Evangelical Arrogance and the Mission of Adoption

(Update: Merritt just told me I should ‘clarify’ his links to the Southern Baptist Convention, since he has no professional link to the SBC. I never claimed that he did. He does identify as Southern Baptist and has strong ties to the denomination, and I feel this is relevant, given his support of Russell Moore. He also informed me that I was ‘unserious for bringing race into the discussion,’ upon which I laughed. Hysterically. Then laughed again.

Second update: Merritt claims that I quoted him inaccurately. My sincerest apologies. He merely told me I was ‘unserious’ for ‘bringing race into it.’  Vastly different, obviously (!) He refuses to acknowledge that his comments have been racially insensitive, and to date, has not acknowledged any of the actual criticisms in my post. I suppose that if I owed my public profile to the Southern Baptist Convention, I’d probably behave the same way.)

This week, Mother Jones published an excerpt from journalist Kathryn Joyce’s upcoming book on Evangelical adoption, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the Gospel of Adoption. Joyce, whose previous work includes Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, enjoys a well-earned reputation for her investigative reporting of conservative Evangelical and fundamentalist movements in the United States. The accuracy of her work on the Quiverfull movement is supported by Quiverfull survivors, and her work on Christian meets similarly high standards. But adoption is an emotional issue, and her work has met with significant push-back from proponents of Christian adoption. Today, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Jonathan Merritt published a critique of Joyce’s work that merits critical examination not for the argument it presents, but rather for what it ignores: the colonialist implications of Evangelical mission and aid work on the African continent.

Merritt derides Mother Jones for anti-Christian attitudes which he believes are embodied in its decision to publish an excerpt of Joyce’s newest book. Joyce, he argues, ‘relies on weak sources to paint a partial and distorted picture.’ I have not yet read The Child Catchers. Since its pending release, Merritt presumably hasn’t either, but this didn’t prevent him from attempting an exhaustive critique of Joyce’s approach to the subject, solely based on one published excerpt. The excerpt never asserts that all Christian parents are abusive, or even that all Christian parents adopt for the purposes of evangelism. Joyce’s reporting is focused on a specific movement. This is consistent with her previous work, which Merritt would have known if he’d bothered to familiarize himself with it.

His refusal to do just that is evident in the rest of his piece. He criticizes Joyce for her references to Above Rubies and Debi and Michael Pearl; they must be irrelevant because Merritt himself has never heard of him. I quite seriously doubt Merritt, a life-long conservative Christian, is totally unfamiliar with the Pearls at least, but for now I’ll take him at his word because his assertion is so telling. The Pearls do not matter because he has never heard of them. It’s a remarkably ignorant statement. The writers of Homeschoolers Anonymous and No Longer Quivering could tell Merritt all about the Pearls and Above Rubies because these materials are in active use among many, many conservative Evangelical and fundamentalist families in the United States. But maybe Merritt simply doesn’t care about the experiences these writers relate. He also derides Joyce for her citation of  “homespun blogs with severely limited reach.”

These are the words of a man who has utterly failed to educate himself about the negative influences at work within his own movement. They are arrogant words, and they are disingenuous words. Joyce is hardly the first journalist to cover the ulterior motivations behind Christian adoption. In 2007, the LA Times published its report on a new Christian campaign encouraging the adoption of foreign children. Supporters of this campaign included Rick Warren, Focus on the Family, and Campus Crusade for Christ. According to the Times, the campaign called for “every orphan experiencing God’s unfailing love and knowing Jesus as savior.”

The LA Times is hardly a ‘homespun blog’ and I’m willing to bet that Merritt has probably heard of Rick Warren, Focus on the Family and Campus Crusade for Christ. One wonders if he is actually ignorant, or wilfully misleading readers. Based on his reference to Russell Moore, I believe it’s the latter. According to Merritt, Moore believes that ‘the desire to adopt children as a ruse for evangelism is little more than a tired cliché.’ This is extraordinarily disingenuous and ignores the implications of the cultural assimilation that accompanies the Western adoption of non-Western children. On his own blog, he describes his adoption of two Russian children, an adoption that included the exchange of their Russian names for new, Western Christian names. “Everything changed, for all of us, for life,” Moore wrote, and that is certainly true. These adopted children lost their access to their native culture, and were renamed and assimilated into Moore’s Evangelical culture–for life.

Moore never acknowledges the agency of adopted children, nor does he express respect for their culture. His acts imply the opposite: that their native culture is inferior, and therefore these children are guaranteed to benefit from exposure to his own, superior culture. It’s the same cultural hierarchy that originally propelled Protestant missions work. That hierarchy continues to influence Christian missions, and is ever-present in the adoptive families described by Kathryn Joyce. But Moore, and Merritt, too, never acknowledge this. To Merrill, adoption is simply a good thing Christians do. But it is still a thing that Christians do to others, and that is evidence of a power imbalance.

It is only possible to laud the Christian adoption movement if one totally ignores Christianity’s historical involvement with Western colonialism. Trafficking and coerced salvation are inextricably embedded within the colonial consciousness. Then too did Christians laud their interference in the affairs of the colonized as ‘a good thing,’ a thing justified by God himself. The profoundly negative consequences for indigenous culture and polities cannot be overemphasized and this history ought to be considered by any Christian interested in a responsible conversation on adoption and evangelism. Merritt’s refusal to acknowledge Christianity’s bloody history is evidence that colonial arrogance is still an active force among American Evangelicals.

