Friday, September 13, 2013

Objectification and Dehumanization in Adoption, Particularly within the Quiverfull Movement

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
~ From a translation of
Robert Burns' poem

I often think of this line from Burns' poem when I think about a religious movement gone bad. So many groups often set out to accomplish wonderful things, but at some point, things start to go sour. Instead of that “promised joy,” people become confused and disenchanted when grief and pain result instead. I believe that with Bible-based cultic groups, leaders market what seems like a foolproof plan to achieve great and inspiring accomplishments for many different ideals. 

Flaws that aren't so obvious in the original plan, problems eventually start to surface. Even with what seems like an ironclad plan of perfection can go awry when people compromise because of their zealousness, choosing not so innocent methods by which they purse their ultimate goal. Add to the mix a charismatic leader with a high need for control, admiration, and stimulation, and this subtle combination often creates a perfect storm. On the very surface of it and at the very beginning, people are willing to set aside their natural doubts in order to gain the promised joy.

In this type of “perfect storm,” to remain a part of the group, the individual must essentially sign critical thought over to someone else in an act of blind faith in the system. People so desire the benefits of the promise that they are willing to do whatever is necessary to get it, including abdication of their own consciences and choices. And it seems that the group never lacks strategies that keep people engaged in the mission. Sometimes, the more extreme the strategy, the more enticing people find it, and this draws them further into the group.

Christianity has long held charity and good works as a great virtue, and they also become a way that inner virtue manifests in the life of the Christian. But something often goes awry. Sometimes, we get the idea that to raise our own internal virtue, we start to believe that doing good works will enhance who we are on the inside as well. Doing good things feels rewarding, so some of us start to use the act of doing good works to feel better about ourselves. When that very subtle shift in primary motivation switches from helping others (for whatever specific internal reason) to good works that help others as something that serves us instead of them.  This also causes a shift in our perspective, and we can start to justify our self-serving actions. 

We become more important to the people we seek to help, and they become our playthings when this happens. The people we use in this way become like objects to us, so they are said to be “objectified.” People are far more important than objects, so when we think of people in this way, we rob them of their full status as human beings who are on equal par with us. In some sense in our eyes, we dismiss aspects of their humanity. Objectification, turning people into objects, results in their dehumanization. They become a little less than us.

Quiverfull's Objectification of Birth Mothers and their Children

Care of widows and fatherless orphans has always been a strong Christian tradition that the Bible mandates. The Book of James states this quite directly, defining it as an essential element of “true religion, pure and undefiled” (James 1:27). I believe that those who get drawn into the quiverfull movement perceive of family much like good works, and it's the greatest good work which is said to fix everything. The bigger your family becomes, the more virtue you seem to have, whether you're trying to enhance your holiness (to be set apart), or whether you're proving to the world that you are different and better. It also proves your worth and value to the group as well as dedication to its idealism, and it also will save the world. In the quiverfull mentality, you must set everything aside to help to save the people that matter, and not everyone in the world is worth saving. Sinners who will never be Christians aren't worth the resources, and they don't matter. What matters the most is your own family and filling it with as many children as possible. God will use them to outnumber the evil people, and this is the most effective way that God can use you.

If you're a quiverfull wife and mother, your primary purpose involves serving your husband, and your primary role involves helping your husband “extend his covenantal family unit.” You become an object in your husband's drama as a baby machine and a domestic helper. Your daughters also become a means to an end, for according to gender roles, a daughter serves her father by also providing domestic support. If you're redeemed by your family in the “covenant community” as a member of the elect, under the covering of your husband, and you're seen as a means to an end, how much less regard is there for women who have “produced” the children that you believe you're “meant” to adopt – those children that “God chose” to graft into your “covenantal family unit”? If they became pregnant through an act of sexual sin, they're even more disqualified from human consideration as a vessel for destruction who hates God and whose demise and suffering somehow bring Him glory. That sinner birth mother merits death and anything ill that befalls her. And then you have the Doug Wilsons in the group who thinks that the unborn babies of the non-elect deserve death. If their mothers want to abort them, this glorifies God, too, because they just reach their bitter end a bit sooner, I suppose. But not all take things as far as Wilson. (If you've read this blog for any length of time, you will have likely seen this quote which I believe bears repeating.)

