Evangelical adoption movement attacked…again

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The evangelical adoption movement is under attack, mostly from the left. - Image courtesy of The Link Network (http://bit.ly/1fzDOod)

The evangelical adoption movement is under attack, mostly from the left. - Image courtesy of The Link Network (http://bit.ly/1fzDOod)

The evangelical adoption movement is under attack, mostly from the left. - Image courtesy of The Link Network (http://bit.ly/1fzDOod)

The evangelical adoption movement is under attack, mostly from the left. – Image courtesy of The Link Network (http://bit.ly/1fzDOod)

Criticizing the evangelical adoption movement seems to be all the rage these days. Salon.com, a digital bastion of liberalism, ran an article arguing “the Christian right perverts adoption.” Hermant Mehta, Patheos.com’s “Friendly Atheist”, warned that we “should fear the evangelical adoption boom.” And Melanie Springer Mock of “The Nation” penned “Why Christians Like Me Should Listen to Critiques of Evangelical Adoption.”

At the heart of their critiques is the work of Kathryn Joyce, the self-described “secular, feminist journalist” and author of The Child Catchers, who is again decrying the evangelical adoption movement, this time in the pages of “The New York Times.”

In her article, Joyce again paints the picture of evangelical adoption as a well-intentioned, but misguided, movement that exacerbates corruption and harms children around the world. It is a perspective I was first introduced to after reading Joyce’s “Mother Jones” article (“Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement’s Adoption Obsession”). I responded to her article at “On Faith and Culture”:

“In the end, Kathryn Joyce curses the darkness without lighting a candle. She attempts to pour cold water on the Christian adoption movement, but her ideas for actually solving the orphan crisis that now affects more than 100 million children are more than lacking; they’re non-existent. We should expect more from even an unashamedly partisan publication like Mother Jones. Not to mention a writer who recently published a 352-page book on the subject. “

Joyce contacted me after the publication of my article, and we had a rather heated exchange. She asked me to read her book, The Child Catchers, which I had already ordered before her request. The book arrived, and I read it, but I was not persuaded as she assumed I might be. I reviewed it for “Books and Culture”:

“In the end, The Child Catchers is mostly a missed opportunity. It is a missed opportunity to educate objectively, to report fairly, and to provide substantive solutions for how to improve the broken parts of the system. As Christians embrace adoption and orphan care as part of the compassionate social work we’ve done for millennia, we need to learn how to correct mistakes we make along the way so that children can be better protected and cared for. As several authors have recently noted, sometimes our efforts to help can inadvertently hurt those we serve.

“Joyce ends her preface with a statement of profound truth: “figuring out how to do better means understanding what has gone wrong.” She’s right. We need objective, empirical critiques followed by constructive proposals for how to improve. Unfortunately, Joyce’s crusade to discredit evangelicals and make a case for abortion rights fails to do either effectively.”

Joyce’s NYT article is a rehashing of the arguments made in her book. The one notable addition is her acknowledgment that some Christian groups focus on keeping families intact and improving local foster care and adoption, facts she previously ignored. Yet, Joyce concludes, “many churches still preach the simplistic message that there are more Christians in the world than orphans, and that every adoption means a child saved.”

I don’t know what Joyce means by “many” when she refers to churches that preach such a message (and she doesn’t either). I don’t know of any congregations who propogate such a message, though I am sure you can find one if you look long and hard enough. Most adoption-minded churches aren’t using adoption to proselytize children. They are simply attempting to live out their faith’s call to “care for the least of these” by working to care for the millions of orphans who need a stable family, many of whom are already languishing in institutional care. And most of the Christian adoption agencies they partner with are aware of and working to improve the system’s flaws.

But this will never be good enough for Salon.com or “The Nation” or “Mother Jones” or most other far left liberal publications. I must agree with David French on this one:

“To many on the left, if you are conservative then there is nothing you can do that is virtuous. Even the good that you do will be dismissed as cynical or destructive.”

  • Joseph

    Generally agree, but I would like (in all fairness to Ms. Joyce) to point out that there is a strong strand within Conservative calvinism (generally can be traced back to The Dutch Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper and Dutch immigration to NA) which teaches that because the Covenant of Grace includes children visibly and thus they ought to be given the sign, that which the sign (baptism) signifies ought to be presumed in the child unless excommunicated or doesn’t make a profession of faith. You hear this in *some* elements of the CanRef, OPC, ARP, urc, and other tiny/small Prebyterian-Reformed circles. Just a note that this is less than 1 half of one percent of a group of people which barely make up half a million, but they are vocal online and Kuyper is a big name. The controversial and well published online author Douglas Wilson also holds to this view if I recall, so I would consider it a simple logical extension of such a view-a view I reject just for the record.