For that reason, I applaud Kathryn Joyce’s work, and support tighter regulation of international adoptions. Merritt has failed to adequately address the concerns she raises and the attitudes reflected in his piece perpetuate rather than check the abuse she describes. If Evangelical Christians are truly concerned for the orphan, then they owe the children of the developing world a greater willingness to submit to scrutiny.


39 thoughts on “Evangelical Arrogance and the Mission of Adoption

  1. lol. That reminds me of the friend of Rachel Held Evans who criticized her book for crediting Edith Schaeffer for influencing complementarianism, saying “I never heard of Schaeffer.” I doubt a influencial evangelical has never heard of the Pearls.

    • I doubt it as well, but even if it’s true: wouldn’t you be concerned to know that this movement existed within your own faith? Wouldn’t you want to confront it? Instead, Merritt’s done nothing but repost support from other white male Evangelicals. He’s made racially insensitive comments and behaved in an extraordinarily arrogant fashion to women that challenge him on those comments. He’s chosen to criticize my use of quotation marks rather than address the arguments I or Kathryn Joyce have made. And that’s very telling.

  2. Hi Sarah,

    I’m interested in your vision of how Christians should adopt internationally. Should they not adopt? Should they not teach their adopted children about their own religious beliefs? Should they not change (or “Westernize”) their names?

    When you say, “Trafficking and coerced salvation are inextricably embedded within the colonial consciousness” are you equating adoption with trafficking? Is “coerced salvation” as problematic for you as “coerced secularism” or “coerced progressivism”? You seem to be equating adoption with the slave trade.

    Is it wrong for a Western family to adopt from a physically-disabled Russian orphanage? For a Western family to adopt a child from China who needs surgery the state would never provide? Why do you limit your range to Africa?


    • Hi Marty, thanks for the questions.

      I think Christians need to better educate themselves about the legacy of Christian collusion with colonialism in the developing world. Imperial powers used Christianity as a justification for their enforced control of territory in the East and the South. Obviously, that’s problematic, and that history needs to be addressed. Men like Jonathan Merritt and Russell Moore have failed to do that, and it’s evident from the attitudes they express.

      Ideally, this would be apparent in the Christian adoption movement’s recognition that international adoptions ought to be more tightly regulated. This is necessary to avoid human trafficking–which does occur. Case in point: the Christian missionaries arrested in Haiti.
      The movement also needs to acknowledge that states in the developing world do absolutely have the right to enforce moratoriums on international adoptions. Christians do not have an inalienable right to another country’s children.

      If a Christian family decides to adopt, I think they have an obligation to familiarize themselves with their adopted children’s cultures. If you adopt a Han Chinese child, learn Mandarin together. Send your child to Chinese school. Seek out opportunities to introduce your child to her birth country. Obviously, all families are going to approach child rearing from a particular value system, but the onus is on the adopting family to make that system is culturally sensitive. Remember, you’re lucky to have that child. They’re not property that you happened to rescue.

      Those are some brief thoughts, and I’m going to start collecting perspectives from adopted children for another blog post. Oh, and a final note: the cases described in Joyce’s original excerpt concern African children, hence why I limited my comments to Africa in my post.

  3. Thx for your response, Sarah.

    We are not an adoptive family, but we are friends with several families who have adopted internationally, as well as family members. We also have friends who had adopted across racial lines in the states, as well as family members who have done so.

    The strongest exception I take to your scenario is that love seems totally removed. Everyone I know have borne a tremendous personal expense to adopt, often, as I mentioned, children with physical or mental difficulties if not both. Many have adopted after having children of their own. They’ve done this because of love for a child they don’t even know at the start of things.

    A Chinese or Korean child locked away in an orphanage isn’t learning the culture of their country either. Frankly, if a child gets medical help, clothes, love and care after being adopted, I don’t see how learning the national language assists. (This is not to say they should not learn about their home country and its culture; absolutely they should. I just wonder if you are pushing too hard on that part.)

    As for potential trafficking by “Christian” adoption agencies we should probably have a clarification. If indeed actual trafficking of children does happen it is because “Christian” is being used as a front, not because the organization if Christian. The amount of collusion between orphanage operators and human traffickers renders infinitesimal the number trafficked by supposed Christian agencies. In fact, those truly concerned about trafficking should BEG Christians to adopt from international orphanages before those children are sold or age-out into a life of prostitution or sex-trafficking.

    • Hi Marty,

      I’d advise you to read Kathryn Joyce’s book (http://www.amazon.com/The-Child-Catchers-Trafficking-Adoption/dp/1586489429/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1366401360&sr=8-1&keywords=the+child+catchers+joyce) after it’s released next week to familiarize yourself a bit better on the connections between human trafficking and the Christian adoption movement. Understand that we’re not necessarily talking about the sex trade here. Trafficking also occurs when when an adoption agency fails to adhere to international laws on adoption. I don’t believe trafficking is always motivated by malice. The missionaries in Haiti sincerely believed they were acting in the best interests of Haitian children. But they broke the law, and in so doing, they participated in human trafficking. The Christian adoption movement owes it to adopted children to rigorously examine its methods and its motivations for adoption.

