Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement's Adoption Obsession

In Mother Jones magazine, a story about the dark side of the evangelical adoption movement that has swept the United States over the past decade: "When devout Christian families made it their mission to save children from war-torn countries, the match was often far from heavenly."

There's a related infographic on the rise in US adoptions from war-torn countries, and corresponding corruption.

The story focuses on an evangelical Christian Tennessee family who adopted, and according to their adoptees, abused, a series of children from war-torn Liberia. They first adopted four children, then another two.

[Christian wifehood magazine] Above Rubies feature on evangelical couple Sam and Serene Allisons, with their adopted and biological children.

They didn't attend school, either; home schooling mostly consisted of Serene reading to the younger children. When the older kids watched a school bus drive past on a country road and asked why they couldn't go, they were met with various excuses. So Isaiah and Alfred worked with Sam in his house-painting business or labored in Nancy Campbell's immense vegetable garden while CeCe, Kula, and Cherish cleaned, cooked, and tended to a growing brood of young ones. It was also the job of the "African kids," as they called themselves, to keep a reservoir filled with water from the creek. CeCe hadn't yet learned to read when Serene gave her a book on midwifery so she could learn to deliver their future babies. "They treated us pretty much like slaves," she said. It's a provocative accusation, but one that Kula and Isaiah—as well as two neighbors and a children's welfare worker—all repeated.

Discipline included being hit with rubber hosing or something resembling a riding crop if the children disrespected Serene, rejected her meals, or failed to fill the reservoir. For other infractions, they were made to sleep on the porch without blankets. Engedi, the toddler, was disciplined for her attachment to CeCe. To encourage her bond with Serene, the Allisons would place the child on the floor between them and CeCe and call her. If Engedi went to CeCe instead, the children recalled, the Allisons would spank her until she wet herself

The Mother Jones report focuses on the plight of this group of Liberian adoptees, but as I read it, I'm struck by how closely their story—and the larger context of adoptions from conflict zones in Africa—mirrors what I've investigated here in Guatemala over the years, where I am currently covering the genocide trial of former general and dictator Rios Montt.

As multiple expert witnesses for the prosecution in the genocide trial have testified, the internal armed conflict here tore apart indigenous communities and families, killing parents, creating orphans, displacing children, and acculturating them out of their indigenous identities.

The Guatemalan Army was closely tied with Christian organizations, including Montt's own "El Verbo" evangelical Pentecostal church, which facilitated adoptions en masse, leading to Guatemala becoming one of the largest "sender" countries for foreign adoptions.

There are many similarities between the Guatemalan adoption industry story and the 2000's-era Christian adoption phenomena described in the Mother Jones piece. Related reading, for those interested: Finding Fernanda, a book by Erin Siegal about how an American housewife discovered that the Guatemalan child she was about to adopt had been stolen from her birth mother.

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    1. Is there a ‘Evangelical $SOMETHING$ Movement’ that doesn’t have a dark side?

      Nope.

  1. Come on, I usually trust Boing Boing to look at things more scientifically and not see “patterns” in anecdotes. So there’s one family that abused their children. They happened to be considered “evangelical.” And suddenly there’s a dark side to every evangelical adoption in America? Many Christians value children greatly because they believe God does. They are the leading group adopting and caring for “unadoptable” (by age, disability, etc.) children in the US.  As an advocate for these kids, I ask you not to tar a whole group over the actions of one family. You risk a backlash that really DOES put kids in danger, by taking away a source of care.

    1.  It is important to look at issues from more than one point of view and you have correctly pointed out that good does come from programs addressing international poverty. Some of these groups get overzealous and some of the impoverished locals see an opportunity for some easy cash by misrepresenting children as orphans. I have first hand experience hiring a refugee brought to the US by World Vision. She was a kind decent human being who didn’t speak a word of English. World Vision just dropped her and her family off with elevated expectations of life in the US. I sadly had to let her go as the complete lack of communication ability made it impossible to work for me. We Americans have a naive belief that we can fix the world by exporting our culture and bringing disadvantaged people here for a better life. This has proven to be a disaster in the middle east and will probably not benefit any one else long term.

      1.  Almost 100% of children labeled as “orphans” are not what we consider orphans (they still have immediate family members alive).  It’s all about poverty and social conditions….including in the US.

    2. Wholly agreed. We adopted our boys from Africa a few years back. Though we’re unabashed atheists, we met many other adoptive families along the way that tended to the conservative protestant end of the spectrum. While I can’t get on board with their religious views, these people cared deeply for these kids, and honestly any one of these families was well above par compared to what I’ve found passes for parenting. (Try getting greenlighted for adoption and you’ll soon see why.) I differ greatly with these folks on a great number of practical and political issues, but I think their hearts and even their actions are in the right place more often than I had expected.

      Frankly, if stupid, horrible people want children, they usually pull it off just fine without the extensive effort and cost required for international adoption. This particular family sounds awful, but it’s an exceptional case used to paint with misleadingly broad brushstrokes. Something tells me life isn’t much better for their biological children.