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  • The fundamental flaw here is the assumption that there is an even playing field in this discussion. Given that the legal, medical, cultural, mediated, and religious discourses all follow the status quo that adoption is the “norm”, any attempt to critique is easily swatted away, which is what is happening here. Any attempt to chip away at the vastness of the industry, the practitioners of adoption, and those with a vested if not invested interest in seeing it continue is countered with rather nitpicking arguments that do not answer the charges leveled.

    Picking up on the comment above which mentions a Calvinist mentality that cannot be ignored, I would add that this attention to form and not content is also inherent to the culture we are discussing, which ensures that it establishes the rules of discourse and inter-communication, and then dismisses those who fall outside of this realm.

    The problem here is that the Voices that are being lifted to argue against the neo-colonialism, salvationist sentiment, racism, classism, Orientalism, and Islamophobia that are all part and parcel of the evangelical adoption movement are not just coming from authors who are easily dismissed, but by those equally of faith, by adoptees, by mothers, families, communities, and indeed populations who are dismissed in the act of adoption as being the “unsaved”; the “washed away” of the Flood; the forgotten; who don’t count because they are deemed as having no political much less spiritual validity.

    This is what I find most heinous in the evangelical push for adoption, above and beyond the willful misunderstanding of the linguistics and culture of the original Semitic languages of the Bible and the Qur’an, and what is translated as “adoption”; or worse, what is imposed as adoption as a spiritual afterthought and means of destruction of those considered “heathen”.

    That such a worldview meshes perfectly and intrinsically with economic and political machinations that cause in and of themselves the deaths of millions of more children than could ever be adopted in a lifetime of lifetimes only points out all the more the Great Hypocrisy of those who claim some kind of beneficence or charity in the act of adoption.

    But time is Truth, and time is on our side, and the Truth will out.

  • As a family in process of an international adoption my opinions may be somewhat biased. I’ve considered the issue as objectively as possible and would love to hear some feasible solutions.

    I agree with the liberal critics that adoption as evangelism is awful, and agree with Hemant in his post about the ludicrous practices of the isolated “christian” family. Yet his post assumes causality by correlation. This odd family in no way represents the majority that do adopt. Jonathan is correct that it simply cannot be substantiated by the majority of churches either.

    Furthermore, even the best attempts by the US government to institute a international standard (http://adoption.state.gov/hague_convention/overview.php)
    are not solving the actual problems – see (https://bothendsburning.org/). International Adoptions have fallen by approx 50% in recent years. And even with all its flaws Hague at least attempts to solve the underlying issues, but it is a first draft. This is a complex problem with many moving parts and should not be reduced to simple sound-bite arguments that aren’t fully explored.

    Hopefully the result of visceral displays by both sides of the aisle only serves to draw attention to the underlying issues of orphan advocacy and human trafficking so that the real conversations can begin.

  • I would agree that there needs to be an initial leveling of the playing field before any discussion can truly take place. I believe this is what Ms. Joyce’s book aims to do. Of course, there are many who are hoping to preserve the power differential that they take advantage of and which provides them a leg up, and so this cannot carry through.

    As an adoptee returned to his place of birth for almost 10 years now, your even playing field still leaves me attempting to scale a hillside. Your gravity weighs against me when you do not even allow for the consideration of the abolition of adoption. The use of the word is apropos, given the source of adoption historically speaking within indentured servitude, clearing poorhouses, destroying the Indigenous, populating foreign colonies, and fostering offensive notions of “blank slates”, “heathen masses”, and individual salvation.

    We also know historically that similar conversations took place concerning whether slaves were “better off” or not on the plantation, whether freedom was indeed valid for those considered less than human, and whether, indeed slavery was ordained in the Bible. This continues to this day when Michele Bachmann reveals in an interview a reference to an author who espouses that slavery was, in fact, beneficial, since it removed them from their pagan status.

    I have lived through your wars here, and did not hear a word for the 500+ children killed in 2006. We survive here with the presence of 7,000 NGOs, this is one for every 500 people in the country. It does not change anything. In fact, it has a name: Humanitarian Imperialism. So forgive me if I do not believe this is about the children. This is the first thing we need admit. From there, the entire argument in favor of adoption unravels bit by bit.

    I pray for the day we get to the end of this unraveling, and as people of faith, might truly begin to bring about healing and hope. But only from a position of equality. Everything else is an affront against the dignity of others. And this goes double for adoption.