      You write: “Frankly, if a child gets medical help, clothes, love and care after being adopted, I don’t see how learning the national language assists.” That’s a common attitude, and that’s a problem. Language is an intrinsic part of a person’s cultural identity. It’s particularly vital when adoptions occur over racial lines. When language acquisition is ignored, the result is, deliberately or not, the total assimilation of a historically oppressed culture by a dominant culture. The consequences really shouldn’t need further elaboration.

      Love is important. I don’t deny that. I doubt Kathryn Joyce would deny it, either. But it’s not the entire picture, either.

    • Marty, imagine if you had a sister, brother, aunt, uncle or grand parent in another country who spoke a different language to you. Would that mean you would have no desire for relationship or love from them or towards them. Then imagine trying to build a relationship with that family member as an adult after having very little connection or contact with them and imagine how much harder and more painfull this maybe if you are unable to communicate with this person.

      It’s important for folks in the west to realise the cultural hegemony they live in, unless you spent significant time living in another culture you will have very little awareness of the issues that will present to internationally adopted children. Just cos it doesn’t occur to you to be a problem deosn’t mean it’s not a huge significant issue, as a person of dual heritage I can say that if you love your Child and they relatives who speak another language teach them to speak that language from birth you are giving them a great gift.

  4. Sarah,

    Though I disagree with some assumptions you make here, I appreciate the civility with which you are approaching the topic. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

    It seems to me that, in your approach, more value is placed on protecting the cultural integrity of a child than the child itself — many of whom, as Marty mentioned above, lie helplessly in cribs with no food, care, or human interaction — if they have cribs at all. It is hard for me to see the logic in that. Maybe you could clarify.

    In the name of full disclosure, I am an adoptive parent and a Christian. But I am troubled by the whole conversation on BOTH sides, my camp included.

    There are dangers on both sides of this argument. All Christian adoptions should not be suspect because of the abuses of some who carry that label. It is unfair to those who have walked or are walking through the process ethically, as I believe my family did.

    Likewise, given the amount of abuse that IS present (examples of which Ms. Joyce pointed out), Christians should not expect a free pass, nor react defensively when our motives are questioned. The truth is, there is a large demand among Christians to adopt and there are some very bad people ready and willing to exploit this demand and the children and families involved for their own personal gain. But does not the danger of exploitation exist regardless of the faith background of the adoptive family?

    When we were in the process of adopting our two girls 5 years ago from Ethiopia, we were exposed to some very ugly things and had some opportunities to “expedite” our process that bordered on child trafficking. Some of these “opportunities” came from stateside Christians. And some of these opportunities came from state officials or other caregivers in the country — yes, people who were exploiting their own culture. Thank God that we did not participate in this evil and went to great lengths — even more than was required at the time, as Ethiopia is not a Hague Treaty country — to verify our children’s identity and legitimacy. This came at a great time and money expense to us, but it was worth it to be able to look in our children’s eyes and confidently tell them their story and the bravery of their biological parents (unfortunately I cannot share those details in this forum, but would be happy to privately.)

    I have often said there is a very fine line between adoption and child trafficking. But just because the line is fine, does not give anyone permission to cross it. The ends do NOT justify the means. Likewise, those that operate on the ethical side of the line should not be punished because of those who do not.

    The answer is for us to scrutinize ALL adoptions individually and fairly, regardless of whether the families adopting are Christian or not. And Christians in the process, as well as Christian agencies, need to double down on their efforts to maintain the highest standard of ethics. Those who cannot or will not do this need to be shut down immediately. Unfortunately, as Joyce points out, there are instances where this is not happening. My camp needs to pay attention to what she is saying, even if we disagree with her worldview. Her perception is the reality for most outside of our circles, even if seems biased.

    Of course, paying attention and taking each case and child individually requires much time, energy, and effort. And unfortunately, it is far easier for those on both sides of this issue to simply make sweeping generalizations. That helps no one.

    Again, I appreciate the healthy and civil dialogue. I would love to see, as I know you would, a world were there were no orphans and all children could grow up in the beauty of their own culture. Until that time, alleviation of poverty and issues that are creating orphans coupled with an ethical adoption system may be our best bet.

    • Hi Jason, thanks for your comments. Civil discussion is important to me and it’s particularly disappointing that Christian figures, like Jonathan Merritt, don’t appear particularly invested in it.

      As for your comments: Children suffer if their cultural identities aren’t protected. It’s not enough to provide for their material needs, as I’m sure you’d agree. If their goal is to raise happy, well-adjusted human beings, then the Christian adoption movement needs to make some immediate adjustments.

      To be frank, the proponents of the Christian adoption movement haven’t responded to Joyce’s article with substantive arguments. For the most part, they’ve offered superficial, emotionally motivated assertions. Adoption is an incredibly personal topic, and I respect that. However, when we’re discussing something as serious as abuse, or failures to adhere to international adoption laws, a better discussion is necessary.

      There are specific factors to be considered on the topic of Christian adoption. Some families *do* see adoption as a path toward respect in their religious communities. Some families do believe that their religious beliefs allow them access to a special, distinct morality that gives them the right to bypass international regulations.

      Merritt totally failed to acknowledge that, and that’s disturbing. That’s why I wrote the post and continue to engage people about it. In any case, I think we’re agreed: all families need to adhere to international adoption laws. But we do have to be aware that there are certain factions with Christianity that contribute to specific violations of those laws. A failure to address that is a failure to acknowledge that structural inequality factors into this debate.

      Sorry for the length!

