One more time on church and state

Thank you everyone who added your thoughts to my last post. And thank you Mia for taking the ball and running it right into the end zone.

I'm hoping you all will stay with me on this one a little longer. You've undoubtedly guessed that this topic is incredibly important to me.

Before I start, a word about my context. In talking about this subject, it is not my intent to attack anyone's right to believe or their personal beliefs. I am a practicing Catholic, my faith is important to me; however, I expect no one to share my beliefs, nor do I push them on anyone. It's my personal church, and I keep it separate from the state, adoption or otherwise. I expect the same from others, period. This has always made perfect sense to me, but it clearly doesn't to others, based on the number of people I've ticked off trying to make this point.

Anyhow, back to the subject of adoption and religion. This and my last couple of posts are a long-winded attempt to say this:
There's a greater opportunity for adoption abuse, including the unwilling separation of women and children, because we’ve allowed adoption to live in the realm of religious charity, rather than law.
Now, the long road I take to get there:

We live in a diverse country with diverse religious and philosophical views, from deep belief in an organized faith to complete dismissal of the possibility of any god. We’re all in there somewhere. The way each of us views human behavior and responds to behavioral events will be influenced by the particular set of beliefs to which we ascribe.

Although our beliefs differ, we understand, or should, that there are civil and human rights that transcend our particular beliefs. These may be found in our constitution, or in global documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But sometimes our religious or philosophical beliefs conflict with accepted human and civil rights. When that happens, we debate it in our legislatures and in the courts. We may not all like the outcomes, but we recognize that there’s a process in place to work through our differences.

There are, however, no laws on the books to protect that a woman's right to parent her child, although there's plenty of US history to suggest that although single parenting and "illegitimacy" have carried stigmas, the relationship between mother and child has generally been respected. After the end of World War II to the 1970s (often called the "baby scoop era"), strange brew of attitudes and behaviors replaced those traditional beliefs. That time was a kind of perfect storm of adoption abuse, one that young pregnant women had no hope of surviving:
  • Child law gave parents the ultimate authority over their daughters.
  • Rigid religious beliefs painted young pregnant women as immoral and incapable of parenting.
  • Those same beliefs offered women redemption if they did God’s will and offered their baby to a deserving couple.
  • Social work practice embraced the notion of “getting over it and moving on.”
  • Legal abortion didn’t exist.
If she didn’t marry, there was really only one thing a young pregnant woman could do – surrender her child. And you know what they say about one choice - it's no choice at all.

These attitudes made it possible for maternity homes with religious ties (to my own Catholic church in many cases, I’m ashamed to say) to operate and abuse with impunity for many years. Although the worst of the homes are closed now, you can still find their tactics and attitudes in the rhetoric of some adoption agencies, in churches and clergy, in the practices of physicians and adoption attorneys, and in individual opinions.

Trace that rhetoric back to its roots and you won’t find much concern for a woman’s human and civil rights – you’ll find the religious judgment and shame that drove the baby scoop era. It's institutionalized now, and will continue until we put laws and practices that protect the rights of pregnant women to parent their children on the books. And to do that we have to bring the adoption discussion out of the realm of charity and religion, and bring it into the realm of justice and legislation.

Which, of course, brings us back to the top.

Although it's taken three posts and gosh knows how much confusion to get this onto paper, there aren't many thoughts in my head that are clearer or more self-evident than this one.

Or more frustrating. Frankly, I'd much rather be talking about what the law to protect a mother's right to parent should look like, than why we should have one.


kenziekylanmom said…
Hey, I found your site when I was search for Korea adoptions. We have 2 children adopted from South Korea also...they aren't teenagers like yours...Anyway, I am going to keep reading through your blog because it looks very interesting!!!
suz said…
Yes, yes, yes.

All that and more.
suz said…
I would add one more kicker the church offers (perhaps you allude to it). Prospective adopters are also offered salvation by adopting. What a great way to get to heaven, eh? Save some poor child from their mother? Is it any wonder so many Christians adopt and promote adoption? Guaranteed passage into heaven? Woohoo!
thorn said…
The problem is not religion. It is teen pregnancy. If religion is going to be one of the last bastions that refuses to condone our children having children, I say Thank God!

Regarding adoption giving one salvation, can suz provide one iota of proof to that claim?

There's a strawman if I have ever seen one.
Lauren said…
Hi Margie,

Terrific thread of ideas and it’s an important topic. I’ll preface this by saying that my husband and I are practicing Episcopalians (aka Catholic lite/Catholic decafe). Religion is part of who we are but I’d like to think we’re more as individuals than our religion.

