Story envy, courtesy of the New York Times

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I’ll just come out and say it: I wish I had written this story.

Well done, New York Times, from the headline to the ending. Readers, pour yourself a glass of milk, grab a chocolate-chip cookie (trust me, it’s vital to the enjoyment and proper digestion of this piece) and prepare to be satisfied in a way few first-person stories on Christian adoption are able to please.

Back? OK, good. Let’s review good journalism, the craft of complete storytelling and the art of making a long story seem short.

Misty and her husband, Jon, arrived at a house near Denver one day several years ago to pick up the two boys who would become their sons. A dirt yard led to a screen door dangling from its hinges. Inside, grime coated the linoleum steps to the living room, where a kind, if overwhelmed, single foster mother introduced Misty and Jon to Shon, 2 ½ years old, and his 9-month-old brother, Cory. She gave the couple a tiny suitcase with a broken zipper, a few borrowed clothes — some too big, others too small — and a piece of advice: Don’t touch Shon’s head or lift your hands near him. He will cower. Then she handed Jon a huge bag of frozen fish sticks. The kids love them, she said.

In weaving together a story on adoption through foster care, practicality demands that children be the centerpiece. Sensitivity, however, insists on delicacy. The balance is struck in the details, which are so rich and varied that I feel as though I’m walking with the four benevolent parents featured through the peaks and valleys of their journey to fulfill a calling from God.

Yes, the Times says it: A calling from God. And they back it up:

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We’ve found the next enemy: adoptive families

When my husband and I began the adoption process, we had no idea how controversial it would become. There are many stories being written these days harshly critiquing Christians who adopt children.

Before we look at one of those stories, a quick aside. When we went through adoption training a few weeks ago, one of our instructors suggested that we not watch any Lifetime moves during the process. Why? Well, here’s a synopsis of a Lifetime channel offering from last year, titled Adopting Terror (subtle!):

Tim and Cheryl Broadbent are excited to finally adopt Mona, a beautiful baby girl. But when the baby’s biological father starts stalking them, their world turns upside down: through intimidation, manipulation, and violence, he is determined to take his daughter back.

I think our adoption trainers should also suggest not reading the comments on New York Times articles about adoption. Seriously, they’re awful!

What set off the recent adoption-critical trend was Kathryn Joyce’s book “The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption” and concurrent Mother Jones article headlined (also subtly) “Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement’s Adoption Obsession.”

Like Lifetime screenwriters, Joyce focuses on the negatives about adoption. Which, of course, has a place.

Now that we’ve been navigating this process for a few years, we are much more aware of just how incredibly difficult adoption is. (We’re in the domestic program, but we’ve gotten to know people who adopt internationally as well.) Sometimes the stories about all the things that can go wrong (from all directions) consume me. When trying to help take care of children whose birth families are unable to do so, lots of problems can arise. The very existence of adoptive families also creates incentives for corruption. And the desire of adoptive families for children can lead to pressures and shortcuts. But in the same way that Lifetime movies aren’t a reflection of the vast majority of adoption stories, Joyce has been criticized (see below) for focusing on a few dramatic examples of problems at the expense of the larger story.

Anyway, it’s in this context that this New York Times article “Eager to Adopt, Evangelicals Find Perils Abroad” was published. In a tweet just after his story ran, the author of the Times piece wrote of Joyce’s writing on the matter “Good summary of the issues from @kathrynajoyce: The Problem With the Christian Adoption Movement”

I actually was notified of the story because another reporter didn’t like the tweet announcing this particular story. Note the scare quotes:

My take on Christian “orphan” movement: Eager to Adopt, Evangelicals Find Perils Abroad

I tried to put the best construction on the scare quotes, noting that a minor part of the story is how sometimes the corruption of international adoptions includes questions as to whether the children being adopted are actually orphans (You might remember some discussion about whether the infant Madonna adopted from a Malawi orphanage was actually an orphan, etc., etc.). But I agree that the scare quotes are unnecessary and unhelpful.

The article begins with the story of a Montana family with eight children, four adopted. We learn a little bit about their Christian motivation (e.g. “inspired by compassion and a biblical mandate to aid “widows and orphans”) and we’re told:

She and her husband, and the Journey Church where he is lead pastor, are part of a fast-growing evangelical Christian movement that promotes adoption as a religious and moral calling. Its supporters say a surge in adoptions by Christians has offered hope and middle-class lives to thousands of parentless or abandoned children from abroad and, increasingly, to foster children in the United States as well. Hundreds of churches have established “orphan ministries” that send aid abroad and help prospective parents raise the tens of thousands of dollars needed to adopt.

In order to describe the movement as “fast-growing” and “evangelical,” we need some numbers and religion data, right? Well, later we learn:

The presence of evangelical Christians is especially evident in international adoptions, which have declined over all as more countries restrict or ban them because of scandals or politics. In 2012, some 8,668 adoptees entered the United States, down from a peak of 22,991 in 2004.

Though no one collects data on the religions of adopting parents, couples encouraged by the new Christian movement account for “a significant and growing minority of international adoptions,” in the words of Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a research group.

