Thursday, May 10, 2012

Off Target: America's Christian Adoption Movement

A few days ago I had a handful of quiet moments to check blogs (a luxury these days).  I was  dismayed to see that one of my sweet friends is so fed up with what she sees in the word of international adoption that she's pretty much given up hope for ethical adoptions.  One of her biggest complaints is people who jump up to "save" orphans (as young as possible please) in the name of Christianity.  You can read Heather's blog HERE.  I promise you, she's not alone in her thinking.

As I was thinking about how to encourage her, but also defend my personal thoughts about how there is HOPE for good clean international adoptions (another day, another post), I came to another blog post.  This one was in reference to the Christian Alliance for Orphans Orphan Summit that occurred at Saddleback Church in California last weekend.  Honesty, I seriously considered trying to attend the summit.  I am a Christian.  The idea of attending a conference where the topics would include orphan care and adoption with a Christian theme sounded really nice.  I'd know lots of people attending.  I'd be filled up.  The message would be good, right?  I heard tidbits on facebook about how wonderful the conference was.  When I saw the title of the blog post I was almost offended.  I did not WANT to agree with the post.  I really didn't.  But then I ended up agreeing with most of it.

Saddleback Church Orphan Summit: Five Reasons Why Rick Warren and Kay Warren Got it Wrong on Adoption and Orphan Care 

Much of my blog is going to be in response to the article above so I really invite to you to go and read it now.  Otherwise you might not know where I'm coming from.

In response to Kay Warren's quote about orphan care:  I understand that Kay Warren does not herself define the CAM (Christian Adoption Movement).  At the same time.  She and Rick Warren have an incredible amount of influence over the Christian community.  For her to say that adoption is first, second, and last when it comes to orphan care is truly pitiful to me.

NINETY PERCENT of the 163 million orphans we speak about are NOT ADOPTABLE.  These children are classified as orphaned because ONE parent has died, but 90% of them are living with the other parent, or family members, or are otherwise not available for adoption.  So if adoption is our first, second, and last plan for orphan care, we have come up with a very poor plan indeed.  Come on folks, we can do better than that!  [My opinion here is in line with the above article's point #1.  The article goes into more details about this stat.]

We need to be thinking about how to care for the children who will not be adopted!  It's more than 90, by they way.  More like 99%.  Remember, most people out there only want beautiful healthy young children.  The majority of children who ARE adoptable are older special needs children.  People aren't lining up to adopt them.  So let's get real.  What are Christians doing to care for the children left behind.  Caring for orphans, the Bible has instructed us specifically to do.

FAMILY PRESERVATION--In my mind this should be at the top of our list.  Why aren't we out there working our tails off to keep families together rather than allowing something like poverty to tear them apart?  I KNOW it's not as easy as giving money most of the time.  But sometimes, it is.  We're smart.  We can set up programs to get moms a way out of the poverty they are in for good.  I bet you a dollar to a donut that each adoptive family could EASILY contribute to a reputable program that would allow at least TWO families to remain intact.  For each adopted child, two children are "preserved" in their family.  Why not make that your goal?

EDUCATION--See, I'm not presenting anything new here.  It's all been done before.  We just need to take it seriously!  Education works.  Orphaned and vulnerable children need it in order to survive their circumstances.  Period.  You can give it.  There's a million and one different organizations with sponsorship programs.  Children in other countries don't take education for granted like our kids do.  They cherish it as if it were gold.  They beg for it.  It's all they would want for Christmas (if it were their tradition to ask for anything for Christmas).  I CONSTANTLY have people writing me from Ghana asking me if we can add more kids to our sponsorship program.

GOOD ORPHAN CARE--This is the hardest thing to provide.  This is a lot harder than keeping families together, in my opinion.  Once kids are in orphanages, the care level is difficult to manage.  Too many lies can be told.  Too much can be hidden.  But we have to TRY to provide the children who couldn't stay in a family situation with the best possible care.  Ideally this would be a private or small group foster home or family-cell type orphanage.  We must use our Western dollars to support the types of orphan care models that truly support the child's emotional health.  Hey--here's a neat program I just heard about.  It's called "Project 99" and it's a Bible Study that speaks specifically to the issues facing orphaned and vulnerable children (abandonment, self-worth, trust, etc)--the 99% that aren't adopted!

