Is the Left Launching an Attack on Evangelical Adoption?

Thanks to the publication of Kathryn Joyce’s new book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption (excerpted here in Mother Jones, and Ms. Joyce is interviewed here at NPR), there’s been an online wave of criticism/examination of Evangelicals’ so-called orphan fever. To some, conservative Christians are incentivizing child-trafficking, engaging in a form of cultural imperialism by yanking children from their native cultures and evangelizing them into Christianity, soothing pro-life conscienses wounded by lack of concern for babies after they’re born, and trying to engage in charity without adjusting underlying world views about social justice and the need for systemic change.

Before I go any further, let me be clear about my biases: I’m the adoptive father of a beautiful girl from one of the countries highlighted in the NPR interview, Ethiopia. My sister has adopted a special-needs child from China, and our church is full of adoptive families, mostly with international adoptions. Many of these kids also have special needs. In short, adoption has been a great blessing in my family’s life, and in the life of our church.

I have two reactions to the criticisms outlined above. The first, more emotional response, is to reaffirm something I’ve said before: To many on the left, if you are conservative then there is nothing you can do that is virtuous. Even the good that you do will be dismissed as cynical or destructive.  The idea that my friends and family, who love their adopted children more than they love their own lives, have “orphan fever” is disgusting. Given that much of this criticism comes from unapologetic advocates for abortion-on-demand, I’m reminded of the words of Isaiah: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”

But my second response must be less emotional — because the critics do have a limited point. It is simply a fact that there have been abuses within international adoptions. There has been child trafficking. There have been lies told to adoptive parents. And there are actual horror stories — not widespread, but horrifying nonetheless (perhaps the most famous recent incident was of the Tennessee mom who inexcusably and reprehensibly sent her seven-year-old child back to Russia, alone).

I don’t know of a single adoptive parent or informed observer who doesn’t unequivocally condemn child trafficking, and I don’t know a single reputable adoption agency that tolerates the practice. In fact, the better Christian agencies actually prioritize family reunification (see this Jonathan Merritt response where he details how one agency, Bethany Christians Services, attempts to reconnect families and facilitate domestic adoption or foster care before considering international adoption). The Christian families I know have all been painstakingly thorough during the adoption process, and every family who undertakes adoption should be prepared to scrutinize every syllable of every scrap of paper you receive. Examine your documents just as you would the ultrasound of your unborn biological child.

International adoption is often crushingly expensive — costing tens of thousands of dollars when all costs are added together — and well out of reach for many middle-class families. Churches help, families hold fundraisers, but the desire to save money to make the adoption happen can lead families to agencies that charge less and cut corners. Shortly after our wonderful adoption experience through an agency that helped pioneer international adoption, Holt International, I talked to a different family that adopted from Ethiopia using a different agency, and their experience was distinctly different. They went with a newer agency, paid thousands less, and arrived in Addis Ababa to find their child living in terrible squalor in an “orphanage” their money was allegedly helping support. The paperwork was in utter disarray, and the baby was extremely sick. Not even the best agencies can always manage everything perfectly, but their experience was beyond the pale.

The simple lesson: Never, ever cut corners. Never. Cut. Corners. I can’t emphasize that enough.

I have much less patience for the other criticisms, which are grounded far more in far-left ideology than any kind of real-world experience. When international adoption is done correctly (and it typically is), kids are not taken out of some kind of Epcot Center of rich native culture only to land in America’s banal consumerism – their ”culture” is one of the most extreme poverty and often desperate illness and disability. Their “culture” is the culture of starvation, of rags, of disease, and of abandonment. To the person who condemns my “orphan fever,” I’d ask them what they would have done to save the life of my child, of my niece. Nothing. Of course, it’s always nothing. Sure, they might tweet for social justice or maybe even toss a few pennies at UNICEF, but that would have no impact on the very real crisis that is happening right now, to very real people. Had my agency not had a presence in Ethiopia, I shudder to think what would have happened to our Naomi.

At any rate, these critics get it dead wrong: The Christian community at large isn’t just trying to adopt individuals (we certainly know that it makes very little difference to large-scale poverty); we are also the foremost supporters of the large-scale relief agencies such as World Vision, Compassion International, and others. For the Christian community, it’s both/and, not either/or. We try to impact individuals and nations. The suggestion that Christians care only for unborn kids is pure slander, and it’s always been pure slander — even before the advent of international adoption.

