Does “Christian” Guarantee Honesty in Business? (Case Study: The International Adoption Industry)

Does “Christian” Guarantee Honesty in Business? (Case Study: The International Adoption Industry) April 9, 2013

(Disclaimer: No specific business or agency is being referred to, even indirectly, in this post.)

I live and work in an area of the United States many people call the “Bible belt.” Some has labeled the city where I live “Jerusalem on the Brazos” because of all the churches. There is about one Baptist church per thousand people (in a metro area of about 150,000). It’s common to see huge billboards that contain only the 10 Commandments–no advertising–and bumper stickers with religious messages. Total strangers invite you to their church as soon as they discern you’re new to the area. Some news anchors sign off Saturday night with “Don’t forget to go to church in the morning!” We moved here from a part of the country where all those things are much less common and where religion is much more privatized. So it was strange for us at first, but now we’re getting used to it. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. I suspect that too much “public display of religion” can be trivializing to religion.

Many businesses here and around the U.S. (I don’t know how common it is in other countries but I haven’t seen it as much when traveling outside the U.S.) include some subtle or not so subtle message about being Christian to attract business. Often a telephone book yellow pages ad will include a Christian symbol–most often a fish symbol or a cross. (Where I live many are more blatant than that and openly say they are Christian businesses.)

Many years ago I edited a Christian scholarly journal dedicated to “faith-learning integration.” It was (and still is) supported by about fifty Christian liberal arts colleges and universities. During my tenure as editor two business professors at a leading Christian college submitted a lengthy article supporting their claim that businesses that advertise as “Christian” (by whatever means) are less likely to be honest than ones that do not. That was a shocker! Their claim was supported by much empirical research; they are both trained in research of that kind. The evidence was convincing.

Ever since then I have looked askance at advertising that contains a fish symbol or cross or any other attempt to attract business using religion. I don’t always avoid them, but I’m wary of them. I am just as suspicious of their practices (read the fine print carefully and ask a lot of questions!) as of those that don’t use religious symbols (if not more so).

Recently I have become aware of the “business” of international adoption. Let me say first that many adoption agencies that specialize in international adoptions are completely honest and trustworthy. However, I have become aware that the field of international adoption has become riddled with dishonesty and abuse. Much of it is legal dishonesty and abuse; laws have not caught up with the problem yet.

Here we have a business (usually at least supposedly non-profit) field that thrives on people’s emotions. Many couples who cannot have children of their own wish strongly to adopt and sometimes from outside the U.S. (for whatever reasons).

Whenever there’s a crying need such as this some unscrupulous entrepreneurs will rush in to meet the need for their own gain. And many of them will claim to be “Christian” adoption organizations or agencies.

What is the most common form of dishonesty and abuse? It is getting anxious would-be parents to sign lengthy contracts that say nothing about a time line, committing the adoption agency and its related orphanages to nothing in terms of meeting certain deadlines, then dragging out the adoption process for many months and often into years.

So what, you ask? Well, in most cases the parents-to-be are paying a rather handsome sum monthly to the adoption agency and/or its related orphanage where awaits their promised child. In many cases (again, I don’t say all) the agency and orphanage refuse to allow the parents-to-be to visit their child and “neglect” to answer their pleas for news of their child and the process. Eventually, many give up and withdraw from the process for lack of funds or out of utter frustration.

Of course, there are even worse abuses and at least rumor has it that they are also rampant in the field of international adoptions: orphanages buying children from desperate mothers, promising families the child they are giving away will get a good education and return to them later, etc., etc. The international adoption oversight community is trying to crack down on this. The Hague Convention rules attempt to prevent such abuses. American embassies increasingly insist on interviewing mothers who are giving their children up for adoption before approving exit visas to the U.S. (for the child or children). So, the most common form of abuse remaining is completely legal and almost impossible to eradicate. That is–holding the child in the orphanage for many months even into years when that is totally unnecessary.

Many abusive international adoption agencies tout themselves as Christian to attract would be adoptive parents. They have an orphanage or orphanages in certain countries–often ones with numerous orphans waiting to be adopted by people inside the country or (more often) in the U.S.  An international adoption can easily cost $30,000–depending of course on how long and complicated the adoption process becomes. And in many cases the would-be parents shell out the money and never see their child (after perhaps an initial visit). When some adoption agencies are asked about the money their answers are vague, hinting that they have to pay bribes to move the process along. But, of course, there’s no record of that. Many months ago a young U.S. couple paid $2,700 to their “Christian” adoption agency to “facilitate” a U.S. passport for their adopted child (still in her country of birth) and are now being told by the U.S. embassy that no passport was every applied for.