POINT 2 of the article mentions that the CAM (and the Summit in particular) hardly ever emphasizes the problem of child trafficking and corruption in adoption, therefore creating a population of adopters that are naive and end up contributing to the problem.

I do not necessarily believe that the CAM can be held solely responsible for educating the entire population of Christian adopters.  HOWEVER, I do think that the CAM absolutely has a responsibility to educate about what is really going on in adoption!  Come on!  It's like serving someone a piece of pie and telling them it's good, while ignoring the giant cockroach in the middle of it! 

The CAM is a powerful thing.  It can be used for much good.  It HAS been used for much good.  Why not include in the message information about corruption and child trafficking?  Why not include education about avoiding those things at all costs--even if it means you don't adopt your "as young as possible" flawless baby girl?  Christians are generally intelligent people.  They can handle the hard stuff just like the easy stuff.  They deserve to know the reality of international adoption, not just the fluffy stuff.  The CAM should be ashamed of itself for not holding entire breakout sessions on the problem of corruption in adoption, and how to avoid certain pitfalls.  We cannot only focus on what a lovely picture of redemption adoption is.  We must also share about how the evil one preys on these children through unscrupulous people and their prospective parents.  Not to do so is a shame.

POINT 4 of the article speaks about the Biblical interpretation and theology of adoption put forth by the CAM.  The Bible tells us we are the children of God, and therefore "adopted" by Him.  The Bible tells us to care for the orphan (and widow, and poor, and stranger).  The Bible does NOT specifically tell Christians to adopt.  I think it's to the point now that there are some Christians walking around thinking that the scripture tells us to adopt!  Seriously!  No.  The scripture tells us to care for orphans.  That is our Christian responsibility.  Not all Christians are called to adopt!  I think some Christians feel like they need to adopt to in some way show they are "more" Christan--that they are REALLY caring for the orphan.  Just this week I read another Christan proclaiming proudly on facebook that they were "on a RESCUE MISSION!"  They were going to "get" three children from Ghana!  Privately that person told me they would be rescuing those children so they could "share the word of Christ" with them!  Umm...  The Bible certainly does not tell us to adopt orphans in order to fulfill the Great Commission.  Adopting isn't a mission field.  I pray that the CAM can more carefully convey that adoption is ONE WAY to care for orphans, but that there are many other ways to do that as well, and that we are not all called to adopt.

It's not that I'm against this movement.  I just feel that it is off target.  I feel that the message is swaying too far in one direction.  ORPHAN CARE should be the focus, with adoption as one part of that spectrum.  And within the adoption portion, we must must MUST speak about more than the "fluffy" stuff.  We must speak about corruption and child trafficking.  We must share with families about the fact that most adoptable children are not infants (or even young children).  We must prepare families for the difficulties of trauma.  [I saw that the Orphan Summit had breakouts with Purvis--very cool.]

I wasn't at the Orphan Summit so I definitely cannot speak with any authority about the entire event.  I am speaking more to the Christian Adoption Movement as I see it today, and my concerns.  Of course there are MANY people who attended the Orphan Summit who totally "get it!"  But then there are those--like the guy above who is going to adopt kids so he can evangelize to them--that don't.  What can we as Christians do to lessen the number of good hearted families from stepping into something with the best of intentions but that very well may end with terrible results?  This movement has POWER!  If the message were tweaked this movement could truly change the lives of the 163 million orphanage out there--not just the 1-10% that are adoptable.


CarrieT 10:45 PM  

Thanks for sharing more about this, Anita. Lots to think about but mostly I am right there with you. It is hard when I wasn't at the summit to judge others but I definitely have concerns about the so-called Christian adoption movement.

Another danger I see is that well-meaning Christians may not be doing their homework and preparing for the challenges of adopting, especially if they adopt older and/or special needs kiddos. I fear there may be more disrupted adoptions in some of these cases where the families get all charged up to adopt a child who needs a home, but maybe don't realize what a challenge it can be.