  5. Sarah,
    A quick aside before another response (hopefully) later. I am 49 years old and have been a follower of Jesus since I was 18. I have read an enormous amount and have a degree in biblical studies (or pastoral ministries or something. I’d have to look.) and was a pastor for 20 years. This year we will complete 23 years of homeschooling over three kids. We’ve used many different curricula representing all approaches.

    All that to say: neither my wife (who also reads voraciously) or I had ever heard of the Pearls before this recent set of articles, nor had we ever heard of Above Rubies. I grew up in SBC churches, have read extensively from SBC publications, and am quite familiar with the influences within it. I can assure you the Pearls are not among them.

    While you may question other of Merritt’s assertions there is little reason to doubt his statements on that.

    • I also grew up in a conservative Christian home. I was homeschooled for most of my education and later attended a Southern Baptist university, where I was required to at least minor in Biblical studies. I’m a journalist, and I have a graduate degree in political theory–where I specialized in political theology.

      And I’ve heard of the Pearls. I’ve heard of Above Rubies. So have most of my peers. And this is why I, and another homeschooling veteran on this thread, have such difficulty believing that Merritt has never heard of these publications. Even if it’s true, and he hasn’t: what do you think it says about the both of you that you’re so unfamiliar with your own movement? Because from my perspective, it says you’re insular. It indicates that you and Merritt don’t want to acknowledge that there are abusive tendencies within Evangelical Christianity, particularly within the homeschooling/adoption movement. And that erases my experiences, and the experiences of many of my friends.

      I believe that’s why Merritt didn’t bother to speak to any adopted children for his article. I believe that’s why his criticisms of my piece have been limited to my use of quotation marks rather than any of the arguments I made. I believe that’s why he blocked me on Twitter, and why he continues to patronize Kathryn Joyce, a veteran journalist. It’s probably why he made an anti-Semitic remark, also on Twitter, to Jeff Sharlet last night.

      Because all of that is easier than admitting your movement is toxic.

  6. Also Merrit said that there were 100 million orphans when realkity is pretty different.


    “There are not hundreds of millions of children who are available for adoption. The orphan crisis has become this extremely amorphous term, but one of those commonly-cited figures is 163 million children needing adoption. But of that number, it’s estimated that only 17 million children have lost both parents — meaning that almost 150 million children defined as “orphans” have one living parent. In the U.S. we would not consider children of single parents “orphans” available for adoption. People need to come to terms with the fact that these numbers are being used in a dramatic way that changes the meaning of things. A lot of the 17 million children who have lost both parents are also living with extended family, so the numbers are almost meaningless.”

    • Yes! It reminds me of Evangelical rhetoric on sex trafficking and child soldiers. They take a real human rights crisis, inflate the numbers, and construct superficial, emotional pleas to the spiritual sensibilities of their peers in order to ‘raise awareness’ or ‘take action.’ It’s never grounded in historical context. It’s never grounded in research. Is this really what it takes for Evangelicals to feel empathy for the Other?

  7. I wrote a long reply last night, but somehow it disappeared before it sent. I am glad it didn’t, though, because it obviously would not have addressed the most recent interchange between you and Marty. And I need to speak to that, from my experience.

    I think my point last night was that it seems unfair to paint the entire lot of Christians who adopt with one broad brush. The actions of a few do not represent the whole. Not theologically and not practically.

    I have heard of the Pearls prior to this, but never EVER as an exemplary model. Not ever have I been in a conversation with anyone who was lauding them. And my circles in the Christian world and the adoption world are quite large. I have a Masters degree in Education from a state university and a Master of Divinity degree from an evangelical seminary. I have 17 years of ministry experience and have been immersed in the adoption world for almost 7 of those. You may be surprised to know that the discussions around the Pearls (and others like them, like the Ezzos) have always focused on how they were abusive, not normative, and even “cultish.”

    In addition, the training my family received from our Christian adoption agency, the post-placement work we done through a Christian organization, as well as the private counseling my family has done with a Christian Therapist have all addressed issues similar to the Pearls and have unequivocally affirmed that their practices are harmful at best and illegal and abusive at worst.

    WIthin any movement (political, religious, BLOGGING for crying out loud) there are going to be a certain number of extremists. The Pearls do not represent all Christians who adopt any more than Al Qaeda represents all of Islam, or any more than some crazy conspiracy theorist with a Tumblr account represents you.

    I am using strong language here, because this is very personal to me. When the “Christian Adoption Movement” (whatever that means) is vilified as a whole, those families who have chosen to do things the RIGHT way — and, more importantly, the children who are in healthy, secure homes where their birth culture is celebrated and respected — also become vilified.

    In addition there are Christians who are creatively and selflessly working for long-term sustainable solutions to poverty, genocide, disease, and other factors contributing to the orphan crisis. They are vilified as well, and that is not fair.

    Again, this does not mean that we turn a blind eye to the abusive and illegal behaviors of those who would hijack this “movement.” Of course not! It means we expose them, fight them tooth and nail, every step of the way, until they are stopped. And I do believe (or hope) that this is Joyce’s motive, based on the opinion of close friend of mine who knows her. I will read the book when it releases and decide for myself.

    But the language that I read online and in forums such as this is filled with shame for anyone who is associated with the “movement.” Even the last line of your most recent reply to Marty — “your movement is toxic” — is a shame-filled statement and is not constructive. And borders on lacking the civility that we had both agreed was necessary for this discussion in my previous post.

