Late Tuesday afternoon, my phone began to blow up. I was getting texts, twitter messages, and emails all asking if I had been listening to NPR. I had not, and I typically do not. I am more of a sports talk radio guy myself, so I had no idea what they were talking about. (For the record, I was also blown away about how many of my friends must listen to NPR!) Without much trouble, I discovered the transcript of the interview they were talking about.
It was an interview with journalist Kathryn Joyce regarding her new book The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. I read her interview and found another that she had done with the Mother Jones and they stirred some thoughts both pro and con. Soon after, I was contacted by my friend Ed Stetzer and the great folks at LifeWay Christian Resources and asked if I would be part of a discussion reacting to Joyce’s comments. I was glad to do it. The resulting discussion can be found here. I am in the process of reading Joyce’s book myself, and I am sure I will continue to have thoughts/reactions. As I do, I will comment here on my blog. Today, there are a few things that we didn’t cover with Ed that I would like to say.Mother Jones and they stirred some thoughts both pro and con. Soon after, I was contacted by my friend Ed Stetzer and the great folks at LifeWay Christian Resources and asked if I would be part of a discussion reacting to Joyce’s comments. I was glad to do it. The resulting discussion can be found here. I am in the process of reading Joyce’s book myself, and I am sure I will continue to have thoughts/reactions. As I do, I will comment here on my blog.
Today, there are a few things that we didn’t cover with Ed that I would like to say.
From the interview, she was quoted as saying:
Evangelicals felt that they had kind of unfairly lost a claim to the good works side of Christianity, the social gospel, the helping the poor,” she tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies, “and so they wanted a way to get back into doing something for poor people’s rights, and adoption and orphan care came about as something that, I think, they could really invest themselves into without challenging or changing their stances on the other social issues that they care about.1
Obviously, I think she has this mostly wrong. It is true that the conservative evangelical community as a whole has not had a great track record in mercy ministries in the recent past, but I think we are seeing that our revival of concern for the voiceless (including orphans, but not limited to them) is a work of revival by God. It is true that we had lost our way in an overreaction to the social gospel. We so began to emphasize the fundamentals of the faith and evangelism that it seemed that few conservative evangelicals wanted to go near doing justice and mercy ministry because we were afraid of some sort of a perceived “slippery slope” that would lead us to make the same errors in substituting doing good works for the yielding of lives to Christ in repentance and faith. There is only one way to describe our lack of action. We were being disobedient to the clear command of God to “do good and seek justice.” By virtually ignoring mercy ministry, we as evangelical Christians were also living in a way that didn’t reflect the life of Jesus or the fruit of transformation that comes with our adoption into the family of God. I think the most significant theological erosion we experienced is what we had lost by missing out on experiencing and celebrating a very significant part of God’s character. By forgetting God’s heart as the defender of the defenseless and the voice of the voiceless in the Old Testament, we missed point of the announcement of the gospel that God was making through His people. God was telling His people to act like him by caring for widows, orphans, and sojourners. They were to be a living object lesson by caring for the defenseless in a way that foreshadowed His care for sinful, broken people in the work of Christ. I am thankful every day to see how we are recovering our usefulness to the King in presenting that object lesson to a world that needs Him.
Not everything Joyce said is completely wrong.
I think we can all point to cases of abuse of the system, corruption, and even child trafficking, but these instances are not as systemic as she would have us believe. Her unbalanced examples lead to an impression of adoptive evangelical families as deprave or wrongly motivated. This is just not true. It misleads in the same way that reporting on a single case of police brutality cannot be projected as a pattern of conduct for an entire police force. A few exceptional cases of failure or misconduct are not representative of the largest majority of adoptive evangelical families, and quite frankly, I am struggling a little not to be offended at her suggestion.
To be sure, I hear stories from time to time that make me uncomfortable from within the orphan care and adoption community. I know we make mistakes, and (I hope unwittingly) create opportunities for those with an intent to profit illegally or to abuse to do their evil, and that those mistakes can have lasting, tragic consequences for orphaned children, but I really believe the hearts of nearly all are pure. I have seen that the discovery of these abuses have resulted in action and reform. Christians and Christian adoption agencies have been at the forefront of the United States implementation of the The Hague Adoption Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption. This international treaty is not a perfect solution, but it is a significant step in protecting children from abduction and trafficking. In some places, I think the requirements of the convention are overly burdensome and bureaucratic in places, but it is moving us in the right direction. I hate to see kids have to wait excessively to be adopted into loving families, but I know that we need protections. We are between a rock and a hard place, and the decisions aren’t easy. This is precisely why we need to pray for our civil authorities. They need wisdom.