We have 4 kids from Korea and 2 are in counseling for behavioral stuff, which, admittedly, may or may not be adoption related. Our daughter has pretty significant, lifelong special needs and is a challenge to love and care for. My husband and I have gone to some parenting counseling. Now I am NOT saying these are all adoption related, but I think they may be at least partially. Our kids came to us with some "baggage", including prenatal things that we could not control. And basically we have a GOOD marriage with a strong support system. We know many, MANY other adoptive families who have older kiddos in counseling for various reasons and have gone for family counseling.

Now don't misunderstand me, folks. We love, LOVE our children and still support adoption as an option for sure (in cases where there isn't a bio family able to parent). But no one should rush into it with rose-colored glasses without doing some homework and preparation and really praying about it. And both husband and wife need to be fully on board (if a 2-parent household). I fear the adoption "movement" may lead to more adoption disruptions if people just rush out to "save" a needy child.

Carrie T.

Anonymous 8:10 AM  

You know, I'm seeing this in a lot of other "Christian movements" too.

Some families who choose to homeschool quote scripture out of the bible for the reason why public/private school is evil and tell you you are a heathen if you don't homeschool your child.

Or this whole "quiverful" movement- where families are letting God decide how many children to bless them with. They too are quoting scripture of 'children are a blessing' and 'be fruitful and multiply' and saying that if you don't let God determine the size of your family, you don't trust Him.

It's so overkill. It's faith. Not faith plus (adoption, homeschool, having a large family) and it is DRIVING ME NUTS. It seems like a lot of bloggers these days are taking the route of "Look at how Christian I am- I homeschool my large family AND we adopted! But I didn't do it because it's easy or I want to, I do it to be obedient to the Lord." As if those who choose to not homeschool, adopt, or have a large family are being DISobedient.

I was homeschooling my children, but honestly the taste these ladies left in my mouth was bad. Not all of course. But when I got pregnant with my fourth, and my husband's work schedule changed, we decided to put them in elementary school. Because in MY Bible it says: God first, Husband second, then family. And being pregnant with my fourth and homeschooling was taking up too much of my time from my husband. So in order to focus on him before this baby comes this summer, I put my kids in school. (Because we all know babies take a lot of work!!)

You would have thought I'd sent my child to North Korea to be raised the way these ladies acted. It's so sad.

I don't know what the answer is for all these situations. But with so many prominent bloggers pushing all three agenda's I fear a lot of people will be getting in way over their heads because they are following a movement instead of Christ.

Unknown 1:36 PM  

Sigh. Yes. Such a struggle. Adoption brought me my incredible family. But has taken so very, very much from my children. And I'll never be able to "fix" that, as much as I love them. Thanks for sharing, I checked out the other linked posts as well.

mary grace 1:49 PM  

Thank you for posting this. Jaws drop when I say these same things because, as an adoptive parent, people ASSUME that I think everyone should adopt, all adoptions are awesome, etc. Couldn't be further from the truth. I am a foster parent because I wanted to help hurting kids, yes--but I am also a foster parent because I believe that sometimes families need help pulling themselves together. If God can use my skills or my home as a time out for a family in crisis, then to Him be the glory! On the other hand, the children's' home we run in Nepal houses 24 amazing kiddos classified as "orphans"--though many do still have at least one parent living. Going home isn't an option for these children (most of whom are teens), so we seek to provide a safe, loving environment there, in their homeland, in which to learn and grow. But again, people don't get it. They see pics of the younger kiddos (ALWAYS the youngers!) and want to know how much to adopt them. Grrrr.

Reading Widely 8:36 AM  

Wonderful post Anita! I've been struggling with a lot of this lately too and not sure what to do with it. I appreciate your thoughts and also the links to the other posts.

Kait 9:54 AM  

This whole thing has weighed very heavily on me lately. On the one hand, we want to be very vocal about unethical adoptions. On the other hand, we have gone through four complicated adoptions and while we (who know the complete story and know that we have dug deep to confirm everything) know that our kids truly needed to be adopted and know that we were truly their last best hope, how do we convey that to others without giving away too much of their story?