    I can personally reject those attempts to feel shamed because I know that my family walked through the process ethically and legally. Even though Ethiopia is not a Hague Treaty country, we spent extra time and extra money to do all the research, find all the papers, and take all the extra steps to make sure our process was legitimate. And I can supply you with scores of other families that I know personally who have done similar things.

    In fact, these adoptions are anything but toxic … they are life-giving. Children are thriving. Cultures are honored. Birth families are spoken of with respect. Not to say it is easy — it’s not. But toxic? No. Life-giving? Yes.

    There are some adoptions that are indeed toxic (both Christian and not.) And some factions within the Christian “movement” that are toxic. I agree. Let’s address those specifically (Please! let’e REALLY address them! Child abuse and trafficking is EVIL!) and stop casting a blanket of shame over families and children, such as mine, who have done the right things, just because they/we happen to also be Christians.

    PS — I often tell people that we did not do a “Christian adoption.” What does that even mean? I am a Christian who also happened to adopt. Big difference.

    • Jason, I would never imply that you and your family conducted an unethical adoption. From everything you’ve told me, you’ve adhered to international law, and I commend you for your passion on the subject.

      But I fail to understand the defensiveness. Kathryn Joyce conducted exhaustive research on a specific movement within Evangelical community. She has never claimed that these failures are true of all adoptions by Christian families. But that didn’t stop Jonathan Merritt, Russell Moore and others from accusing her of vilifying all Christian adoptive families. It’s nearly identical to the reactions faced by members of Homeschoolers Anonymous after the Daily Beast profiled their stories: homeschool families rushed to defend the movement from ‘vilification.’

      I’d understand it if evangelicals were a persecuted minority, but you’re not. Why is it so brutally hard for Evangelicals to acknowledge that in its current incarnation, Evangelical Christianity hurts people? The insularity of the movement protects abusers, and that’s why I referred to it as toxic in my reply to Marty. Why aren’t these passionate responses directed at Merritt for writing a badly researched screed about a book he hasn’t even read yet? Why aren’t adoptive families concerned that he, and Moore, don’t actively seek to represent the voices of adoptive children when they’re writing about adoption? These are sincere questions.

  8. Sarah, I guess that’s what I am saying. It seems you ARE implying that any adoption associated with the “movement” is toxic. Even the title of this post would imply that if I am evangelical, I am arrogant. And that’s what I am talking about. It’s the broad strokes that I am uncomfortable with.

    The Pearls are not indicative of the majority of evangelicals. Jonathan Merritt does not speak for me, and many others like me. And Russell Moore, whom I know personally and respect, still is not the voice of all evangelicals, even within his own denomination, whose churches are autonomous.

    I hope that you are correct in what you say regarding Joyce’s book. I will read it and form my opinions as soon as I can. I likewise commend your passion on the subject 🙂

    Sarah, I hear your sincere questions. And they resonate with me on a deep level. There has, unfortunately been too much hate spewed from some prominent voices who wear the label “evangelical.” We have been on the wrong side of many issues — imperialism, slavery, civil rights, racism … and even the treatment of particular individuals who question the status quo. Those things are indeed hurtful. And some evangelicals are indeed insular and protective of abuse. And yes, there is a terrible trend among LOTS of bloggers and pontificators of all breeds to attack a work without having studied it thoroughly. I get it. Evangelicalism as a political voting bloc, or special interest group is prone to corruption and harm, historically and presently. Evangelicalism as a theological or ecclesiological conviction, however, is not. Unfortunately the lines between the two have become so blurred that the label has been rendered practically useless, in my opinion. When people hear “evangelical” they think “conservative right wing politics” instead of a distinct set of theological or ecclesiological convictions. I for one, like you, have been hurt by this “current incarnation” of evangelicalism. The pain is real and the sting bites. I hear you. And I am sorry you have been hurt. Sincerely.

    But I am also hurt by the assumption that seems to be prevalent that adoptions among Christians are toxic. The benefit of the doubt is nowhere near present. Motives are instinctively called into question, it seems. An unnecessary burden of proof is on each individual family to prove or “defend” their family’s adoption. In order to do so, that means revealing specific parts of our children’s stories that are none of anyone’s business, unless abuse is evident. When we choose not to reveal these stories, the prevailing stereotype assumes that we must be hiding something. It’s a catch 22.

    In addition, there is very little rhetoric from your camp pointing out the positive instances of adoption among evangelicals, and there are many, if you will look for them. Please look for them. And affirm them when you see them. Maybe telling some of these stories in contrast to the abuse stories would increase your credibility and disarm those who feel defensive. Again, I would be happy to introduce you to some of these families. I am certain they would challenge the stereotype of “evangelical.”

    Which leads me to my larger point: Let’s stop the blanket accusations, on both sides. I apologize for those in my camp who have said hateful things, though I am certain they would say I do not speak for them. :/ None of us are as pure in motive as we would claim to be or as corrupt as we would be made out to be. Let’s address the instances of corruption and abuse specifically and celebrate the instances where there is health and thriving. Instances of both kinds exist in the Christian camp and the secular camp.

    Thanks for letting me share my opinions. I realize much of what I have written here sets me at odds with both sides, so this should be fun. 🙂 But, when the conversation stays civil and constructive, I believe it is helpful for everyone.