The trouble with faith-based organizations (FBOs) can come when they use their faith, whatever that faith may be, to rationalize poor adoption practices. They’re “saving” the child from the unwed mother/poor parent/less than desirable country, etc. God says it’s okay since we’re taking this child into the fold and we’re superior in our faith so the child should be grateful we’ve done this on his/her behalf. It smacks of “better vs. worse” and “wrong vs. right” and immediately places the adoptive parents in a hierarchy above birth parents.

What I will say on behalf of FBOs (I have to say something positive) is they seem to be very good at promoting the adoption of special needs children. We interviewed several faith-based organizations that spoke openly about waiting children that were older or had needs that would typically exclude them from consideration. Some of it was framed in religion (“God has a plan for every child”) but I found it refreshing that they were seeking to find homes for ALL children, not just healthy infants. Included in the discussion of ethics related to adoption, special needs children must be considered. They often get left behind in the stampede to find the most “desirable” children.

Thanks for getting the thread started Margie! Some other great posts out there by other bloggers too so it’s nice to see the different points of view.

Hope you’re well,

Akabah said…
out of the realm of charity and religion, and into the realm of justice and legislation. hear hear!! And away, too, from the entitlement mentality of some adoptive parents, and the agencies that stoke it.

how do we move adoption into the realm of justice and legislation? how do we put the birth mother's rights first? how do we support those women so that they feel they DO have a real choice? i know you've written on this, Margie, but I'd love to see another post from you on practical things that each one of us can be doing to help push this forward...
abebech said…
I have *never* heard of an offer of (Christian) salvation through adoption. I think we've all heard some pretty crazy stuff, but not that.

But Thorn, to turn this discussion into one about appropriate responses to teen pregnancy is a vast oversimplification and misses the points: Many expectant mothers considering placement are not teen mothers (in three cases presented to us, three were young women, but not teens). Teen pregnancy is down in the US. It seems to me that "teen pregnancy/parenting vs adoption" is rather a strawman argument itself.

Separation of a child from her mother is not and should not be a solution to teen pregnancy, a punishment or corrective for sexually active teens or women and should not be promoted as anything of the sort by the church!
Margie said…
Thanks, all, for the comments, because this discussion is a really good one.

Quick comment and more to follow: The notion that placing a child could offer redemption (not salvation, totally different thing) is one that was used during the baby scoop era by (I'm sad to say) Catholic religious working in maternity homes. Think "The Magdalene Sisters" (which, although fiction, has its roots in reality that has been documented). Examples are in Fessler's book.

More to follow!
thorn said…
"Separation of a child from her mother is not and should not be a solution to teen pregnancy, a punishment or corrective for sexually active teens or women and should not be promoted as anything of the sort by the church!"

We agree regarding punishment. I don't understand where you're coming from with your first statement, unless you are against adoption entirely?

Separation of a child from her mother *IS* a solution to teen pregnancy. It is an improper solutioin when it is forced or coerced, for certain, but adoption is most certainly a worthy solution in my view.

And, I don't believe I am oversimplifying. What we are talking about are unethical adoptions... coerced adoptions... and the most likely victims are children (e.g., teenagers) who are dependent upon others for their own livelihoods and, thus, are the most susceptible to decision making being done by others (which we both agree is wrong).

Teenage pregnancy is, indeed, down. But, I read a statistic somewhere that said that 1,000,000 teens in the U.S. will get pregnant this year.

Half of those are 17 or younger.

Reduce this number... and reduce the likelihood of unethical adoption practices.

The church should be leading the way in this regard. If legislation is necessary to force them to use efforts to maintain the family first, then so be it.
suz said…
Is it teen pregnancy or umarried teen pregnancy? If a 18 yo gets pregnant and gets married, or is married and gets pregnant, she has a far better chance of keeping her child (and being supported to do so) than if she is single and teenage.

Also, I would be happy to share the marketing propoganda that the brokers who sold my daughter shared with their prospective adopters. They were kind enough to customize to suit the PAPS religions - quotes from Talmud, Bible, you name it. Quite a good, nifty, service, to market babies to you using your own religious beliefs.
suz said…
Is it teen pregnancy or umarried teen pregnancy?

If a 18 yo gets pregnant and gets married, or is married and gets pregnant, she has a far better chance of keeping her child (and being supported to do so) than if she is single and teenage.

Also, I would be happy to share the marketing propoganda that the brokers who sold my daughter shared with their prospective adopters. They were kind enough to customize to suit the PAPS religions - quotes from Talmud, Bible, you name it. Quite a good, nifty, service, to market babies to PAPS using their own religious beliefs. Who doesnt want to do something wonderful for their god?

Religion is often based on fear (If you dont X like the magical man in the sky says you should, then Y will happen to you), as such it is a wonderful motivator for maternity homes, parents, agencies, schools, prospective adopters to use to induce an expectant mother to surrender her child. If she believes in God and she is lead to believe keeping her child will damn her or her child to hell, she is likely to surrender to the authorities and their fear inducing tactics.