  • As one who would be consider an “evangelical Christian” but also “anti-adoption” (which I really am not, my 2 children are adopted) I have a very hard time with the “Orphan Care” movement within our churches. My main concern is that very little seems to be about actual orphan care and more about adopting orphans. There are a myriad of ways in which children and families can be aided without the necessity of adoption. What are we doing to preserve families? What are we doing to care for the orphan other than removing them from their culture and their country?

    Yes, every child is deserving of a family. But even before that, every child is deserving of THEIR family. Not mine, not yours, not any other well-meaning folks, Christian or not.

    If we are truly to live up to the call to care for the “least of these” (as you’ve quoted above) would that not first involve caring for them where they are?

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  • Sarah

    What? You think that children of believers should be presumed as and raised as pagans? That certainly isn’t with accord to the bible. When we baptize adults, they are members of the church unless they apostatize. Why should we have a different view with children? We cannot see the heart, nor can we know who the elect are. So there is no presumption that we know exactly who is and isn’t going to heaven. We simply “see” who is in the visible church.

  • Good grief. Why must people complicate things so much? I have five children, three of whom are adopted. My husband and I did it because that’s what we wanted to do. We ARE Christians and are not ashamed of that. We DID adopt because we felt called, but it was because we *wanted* these children in our family. I absolutely adore my two sons from Russia and my daughter from China and feel completely blessed that they are my children. We are a family. How can that be a bad thing?

    I’m wondering if any of these people who think it’s such a bad thing that I happen to be a Christian and have adopted children have ever been in an orphanage in a foreign country? My children were given up, not wanted and languishing. Is that truly better than being adopted and becoming part of a thriving family? Seriously? Do these opponents know the statistics of what happens to children who age out of the orphanages and have no families to turn to? (Short version: it’s bad.)

    My sister adopted two boys thru the TX foster care system. Again, Christian, felt it was a good thing to do. Is that bad? If these opponents had any idea the amount of time and energy it takes to raise a child who’s been abused, starved, bounced around from home to home, unwanted, etc, they would never, ever question her motives for making them her sons.

    Why must they muddy the waters? There are millions and millions of unwanted children in this world. Many of them have no hope of being reconciled with a family and adoption is their only hope of every having a family. Why do they have to care if my motives come from James 1:27 or from just having a big heart for kids?

  • Neo

    A pro-adoption church would be ideal. Most of the churches I’ve been apart definitely are not this way, in fact, if there are married couples in the church who are biologically infertile then thats it, adoption isn’t even an option. I’d like to hear a louder message for the cry of the fatherless in the church.

  • S

    The flagrant finger-wagging of the left (or professed evangelicals on the left) is rather sickening. While adoption services can be shady, and the need to research adoption processes closely is necessary for the safety of the child, there is nothing inherently immoral to the adoption movement. The commenters above seem rather content with allowing a child to stay in the culture, where he or she will age out of respective orphanages or foster care, and return to the backward, barbaric and brutal culture which made them orphans in the first place. Orphans in pagan cultures end up in slavery, forced labor, gangs, prison, or worse. But the left seems rather content in that prospect, so long as the perceived evil Western “neo-colonialism” is prevented, and the evangelical population is kept in-check.

  • Alexander Griswold

    The hard truth of the matter is that there is a huge amount of people adopting children because their Christianity compels them to, and for certain people that necessarily makes their motives suspect. Throw in the fact that many of these churches also support adoption as an alternative to abortion, and clearly their decision to help penniless orphans MUST have an ulterior motive.

  • Kim


  • chris

    “To many on the left, if you are conservative then there is nothing you can do that is virtuous. Even the good that you do will be dismissed as cynical or destructive.” –

    Absolutely correct, and also reveals the spirit of the accuser, the devil.

  • Matt

    @ Mr Griswold. What might be the ulterior motive be that this “huge amount of people” MUST have? Caring for abandoned children? Bringing them into your home? Providing care, affection, food, shelter, nurture, love, family.. a future? I believe that is called charity and, yes true Christianity compels us to it.
    James 1:27; 1 Corinthians 13

  • Sasha

    I second that amen 😉

  • Gary

    Marxist drivel mixed with deconstructionist nonsense of no recognizable meaning. What the bloody heck do such terms as “mediated…discourse” or the “rules of..inter-communication” mean? I suppose we who read and fail to understand are simply tools of the “system” brainwashed into cooperation by means of “assimilation”. Disagreement with subsequent assertions must be a failure of understanding. Meanwhile, orphans languish in horrific conditions abroad, while we must dither about “even playing fields in this discussion”. Mere pap.

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