So by “fast-growing” we mean that the number of adoptees entering the U.S. have plummeted in the last eight years? How is that “growing” much less “fast-growing”? And we have no data on the religions of adopting parents, period. OK, then! How, exactly, is the “presence of evangelical Christians … especially evident”? I am asking as I have no idea what the answer is.

And I’m not entirely sure we’ve got a good handle on Christians adopting domestically vs. internationally. Many agencies offer both programs — and they are dramatically different programs — and many churches offer support for both international and domestic adoption … and other care programs such as foster or interim care. How do we know precisely how many evangelicals (as opposed to Catholics or Lutherans or what not) are involved in which programs?

But let’s get back to the Lifetime movie script story:

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Way to go, Joe! Colorado civil-unions story hits the mark

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that Joe Hight, the relatively new editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, is a longtime friend and mentor of mine.

Twenty years ago, Joe hired me to work at The Oklahoman, then a statewide newspaper with a Sunday circulation of about 350,000. During my nine years with the Oklahoma City newspaper, Joe provided regular guidance and encouragement as an eager young reporter — sometimes too combustible and other times too naive about newsroom politics — gained valuable real-world experience.

Together, we and other Oklahoman reporters and editors tackled two of the biggest stories of our careers: the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing and the May 3, 1999, Oklahoma tornadoes.

While in Colorado Springs on a reporting assignment in January, I enjoyed catching up with Joe over dinner. He took me on a tour of the Gazette newsroom and excitedly showed off his new digs. As we talked, he discussed his desire to see the Colorado Springs newspaper focus on fair, aggressive news coverage. In an era when so many mainstream media outlets seem inclined to take sides, I offered my hearty endorsement of that approach.

All of the above serves as a prelude to my critique of a front-page report in today’s Gazette. I have no idea whether Joe had any direct involvement in the story or the approach taken. But the report on Catholic Charities’ concerns about a proposed civil-unions law in Colorado exemplifies the kind of old-fashioned, straight-news reporting that characterizes the best daily journalism. (I have written about the religious exemptions issue for Christianity Today.)

Let’s start at the top of the Gazette story:

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The ghost of abortion in adoption stories

Like many Americans, I’ve been developing an interest in Colin Kaepernick, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. I came across a blog post that asserted something provocative:

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick should not be playing in the National Football Conference title game on Sunday.  In fact, if anyone were taking book on these sorts of things back in 1987, they would have bet that a “Colin Kaepernick” would never have existed at all.

In the early part of that year, Kaepernick’s birth mother made a culture-defying decision.  She chose not to have an abortion.  Instead, she hung in there through the pregnancy and birth and gave up her baby for adoption.

Now that my husband and I are trying to adopt, we spend a lot of time thinking about the birth mother of a prospective child and what she must be going through. One of the things you learn when you are aiming to adopt an infant from this country is, to put it bluntly, there aren’t that many infants available for adoption. The process to adopt one is unbelievably cumbersome and expensive. Much more than it should be, in my opinion.

In any case, now read this story about adoptions plummeting as Russia closes its doors, printed in USA Today. It begins:

Russia’s decision to close its doors to U.S. adoptions is making a critical shortage of children Americans can adopt even worse.

Later we’re told:

Yet even domestic adoptions are a growing challenge, said Jenny Pope of Buckner International, an adoption agency, because as single parenthood becomes more acceptable, “there are just not as many women placing their children for adoption.”

As a result, the number of U.S. infant adoptions (about 90,000 in 1971) has fallen from 22,291 in 2002 to 18,078 in 2007, according to the most recent five-year tally from the private National Council for Adoption. The group’s president, Chuck Johnson, expects the number has remained fairly stable since 2007, citing efforts to promote adoption.

We frequently look at how bias affects the words and themes that are mentioned in a news story. But it has more deleterious effects with what is left out. Forty years and 55 million pregnancies “terminated” after Roe v. Wade, we don’t even mention the effect of abortion in a story on infant adoption in the United States. Just fascinating.

Baby picture via Shutterstock.

Muslims believe in adoption, or do they?

The Dallas Morning News ran a tame little feature recently on efforts to recruit Muslim foster families in North Texas.

By “tame little feature,” I mean a relatively shallow report that scratches at the surface of key questions.

I’m a Morning News subscriber, so I was able to read the entire story (for non-subscribers, it’s mostly behind a pay wall).

The opening itself proves confusing (boldface emphasis mine):

A lack of Muslim foster parents in North Texas means local Muslim children are almost always placed with families of other faiths, putting them in an unfamiliar cultural and religious environment and making a difficult process even harder.

A Richland Hills clinic doesn’t want foster children to face added stresses, like being served bacon when their religion forbids pork, or saying prayers in a bedroom with a cross on the wall. That’s why the Muslim Community Center for Human Services is offering up a challenge to local Muslims: Step up. Become a foster parent.

“It’s a service to humanity,” said Dr. Basheer Ahmed, who founded the clinic. “There’s definitely a bad need in the community.”

About 6,000 North Texas children are in foster care each year, according to Child Protective Services. In recent years, local community leaders say, there have been a handful of times when a Muslim foster home was needed but not available, including twice in the past few months.