To me, you either value the mother-child bond, or you dont. If you dont, you have no problem punishing the teen for sex, coercing, intimidating, bribing, shaming, or whatever, and then taking the baby and giving the child to more willing, worthy, married, adoptive parents.
thorn said…

In my view, just teenage pregnancy is the problem.

When a teenager decides to get married, clearly their decision is to keep the child. Most likely, the child becomes the reason for the marriage (no child = no decision to get married as a teenager).

So, it is irrelevant whether or not the teenager is married.

A marriage is just one of the options a teenager has, and I believe it to be the most personally responsible option because we have a teenager and her partner (presumably, also a teenager) making a public proclamation by action that they are taking personal and financial responsibility for their actions.

As for any religious-based adoption organization that promises salvation for adoption, please refer me to them so that I can give them a piece of my (and Jesus') mind. :)
mara said…
I'm an adoptive parent, I'm also a practicing Christian. Just so everyone is aware of my biases :). I'm not sure you can say religion is the problem, or teenage pregnancy is the problem. The issue is much more subtle and complex and to frame it that way is reductive. In my view the "saving" mentality is maybe potentially the most harmful notion for our adopted children. It implies they should be grateful. And anyone who has ever read anything from adult adoptees would knows how damaging that can be. Whether that 'saving' mentality is based on religion or philanthropy is irrelevant. Changing how we frame adoption, how it is presented, how we choose our words will hopefully eventually have some effect. And I think this can more easily be accomplished if we take the 'god' out, like Margie says. Seperate church and state as it were. Stop framing adoption as a 'Christian act', or a good deed, or charity. Stop the covert (and often overt)maligning of first moms. Define coercion. Remember the power dynamic that makes informed consent difficult, if not imposssible. Make access/openness orders enforceable. Protect mother/child relationships. And maybe to do all of that the God part needs to be taken out. It may be easier to get things done without peaky little things like 'faith' getting in the way :).
Sorry it's so long.
abebech said…
"Separation of a child from her mother *IS* a solution to teen pregnancy." In some cases it may be an appropriate alternative to teen parenting, perhaps -- but it is not a solution to teen pregnancy. Small language differences indicating big differences in thought, I think.

"unless you are against adoption entirely?" That is some serious oversimplification, and one of the problems that always arises in these discussions -- "either you're for or against us" (whomever the us of the moment may be). I am an adoptive mother with nuanced positions on teen parenting, single parenting, and reasons for relinquishment. You might check my archives for a post on "burning buildings."

To me the teen pregnancy thing seems more and more like a red herring -- but perhaps again that is because of the sample we were presented, we were not talking teen pregnancies.
Mia said…
"Reduce this number... and reduce the likelihood of unethical adoption practices."

Of course. It makes perfect sense that if you lower the teen pregnancy rate you lower the adoption rate and thus the number of unethical practices as well. No brainer.

Using this logic why not turn all religious run FOR PROFIT (they can't fool us) adoption agencies into NON-profit information centers. You know, the kind of place that teaches teens about choices and responsibility and consequences to actions. NOT the burn in hell kind, the "having sex, getting pregnant and relinquishing your baby will effect you for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE" kind.

Maybe if religious run adoption agencies weren't so busy making a buck off of the teen souls they care so much about they would have more time to make a real difference.

MAN that pisses me off.

Margie I agree with you whole heartedly.
courtney said…
This is an interesting topic and one that I have struggled with myself for a long time. I am a religious person so I do believe that God had a hand in placing me and my daughter together. However I believe these events were only set into place after my daughters omma decided she wasn't able to parent her. I am just glad that my daughter came to us. I remind myself and others that she is not lucky to have us, if you are judging "luck" by wealthy american parents there were many applications under ours that were likely more wealthy etc, I am just lucky that she is in our lives. I remind myself that my happiness to have my daughter in our family was borne out of her mom's loss of having her in Korea and in her life. The question of what brought me to adoption is difficult, I saw a young adopted asian child in my college bookstore, and knew I wanted to adopt. Again in hindsight this is likely representative of a sterotype I had about "china dolls" and how cute this little girl was. I still remember how happy her ap was, however that must be tempered with an equal amount of sadness that her first mom feels. It has taken a lot of soul searching, into places that I did not really want to look to be where I am today, and I have so much to go. I feel fortunate that so many KAD's have allowed me to listen through their blogs and writings
Anna said…
thank you for talking abou this , for discussing it. it is so, so important. i specifically looked for an adoption agencey that was clear that they were not religously affiliated, it was very important to me.

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