So, you wonder, why don’t victims sue and/or go public with their stories? Many such contracts include a “gag” clause. Unsuspecting and desperate would-be parents sign them without reading all the fine print or considering what that means. If the contract itself doesn’t include such language, it is added as a condition of a settlement during mediation. Parents desperate to bring their child home will often agree to anything and such a gag order is often what they must agree to if they hope to see their child again. And, of course, most couples cannot afford to sue.

In and through all of this the children are the worstl victims. They languish in orphanages that are often little more than holding places where the children fail to develop normally because they do not have real nurturing from l0ving families. Some (again I do not say all) adoption agencies care more about the money and their reputations than about coming to terms with angry, frustrated and hurt adoptive parents so the child/children can be with them. They drag out the mediation process with legal maneuvers and, in many cases, the adoption is never completed and the parents withdraw (for lack of funds to pay lawyers). In that case the child is promised to another family who begins paying a monthly subvention for his or her upkeep in the orphanage.

This may not be the norm in international adoptions, but it is all too common. Presumably some unscrupulous adoption facilitators, many of them advertising themselves as “Christian,” are lining their pockets handsomely this way.

Two things are needed. First, the U.S. needs to pass strict laws governing international adoption processes so that adoptive parents must be kept informed and strict accounting given them of the money they are spending. The laws should put limits on how long adoption agencies can drag out the process without refunding money. Of course, there needs to be government oversight so that international adoption agencies are accountable to government agencies for everything that they do. Just as it is illegal in the U.S. to travel abroad for certain nefarious purposes, even if the evil activity is taking place totally outside the borders of the U.S., so international adoption agencies based in the U.S. should be held accountable for what goes on in their associated orphanages in other countries. For example, there should be a law that an international adoption agency cannot legally keep adoptive parents from visiting their child or children and from knowing his or her health status and the status of the adoption process “in country.”

Apparently this is a field riddled with a kind of “Wild West” lawlessness. The laws have not caught up with the abuses. International law is cracking down on the worst abuses which are fading away as more and more countries sign the Hague agreements governing international adoptions. But dishonest, unscrupulous adoption agencies are finding ways to take advantage of desperate parents seeking children to adopt.

Second, couples seeking to adopt must NOT be lulled into trust by adoption agencies–by any means. They must read contracts carefully before signing them and ask every conceivable question and close any and all loopholes that might allow the agencies to take advantage of them. They must insist that they be allowed to visit their matched child as frequently as they wish (at their own cost, of course) and be given complete information about the process and reasons for costs at every twist and turn (at least monthly). Finally, the parents ought to insist that their money be refunded if the process breaks down due to ineptitude or neglect on the part of the agency or orphanage.

Ideally, I believe, adoptive parents should have an advocate “in country” to watch over the adoption process there and make sure the agency and orphanage are moving it forward expeditiously while taking good care of the child/children.

Many of you are probably not aware of how serious and wide spread this problem is. It is a horrible situation and very common. Abusive agencies need to be exposed publicly, but, of course, many of them have lawyers and threaten to sue anyone who dares to tell their stories of being mistreated by them. And most adoptive parents are afraid to speak out lest they never see their child/children and, after the adoption (if it ever happens), lest they be sued. Even if their case is solid against the agency, they can’t afford to hire lawyers.

I am calling on Christian media to expose these practices–especially by allegedly “Christian” international adoption agencies and orphanages they own or govern. Here is a case for investigative reporting if ever there was one. And I am calling on Christian churches and other organizations to become involved in holding “Christian” adoption agencies accountable to the highest moral and ethical standards which means putting the well being of the children first, the adoptive parents second, and the agency third. An agency that cannot put the children’s welfare and the satisfaction of the parents with whom they contract first and second, above their own comfort, reputation, and even finances ought to cease to exist.

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  • Ben

    “Christian business” is as oxymoronic as “Christian nation.” There may be individuals within a business or groups of individuals within a nation that are Christian, but to call a political or economic entity “Christian” denies the Personal-ness of God Who comes to us as Person to us as people/individuals.
    It must also be asked, what aspects of a business are specifically Christian anyway? Is there a Christian way of doing Excel spreadsheets as opposed to a non-Christian or pagan way of doing them? Is there a Christian way of doing invoices as opposed to a Buddhist way? Is there a Christian way of parking? Is there a Christian way of advertising? If Jesus is King, what role does profit play? If Jesus is King, then what meaning is there behind “You cannot serve two masters” and a Christian business?

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi Ben,
      A business can be Christian to the extent that it draws its values and goals from Christianity. There may not be Christian ways of using a spreadsheet, but there are certainly ways of treating customers and employees that are in line with Christian values.
      And profit? The Bible says that we should not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain. The ox is working for others, and it should receive its wages (profits). We are not oxen, but the principle remains that workers (and companies) should receive just compensation for work done. I cannot stretch my brain enough to see how this knocks Jesus off His throne. Do you receive compensation when you do work for others?