From Wilson's Mother Kirk, pages 245 – 246: 
In the hard providence of God, He sometimes allows His enemies to destroy themselves. When the pagan nations outside Israel sent their children into the fires of Molech, Israel wasn’t called to blockade the fire and rescue the babies. And when Israelite kings followed Molech, the people were not commanded to revolt. Israelites were to make sure they didn’t kill their own children (Lev 20), but God-haters were left to destroy themselves (Is 57:13; Jer 5:19; 6:19, 21)… 
Let them kill themselves, for “God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (Rom 1:28), even “murder” (Rom 1:29). This is the wrath of God… 
[W]e must take up arms to defend God’s covenant children (Neh 4:14). But we may not use violence until they come after authorities or to defend the lives of Molech worshipers and their children. This is far more secular than biblical.
We must remember the antithesis. Scripture always remembers that deep chasm between those seeking to honor God and those who hate him. But this has not been a part of contemporary pro-life rhetoric. 
The unbelievers are destroying themselves in a frenzy of child-murder and fruitless sodomy. Let them go. These are hard words. But Christians must learn to say them. Paul taught us that the children of God-haters are “foul” or “unclean” (I Cor 7:14). We must come to the day when the Christian can truly rebuke those who are “without natural affection” and say – “The ancient psalmist blessed the one who would take little ones of those who hate God and dash them on the rock (Ps 137:9). We see by your pro-abortion position that you clearly agree with this kind of treatment. And we in the Church, in a way you cannot truly comprehend, are now prepared to say amen.”

Anyone who is not “elect” as demonstrated by large families and attendance of the right type of church, living of the right lifestyle, subscription to the right parachurch organization resources, etc., can be used or discarded. No duty is owed to those who fall outside of this group. There is nothing Christian about any of this.

Unbounded Choices and Better Alternatives

In the previous post, we learned that The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce depicts example after example of objectified birth parents and the children that they were manipulated into putting up for adoption, often told that they were enrolling their child in an exchange program that would provide them with an education. In this example, we see how the perfect storm of the best laid plans to deliver promised joy produce grief and pain. But not all of these birth mothers were foreign, from “evil” countries that were seen as beyond hope and deserving of the devastation they suffer.

Having read Dr. Joann Butrin's and Kathryn Joyce's books in close proximity, I found it interesting that both concluded the same things about fatherless children and widows, as well as the virtues of helping them which seems to be the fruit of virtue which manifests in “true religion.” The Book of James mentions both together, and given that the quiverfull ideology places both “select” Biblical ideas as well as the importance of family as paramount, it seems reasonable that God would want to keep both mother and child together in their distress. We must never treat them like objects, nor are they props in a play that is all about us and our needs. Adoptive parents who fall in love with their new children claim that “God always meant” for that child to be theirs because of their feelings of joy and fulfillment. However, how can that be the case if the “donors” from which commodities have been “harvested” suffer terribly after being deceived and manipulated into participation in it in the first place.

I know that this is not, by any means, always the case in adoption, but if it happens at all, it is one occurrence too many. Joyce points out many examples of this kind of objectification and dehumanization in her book, even with birth mothers within the US, and not all of them are exclusive to those who are formal quiverfull adherents. I've been told by multiple sources that Russell Moore was very offended that I associate him with the movement, as he prefers to identify with the 20 million Southern Baptists in the US as opposed to what he considers fringe. He sees his preferred version of patriarchy as somehow different than other groups that push both large families, adoptions, gender hierarchy, and gender roles, but I do not. Kathryn Joyce does a rather thorough job of documenting the similarities in TheChild Catchers.

Rather than use families like objects with commodities to be harvested and parts to be discarded by those who perceive themselves and their mission to be elite, it gives reason that the real challenge we face as Christians involves preserving the humanity of those we seek to help. Sometimes that's not by grand interventions of rescuing but by becoming friends to those in need. Knowing what to do and how is a mighty challenge, too. There are no static rules, and there is no promised joy. Each instance requires great discernment and wisdom. Meeting the needs of widows and the childless in their affliction is messy business, and quite often what we need think that they need and what is in their best interests are not the same thing.

We must also affirm the value of parents as well as the unborn and of babies when we talk about being pro-life. All life is precious. Birth mothers should be as precious to us as babies and children.

Greater love has no man than this:than to lay down one's life for his friends.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity,I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
People do not only have souls that we register for heaven;
they also have bodies that need to be taken care of
They have not only ears to hear what we have to say
they also have eyes to observe whether we truly live according to what we proclaim.
There is not authentic mission
without the motivation of love and the practice of compassion.
~ Robert Lupton in