In case you thought the White Man’s Burden has been consigned to the ash heap of colonial history, this article by Kathryn Joyce will help dispel the illusion. Joyce, author of “Quiverfull,” examined the current evangelical craze for international adoption and its connections to the federal government. Joyce does an excellent job of establishing a factual background to a growing trend that recently resulted in the arrests of ten Christian missionaries by the Haitian government. These missionaries stood accused of child trafficking after they “rescued’ Haitian children in order to set up a Christian orphanage. It is charity, you might protest, the Christian motivation to protect the widow and the orphan, that led these individuals to commit such a rash action. And they would agree with you. So would Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the deeply conservative Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Not only has Moore authored a book that describes international adoption as a “priority” for Christian families, his pride in his “rainbow” congregation does not derive from its cultural diversity. According to Joyce: “These children don’t recognize the flags of their home countries, Moore proudly noted at a 2010 conference, but they can all sing “Jesus Loves Me.”
This lack of regard for the cultural backgrounds of adopted children is reflected in the case of 10 American missionaries arrested for kidnapping shortly after the January 12, 2010 earthquake. The missionaries attempted to remove 33 Haitian children from the earthquake-ravaged region without documentation. Upon their arrests, they stated that they planned to place the children in a Christian orphanage in the Dominican Republic. ABC News quotes the group’s leader, Laura Silsby, offering a justification for their actions: “We came here with the intention of being able to offer and share God’s love and hope with these children that have just gone through so much.” It’s an attitude remarkably similar to the one portrayed by Moore and his peers in Joyce’s piece. For the 33 children, God’s love and hope meant removal from intact families. Silsby and her fellow missionaries found support from major figures within the evangelical movement. Among them is Albert Mohler, Russell Moore’s boss at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
This arrogant response to tragedy reflects a modern embrace of a colonial mindset, justified by Christian theology. And it has its backers in the federal government. In January 2010 the Department of Homeland Security announced a revision of its standards for humanitarian parole, a policy established to provide temporary relief for foreign nationals otherwise ineligible for entry into the country. Under the revision, Haitian orphans with proper documentation (a requirement the overzealous missionaries failed to recall) would be eligible for admission into the United States so long as they met certain standards, like placement with adoptive American parents. The revision, designed to facilitate international adoptions, ceased in April 2010 after protests from the Haitian government. Yet support for this sort of facilitation remains, as Joyce makes clear in her article. She cites a Huffington Post article that attributes the following statement to an official charged with drafting the revision: “The idea was to help the kids. And if we overlooked Hague, I don’t think I’m going to apologize.”
On the subject of international adoption, the US government and the religious right stand united in their disregard for the international legal structures established to regulate adoptions. This further disenfranchises regions already devastated by conflict, economic disaster, or natural disasters. The drive to loosen restrictions on international adoptions not only reflects a refusal to honor the national sovereignty of other states, it is fueled by the belief that Western society is somehow inherently superior. For evangelicals, it is colonialism theologically justified by the most prominent conservative figures in the movement. The goal is evangelism, costumed in the language of redemption that is Christianity’s most attractive feature. Christians who advocate international adoption as a fulfillment of the Great Commission are abusing the system, subverting it to satisfy their own religious objectives. For advocates like Russell Moore, international adoption is necessary because he believes that Christian culture should actively replace all others. It is also hypocrisy, as evangelicals continue to lead the war on reproductive choice in the US while they fight to facilitate international adoptions. The “culture of life” so promoted by these leaders is not quite as universal as they would have the American public believe. It’s about one culture: theirs, and its triumph in the United States and abroad.