      • rogereolson

        Tim, I don’t equate “wage” with “profit.” The two are different. Of course, in a single proprietor business the two can be the same on an accounting sheet. But in most companies the two are separate. Profit is the excess cost of a product–above what it cost to produce it (including wages).

        • Tim Reisdorf

          Profits (for an individual) are derived directly from wages. For companies, profits are derived from revenues (minus expenses). They are too closely related to warrant a protest. People can survive on very little (assuming they are willing to give up cable TV and iPhones, etc). So one can profit while others get by on the same wages because they spend less or work more. In what way is this bad? If one reads Proverbs, she might actually think it good – even biblical.
          So, back to my point that you side-stepped with your tangent, how is gaining a profit by one’s labor dethroning Jesus?

          • rogereolson

            I won’t call wages “profit.” But to your point: I don’t see where I ever suggested that earning a wage is dethroning Jesus.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            My comment/question was to Ben. He rhetorically asked

            If Jesus is King, what role does profit play? If Jesus is King, then what meaning is there behind “You cannot serve two masters” and a Christian business?

            My conclusion was that he was driving the point that profits were anathema and subversive in service to Christ. I ventured a comment to oppose or at least question that point of view.
            I’m already aware of your point of view concerning economics, at least generally.

  • Evelyn

    Have you read Dan Ariely’s The Honest Truth about Dishonesty? Very readable and somewhat depressing summary if his academic experimental research in this area.

    • rogereolson

      I haven’t. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • K Gray

    Is there a source of empirical evidence about the Christian international adoption agencies have abusive practices that need to be exposed? Second, is there a “watch” agency, akin to Charitywatch, that could help prospective adoptive parents research in advance the agencies they are considering? That would be very helpful.

    • rogereolson

      I am not aware of such. My information about this problem comes from an expert who has education and wide (and deep) experience in orphan care and adoption (mainly international).

  • Good write up but a few observations:

    One, I wouldn’t think a gag order is legally binding where illegal or dubious practices are concerned. Many existing laws would apply. Is a contract legally binding if the intent is to deceive and/or steal? Murder for hire is not bound by contract law.

    Two, listing a few agencies that are honest and reliable would be helpful. This write up serves to warn but if i was looking to adopt I’ve only been warned. Where would I go from here? Surely there are reliable agencies and the number of children who could benefit from adoption are too many to count.

    Three, if businesses labeled “Christian” are more inclined to dishonesty why use “Christian media?” This is a social issue. We should call on all agencies to get the word out.

    I’m not being negative. I appreciate the write up and I’m sure your intent wasn’t to stop adoptions from taking place. Many people have experienced successful adoptions and live in a part of the world where there are thousands of orphans who could use a good home so maybe we should champion the agencies who are doing a great job.

    • rogereolson

      Regarding question “One”–yes, you’re right. But many adopting parents do not have the resources to hire a lawyer to fight. They simply sign the gag order and abide by it fearing the expense of being sued and having to defend themselves in court.

  • Tim Reisdorf


    I can’t comment on the international adoption portion, but the premise of the article – concerning “Christian advertising” is very curious. No, saying that one is a Christian does not guarantee honesty, nor quality products/services. I think that the target audience is the consumers who would rather drink milk from a Christian cow. If it is innocent, then no troubles. I try to buy my board games from a place in Utah that advertises itself as Christian rather than from Amazon. It is small, but I give them the benefit of the doubt. If the advertisement was big and splashy and in my face, I’d pass it up.

    The construction company that I work for is decidedly Christian – and supports missionary efforts directly as well as Bible translation. While we don’t advertise it, the core values of the company reflect a deep Christian conviction. I do think this is a better way to go – especially for a larger company (where half the IT department is JW.)


  • “…often it is easier and less expensive to adopt (especially infants) from so-called “Third World” countries than from the U.S.”

    As someone who has researched and know folks who have adopted international before personally adopting an infant from within the USA, I have to say that it is a TON easier and cheaper to adopt a baby from within the USA rather than international. Typically a domestic adoption will run $15 to $20k rather than the $30k plus as there is less travel and legal costs. Some states even offer tax breaks and other incentives, which can bring the cost down lower (below $10K in some cases).

    Sadly enough most folks are not aware of domestic infant adoptions as the “Christian” marketing machine has focused on and promoted international adoptions to the point that a lot of folks are adopting international kids as a way to ‘spread the gospel’ or ‘help save those dieing children.’ Domestic adoptions, in turn, as been limited in the minds of the people to foster care and the adoption of older children. Folks need to be aware that there are thousands of infants in the USA who desperately need a family.

    Why are we walking past them? Why are we spending more money to adopt internationally when there are babies literally in our backyard crying out for love?