As for the criticism that we adopt to evangelize — well, let me put it this way: I cannot imagine hating my own child so much that I wouldn’t introduce her to Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. When we adopt, our hearts our bound to that child just as it is to our biological children. Sharing our faith with our children, training them up in the way they should go (to paraphrase Proverbs), is every bit a part of parenting as food and shelter. It is the essence of our love for them. So, yes, we evangelize our children. But guess what? So does the radical Left. In fact, they indoctrinate their kids into their world view as thoroughly and often intolerantly as the most fire-breathing fundamentalist. So if they want to decry “evangelization,” then physician, heal thyself.

Finally, I’ve often heard it asked: Why not adopt domestically? Why go overseas? Aren’t there thousands and thousands of unwanted older kids here at home? We looked at domestic adoption first and decided to go overseas for two reasons. First, we didn’t want to stand alongside childless couples in the same very long line for a newborn baby. It didn’t seem right when we already had children. Second, when discussing adopting an older child, you’re often talking about entering a foster-adopt system that is sometimes terrifyingly broken. Simply put, we weren’t prepared for the challenges of the foster-adopt system. God bless those families that are.

And, by the way, there are Christian families who are leading the way in foster-parenting and foster adoption. But acknowledging that fact might require some leftists to give grudging appreciation to the likes of Michele Bachmann and Focus on the Family. And that, they’ll never do. Instead, I eagerly await Mother Jones’ next hit piece, entitled “Foster Fever.”

This article first appeared here on National Review, where it’s generated a lot of conversation.

Follow David on Facebook and Twitter, and read more of the French Revolution blog.

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  • Sandra Whitehead

    You still seem to be choosing to ignore whatever percentage of evangelicals who are involved in the negative practices described by Kathryn Joyce. The best way to defend against it is to join her in condemning the few culprits who do commit these evil deeds, and have the ‘good guys’ in the business help to put the ‘bad guys’ (both evangelicals and others) out of business. In fact, one would think it would be a moral imperative for evangelicals who are in the international adoption industry, especially in the same geographic areas where these horrific people operate, to call them out, publicize it, make it a ’cause,’ get public sentiment and dollars behind a campaign to shut them down. It could only help the reputations of the ‘good guys;’ and future adoptive parents, as well as the children, could avoid the tragedies some have experienced. Believe it or not, even a non-evangelical like myself would be willing to help with that.

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  • Nancy French


    Did you see the part in his article where he says he “unequivocally condemns” the terrible practices? He doesn’t ignore it, he addresses it head on. He also links to other Christians who write about it extensively, and details the great lengths to which the agencies go to be above reproach… The fact that there are outliers does not make her book true, good, or even valuable, and I think David does a good job explaining not only the condemnation but also the efforts to do good… well.

  • numenian

    First, I truly admire your adopting a child from overseas; a beautiful act. Second, I commend all those agencies that seek responsibly to find caring home for those children like your daughter, Naomi. Third, I truly have a problem with what seems like your hatred for the Left. I have found this in a number of your blogs. It appears you come from the position that “conservatives” (how you bothered to describe yourself here) are the good and just while “liberals” (“the lefties)” are evil and corrupt. To me, this taints all that you write. I do not hear the voice of Jesus but rather the Republican party. Is it really nessary to throw in an indictment of the Left when the problem is what seems like an honest beef with a particular person, whatever the political persuasion?

    If you do not like “the online wave of criticism” do your Christian duty and pray for them: do you really think going after their character is helpful? (And why do you care a wit about what these people say, if you have such a low opinion of them to begin with?) Right after this you make it sound as if only “conservative Christians” are giving their hearts and homes to these orphans: a “liberal Christian” would never dream of such a thing? Or is “liberal” and “Christian” together an oxymoron, or worse, to you?

    This politicizing of faith sickens and saddens me, and it has grown more vehement and divisive over the last four years. Truth is not political; to make it so betrays the message of Christ. Put hot coals on their heads instead and show them divine love. Your constant criticism and defaming of the Left is a worldly practice. It dishonors oour Lord.