It just seems like every time I've said something about ethics in adoption I get the side eye and "Well that's easy for you to say, you have four kids home!" from the person I'm talking to.

My heart aches for these older kids or SN kids that won't find homes because they aren't 'as young and healthy as possible and also preferably a girl...' My heart really aches for all the people who are speaking out about this and getting attacked for it. The Christians in this adoption movement aren't behaving very Christ-like.

Chantelle 7:26 AM  

I really appreciate you sharing this, Anita. I admit that I started out all wrong when I first entered the adoption community. Lately I've been having my eyes opened pretty wide. Lots to think about and prayerfully reconsider.

CarrieT 4:30 PM  

Anonymous, you bring up some good points!! I have also found that sometimes homeschool parents, quiverful parents, and some other groups seem to look down at those of us who choose not to follow these paths. I agree that God allows a lot more freedom in some of these areas and there is not a right or wrong way, at least not for every family in the same way. This is even true of, dare I say it in an election year and living in strongly-Republican Kansas, God is NOT a Republican, folks!! Nor is He a Democrat! :-)

Carrie T.

Third Mom 7:48 AM  

Thank you for your well-reasoned thoughts. I hope more like-minded Christian adoptive parents have the courage and take the time to share their opinions, too. They're needed to put the brakes on the runaway train of the Christian adoption movement, which in my opinion has the potential to do great harm in its zeal to help the world's children.

Jeska 10:34 AM  

I guess I'm not understanding what this is all about. "Adoption is not a mission field", I'd have to disagree. Everything you do, do it for the Glory of God and raising up children in the truth and creating spiritual warriors for His kingdom, adopted or not, is a Christian parents goal. Talking about how wrong it is that Christian parents don't understand how hard it is to adopt and thus romanticize adoption is also wrong. Being a parent is hard period. Even when you are pregnant with your own you dream about how perfect everything will be and soon after the baby is born you find out just how much labor and love goes into parenting. Christians have a Holy God living in them and are able to do all things through Him. Even if they don't realize how hard it is, they will find out and be brought to their knees to seek Him for wisdom and help. The God be the glory! And for anyone to say "I" did it right and they are doing it wrong is in itself wrong. He gives us the ability to do good. Not all people are called to adopt, I agree, but allow Christians some room to grow in this area. It's new to a lot of us and although we will make mistakes with our words and actions, God will work it for good to those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. I agree, let's put in place some ministries to help the orphans that are not adoptable, but pray that they will be adopted and by the true church, even though they might start off as ignorant Christian parents. The Lord will teach them and they in turn will teach others. God is good.

Anonymous 12:19 PM  

I don't want to sound harsh, but I feel like a few of the things you said sort of confirm some of the problems with the Christian adoption movement. The idea that parenting is hard period, implies that parenting is hard and parenting children whether bio or adopted makes no difference. And that is simply not true. There are significant differences between issues faced in parenting adopted or bio children. Issues related to attachment, hunger, pre natal exposure to substances, trauma, etc. Are there issues that you could be faced with as a bio parent which aren't ideal? Absolutely. But all of those, and many, many more, are present when parenting an adopted child. And when people(I'm not going to say Christians, because I do believe that people of all religions can go into adoptions with these same ideas) go into adoption thinking "I've parented, it's hard, I'm not going in blind, etc" and don't think they need to read, research, study, and be prepared for worst case scenarios, because it's just parenting, there are HUGE problems. And the idea that this movement is new, and therfore Christians should be given some slack, is in my opinion, completely unfair to the children. Just because it is new to people doesn't mean that it's ok if children are trafficked, parents, govt officials, etc bribed so that they are deemed "adoptable" all because there are parents that want to adopt, and haven't been around enough to know how to research, really research if their adoptions are being completed ethically. I might have misunderstood your last point, but it read something like helping with agencies that have unadoptable children, and praying that they are adopted. Praying that unadoptable children are adopted? I am hoping you are refering to children that seem unadoptable because of their age/SN, and not because they are legally unadoptable(due to having living family, etc). Because not all "orphans" should be adopted, certainly not internationally. Again, I don't mean this to be harsh. But I don't think it is fair to the children for parents to continue to go into it blind, and claim ignorance. If you want to adopt, great, find an ethical agency, and adopt a child that you are certain to in need of international adoption. And then READ, and REad, and talk and talk to people that have had all kinds of experiences. Because while all parenting is hard, it is not all equal.

