Providing a home for an orphan, or a child whose parents are unable to care for him, is an act of kindness. It is the essence and goal of child adoption. As such it seems fitting for religious and spiritual leaders to encourage this humanitarian act and for the faithful and caring to feel called to come to the aid of unwanted children languishing in orphanages, even to support fundraising to help defray the costs of adoption which almost always moves children from lower to higher social economic standards and provides them advantages they would not otherwise have access to.
It is thus that international adoption was initiated as a rescue mission n the 1950s with strong Christian fundamentalist and particularly Lutheran undertones. In the 1960s and 70s it came to be seen as a progressive act of liberal solidarity while domestically, unwed mothers were convinced to hide the proof of their “sinful” sexuality by allowing their bastard children to be adopted. It is estimated that more than six million American mothers – mostly white and middle class – have been convinced to lose their children to adoption. Four million of those occurred between 1940 and 1970; two million during the 1960s alone.
Now there is a new push. In June 2009, the Southern Baptist Convention – the largest Protestant denomination in the United States and the second largest religious body, with 42,000 churches and 16 million adherents – adopted a resolution encouraging adoption. As noted on O Solo Mama, a blog by single adoptive parent, Jessica Pegis, “On Adoption and Orphan Care” urges churches and families to get involved with adoption in whatever way they can. An excerpt of the resolution states:
WHEREAS, Southern Baptists have articulated an unequivocal commitment to the sanctity of all human life, born and unborn; and
WHEREAS, Churches defined by the Great Commission must be concerned for the evangelism of children—including those who have no parents; and
WHEREAS, Upward of 150 million orphans now languish without families in orphanages, group homes, and placement systems in North America and around the world; and
WHEREAS, Our Father loves all of these children, and a great multitude of them will never otherwise hear the gospel of Jesus Christ; now, therefore, be it…
RESOLVED, That we call on each Southern Baptist family to pray for guidance as to whether God is calling them to adopt or foster a child or children; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage our pastors and church leaders to preach and teach on God’s concern for orphans; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we commend churches and ministries that are equipping families to provide financial and other resources to those called to adopt, through grants, matching funds, or loans…
This new push for adoption satisfies several right wing fundamental Christian agendas. First, it provides more members of the flock. Secondly, it appeals to the rabid anti-abortionists with the false notion that somehow promoting and encouraging adoption reduces abortion. Both of these are very appealing to well-meaning parishioners. Additionally, it provides for a softer political appeal than being anti-gay. As The Dallas Morning News pointed out (July 24, 2007) “some conservative Christians say an intense focus on hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage has come at the expense of caring for needy children. And they’re doing something about it…. The push, still in its infancy, could help recast the image of conservative Christians, broaden the appeal of the church and, consequently, find homes for children.”
The blog of the Abba Fund states:
The greatest thing you can do to establish a culture of adoption/orphan care in your church is to be gripped by the reality that God has adopted us as His children. The church is God’s great trans-racial adoptive family. As the gospel takes root in our hearts and we recognize that adoption is central to the heart and mission of God it also becomes something we care about. We will naturally begin to reflect our vertical adoption in our horizontal efforts. This is the foundation for creating a culture that believes that every Christian is called to care for the fatherless in some way. Not everyone is called to adopt but everyone is called to do something. The question for each Christian and each church is not “Should I care for orphans?” The question is “How can I care for orphans?
The June 2009 Southern Baptist resolution on adoption was a direct follow up of the May 2007 three-day summit in Colorado Springs (as reported by Riben “Adoption And The Role Of The Religious Right” Nov, 2007).
According to the just-released Together for Adoption e-book (produced by Together for Adoption, an organization founded to ”equip churches and educate Christians theologically about orphan care and … adoption”): “Man did not invent adoption, God did! Adoption was in the mind of God before man even had a mind! Adoption was a vertical reality (i.e., God’s decision to adopt us) long before it ever had a horizontal expression (i.e., couples adopting children). Therefore, the reality of vertical adoption, should influence how we think about orphan care and horizontal adoption.” Note the same geometric language used by the Abba Fund.
Yet, these noble sounding goals may not be all they appear to be.