I, like most who are engaged in evangelical adoption and orphan care, am not just a homer who moves through these difficult issues looking through rose colored glasses. We are engaged in active debates and discussions. Not all evangelicals agree on how well the Hague Adoption Convention is working. Recently, I viewed a new documentary shedding light on the increasing difficulty faced by American families seeking to adopt internationally called Stuck. While most of the film resonated with me as exactly true, I also had reservations in places. For instance, in one of the adoption stories followed by the film, an Ethiopian girl was being adopted by a single American woman. I have no doubt of the sincerity of that woman or of her love for the child, but overall, the circumstance troubled me. The child’s birthmother was interviewed, and it was obvious that grinding poverty was the factor that caused her to give up her child. The mother, a rights-less widow, had her home and property stolen from her by her late husband’s family. She was left with a shanty and no income. She wanted to parent her daughter but could not. While the answer put forth in the film focused on seeking justice for the child through adoption to get her out of an orphanage and into a loving home, it missed the point that we also have a responsibility to seek justice for the birthmother and give her the opportunity to keep her child. Often, I fear that we are too simplistic in our approach to the issues. We must take great pains to make sure that children being adopted are true orphans. I admit that we still have work to do, but I don’t think she is being at all fair in her assessment of us.
Also, her point is well taken regarding street children. Most of them are beyond the reach of adoption because to their governments, they do not exist. They have no paper trail. We have to help them figure that problem out and to figure it out in a way that has integrity. The ultimate goal is the best for those children, and we can’t relent until the problem is fully addressed.
Transnational Adoption is Only Part of the Solution
As I said in the discussion on www.edstetzer.com:
Transnational adoptions will never be the complete answer to the world’s orphan crisis, but I believe that they will always be a part. Creating a culture of indigenous adoption/foster care within the church in other nations is a much bigger portion of the answer. We need only look at the victories in countries like Rwanda to see it. A war torn, impoverished nation has seen their orphan crisis diminish because the Rwandan church has rallied to live out James 1:27 in large numbers with the support of western Christians. Earlier this year, I was privileged to address a summit of over 500 pastors and church leaders in Ukraine who are committed to seeing Ukraine become a country without orphanages by 2018. Where no adoption and orphan care culture existed in the Ukrainian church a decade ago, God is moving on the hearts of the indigenous church to respond today in a massive way. As the father of 3 Ukrainian children, I am thrilled! I am more thrilled to see movements like this springing up all over the globe, and I will do whatever I can to come alongside any of them to help. This is truly the way we will see the orphan crisis addressed and a way that we will see the gospel powerfully proclaimed to the ends of the earth.
We are active in America
To the those who have commented in the various places in the Internet where this discussion is being carried out as to why we are not active in addressing the orphan crisis at home, I would ask why they don’t think we are. Several years ago when I began to become aware of the orphan crisis at home and abroad, there were an average of 500,000 kids in foster care in the US with about 130,000 of them being adoptable. According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, the number of children in foster care has decreased to 400,500 with 115,000 being immediately adoptable. Lots of Christian families are participating in foster care and domestic adoption from foster care, and their impact is being felt. In addition, significant numbers of Christian families are participating in programs like Safe Families for Children which helps prevent children from entering the state system in the first place by caring for them and helping their parents to resolve circumstances that allow their families to become healthy and remain intact.
One Final Critique
One additional thing that bothered me in both the interview and the Mother Jones post was the emphasis Joyce placed on the parenting techniques from a bunch of people that I had never heard of prior to her article. I am immersed in the evangelical orphan care movement as much as anyone, and I am the parent of a child who struggles with Reactive Attachment Disorder. I have a significant amount of training in developmental psychology in my post-graduate eduction, but I am unfamiliar with any of these “experts” or their techniques. They are certainly not very influential on the mainstream of the Christian adoption community as I know it. The major voice in this area for the people in our circles is Dr. Karyn Purvis from TCU (along with Dr. Jon Bergeron from Focus on the Family/Hope for Orphans). She has written the definitive book on parenting children who have suffered trauma called The Connected Child and has produced a number of video resources including one in cooperation with Saddleback called The Connection. Her approach is called trust based parenting that emphasized proper nurture and nutrition to respond to the brain differences of traumatized children cause by survival behavior/self=preservation techniques arising from their trauma. She is a frequent conference speaker at events like The CAFO Summit. Her approach is kind, compassionate and based in using calming and redirecting techniques to help kids learn to relax and trust their adoptive parents.
In all, I think Kathryn Joyce has misrepresented us and used fairly rare and isolated examples from the fringe in a way that makes them appear to be from the mainstream of the evangelical adoption community. I bear her no ill will, but It seems to me that she entered into her analysis with a bias instead of a sense of journalistic neutrality. I would love to talk to her and. as Paul Harvey would have said, tell her “the rest of the story.”