In her book The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, Kathryn Joyce details many heart wrenching and life-altering examples of corruption, and I am grieved, for my own experience has been so different. She conveys a sense of respect for those from different cultures through her lovely narrative style that conveys a beautiful human element. No matter who she's describing, while chronicling the hard facts about painfully difficult matters, she still brings an irenic sense of realistic respect as opposed to prejudice. But as I read, I found myself imagining myself talking to Joyce, apologizing on behalf of all of the people who have abused so many so sorely out of ignorance, greed, lust for power and their quests for achieving spiritual “visions.”
A part of me grieves that Joyce's book and those like Janet Heimlich's book, Breaking their Will, were not published by Zondervan or Intervarsity Press, and that too many Mother Jones articles didn't first appear in Christianity Today. I sadly suspect that their likes never will. From outside of the Faith, I welcome the help in addressing these matters and am grateful, but I am also so grieved that the Church did not bring these matters to light first. Christendom would have then set the standard of integrity and accountability for itself, just as it should. Local pastors should have averted the need for the intervention of those who are almost like our new ministers (of justice) – men like the District Attorneys Mike Ramsey and Rich Weyrich. I have also been deeply moved by their willingness to speak truthfully about and confront Michael Pearl. It is abundantly clear that these children are not just names on a file that passes over their desks but souls who were worthy of honor and care that they never received. I cannot say the same for those professing Christians who participated in the foreign adoption mill industry.
Before discussing the dehumanization issues, I personally feel the need to establish that many Christians approach their work with countries in need much differently and far better than the example that has been set in the African adoption “industry.” As I mentioned in a previous post discussing two of the tragic deaths of these adopted children, one of my concerns as a Christian surrounds the likelihood that people have issues with theism to point at these tragic examples as a scapegoat which typifies all Christians.
The Essential Need of a Good Theoretical Model for Foreign Ministry
What does a good foreign missions program do that makes it different from a bad one? A large supporting church contacts a (woman) missionary in a war torn country, stating that the church wants to come to her country where she is serving to build an orphanage. Members of the church once visited her city and others heard reports of orphans with AIDS wandering the streets there. This missionary knew the culture and the orphanage system, and she felt that the institutionalized approach increased the risk of exploitation of the children dramatically. It would worsen the risk of disease transmission. The costs would be fifteen times higher to care for the needs of these children in such an institution, etc., etc.... She knew that the care of the children and any ministry undertaking like this would have to be at the discretion of the nationals who operated the local churches there, and she didn't believe that this would be feasible to them either. But the missionary was intimidated at the prospect of explaining why an orphanage would be a horrible solution, especially a church that provided a good portion of her own financial support. She was faced with what is called the “donor dilemma” and the untenable expectations that donors often put on those to whom they give support.
I draw this example from Joann Butrin's book, From the Roots Up: A Closer Look at Compassion and Justice in Missions. I mentioned Dr. Joann in a previous post about “Great Mercy Women,” was taught her approach to foreign missions, and even served on the field with her. Along with my former pastor turned missionary, she taught me a model from a young age that proves to be very different than the one promoted in the Quiverfull movement. In addition to working from within and by supporting existing Christian infrastructure when beginning any new or short-term work in a foreign country, the approach one takes is really quite lowly. You do all to adapt to the people in a sense of utter respect, something I would describe a holy reverence for who they are. (When talking about this once with one of my coworkers, she said that, to her and in her different religious tradition, this is what she saw as the essence of the term 'nameste.')
My former pastor tells a story about how the humble and grateful Guarani once served him their delicacies on his first trip to Bolivia, and what he thought was rice turned out to be a bowl of maggots which he humbly and gratefully ate. I learned from him as he learned from his mentors that his job was not to Americanize the people, nor was he there to do things to make himself feel like he was some great champion. To do these things objectifies and dehumanizes the very people that one goes to foreign countries to serve. You serve them and adapt to their needs at great personal cost. They do not adapt to nor do they serve you (Mark 10:45). Using the tragedy and the very lives of others as stock items in a project for personal gratification – even if your intent is idealistic, good, or even “Biblical” – is no different than how an addict uses a substance to achieve a high.