Fallacy Number One: Millions of Institutionalized Orphans
The resolution claims 150 million children in orphanages which is higher than the 143 million often quoted, a figure which is well documented to be grossly overestimated. According to UNICEF, UNAIDS and USAIDS nearly 90% of the children in orphanages worldwide are not orphans, but have at least one living parent, as was the case with both children adopted by Madonna. Families in impoverished nations often use institutionalized to obtain medical care for their children and to fill other temporary needs.
“It’s not really true,” says Alexandra Yuster, a senior advisor on child protection with UNICEF, “that there are large numbers of infants with no homes who either will be in institutions or who need intercountry adoption.”
Fallacy Two: Rescuing Orphans
Numbers aside, it would be noble and God’s work to adopt if in fact adoption truly rescued “unwanted” children. The problem is that instead of finding homes for children who might benefit from a loving, caring family, adoption has become a mega-billion industry meeting a demand for babies. Older children, and 129,00 children in U.S. foster care, who are considered unadoptable—typically over the age of 8, racial minorities and some with disabilities—are left behind in the quest for healthy young babies. Alexandra Yuster, notes that increasing international adoptions has not reduced the numbers of children in institutions.
Riitta Högbacka, University of Helsinki, Finland, reporting on the global market for adoption finds that internationally, as well as domestically: “Demand is focused on quite a small group of under three-year-olds, where the number of potential parents far exceeds the supply of children.”
UNICEF estimates that 95% of the world’s orphans are over 5 years of age while nearly 90% percent of all adoptions in the U.S. are of children under the age of 5. The breakdown is 46% are under a year; 43% 1-4 years 8% 5-9 years; 3% over 9. In Guatemala 80% of children adopted from Guatemala in 2006 were under 1 year of age.1 ,2 In 2007, 98 percent of U.S. adoptions from Guatemala were babies who had never seen the inside of an institution were signed over directly to a private attorney who approved the international adoption—for a very considerable fee—without any review by a judge or social service agency.2
Increasing international adoptions has done nothing to reduce the number of children in institutions, according to UNICEF3 ,4 and according to many child rights experts, international adoption decreases domestic placement opportunities that would allow children to remain within their culture, as locals cannot compete financially with the fees paid by Westerners. In Mozambique, for instance, when funding ran out for institutions, 80% of children were able to be reunified with their families. UNICEF favors international adoption as a last resort to be used only after all measures of family preservation are exhausted first, and then domestic adoption is fully explored.
Program director of International Social Service, Chantal Saclier is responsible for the United Kingdom’s ISS Resource Centre on the Protection of Children in Adoption. Saclier finds that although inter-country adoption is intended to find stable homes for children who do not have the opportunity for a loving family environment, many of the children being adopted have a family that could have been preserved. Factors such as pressure from wealthy adoptive families, and the selfishness and greed of officials, have created a situation in which economically disadvantaged children are exploited and sold.5
Peter Dodds, author of Outer Search\Inner Journey: An Orphan and Adoptee’s Quest, asserts: “International adoption isn’t the answer to improving the overall plight of children in developing countries. Even the strongest supporters admit the movement of adoptees across international borders represents only a tiny fraction of the neglected, abused and abandoned children in these countries. And supporters of international adoption are quiet about the children who are not adopted and left behind.”
Jane Joeng Trenka author and co-founder of TRACK, Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea, says, “South Korea’s dependence on the international adoption program has stunted the growth of more appropriate government-funded social welfare programs, as well as delayed the social acceptance of single-parent families….International adoption is NOT the solution. Instead, the South Korean government must find its own solution by investing in sex education, supporting single parents and creating incentives for domestic adoption.”6
Jae Ran Kim, a South Korea-born and American-raised adoptee and social worker in the field of adoption and child welfare laments: “It is ethnocentric and arrogant to think that the United States has any business telling another country how they should manage the problem of orphaned, abandoned or relinquished children. We can’t even solve this problem within our own shores.”
Even the most well-meaning adopters are left with no way to distinguish reputable agencies from unethical baby brokers. David Smolin, who with his wife altruistically chose to add their family by adopting two girls from India and discovered to his horror that they had been stolen from their mother. Smolin has become the leading authority on child trafficking fro adoption, coining the phrase “child laundering” to explain the hands these children are passed through so that the end agency in the West may be totally unaware that papers have been forged and DNA tests results phonied. Others, such as Julia Rollings and the Hemsleys have also become outspoken after unwittingly becoming the recipients of adopted children who were kidnapped from Guatemala or stolen from China.
