, volunteers, staff, children and their families span many beliefs and backgrounds.”

The United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) runs in a similar vein. Though they are not religious, they partner with many religious groups in order to reach their various goals. They are well known for the humanitarian aid which they provide to impoverished and needy children.

The question then comes about: does the modern church rise to match secular organizations in helping orphans and widows, as it is commanded to in the Bible?

Photo by Dylan Nolte for Unsplash

Many Christian groups that care for orphans are small or only serve a specific area. To address that, the Christian Alliance for Orphans created a way to connect all of those places. Their mission statement states, “CAFO unites more than 200 respected organizations and over 850 church members. We labor together in shared initiatives that inspire and equip Christians for effective orphan care, family preservation, adoption and foster care. We work to see the local church in every nation known as the primary answer for the needs of vulnerable children in their midst.” What they do reflects how God instructed His people to care for the widows and orphans. Furthermore, they use the research they conduct to inform better practices in how they serve the organizations and people with whom they are connected.

Pew Research Center reports that “more than one-third of actively religious U.S. adults (36%) describe themselves as very happy, compared with just a quarter of both inactive and unaffiliated Americans. Across 25 other countries for which data are available, actives report being happier than the unaffiliated by a statistically significant margin in almost half (12 countries), and happier than inactively religious adults in roughly one-third (nine) of the countries.” This aspect, which has been observed in the Christian life, may play a role in the nature of how Christians interact and give charity to those who they are commanded to. In this case, that would be the widows and orphans.

A further study reported in Religion Dispatches quotes that “almost three quarters of American giving goes to religious organizations.” However, all these donations might not come directly from or go directly to Christians, since the phrase “religious organizations” includes non-profits like The Salvation Army or charities associated with religions other than Christianity.

Photo by Annika Marek-Barta for Unsplash

Donating to charity is not the only way in which the modern world supports orphans. Adoption and foster care are just a few of those other solutions. A Barna survey from 2013 found that Christians were more than twice as likely to adopt, with 5% of practicing Christians having adopted, and 38% having at least considered adoption seriously.

It is good that Christians are able to show that they are generous in this way. This example should push Christians who have not entered the adoption arena a step forward, asking themselves how they can support those who have adopted or if adoption is something for themselves to consider.

An article by adoption.org details the differences between secular and Christian adoption agencies. One difference, which has often been the cause of controversy concerning Christian adoption, is the favoring of traditional marriage. Another key difference is that many Christian adoption agencies will require letters of recommendations from pastors. Some agencies will even require testimonies, or statements of faith, from couples seeking to adopt.

These factors, when thought of in light of the Pew Research Study which was quoted at the beginning of this article, makes Christian adoption seem more favorable. When kids grow up in a home which is statistically happier and healthier, this is reflected in who they are formed into.

Photo by Free Walking Tour Salzburg for Unsplash

The care for widows and widowers is a topic that is less talked about in the church, but should be equally addressed. Starlight Ministries is one excellent example of a service which provides support for those in need. Their mission is to be a “Christ centered ministry that provides HOPE, healing and support for those who are grieving a death loss.” They set an example for churches and other organizations to put in place systems to support widows and those who have lost someone.

While it is not bad that churches pay attention to orphans, it would behoove churches to also focus some of their efforts on widows and widowers, and on bringing those in who are outside the church but still need support.

It might not be possible to exactly measure the impact that Christian organizations have as compared to secular organizations, but research shows that Christians are more than twice as likely to open their hearts and homes to a child in need. That is a quantifiable difference which shows Christians are more generous in this area. This is not to discourage non-Christians from adopting, but rather to encourage Christians who have considered caring for a widow or orphan to remember the calling that Exodus 22 puts forth for all of God’s people to follow.

Zoë duMond is a student at The King's College who hopes to inspire people through the written word.