Anonymous 12:23 AM  

Oh so much to say . . . you've got some great discussion going on here.

I want to comment on CarrieT's comment:

"Another danger I see is that well-meaning Christians may not be doing their homework and preparing for the challenges of adopting, especially if they adopt older and/or special needs kiddos. I fear there may be more disrupted adoptions in some of these cases where the families get all charged up to adopt a child who needs a home, but maybe don't realize what a challenge it can be."

Please, don't always place the blame of disrupted adoptions on "unprepared parents".

We did our homework.

We thought we were prepared.

We thought we were working with an ethical orphanage.

But ... we were LIED to about so very many things.

We adopted 3 "siblings", but found out they weren't full siblings ... after we brought them home.

We started the process believing we were bringing home 3 kids under 10. The day we picked them up from the orphanage we discovered they were 8, 12, 15.

We were told the older brother was "a leader", "his sister's protector and provider", and of course "so helpful and well behaved".

We brought these children home ... knowing that it would not be easy ... but having absolutely no comprehension of the devastating journey that lay ahead.

We found out that the older brother was not the "protector". No. He was his younger sisters' abuser. He had been abusing the youngest sister for years.

We disrupted the adoption of the older brother. We could not protect our younger children. We could not keep the abuser in the home with the victim.

We do not believe our disruption took place because we were "unprepared", (although we have been harshly judged by the "Christian Adoption Community") No. None of this would have happened if the orphanage had been honest with us ... about the children's ages, about their behavior problems, about their history.

Please don't place judgment on families who have to make the most difficult decision to disrupt an adoption. You have not walked in their shoes.

Anonymous #2 ... not to be confused with the prior "anonymous" posts.

A. Gillispie 11:34 AM  

I'm going to step in here for a moment because I think I know CarrieT's heart as well as Annonymous #2's heart. I think CarrieT was simply saying that families who adopt without doing their homework and preparing for the challenges of adoption CAN lead to more disruptions. I think that Annonymous 2 would agree, would you not? She wasn't saying that every person who disrupts hasn't done their homework.

From where I sit, disruptions *ARE* much more likely to occur when families rush into adoption because of religious or moral convictions without taking the time to REALLY do their homework and prepare for the "worst case scenarios" of adoption. I am certainly not saying that's what you did, Annonymous 2. I'm talking more of people who think that they will adopt "to save" the children and then God will take care of the rest. He will just heal them of whatever bad stuff happened before adoption and they will live happily ever after. Yes, God can heal. But more often than not we know that He allows these children to grow through their pain (hopefully with the assistance of prepared parents!) and to use their testimony to bring glory to him in that way! We cannot adopt hurt children and assume that God will wipe all their problems away. Again, I know you know that Annonymous 2.

Anonymous 11:08 PM  

I think sometimes our own personal experiences or heartache can make us very defensive and assume people are attacking us when perhaps we did not even cross their minds when they arrived at their own conclusions. I think simply because someone was prepared but still end up having to disrupt does not negate the fact that some people are ill prepared and end up disrupting their adoptions. I believe we will only make progress regarding this issue when people are willing to extend grace to each other, give each other the benefit of doubt that perhaps having an opinion is not a personal attack and people being willing to give up their own dearly held agendas.

Anita, I really admire how you tackle the tough subjects showing grace to others who might have differing opinions. You really foster a safe place for respectful dialogue.

LilySea 5:02 PM  

The Bible commands us to care for "widows and orphans," that is: mothers and children. Together. Not to take children from their cultures and families (often there are extended families left behind in intercountry adoption) and have them for ourselves to love and raise.
David Smolin has written an excellent, Bible-centered article about this which you can download here:

Cindy 2:44 PM  

You are awesome Anita.