Saturday, April 27, 2013

Orphan Fever: Are Christians Naive?



Have you read the Mother Jones article? Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement's Adoption Obsession by Kathryn Joyce paints a pretty unflattering picture of both evangelical Christians and the international adoption business.

Since I'm an evangelical Christian and an adoptive parent, I decided to read it, and I encourage you to take a deep breath, and read it too. Resist the urge to be defensive. Listen and learn and ask yourself, "How can we, as Christians, work to better serve orphans and widows and needy families worldwide?"

I read articles like this with the idea in mind that in most criticism, there is a kernel of truth. So I set out in search of it, knowing that when we rush to defend ourselves too quickly, we may miss the very thing that God is trying to teach us. Instead, why not give our critics a respectful hearing? Why not see if there's anything to be learned?

To illustrate what she perceives as the failings of the evangelical orphan care movement, Joyce tells the story of Sam and Serena Allison, biological parents of four, and their adoption of six orphans from Liberia. She describes their adoption as just one of many troubled Liberian adoptions that occurred as evangelicals rushed to adopt children following Liberia's 14-year civil war.

Sam and Serena adopt four kids on one trip, and it seems they are quickly overwhelmed. Unprepared to parent kids with backgrounds of trauma, they use an authoritarian, first-time obedience, corporal punishment parenting style. Perhaps their understanding of Biblical parenting led them to believe it was the only godly way.

As homeschoolers, they continue to homeschool even when it doesn't work for their adoptive kids. I couldn't help wondering if homeschooling was essential to the parents' cultural worldview. It seems that sending the adopted kids to school might have provided a much-needed respite for everyone involved.

As for the children, they come carrying baggage from the trauma of war. Hoping for a fairy-tale existence in America -- where they'd heard that money grows on trees -- they end up in rural Tennessee. Attachment doesn't go so well. There are cultural misunderstandings. Finally, one of the older adopted boys is even accused of inappropriate sexual behavior within the family.

As things continue to spiral downward, it's difficult to read. Joyce outlines serious allegations of child abuse against the Allisons and other adoptive parents. Eventually, the Allisons even send one son back to Africa where he finds his former orphanage has been closed.

I'd love for you to head on over to Mother Jones and read the whole article. 

What do you think? Were the Allisons and the other families in the article bad people, or were they just naive people? Did they seriously underestimate, or perhaps even ignore, the challenges of adopting multiple older kids from a war-torn African nation?

And what about the evangelical orphan care movement? What are we doing right? Is there anything that concerns you? How can we be better?

This is really important, and I look forward to hearing your voice in the conversation. Leave a comment below.

*If the Mother Jones article left you a little deflated, read this rebuttal by a Christian adoptive dad:  Is the Left Launching an Attack on Evangelical Adoption?


Ni Hao Yall

21 comments:

  1. I'm gonna let this percolate. A blog on China adoptions and the dark side is brewing inside of me but I am not sure when it will come out. Thank you for putting it out there. We have much to be mindful of.

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  2. The problem with stuff like this is someone takes an extreme case and writes it as if this is somehow the norm.. it's not. But sensationalism gets talked about..

    In the end, though I think PEOPLE.. not just Christians underestimate the costs of adoption and trauma. And I think they will continue to do so until they, too, are in the trenches.

    I personally know how bad it can get.. would I sent my child "back".. no.. but I certainly get the feeling of wanting to some days. (Yes.. I will admit to that)

    I often think of it like this.. If I were to explain my life with my child and insert the word "husband or boyfriend" instead. I would have a mile long of people telling me to "kick him to the curb".. but find out that MY CHILD could be inflicting mental and physical abuse on our family and no one really knows what to do with that..

    So are we naive? YES.. I think it is almost impossible not to be, even with the best training..

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    1. Jenetta - I agree that people in general are naive about adoption. I just focused this post on evangelical Christians because that was the focus of the original Mother Jones article.

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    2. Oh, absolutely... my thought was more on the other article where she was specifically attacking Christians.

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    3. No good deed goes unpunished.
      Two of ours from Ethiopia are deaf. The girl would probably become a prostitute to support herself and the boy would be a beggar.
      'Nuff said?