    • rogereolson

      Okay, thank you for this correction. What I had in mind (and should have said) is “when the adoptive parents are looking for a certain age or disability or gender or combination of all three.” My experience is that adopting is often a hit-or-miss proposition–both within the U.S. and internationally. I know would-be adoptive parents who sought to adopt within the U.S. and were never successful but were successful adopting internationally and vice versa.

      • You’re welcome. =)

        Adoptions are a tad hit-or-miss. Sometimes it can go fast while other things it can drag on… crazy stuff.

        Thanks, by the way, for talking about the problems surrounding international adoptions. Like you said, not all agencies are bad – but there are definitely enough bad apples in the barrel to warrant a conversation.

  • JJKard

    No need to limit your distain to international adoption or on work with adopting parents. “Christian” agencies preying on vulnerable in the domestic newborn field as well. sigh…

  • We are an adoptive family who was not desperate and took seriously our own responsibility to find a reputable agency. And, we did not adopt internationally because it was “easier and less expensive.”

    • rogereolson

      Why put the shoe on if it doesn’t fit? Who said I was talking about you? This happens with almost every post I write and put here–someone thinks I’m talking about them even when I’ve clearly said “some” or “many” and not everyone.

  • Wayne Shaffer, Jr.

    I don’t want to distract from the seriousness of the topic that forms the bulk of this article, but the first two paragraphs (after the Disclaimer) struck chords with me.

    First, I always find the “Bible Belt” references interesting. I live in a small town in western PA. It’s a town of barely 8000 people. Taken together with its immediately adjacent communities (several of which share the same Zip code and telephone prefix as the “main” town), the total is about 12,000. Without breaking a sweat, I can come up with 2 Baptist churches, 2 AG churches, a Foursquare church, a CMA church, a Full Gospel church in the “Independent” AG affiliation, a Pentecostal church in the CCNA affiliation, several other Pentecostal or Charismatic churches of unknown affiliation (if any), 3 UMC churches, a Free Methodist church, a Nazarene church, a Brethren church, at least 2 Presbyterian churches, two Lutheran churches, a Catholic church, a Greek Orthodox church, a Church of God, a Church of Christ. If I want to sweat, I can probably come up with almost that many *additional* churches. It may not be “Bible Belt,” but it’s certainly some kind of “Churchy Zone.”
    Around here, when people see “VBS,” most don’t think of “Visual Basic Scripting,” they think of “Vacation Bible School.” Road signs and flyers in lobbies of stores and government buildings abound. Christian bumper stickers and window stickers are fairly common.

    Second, in spite of all that, it’s not common for businesses to directly advertise as “Christian,” but certain ones were “known.” My dad was a local judge for years, and in the law-enforcement community, “good Christian businessman” was a sarcastic, pejorative label. There were certain business owners who were relatively noisy and supercilious about their Christian faith, but had reputations for cutting corners with the aim of being “good stewards,” and then whining about “persecution” when they got caught.

  • Caleb G

    You wrote “During my tenure as editor two business professors at a leading Christian college submitted a lengthy article supporting their claim that businesses that advertise as “Christian” (by whatever means) are less likely to be honest than ones that do not.”
    Please post the link for this article if it is online and/or the bibliographic info so I can check it out myself.

    • rogereolson

      I’m afraid I don’t have that information; I’m not even sure if it is anywhere on the internet. Try googling one of the authors’ names–Todd Steen–and key words including the journal name: Christian Scholars Review.

  • Ann (UK)

    I know of several cases in the past where Christian adoption agencies in the UK placed children with completely unsuitable parents simply because the parents were Christian. In one case the adoptive mother had a history of severe mental health problems going back to the age of 16 and her adopted child had a short and tragic life. In another complex case the parents released a child they had had for many years for re-adoption when he was about 13. It has to be added that most Christian adoption agencies over here have now closed down because of their refusal to comply with Government equality legislation. My impression is that the non-Christian agencies probably do more thorough background checks and assessments of prospective adoptive parents than the Christian ones did.

    Our adoption agencies however were and, those in existence, still are not for profit organisations. Remembering the Laura Silsby Idaho Baptist missionary case and her attempt to remove children illegally from Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, that doesn’t seem to be the case in the USA.

  • Ben

    I think Tom was referencing my earlier comment: If Jesus is King, what is profit? I was alluding to the phrase “profit is king.” I was facetiously making the point that if our primary organizing principle is profit, we are, in effect, disregarding the Lordship of Jesus. Obviously, there is no power in heaven, earth, or in hell that can dethrone the risen Lord. We can, however, commit idolatry, ignore His commands, and so forth.
    Sorry for the extended essay is the previous post. I got a bit carried away with the Christian business paradox.

    • rogereolson

      Just for clarification–if I am remembering this thread correctly–you are debating with “Tim,” not a “Tom.”

      • Ben

        Yes, Tim, not Tom. I think I had Tom on the brain from the NT Wright/public intellectual posts.