Should I Tell My Child He Was Conceived in Rape?

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Below is our latest “Question and Ethics” case study question. You remember the way it works. Let me know how you’d answer the question, and post it in the comments. I’ll weigh in with my thoughts later.

Dear Dr. Moore,

My wife has been hurt horribly by a secret no one knows but her parents and me.

Years ago, when she was shortly out of high school, she was brutally raped by a man she had known since childhood. For various reasons, she didn’t report it at the time (I know that was a mistake, and she does too). The man later raped again and, ultimately, committed suicide. After her rapist’s death, it started to be known in our small hometown that he had done this before, many times, including the molestation of minor children. That’s in the past, but we’ve got a real ethical dilemma in our present and in our future.

This rape resulted in a pregnancy. During this time, she and I started dating and we were both convinced (and still are) that abortion is wrong, so she carried her baby to term. We married, and have raised this child together. He is nine years-old. He’s gentle, loving, and a delight to me. I couldn’t love him any more if I were biologically his dad. He recently professed faith in Jesus and was baptized.

Here’s my problem. He doesn’t know. I know from reading Adopted for Life that you think children should know about their adoption from the very beginning. Whether you’re right or wrong, that’s just not what we did. He only knows me as his Dad. Maybe even more important, we just don’t know how to tell him he was conceived in rape.

I don’t think a nine year-old could understand that. I’m not sure he’ll ever be able to understand that, without it shaping the way he thinks about himself. Might it even lead him to think that he’s genetically “predisposed” to that kind of behavior himself (whether rape or suicide or whatever)?

So here’s my question. Is it my Christian obligation to tell my son about the circumstances of his birth or is it my obligation to protect him from that knowledge? If I do need to tell him, at what age and how?

In Christ,

Agonized Dad

Post your responses to this question below. If you have an ethical dilemma, send it to me at [email protected] I’ll protect your anonymity, may change some details or merge it with other similar questions into a single case study.

We live in a fearful and cowardly time. The crisis we face is not a crisis of clarity but a crisis of courage.


About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Public Theologian at Christianity Today and Director of Christianity Today’s Public Theology Project.