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    4. n my opinion many Americans are naive or uninformed about adoption. Those adopting and those relinquishing. The mantra that adoption is wonderful still permeates our society. Adopted parents are wonderful and adoptees live happily ever after. I surrendered my son in 1966 and for years thought he would live happily ever after with wonderful parents and have no problems to talk about. Those promoting adoption should have more reading material available for prospective adopters. Everyone should be informed on grief issues. Maybe more awareness of Russian adoptions that were problematic would be a good idea. for prospective adoptive parents. Be honest with them about children who were abused or left alone in orphanages. Also they should know of any serious physical or mental illnesses of the natural parents.

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  3. From my perspective, the Mother Jones article was needlessly inflammatory. The story, while true, and the criticisms of that particular narrative, while appropriate, did not adequately depict this as a fringe movement among evangelicals. The NPR interview Ms. Joyce did was far better and more balanced. I think her criticisms are extremely valid, although I would hesitate to lay the fault at the feet of the evangelical adoption movement, which is what is seems she may be trying to do. (I haven't read her book yet, so I only have these two pieces to base an opinion on.)

    I think too many Christians are caught up in a 'savior' complex for orphaned children without taking the time to do adequate research or think critically about what adoption is and what it means both for your family and the child in question. However, I think that the movement as a whole is making great strides in fighting this naivete.

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    1. Suzanne - I wholeheartedly agree. One thing I wish Ms. Joyce had made clear was that this story did not represent mainstream evangelicals in the U.S. While there are a significant number of evangelicals who follow the kind of teaching in this article, they don't represent the majority.

      One thing I brought away from the article is that I'd like to see evangelical Christians, not only lead the way in making the needs of the world's orphans known, I'd also like to see us calling for family preservation when possible, for ethical adoptions, and for really equipping prospective adoptive parents. We should stand for truth in every part of the process.

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  4. I can not speak for others because I think everyone who adopts has a different journey a different reason for adopting. My husband and I are currently waiting to be matched. We have 4 children who are biological and now would like to add to our family through international adoption. We are not naïve and know that we taking a huge are huge risk. We also believe the rewards are great too! I do not think that turning our heads to the problem of orphans will solve the problem, but at the same time anyone who adopts needs to educate themselves to what they might face and how to get help if they need it.

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  5. Hi Dana, I have just finished reading The Child Catchers and found it to be meticulously researched. I also went to the rebuttal article you referenced and have just finished reading the comments and making a few of my own. One thing that I find so discouraging in adoption is that those who would critique certain aspects of it are so often unfairly and emotionally attacked for their views, but I suppose that goes with the territory. It really bothers me when adoptive parents present themselves as the experts in all things adoption before their children have even reached adolescence and developed their own critical thinking skills. For the adoptee, and I'm speaking as an adopted adult here, adoption really is a lifelong journey and not a one-time event. As you know, I support an adopted adult's civil right to access her own original birth certificate, and it distresses me that evangelical groups are often leading the charge against adoptee rights bills. I do not understand how prohibiting a full-grown adult from accessing her own history in any way contributes to the best interest of the adopted person. I thank you for your post and for your referral to the rebuttal article. Perhaps I succeeded in opening a few minds, perhaps not, but I so wish we could all express our views without attacking each other! (And I wish we could better educate people to the fact that there is no link between abortion rates and adult adoptee access bills -- we have decades of data that determines this is so!)

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    1. Susan, Thank you so much for speaking up. I should have added access to original birth certificates to my list of things I'd like Christian adoption advocates to work for. I don't know why anyone would oppose that.

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    2. Thank you for sharing your voice - a very important one Susan.

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  6. Hi Dana, your post hits close to home and will have me thinking for some time to come.

    This article maddens me because as a foster/adoptive parent of children from my own state,I can tell you that these types of stories happen every single day right here in the USA by biological families. There is nothing good about any of my adopted children's stories, their histories, the removals (from everything they knew even if it was for the "right" reasons) in order to keep them safe. It isn't just unprepared adoptive families where these disruption scenarios play out.