In the Kindle edition of her book (starting at location 303), From the Roots Up, Dr. Butrin describes the essential, necessary elements of an effective missions effort, whether here or abroad. To be truly effective, one must attend to the needs of the people by
at every strata of interaction
caring (which becomes evident over time as trust is established)
- Participating in Solutions (as opposed to temporary “relief”)
Not So In Orphanages in Africa Catering to the Quiverfull
Butrin's book on missions has a subchapter heading that says that the “Church Knows the Context” of the type of care needed on the mission field. The local churches run by the indigenous nationals or residents of the country that one seeks to help know the most effective and cost efficient ways to meet the needs of their own people.
In the examples detailed in Kathryn Joyce's book, the many agents who worked as the middle-men in Africa between the children and the American families who were desperate to do something mighty for God seemed to have little to no interest in “knowing the context.” Those middle-men who ran the adoption programs or those who procured children profited financially while the religious ideologues in the US profited by the feeling that they'd done something great for God to advance the quiverfull agenda – as they believe that having big families will save America and then will save the world. Some of them profited in other ways as well. One example in the book talks about how their efforts paid to restore old buildings to create a facility for a Russian adoption program (wherein everyone went around whispering, as legally it couldn't be “about adoption” because they are no longer permitted).
I encourage every evangelical to read Joyce's book, but I will very generally summarize the general state of affairs that example after example repeats in her research. Evangelical parents who are desperate for children for various reasons (another topic for another day) seek to accomplish the Great Commission by bringing the “lost” to their homes instead of going out to minister to both widow and the childless together in the manner that is most beneficial for them.
At least, within the quiverfull groups, these factors contributed to their lack of wisdom in seeking these adoptions. First, these Christian were told and believed that they were rescuing abandoned and destitute orphans with no family to care for them. They believed that they were rescuing a child from a hopeless places where God was powerless – utterly “godless” and pagan places that were believed to be void of all hope in terms of God bringing revival and restoration. One must understand that the quiverfull movement is xenophobic, and they too often see their Western, agrarian lifestyle preferences as expressly Christian. It embodies a great deal of mystical superstition concerning and hatred for “pagan nations” who are seen as cursed and are reaping what they deserve as something that glorifies God. They have little interest in proselytizing adults, for the crucible of hope for change rests primarily in growing proper Christian families, so they are only interested in children – their children. They're under pressure to grow the voting block in the US so we can elect the right politicians so that they can usher in the millennial rule of Christ. They believe that by adopting a child into their own “covenant community,” that they are guaranteeing their salvation. And the untested, ideological authoritarian formulaic programs sold to them by their gurus promise perfect, mystical, guaranteed results. The Bible is offered to them as evidence of their formula's effectiveness. I believe, also, that the entitlement and elitism within the hierarchical subculture which promotes blind submission as a mystical panacea also promotes a sense of the right to “parental convenience.” They didn't have to go to Haiti or Africa, but they had a right to “harvest” from them. (To understand more about my understanding of this Christian subculture, I highly recommend viewing the patriarchy workshop that I presented a few years ago.)
Adoption is held as a Christian virtue for the very reasons Joyce explains quite well in her book, though she does so from outside the Christian culture. What I see missing in the groups she writes about in her book is the loving respect for fellow human beings and the spirit of self-sacrifice needed for such types of ministry. My explanation for that as a Christian who believes in a sovereign God? Jesus explained it when He said that the one thing that can make the Word of God ineffective is the traditions of men (Mark 7:13). We suffer from no dearth of them, particularly within Christianity, this subculture's traditions created a market for foreign child trafficking, depicted well in this Mother Jones article.
Agents for orphanages in Africa went about recruiting children, either buying them from families, in effect, or explaining that they were participating in a program that would provide their children with an education in America. Who would hesitate to send their children to a land of wealth to be cared for by good people who wanted to help give their children benefits that they could never dream of offering them? Parents and extended families who had charge of children had no idea that they were actually signing away their parental rights to their children and saw these adoption programs as a type of cultural exchange for students. More children who are in the greatest need wander the streets with no documentation that will allow them entrance into adoption programs, but when a needy parent signs their child over, there is just enough documentation to qualify them to meet the legal requirements for foreign adoptions. Some of the African adoption agencies claimed that children were much younger than they actually were to help to facilitate their placement in American homes.