    • See, Jason, here’s the thing: why is it our job to portray positive stories about Evangelicals? You’d have a point if the only narrative available portrayed Evangelical adoption in a negative light, but that’s not the case. Joyce’s work pushes back against a dominant narrative. It’s telling to me that the bulk of Evangelical responses to her work haven’t been: “How have we failed to scrutinize our own movement?” but criticism for her decision to reveal abusive situations. Kathryn Joyce is a journalist. It’s her job to research an issue and present the facts. That’s exactly what she’s done. It’s not her problem, or mine, or anyone else’s if Evangelical Christians dislike her decision to reveal the dark underbelly of the movement. It exists. And we’re talking about it now because you and your peers have failed to do so.

      • Another broad generalization.

        I have not personally denied the ugly underbelly. I agree with you. It exists. And I have spent the last several years of my ministry talking about it. But you wouldn’t know that. You just lump me in with your stereotype. (The “you and your peers” statement is self-incriminating.) You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’ve said or done or written or preached or advocated for. And that’s the problem.

        My original point was and continues to be that the Pearls and others like them are not representative of the majority of evangelicals who adopt. And definitely not of my family or my peers. (The Merritts are not my peers. We have never met and I am not on his or Dr. Moore’s level of notoriety. You assume you know my peers. You do not. )

        But You’re right, I shouldn’t expect you or your peers 😉 to affirm an evangelical who is doing the right thing. I was simply responding to your “sincere” question about defensiveness. That possibly it is related to an offense-only approach, that fails to admit that there are instances where evangelicals have got it right. Problem is, it feels like you believe that isn’t possible. Evangelical always = corrupt.

        You’re entitled to yor opinion. So… address the Pearls. Address those who commit trafficking when you have evidence. Address abusers when you see it. By all means! Being it to our attention! I will and have addressed them, too. And I
        will join you in those times when you are correct, even though our underlying beliefs may be different. Hopefully more will join us in speaking out against those atrocities and they will stop.

        But all evangelicals are not perpetrators here. I’m an “evangelical” and I’m not a perpetrator. Your post made me feel like a perpetrator. If that’s my own problem, then so be it. It is still how I felt when i read your post. And I was just pointing out you might want to take a different angle. Some of us could actually be your allies if you would allow us.

        The underbelly of adoption exists writhin the entire adoption world, not just the evangelical component. Again blanket statements of shame are not helpful.

        I’ll let you have the last word since its your blog. 🙂

        My most sincere best wishes to you.

        (Please excuse typos. Sent from my phone.)

  9. I don’t have the gift of words, or education, but I have lived adoption my entire life. I have grave reservations over the movement simply because some use the “God called me to adopt” so he will ensure the adoption is ethical using words like “faith” and “trust”. That is where the danger comes in – when people do not take the time to study, research and learn about adoption and the pitfalls – before leaping, coupled with very poor countries with little to no infrastructure, that buckles under the onslaught of agencies rushing into the newest go-to country.

    Those who work in international adoption have failed to learn from the tragic mistakes already made as country after country – have closed due to corruption in-country. The price paid will be those adoptees who have to live their lives wondering “if” their adoption was ethical, and their families left behind.

    Then there are the recent tragic deaths of internationally adopted children, which should never have happened, and that isn’t even speaking to those who have been abused, or those rehomed. Hana Williams from Washington, Lydia Shatz from California both died horrible deaths. Both stories speak of Pearl and I believe another adopted child has as well. No child should die in their adopted home from abuse – ever. No child should ever be abused in their adopted home – ever. Yet it keeps happening and the red flags were there. Yet no one speaks to this and sweeps it under the carpet – no one demands better.

    Until the Christian Adoption Movement acknowledges and speaks out against poor practices, and about the major gaps in ethics that harm families, and tear other families apart – they are simply adding to the problem. They aren’t listening to those who urge caution – who have been their and done that and learned the hard way.

  10. Thx, Sarah, for your response.

    I doubt you know enough about me to know whether I am part of an adoption or homeschool “movement” or not. If you know how readily I eschew labels and tribes you’d laugh at the thought.

    I admit I was unaware of the problems within “Christian” adoption agencies and was appalled by the actions of the minority as described in the Mother Jones article. By broad brushing, though, Joyce has overextended her critique. All are not guilty; not even the majority. She has not even demonstrated a substantial minority are guilty. Perhaps the majority of adopters of Liberian children who frequented a particular board know by readers of Above Rubies are guilty, but she did not prove they are the majority.

    We homeschool because it was the best choice for us and our kids, not because the Bible commands it, our friends were doing it, or it was trendy. In other words, if there was a “movement” we were not driving it. It hardly seems realistic to expect people to be aware of things not happening around them, nor with people they know. That’s like blaming all pro-choice people for Kermit Gosnell.

    Most families I know have been moved to adoption and orphan care because of the same love for Christ that led Christians to first build hospitals, clinics and orphanages. Should Christians work within the law? Absolutely. Should they do all they can to ensure their desired child is an actual orphan? Without a doubt. Should faithful adopters have to endure castigation because of the abuses of some? No. And, though Joyce’s book may not do as much, her article comes too close.

    If you know Kathryn personally and think she would want me to review her new book on my blog send/show her this link: http://www.martyduren.com/contact/

    Thanks for your exchanges, but that’s all for me. All God’s best to you.