    In addition, the alleged behaviors discussed in the article happen in adoptive, foster (I have received kids from another foster home under investigation), blended, and biological families. I think it is unfair to pinpoint one family who struggled with their adoption choices and brush the broad stroke across Evangelical Christians. The bigger question for me is, "Did they use their circle of influence to cause grief/harm in the world of adoption?" I think not, in fact quite the opposite.

    My daughter was an Above Rubies intern living with the Campbells in the spring of 2008 when much of the adoption disruption occurred. She had previously traveled to Africa and experienced first hand how vast the chasm was/is between third world and first world cultures. Her travels and being the oldest biological child in a foster family gave her tremendous perspective when she found herself given a front row seat to a family in distress. I would caution readers to remember that there are always two sides to every story like this. Did the Allisons/Campbells underestimate the challenges of helping their Liberian teenagers bridge the culture gap? Clearly they did.

    However, I think we adoptive families all do the same thing because adoption is a leap of faith and it is nearly impossible with the level of unknowns to truly estimate/prepare for the future challenges that come with any adoption. We leap and hope for the best.

    I believe the older the child at adoption, the more open we need to be in respecting the inevitable culture gap.We must be willing to take a wider and more realistic view of what the future holds for a child inculcated by another culture and grieving the loss of all they ever knew. The difference is often beyond our imaginations.

    Living Mother Jones' article second-hand through my daughter gave me a wider perspective that eventually helped us to successfully adopt a nine and six year old from China with eyes wide and respectfully open.

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    1. Jennifer, I apologize if my post seemed to criticize the Allisons without knowing their side of the story. I tried to summarize the facts as presented in the Mother Jones article -- inserting some of my thoughts and questions along the way.

      I agree that you can never be totally prepared, but I think hearing the stories of other adoptive families -- both the good and the painfully hard stories -- can help adoptive families have a more realistic idea of what they are undertaking.

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    2. Dana, no offense taken at all. In fact, I thought you summarized the article very well. I agree that we need to hear the stories, good and hard for motivation and caution. Rose colored glasses do not work very well in the adoption world. Thanks for your reply.

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  7. Kudos for bringing this topic out into the light Dana. Perhaps the family in question might have been better served to go at this more slowly instead of adopting four children at once. Anyone would be overwhelmed in that scenario. I don't have any adopted children -- but I applaud those that attempt to make these children's lives better. Thank you for your insights.

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  8. I read the Mother Jones article and the rebuttal. As someone who is NOT an evangelical Christian, but who is an adoptive parent, I can say that I very often feel alienated because of my (lack of) belief system in the larger adoptive parent community. I *wish* I could say I believe in "God's perfect plan" or that I can find comfort for my son's future in scripture, but I can't. As an outsider I am alarmed by the prevalence of Christian adoption "conferences" and I am alarmed by the seemingly overwhelming "call to action" that many evangelical Christians *appear* to receive from their churches. I am basing these comments on what I observe through acquaintances on social media sites, blog posts and adoption forums. It scares me to think that good intentioned people are called by faith to rush into something that could so profoundly impact the life of a child. Of course I don't believe that *every* evangelical Christian who adopts is doing so without being informed/prepared for what may lie ahead. But I worry does faith leaves space for a child like mine, who is on the fetal alcohol spectrum and who needs to be raised in a way very different from traditional Christian parenting methods? What happens to a child who doesn't accept Jesus as their savior? I don't think abuse is unique to the evangelical adoption movement. But I do think that a "passion for orphans" can lead hearts astray.

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    1. Nora, Thanks so much for commenting. I think that many of us, adoptive parents of different faiths or no faith at all, have had to adjust our parenting styles and add new tools to our toolbox to parent our adopted kids well. I'm generally really encouraged when I talk to adoptive parents. Most seem willing to think outside the box and make changes that help their kids. Maybe it's just the circles I run in -- a lot of those circles are online -- but I'm encouraged.

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    2. Nora, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It helps as a Christian adoptive mom to hear this. There is a lot of "ignorance" in the Christian adoption world, but it is getting better. Some of those conferences are doing great work - Empowered to Connect, for one. Appreciate your voice.

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  9. One thing we are doing very wrong is hosting orphans. The purpose of this is to bring orphans to America and have the host families or other Christian families adopt the children. Many of the children who are hosted are not even available for adoption, and the children get hurt, as well as many host families.

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