A few thoughts on Christian orphan care and adoption

There's an interesting thread at the Adoption Truth and Transparency Network Facebook page - find Desiree Smolin's post starting with Live from Saddleback Orphan Summit VIII ... and read on.  If you haven't yet, also read Dr. David Smolin's article on the Christian orphan care and adoption movement and his posts about the Summit here, here and particularly here, where he points out five serious errors in the Summit's adoption message.

The Christian adoption movement has always made me uncomfortable. With all due respect for readers who may support it, I perceive the movement to be pretty Evangelical and have to admit a general discomfort in Evangelical settings. I say this in the spirit of full disclosure; undoubtedly, my opinions have been influenced by my feelings, and you should know it.

You should also know that I have not followed any of the movement's organizations or attended any of its events, including the Summits. My unease is based in what I read about the movement online, in particular in the mission statement and core principles of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, the movement's organizational leader. Here's the mission statement from the front page of their website:
The Christian Alliance for Orphans unites more than 100 respected Christian organizations and a national network of churches.  Working together, our joint initiatives inspire, equip and connect Christians to reflect God’s heart in caring for orphans in adoption, foster care and global orphan care initiatives.  Through the annual Summit, the Orphan Sunday campaign and an array of other initiatives, we seek to help grow communities in the local church known for “defending the cause of the fatherless” (Isaiah 1:17) 
This mission statement sets the stage for the principles, which in turn set up a hierarachy of care that places a traditional Christian two-parent family above all other child welfare options, including preservation of original families. This unabashed pro-adoption stance suggests that preserving a small or broken family is less desirable than placing a child with a traditional Christian family, and almost feels like a way to justify adoption in questionable situations. There is also clear direction to care for the "whole child," meaning feed the child's body and spirit, too - with Christianity, of course. Religious charity has always come at the price of conversion.

There is also the ubiquitous reference to God's adoption of humanity as the mandate to adopt. I've said this before, and think it bears repeating: the Biblical word used to connote "adoption" is the Greek word huiothesia. It appears something like half a dozen times in the entire Bible, and theologians still debate its meaning: some use sonship rather than adoption to convey its meaning. It does not refer in any way, shape or form to an act remotely similar to child adoption as we know it, it refers to God's spiritual adoption of humanity.

What is missing from the Christian Alliance for Orphans' principles is any prominent mention of the seriousness of adoption, of the challenges and pitfalls that exist with it, or of any obligation to support the special needs of adopted people, the families from which they are separated or of adoptive parents, who may pursue adoption unprepared for its challenges. A few examples of things I'd like to have seen there:

  • A commitment to protect children's and original families' human and civil rights, integrity and dignity
  • An understanding of:
    • The impact of loss of family, country, culture, language and heritage on adopted people and a commitment to provide lifelong support
    • The impact of family separation on adopted people and their original families and a commitment to provide lifelong support
    • The special demands of adoptive parenting
  • Recognition of the dangers of trafficking, child selling and coercive adoption practices and a commitment to prevent them
  • Respect for the people, cultures, languages and faiths of countries placing children in intercountry adoption
Ignoring these inconvenient truths doesn't make them go away, nor does it help families and children. Every agency, organization and program working in adoption should devote serious consideration to them.

There is one more message I took from the Christian Alliance for Orphans site, a sad, pervasive sub-text: Orphans are "others" who need to be saved from their own circumstances. To do that, we must make them more like us. Adoption, of course, fits this approach perfectly, right to the obliteration of culture and heritage, as Summit speaker Russell Moore recommended.

Jesus always did exactly the opposite. He became us, and offered us love, comfort, care and truth, right to His death. Truly Christian orphan and child care programs will lead by that example to services that put children and families before ideology.


Marley Greiner said…
I've been following the Christian adoption movement for years. The bottom line is that it's about Christian conversion. Not only that, though, there is a perverse new theology that promotes the idea that not only are "you" saved, but your continued "salvation" depends on how many other souls you bring to Jesus. So, you have these massive movements regarding abortion and adoption which can guarantee continued "salvation." I don't' know about "christian adoption agencies" but I do know that with many CPCs, the annual reported is headed not by the number of fetuses that were saved, but the number of souls were.

And don't get me started on Rick Warren's market driven life.
Yoli said…
Very well said Margie. They are dangerous and they will scar many a child. They don't need much PR either, there are some Christian Mommy bloggers who have made whole blog personas on how many orphans they have brought home and "saved." They are the biggest recruiters and the most harmful.
Kris said…
The Christian adoption movement makes me cringe as well. They are hell-bent on "saving" and converting. It almost seems desperate sometimes. Full of melodrama and unrealistic expectations. It seems to be not about the child but about some misguided "obligation". I personally believe that adoption and God have nothing to do with each other.
Margie said…
Thanks, all.

What I want to see is an Ethical Orphan Care and Adoption Movement. If such a movement could gain traction, and could gather representation from a broad swath of the adoption community, I truly believe it could interject some put the brakes on the Christian adoption movement.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that adoption reformers are so busy fixing what's broken that they can't take a broad forward-looking view. We also don't agree on what constitutes an ethical adoption, or if adoption should even exist or not. So where the Christian adoption movement has a clear objective and accompanying message (God adopted you, so go out and adopt!), we do not.

We need enough organizations and individuals singing the same song about Ethical Orphan Care and Adoption as are on board with the Christian adoption movement. We need our own annual conference. Of course, we'll never have the dollars a church-sponsored program does, but that doesn't matter. It needs to start happening.

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