    • So let me get this straight. You haven’t read Joyce’s book, and you admit you haven’t read her book–in fact you’d love to review it! But you’re still going to go ahead and accuse her of ‘broad-brushing’ Evangelicals even though you have no idea, yet, what her conclusions are.

      Instead, you’re going to support Jonathan Merritt, who, during the past 24 hours has consistently demeaned and patronized several female journalists (including Joyce herself), made several racially insensitive remarks, and then topped this off with an extra dose of ableism when he referred to the Pearls as ‘crazy coocoos.’

      This is why people like me believe your movement is toxic.

      Joyce’s article rightly condemned families who adopt children in order to ‘save’ them from being raised in non-Christian cultures. And your defensiveness indicates to me that you don’t really see this phenomenon as a problem.

  11. Jason, where have you written about it? Are you pushing back against Merritt for his badly researched piece? Are you supporting Joyce? Because right now, it looks like you’re just lashing out at secular journalists. I have never said that Evangelicals, as individuals, are intrinsically corrupt. I do believe the Evangelical movement itself is corrupt, because it by nature separates itself from the mainstream, behaves as if it has access to a special morality inaccessible to the rest of us, and therefore does not police itself adequately. That’s why abuse is so rampant in the movement now. Your ire should be directed at abusers, not at the people demanding transparency about abuse.

  12. Let’s be clear: It doesn’t matter how many “orphans” there are. It doesn’t matter if every Christian on the planet adopts 10 of them. What does matter is the selective nature of such adoption, and how closely this maps onto not just colonialist but Orientalist, Islamophobic, racist, and most importantly classist views that are derived from Anglo-Saxon society, its notion of nuclear family, supreme individuality, and lack of society (quoting Margaret Thatcher).

    I am an adoptee who has returned to his birthplace, and I am now witness to what “aid” means when it comes from those who, as Jean Bricmont calls it, have exchanged their colonialist ways for the much more simple Humanitarian Imperialism. I have lived through wars funded and supplied from afar in the name of “democracy”. I live among those who get by, day to day, with no sense of a future thanks to the IMF, the World Bank, and foreign interference in this place. These same evangelicals do not shed a tear for the millions of children that have died due to the very wars and economic incursions of their countries’ foreign policies, but we are supposed to believe that the water pouring forth from the crocodiles’ eyes are honestly derived?

    The history of adoption has nothing to do with family creation before the rise of American empire after World War II. Before that, it reflected very particularly Calvinist notions concerning the poor and the downtrodden. When this same Calvinism begets a Capitalism that is in and of itself laying waste to much of the planet, do we really, truly, want to hear from the pyromaniac firefighters who “come to the rescue” only to “save” one or two children in an effort to in fact save their own souls? How selfish. How ultimately un-Christ-like.

  13. I am an adoptive parent–a kinship adoption from foster care. I grew up in the Church, attended a Christian college and now teach at a Christian college, and I applaud Daniel and TAO for speaking up, and hope that Marty and Jason will read their comments and give them respectful attention. For those Christian adoptive parents who believe Joyce paints with too broad a brush, I would urge you to read David Smolin’s work–he’s a Christian adoptive parent and law professor at Samford University (a strongly faith-based university afiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention) who has uncovered a great deal of “child laundering” in international adoption of all kinds, and of which many adoptive parents are unaware–wanting to believe the stories about the children that the agencies tell and not wanting to examine the pressure that their own dollars put on the system which virtually ensure that child trafficking happens. Additionally, Smolin written an excellent discussion of the utter lack of any biblical basis for adoption, as currently practiced (esp. the cutting off of children from their birth families, which has absolutely no biblical precedent), in either the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Bible. http://works.bepress.com/david_smolin/.

    • Thanks so much for your perspective. And thanks, too, for introducing me to Smolin’s work. It’s been really beneficial to read other Christian contributions to the adoption debate. My quibble is less with adoption itself, and more with the implications of transnational/transracial adoptions, especially within a religious context. The theological scholarship on this is so incredibly important.

      I’d like to think that Jonathan Merrit et al will take the time to educate themselves a bit (ok, a lot) more about adoption, but they seem so entrenched in their positions I wonder how likely it is.

    • Thanks, Lori. I am familiar with Dr. Smolin. He offers some useful perspectives indeed.

      I also do acknowledge Daniel and TAO’s stories and regret to hear their experience was so hurtful. Again, abuse is wrong in any circumstance. We do need to do a better job of listening and addressing the issues and validating those who have been hurt.

      I started reading Kathryn Joyce’s book yesterday. I have also interacted with her personally over the past couple of days and have found her to be very graceful. Though I don’t hold many of her presuppositions, we do need to listen to what she is saying and engage her conclusions with respect and civility. She makes many compelling points. I am looking forward to finishing the book.

      I don’t wish to engage in any further “debate” on this forum until I finish the book. I think we have all stated our perspectives clearly. You did mention, Sarah, the need for more theological study on the topic of adoptin. Here are a couple of resources I have found helpful:

      At the bottom of this page linked below is a slew of links to writings (some historical, some contemporary) on the theology of adoption. There are a wide range of evangelical views represented (from Calvin to Spurgeon to Packer and, yes Russell Moore.) I do not agree with them all. Some are too simplistic. Some are helpful. It’s a varied and incomplete collection. But it’s a start if you’d like to understand more of the evangelical thought. If you think you already know enough, feel free to ignore it. 😉

      Additionally, here is a recent article by Matt Capps on the history of adoption in the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s an interesting read, regardless of your theological persuasion. Kathryn Joyce even commented on its uniqueness yesterday on twitter.