Despite the material advantages children redistributed by adoption, some remain critical, including the National Association of Black Social Workers, which has called taking children from their ethic heritage, cultural genocide. Tobias Hübinette was born Lee Sam-dol in Korea. Adopted by Swedes, Hubinette, earned a PhD in Korean Studies in the Department of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University, Sweden in 2005.
Along the way, he earned a BS in Irish Studies at the Division of Celtic Studies, Uppsala University. Hübinette notes that “[b]oth the slaves and the adoptees are separated from their parents, siblings, relatives and significant others at an early age, stripped of their original cultures and languages, reborn at harbours and airports, Christianized, re-baptized; both assume the name of their master/parent and, in the end, only retain a racialised, non-white body that has been branded or given a case number. … These children were objects of rescue fantasies and relief projects for the European homeland populations and especially feminist and Christian philanthropist and humanist groups.”7
If this sounds extreme, consider this excerpt from Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches by Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky who believes “God is calling the people of Christ to see the face of Jesus in the faces of orphans in North America and around the world.” Moore, who likewise believes that “every one of us who follows Christ was adopted into an already existing family,” writes about his own adoption:
It didn’t matter to us that the nurses in the orphanage across the seas still called these boys “Maxim” and “Sergei”; we had on their walls nameplates reading “Benjamin” and “Timothy.” It didn’t matter what their current birth certificates read; they would soon be Moores.
This newness of identity also informed the way we responded to questions, whether from social workers or friends, about whether we planned to “teach the children about their cultural heritage.” We assured everyone we would, and we have.
Now, what most people meant by this question is whether we would teach our boys Russian folk-tales and Russian songs, observing Russian holidays, and so forth. But as we see it, that’s not their heritage anymore [O: Yes, this guy believes adoption changes heritage], and we hardly want to signal to them that they are strangers and aliens, even welcome ones, in our home.
“We teach them about their heritage, but their heritage as Mississippians. They learn about their great-grandfather, the faithful Baptist pastor, about their countrymen before them in the Confederate army and the civil rights movement. They wouldn’t know “Peter and the Wolf” if they heard it, but they do know Charley Pride and Hank Williams and “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder.” They are Moores now, with all that entails.
Another Christian family blogs that they “have the advantage of understanding our host culture’s worldview and their very deep superstitious beliefs. Thus, we were not surprised that Sterling [their adopted son] was given to us with a jade luck charm—a Buddhist charm meant to bring good luck, fortune and protection. We, however, know that this charm is associated with spiritual forces meant to keep people in bondage. Thus, we smiled and accepted it as we should, and then later went to the park, broke it, and threw it into the pond, and prayed for our sterling that all spiritual bondage over him would be broken. These spiritual forces are alive and real, and manifest themselves in more obvious ways (but with the same degree of power) than in the west, but we know that the power and grace of the God who created the heavens and the earth is infinitely greater than the forces of evil.”
Who Proliferates These Myths?
Within the evangelical movement, some of the many organizations promoting this agenda, as researched by Jessica Pegis and revealed on her O Solo Mama blog, are:
Abba Fund, which provides financial assistance in the form of interest-free loans for good Christian moms and dads to adopt.
Christian Alliance for Orphans, an umbrella group of organizations that fundraise and “equip churches as they grow effective orphan care, foster youth and adoption ministries” via annual summits that instruct how to start church-based orphan ministries, create adoption support funds, network with other churches, and so forth.
Cry of the Orphan Campaign, sponsored by Hope for Orphans and Focus on the Family. Together with the Christian Alliance, they promote many events, including those associated with Orphan Sunday.
Orphan Care, an initiative was launched in 2006 by Focus on the Family, the campaign name is trademarked and the emphasis is kids in foster care. From the website: “The Orphan Care Initiative is designed to inspire, equip, and engage the body of Christ along with and through the Church to bring orphans into a Christ-centered family structure.”
Orphan Sunday, started by an American doing mission work in Zambia witnessed an event aimed at helping AIDS orphans and went on to launch Orphan Sunday, first in Zambia and then in North America.
Pegis further notes that the very first Orphan Sunday in North America emphasized prayer, donations, and youth projects, i.e., keeping kids in their communities. Today, however, permanent separation of children from their communities seems to take precedence over other forms of help. Church members who don’t find themselves “called to adopt” are directed to support those who are.