Is it just me or does the information in the first paragraph and the fourth paragraph seem to conflict? Are Muslim foster parents almost always unavailable (first paragraph) or occasionally unavailable (fourth paragraph)? It’s been a long week, kind GetReligion readers, so please help me understand what I’m missing!

My other question: Is there a holy ghost in this story? Could it be that Muslim beliefs on adoption are at play here? Mollie posted in 2010 on “Why Muslims don’t adopt?” (If you’re not familiar with Muslim beliefs on adoption, that link is extremely helpful.)

So does the Morning News address the religion angle (as it relates to Muslim beliefs)? Sort of:

Though Islam requires adults to be honest with children about their family lineage, the religion endorses fostering and adoption, said Imam Zia Sheikh of the Islamic Center of Irving.

“Looking after orphans and taking care of them is actually encouraged in Islam,” he said

If you didn’t click the previous link already, go ahead and do it now. Now that you’re up to speed, here’s a question: Is it accurate to say that Islam encourages adoption? Or is the subject perhaps a bit more complicated than the two paragraphs blockquoted above?

Beyond my specific questions related to Muslims, I wish the Dallas story had provided more context on how Child Protective Services handles religion in general. For example, how hard does CPS try to find a Southern Baptist home for a Southern Baptist kid? And what does the law say about making child placements based on religion?

Image via Shutterstock

Washington Post finds ghost in Russian adoption ban

Now that my husband and I hope to bring more children into our family through adoption, we’ve entered into a complex and incredibly bureaucratic and confusing world. We’ve made new friends, too, who have helped us through the process. Some of them have adopted internationally. In fact, most of the other adoptive families we’ve met have adopted internationally.

Some of our friends were in the middle of difficult Russian adoptions when the Russian government shut down adoptions from Americans. I can’t possibly convey how difficult and heartbreaking this has been for some folks who have spent a great deal of time and money pursuing the growth of their families through Russian adoption.

The story received a bit of coverage, but is there a religion angle? The Washington Post thought so, as you can read in this terribly interesting piece headlined “Russian adoption ban will hit disabled children, evangelical Christian families.” Here’s the lede:

In the “before” photos a pro-adoption protester carried outside the Russian Parliament last week, little Anton Delgado looks bloody, bruised and listless — baby steps away from death.

In the photos from after his adoption, his face fills out, his bandages off. Twenty-three-month-old Anton sits propped up on a couch with his adopted parents and siblings in Texas, thanks — his adoptive mother, Vanessa, says — to the grace of God.

“I prayed for God to tell me the right time to adopt,” said Vanessa Delgado, who met her husband, Jason, at church and regularly quotes Scriptures in her blog posts. “Then I saw a picture of Anton on Facebook, and I knew, ‘That’s my son.’”

Russia’s ban on U.S. adoptions brokered heartbreak for many would-be parents and their adoptive children last week. But the law may hit one community especially hard: evangelical Christians, who in the past five years have begun adopting in droves.

The article goes on to state in the next line that “Adoption statistics are not broken down by faith, but agencies have seen a strong uptick in adoptions from impoverished countries since mega-preachers such as Rick Warren took up adoption as a religious issue five years ago, said Susan Cox, vice president of public policy for Holt International, one of the world’s largest international adoption agencies.”

I have definitely heard the same thing — but I’m wishing we had any hard data to support the idea that “evangelical Christians … “have begun adopting in droves.” Are we sure that this is a recent phenomenon? What do studies tell us precisely, if anything?

We learn that “a number” of adoption ministries have emerged in recent years, including some focused on children with special needs. We’re told that “the movement” reached a head in 2010 and that it’s driven, in part, by Rick Warren’s push to focus on adoption. Christianity Today (to which many of us here GetReligion contribute) has highlighted the issue on its cover.

Given the lack of hard data on adoption breakdowns by religious affiliation, I like the effort to substantiate. I just still wonder what the numbers are.

The story gets back to the Delgados. We learn about Anton’s rare skin condition, his abandonment by his biological parents, and how the Delgados came to adopt him. Apparently the Delgados loss of their special needs twins in 2008 motivated them to adopt. One thing I liked about the story was the inclusion of this quote, which accurately represents the general Christian approach to adoption — something that is not universally shared by other adoptive parents:

“Adoption is a beautiful gift,” she said by phone from Fort Worth, where her kids yelled and played in the background. “God adopted us through Jesus when we did nothing to deserve it. It’s a beautiful picture of the Gospel.”

There are many other stories — really terribly interesting — that are shared in this piece.

The story keeps a fairly narrow angle — on how this Russian ban affects evangelical Christian adoptive parents in America. So it doesn’t include background information on what precipitated the ban. Part of that issue relates to concerns over how some Americans have treated the children they adopted from Russia. That might be worth including. There have also been criticisms of some of the agencies mentioned in the article, also worth mentioning.

And along with the problem with the general lack of data, it may have helped to know how many children with special needs have been adopted out of Russia in recent years and what percentage of total adoptions that represents.

Still, kudos for finding a very real and undercovered (in the mainstream press) angle to this huge story.

Adoption image via Shutterstock.