      I’ve enjoyed the dialogue. Thanks for allowing me to voice my divergent opinion. I wish you all well.

      • What a surprise. You linked to nothing but a series of extremely conservative white men on the topic of adoption.

        I grew up in conservative Evangelicalism, Jason. I attended an Evangelical school. I don’t need to be educated on evangelical thought and it’s extremely arrogant of you to assume that I haven’t actually read the authors you’ve mentioned. *None* of them address the imperialism inherent in transnational/transracial adoption. All you’ve done is contribute to the total erasure of marginalized voices in this debate, both here and on Twitter, and frankly, I’m over it. I don’t believe you’re posting in good faith and I’m tired of being confronted with your wilful refusal to acknowledge the systemic failures of your movement. Do not post here again unless you’re willing to do so.

  14. Let’s please note Jason’s condescending and presumptuous reply, implying that my experience was “hurtful” and that I was “abused” and therefore I am an outlying case, marginal, and thus not to be heard. No one is more supportive of me than my adoptive family, just to clarify where I am coming from. What a filthy disgusting tactic this is, and I would like an apology from him.

    What his comment reveals is a projection of culturally based solipsism and self-centeredness that many of us who have returned have let go of. This is what the evangelists who are rabidly pro-adoption cannot fathom. That I don’t consider my story to be important in this at all. That I have given up most everything in my life to try and bring some kind of justice to the notion of taking care of the most vulnerable members of society moving forward.

    I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Smolin at the Adoption Initatives Conference at St. John’s University in New York where I was also presenting. My paper focused on the flip side of Dr. Smolin’s work concerning mistaken understandings of the Bible within the evangelical adoption realm. For me this has evolved into a particular type of Islamophobia which attempts to condemn Muslim-majority countries for their “backwards” regard concerning “orphans”.

    What I have researched expands into linguistics and the history of adoption, and I would like to make it clear that as an adoptee, I admit readily to hoping to find some glimmer of humanity in the practice of adoption. For my own psychological peace of mind I have open-mindedly attempted to uncover something redeeming (to use a loaded term) within the industry of adoption. It is not there.

    To greatly summarize, if we imagine that the Aramaic oral tradition of the proto-written Bible and the Arabic language of the time share linguistic and therefore cultural roots, it is very telling that there are two terms in the Qur’an that are translated into English as “adoption”. One of them is negative, might be better translated as “taken in (as a servant)”, and implies indentured servitude, which is the true historical predecessor of adoption as we know it today.

    The other is much more expansive, yet doesn’t mean “adoption” in the Anglo-Saxon notion of the term. It implies being “recognized as an extension of” someone or something, like a town recognizes a townsperson, or how a group claims one of its own. It is expansive and communal, and in no way implies loss of name, identity, language, culture, history, or genealogy.

    To project backward, historically speaking, and out of context assume that the cultures that were the bases for all of the Books we esteem as the the underpinnings of the major monotheistic religions of the world considered “adoption” in the way it is practiced today is an act of historical destruction and revisionism. This is to be expected from the current economic and political currents which do this for very particular reasons. Those who abide by this are collaborators in this destruction, and we can view their words as targeted weapons.

    Those who resist are growing in number, and will have the final word on the subject.

    More on the subject:

    • Daniel, your comments are fantastic. Thank you so much! I agree that Jason owes you an apology, though I doubt his arrogance would bend long enough for him to admit it. For the most part, I agree with your analysis of transnational and transracial adoptions, particularly those that occur in the Evangelical context.

      I haven’t read Kathryn Joyce’s book yet, so it’s entirely possible that she makes the following distinction. But I think it’s possible to draw a distinction between the Christian adoption movement, and individual families that adopt. The adoption movement is focused almost entirely on international adoptions and is tied too closely to missions for it to really behave in the best interests of adopted children. I think it’s possible for domestic adoption, on an individual basis, to be beneficial. But the ghost of colonialism is going to be ever present in Western adoptions of non-Western children.

      • Daniel, I apologize for offending you. I admit I was more focused on Sarah’s comments than yours and mistakenly assumed you had experienced some abuse. Sorry for any harm caused. Please accept my sincere apology. I understand how it feels to be misrepresented.

        I have been asked by the owner of the blog not to comment any further and will respect her wishes.

  15. I think your comments are disingenuous. Why don’t you just admit that you really don’t care what adoptive parents teach their children as long as they don’t “indoctrinate ” them about Christianity? What a crock. You are in good company. The devil (yes, he does exist) is opposed to Christians adopting children too.

  16. Thanks for the nice words; I appreciate them very much. As much as I would like to think that adoptive parents have agency outside of their societal and cultural role as defined by their economic status, I think it becomes clear that the conflation of adoption as a means of creating family occurred with the rise of American empire at the end of World War II. As such, adoption can be seen to be a functional bargain with the nation-state now empire, in which local climbing of the class ladder also performs an action of foreign policy, namely, the destruction of future foreign generations. This is what empires do; this is what subjects of empires do. I’ve written more about this at the below link, and cite references to those who’ve also made this connection. Adoption does not occur in a vacuum. It is aided and abetted for very particular reasons.


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