Together for Adoption holds conferences that explore the theological links to adoption.
Following his Aug 2008 appeal to both presidential candidates, Rick Warren, Focus on the Family, and Campus Crusade for Christ talked about Christians devoting more resources to adoption, fostering, and care of children in need around the world. The theme was “You Are God’s Plan for the Orphan.”
In an oped for the Wall Street Journal (Aug 29, 2008), Kelly Rosati, who oversees Focus on the Family’s adoption and orphan-care division and is the mother of four adopted children said the 2008 theme represented a shift from the traditional way of viewing adoption as “something you considered if you were facing infertility” to a “commitment to adoption is part of a holistic sanctity-of-human-life ethic.”
The Los Angeles Times reported:
Over the next six months, Christian media will be saturated with stories and ads touting adoption and foster care as a scriptural imperative, an order direct from God. Tens of thousands of pastors will be urged to preach about the issue, set up support groups for couples considering taking in troubled kids, and even invite state child-welfare officials to talk to their congregations….
Several speakers [at the Colorado Springs Summit] talked of an urgent need to settle children in Christian homes that have “both a mommy and a daddy” — an implicit rebuke of same-sex parenting. Others suggested Christians could bolster their case for protecting the “pre-born” by proving that their concern for the child extends beyond the womb.
Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson, a major player in this new path of evangelism, expressed at the 2007 summit a concern that foster parents typically are permitted to take children to church but cannot force religion on them. They must adhere to other state guidelines as well, some of which may contradict their faith such as parents “disciplining” their children physically with switches as taught by Dobson, a child psychologist.
While some of the flock may in fact adopt children from foster care, concern for orphaned and abandoned children is used as a smoke screen to use adoption as a tool against abortion, against single parenthood, and for evangelism. That is why, among those present at the 2007 event (and likely the follow-ups as well) was Tom Atwood, president of the National Committee for Adoption, the largest lobbying organization and marketing arm of adoption agencies, primarily those of the Later Day Saints.
The NCFA web page purports to be about finding homes for children in foster care, yet their mission page shows in black and white their first and foremost agenda item: “Train pregnancy counselors and health care workers in infant adoption awareness, so women and teens with unplanned pregnancies can freely consider the loving option of adoption.” Contrary to promoting the adoption of U.S. orphans, on the NCFA agenda is “Work[ing] with the U.S. and foreign governments to establish sound policies for inter-country adoption, so foreign orphans can be placed with loving, permanent families.”
The NCFA and the religious right are partners in a full-fledged propaganda war being waged to recruit Christian soldiers through adoption. With all the ingenuity and marketing skills available to them, the NCFA and the religious right couch their pro-adoption stance as a noble plan to help orphans and children in foster care, using these kids as the foot in the door by both to get tax incentives and other benefits for their clients who seek to adopt primarily infants. All good social engineers know the advantages of starting with a “blank slate.”8
Conflicts and Controversy
Conservative Christians do not accept medical infertility intervention, they also do not accept being childless as God’s will.
Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull, notes:
Spiritual warfare in the most basic sense is how a Christian engages with the culture by bringing this Christian influence, and knowing that they are there to convert the world and not become more of the world. Spiritual warfare can mean a lot of things, but in terms of using children, and viewing your fertility as a weapon of spiritual warfare — that is particular to Quiverfull, I think, or people who follow Quiverfull convictions without using their name, which a lot of people do. Spiritual warfare is about using all of your gifts in a Christian mission against the world.9
The basis of the Quiverfull belief is found in Psalms 127 A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon, the second half of the first states:
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them;
They shall not be ashamed,
But shall speak with their enemies in the gate.
Despite the belief that “children are a heritage from the Lord,” and a “reward” which should not cause shame, justifications are found to shame some mothers – such as those who are not legally married – and to disregard the heritage of those who are adopted.
Additionally Joyce believes that “there’s a very strong racial undercurrent, when they talk about demography as a crisis, or under population, or declining fertility rates as a crisis, because they’re talking about declining white fertility rates, not declining worldwide fertility rates. I think there are a lot of ties and connections between the extremist members of this movement and traditionally conservative and racist groups in the South. I don’t think that’s necessarily part of the theological basis for it, though.” Adoption of course allows them to reach this goal despite their fertility or inability to become parents naturally.