  • Mo

    Your first reaction was the correct one: “To many on the left, if you are conservative then there is nothing you can do that is virtuous. Even the good that you do will be dismissed as cynical or destructive. ”

    But I think you are mistaken in saying this is simply an emotional reaction on your point. It’s not. It is a legitimate response based on evidence. It is demonstrable fact that Leftists loathe Christianity and Christians. As you’ve said and even experienced, nothing we do will ever be enough. Even when we do the good things that they chastise us for not doing, it’s dismissed as being for wrong motives or whatever. How many times have we heard from the pro-abortion side: “What are YOU doing to help those babies?” Then when people like you choose to adopt, they complain about that!

    The fact is that Leftists hate us because they hate Christ. The Leftist worldview is directly opposed to the Christian worldview. The very fact that a Christian family would dare to adopt a child and then – horror of horrors! – teach that child about Christ and the Bible is a nightmare to them. They would rather that child die in poverty and sickness in their native country rather than being given to a Christian family. They may screech that this is not so, but their words and actions prove otherwise.

    As to the rest of your comments, any abuses that have happened are not the fault of the Christian parents who are doing the adoptions. We know that the Bible neither commands nor condones child trafficking or any of the other ugly things that have happened. I don’t think it helps much to go into it in this apologetic manner. Remember, in the eyes of Leftists acknowledging these types of shortcomings and abuses within the adoption process – even if explicitly putting the blame on the guilty parties – equals accepting the blame for it. It’s just another way to cast blame and make Christians feel guilty for things that are not even within their control, much less their fault. Don’t fall for it!

    Don’t let the Leftists get you down. (Or self-professing Christians who side with them!) Remember that theirs is the spirit of the world. Nothing you do or say will make them think any better of you, your adopted kids, your family or any good deeds you may do.

    All the best to you and your family! Your daughter is blessed to have been given a home where she will learn about Christ.

  • Mo

    @ numenian:

    Oh, please. What’s worldly and sickening and dishonoring to Christ is when people like you actually defend the Left for their views, practices and policies when it’s been demonstrated again and again that those views, practices and policies are diametrically opposed to all that Scripture teaches.

    Shall we name them? Abortion, homosexuality, same-sex “marriage”, illegal immigration and the endless attacks described by the author of this piece when Christians do things like adopt children, even when it’s the Left that constantly throws in the, “Why don’t you adopt a child!” line whenever we speak out against abortion – all these things championed by the Left and all are directly opposed to the teachings of Scripture.

    But you have the nerve to not only self-righteously defend them, but to claim you are doing so in the name of Christ? Now THAT is worldly, sickening and dishonoring to Christ.

  • Pam

    Hi, I’m a ‘leftist’ and a Christian. You and the original post do exactly the thing you criticise: you demonise your political ‘opponents’ with a very broad and inaccurate brush.

    As for your line that leftists ‘would rather that child die in poverty and sickness in their native country rather than being given to a Christian family’, well that’s just a reprehensible lie.

    You’re trying to claim moral high ground in this comment, but you come off incredibly arrogant and, quite frankly, unchristlike.

  • Pam

    There is no love of Christ in your comment. None. You are a Pharisee.

  • Corey

    I wonder why so many Christians in congress want to cut benefits for children once they leave the womb?

  • Peter

    The problem with this piece, like so many of David’s articles, is that he goes about knocking down a straw man that doesn’t exist: The homogenous borg like left. It is his villain in virtually every piece he writes, and it is conceptually baloney. It is ironic that David rails here against those that are using straw man arguments against Evangelicals that adopt by using his own straw man arguments against “the left”.

    I am a somewhat liberal, more accurately, pretty moderate, Christian. My wife and I adopted a little girl from China almost 11 years ago, and she is treasured. It was the most wonderful moment in our lives when we finally were able to hold and cherish her. I, for one, would never criticize anyone for adopting. It is a wonderful thing and I wish that all the children that are without families could have them.

    David, stop looking to feed red liberal meat to you audience, and try to make a point without targeting bogeymen.

  • Denver Native

    Why do these blind soppy race traitors have to adopt other races? Some sick sense of white guilt? Adopt a white child; there are millions of them in the world that need help! What’s wrong with you!

  • Fun Loving Nihilist

    Good! The US didn’t have enough retarded, AIDS infested, Pavement Apes. Let’s import some more.

  • Rozy

    I thought we all were of the HUMAN race. We have different colored skin, big deal, we are all the same underneath.