(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.