Not all Christians interpret the bible similarly in regard to adoption. W. E. Vine, English Biblical scholar and theologian wrote The Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (1985). In it, he finds: “‘Adoption of children’ is a mistranslation and misleading. God does not ‘adopt’ believers as children; they are begotten as such by His Holy Spirit through faith.”
The United Church of God agrees that adoption is “a wonderful and noble act to provide a home and family to one who needs it—and it is typically a great blessing to both the adoptive parents and the child.” “Adoption or Sonship?” from the UCG booklet What is Your Destiny? found problems however “in applying the terminology of adoption to our relationship with God.” It goes onto state:
In human adoption, the adopted children are human just as much as the new parents—yet only because the children were adopted from other human parents who physically begot them. But if God merely adopted us and did not truly beget us in His image, we would be different kinds of beings from Him altogether—as He would not be adopting us from others like Himself. It could be likened in some sense to adopting a pet as a family member (albeit one that could talk).
Sadly, this is close to what many envision—that we are and forever will be totally different, lesser kinds of beings than God. And so they have no problem with taking the Greek word in question in the verses we’ve seen to mean adoption. But this notion of God’s purpose for us is not the truth, as Scripture makes clear that God actually begets us spiritually in His own image—with the intention that we ultimately become the same kind of beings He and Jesus Christ now are.
The Christian push for adoption as a calling from God falls short in same way that U.S. tax benefits for those adopting does. Both fail the very children they purport to help by not limiting their assistance to the adoption of the 129,000 children in foster care who could be adopted but instead use them as pawns to support all adoption as if they were all equal.
In the privatized multi-billion dollar unregulated adoption industry, it is impossible to distinguish ethical reputable agencies from those who may take babies from orphanages overseas who have – knowingly or not –who were stolen, kidnapped or coerced from parents who wanted them. We cannot as responsible citizens or Christians simply support adoption across the board when many are corrupt. We cannot as responsible citizens or Christians ignore the calling to help families in crisis find the resources they need to remain together before assisting in their destruction. And when adoption is the final recourse, we need not destroy the lines of heritage and eradicate part of a human beings identity. The more loving, caring thing is to honor and love all of the child, including his roots. Isn’t that what Jesus would have us do?
There is no doubt that adoption is beneficial for many children who have no families able to care for them. However, there are many other ways to help children in need and allow them to remain within their families, communities maintaining their ethnicity, names and heritage. Organizations such as SOS Village and Save the Children do just that. Conversely, taking children one at a time does nothing to ameliorate the poverty of their family, their village or their nation.
Adoption is intended to put the needs of children in need first. Adoption is not intended to objectify children to meet a demand for the childless or to increase any population or obtain followers to any religion or belief system.
- Adoptive families magazine Guatemala adoption statistics [↩]
- Jennifer Banks, Note, The U.S. Market for Guatemalan Children: Suggestions for Slowing Down the Rapid Growth of Illegal Practices Plaguing International Child Adoption, 28 Suffolk Transnat’l L. Rev. 31, 40 (2004) (stating that, “[i]nternational adoptions comprise ninety-five to ninety-eight percent of all adoptions of Guatemalan children and virtually all of these adoptions take place through an extrajudicial notary system”). [↩] [↩]
- Johanna Oreskovic and Trish Maskew “Red Thread or Slender Reed: Deconstructing Prof. Barthelot’s Mythology of International Adoption” Buffalo Human Rights Law Review Vol. 14 [↩]
- Ethics and Accountability in Adoption, Ethica/Evan B, Donaldson conference, October, 2007, Panel I. [↩]
- Chantal Scalier, “In the Best Interests of the Child? IN: International Resource Centre for the Protection of Children in Adoption.” Selman, P., Ed. [↩]
- “Adoption from South Korea: Isn’t 50 Years Enough?” Jane’s Blog, June 27, 2007. [↩]
- Tobias Hübinette, “Between European Colonial Trafficking, American Empire-. Building and Nordic Social Engineering: Rethinking International Adoption From a Postcolonial and Feminist Perspective.” [↩]
- For more on American adoption as social engineering see Barbara Melosh, Ellen Herman, and E. Wayne Carp. [↩]
- Buzzflash interview, March 10, 2009. [↩]