To those who are interested in the Quiverfull Movement, Joyce also writes about the Liberian adpotion initiative. Nancy Campbell of Above Rubies magazine became a zealous advocate for Liberian adoptions, and Joyce traces the experiences and personal testimonies of observers, neighbors, and the adoptees. Though some of the adopted children (by both Nancy and her daughter Serene) have made some peace with the family (the ones not sent back to Liberia), their saga also proves sad and tragic. Parents in Africa suffer the loss of their children, and often, the children have extended family who could have and were willing to care for them.
Well-meaning adoptive parents in the US are deceived into believing that their new children are true orphans with no family to take them in. The children suffer the loss of separation and horrible sadness sadness. Some are placed in homes that have entirely unrealistic expectations for them and definitions of what “ministry” to their new children means. Some become the household tactotum. One of the witnesses of events at the Campbell and Allison homestead stated, “Slavery is alive and well. There's no doubt about it in my mind. . . I couldn't get anyone to do anything for those kids. I am strictly bitter over that, and I will always remain bitter” (pg 187). Did the Campbells expect to get ready-made or did they intend to shape the adopted girls into exemplary Quivering Daughters? (Read more HERE.)
Many of the children are beaten, and some die like Hana Williams and Lydia Schatz. Yesterday, the Williams parents were found guilty of manslaughter and domestic assault, and the adoptive mother received a special verdict reserved for cases involving children under sixteen called “homicide by abuse.”
I learned in Joyce's book that the birth parents of the late Lydia Schatz are alive and well in Liberia. Because of the legalities of the adoption, they discovered after Lydia's death that they had no recourse to intervene, not that it would bring their daughter back. Doing anything would help them feel less powerless. I wonder if Zariah (Lydia's surviving sister) will seek to return to them or if she already has done so?
Pure and Undefiled?
The Quiverfull movement is not interested in foreign, heathen mothers from pagan lands that they believe are lost and beyond hope. True salvation comes through “shepherding a child's heart.” They don't think about the churches in Haiti or Africa where these families lived – people that might have been able to help mother and child find respite from the storms of their lives. They don't believe that salvation lies anywhere outside of a nuclear, Westernized, usually Calvinist family, for submission in families in their high demand folk religion's program does hold submission as the cure all for all of society.
It all starts in their kind of home, and only their kind of home. In countries where women must work outside of the home, they see only spiritual doom for them. The state of affairs of the needy exist to service the needs of the entitled, and this is part of the theology itself. Everything, including the spiritual fate of a soul, is dependent on their kind of preferred family life. These are the unspoken assumptions of attitude that circulate underneath the veneer of the subculture, but few people recognize them as such. Adherents hear that they are destined and chosen by God to save the world, and compassionate hearts are wooed into following the “vision.” They are then presented with ready-made, fool-proof plans of hidden wisdom, all available for a nominal fee.
How I wish someone in this movement had thought more about a healthy, working theoretical model for missions, but they were too busy propping up too many other contrived agendas, “proving” the veracity of their own traditions and servicing their sacred cows!
The next post will discuss
more details about the problem of the
objectification of birth mothers
and the challenge to keep families together,
if they indeed are the crucible of Christian hope.
The problem with the Quiverfull Movement involves the deception involved. Note in this video that the key considerations for supporting a culture is mentioned as critically important, but everything about the actions of the group contradict the statement. This video from Vision Forum is part of a host of them that urge parents to adopt, but the real needs of the culture were not supported by the group. (It was about adoption and the agenda of this group, not about missions, though Phillips can rattle off the right answers.) Their hidden curriculum differs dramatically from the formal statements. This attitude lead to the imprisonment of Laura Sibley and other workers from Idaho who also adopted a paternalistic attitude on their mission from God to rescue children out of this “godless, pagan culture.”
Rescue Haitis Children: The Great Commission In Haiti Leads to Cultural Reformation from Douglas Phillips on Vimeo.
Adoptions Gone Wrong (Valerie Tarico at the Washington Post)
Bible Based Discipline Has Led to Child Abuse(Valerie Tarico at Salon.com)
Conflict of Love and Ethiopian Adoption: “Girl Adopted” (Maureen Evans/PBS)
The Evangelical Orphan Boom (Kathryn Joyce at NY Times)