    3. I am friends with a number of the doctors in the international clinic in our city. The doctors themselves are mostly American Evangelical Christians and run the clinic together with a number of locals. As an atheist I don’t agree with everything they do or their reasons for doing it but I am deeply impressed by their efforts. A third of their time is spent in the international clinic, a third in a free clinic in the same building that is open for orphans, foster families and people who can’t afford medical care and a third in different orphanages, old people’s homes and HIV clinics in the area. They provide experience for local medical students in these areas. They have a separate branch to support fostering and adoption, and can mobilize local and foreign families all around the city if there are children from orphanages who need emergency foster care. They then support the families with donations of clothes, free healthcare, baby food, childcare, childminding advice, regular group outings and so on. They raise financial support and can help families who are looking to adopt as they go through the process.

      We recently finished the adoption process for our foster son who we’ve been looking after for two and a half years. The doctors and the other families have been amazing, and the change we’ve seen in many of the children (all of whom are disabled to some degree) is a testament to the dedication of everyone concerned. Whether or not you agree with the spiritual motives for doing this, the concern these people have for the physical and emotional well-being of the children is undeniable.

      1. Yes, but what about supplying contraception and family planning/HiV prevention to the adults so there are less children/orphans ? Where does your group stand on this ?

        1. And your point is what? That the evangelical group in question doesn’t pass your 100-pt litmus-inspection, thus all good works are invalidated, since they don’t include MORE good works?

          Just like that Ghandi fellow — he had some good ideas, but he was a trained lawyer who didn’t embrace legal reform.

          1. I think it is important to understand the parameters of what a faith-based aid group is doing in their efforts to help a particular population. It has to jibe with my ethics/morality to have MY support. Just because a group SAYS they have a mission to help doesn’t mean the people they have descended upon feel helped by them, or have even asked for that kind of assistance.

            Faith based groups who hold the scriptures above science, and do not offer information on family planning, HiV prevention and treatment, and advocate for less healthy choices like feeding with formula v.s. breastfeeding are very problematic, to me.

            The act of trying to help is good, when it is done respectfully, and with little interference/domination of the population they are trying to help. I find faith-based assistance difficult/uncomfortable because of the strings attached, which are often tethered to things like colonialism, racism, cultural insensitivity. The help that is offered may be good, but the social/cultural destruction that happens in its wake is generally very not good.

          2. You say that unless these doctors subscribe to your laundry list of demands they aren’t truly helping.

            No strings attached.

            How YOU define “healthy choices” is an entirely subjective, political, and socially constructed measurement. The evangelical Christians in the MJ article Xini linked to are part of the back-to-the-land movement, so I would assume they are breast-feeders. They might also use less-conventional family planning strategies (like the ones folks used before silicone was invented). The doctors that Jonathan Roberts is talking about are clearly devoted to helping people; what if the services they’re delivering simply what their patients are asking for?

            Medical policy makers represent a similar hegemonic power to that of any christian ideology. You talk about “healthy choices,” but it was the medical establishment that started treating pregnancy as a sickness, started urging parents not to breast feed, and continues to complicate breach births with c-sections. All sorts of problems occur when one group of people tries to push their beliefs on others, even when that group has the admirable qualities that we naively attribute to science.

        2. For the record, they do supply contraception. As they are based in China, the family planning part is a bit moot, but they would also support this. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of faith based groups standing against breastfeeding, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t one of them.

    4. If this happens in 5% of cases, are you comfortable trading the 5% for the 95%?  You seem to be christian, but your implicit argument seems remarkably utilitarian.

      It’s unattractively presumptuous of you to leap to the ‘anecdote’ / ‘one family’ charge.  There are facts here that need to be faced.  If you stand in defence of evangelical adoption, you must answer first the accusations brought forward.  You must assure on your own reputation to people like me – skeptics and cynics, humanitarians and carers – that to the best extent of your knowledge and your possibility for knowing, and your intuition, that this is factually incorrect and a gross exaggeration.  If you cannot do that, your statements are null and void, and will receive applause in your community, but not beyond.

      And, over the past years, the number of countries shutting down adoption avenues is increasingly reported, precisely because of abuse issues.

      As with so many sensitive issues around religious institutions in these modern information-free days, your statements skirt around the importance inherent in the discussion.

      1. I’m not sure you’re actually familiar with the facts you reference. Countries shut down international adoption as a political tactic (see Russia) or because of widespread abuse by the profiteers who move in to exploit the process (see Hati, Guatemala, etc.). Well-intentioned adoptive parents sometimes get caught up in the process because the profiteers mislead them (and often birth families as well) in order to turn a buck. Stories about crazy evangelicals tricking families into relinquishing children are a headline-grabbing distraction. Religion may motivate a few people to make bad decisions (and actually motivates a lot of people to make good decisions regarding adoption, IMHO), but *money* motivates *lots* of people to make terrible decisions and to mislead those who mean well. Dig into why countries shut down adoptive programs, and you’ll see it’s not about religious zealotry.

        As I mentioned earlier, I often find plenty of difference with evangelicals (or any religious bunch), but lots of firsthand experience tells me they mean and do well here. And while everyone is entitled to an opinion, I’m baffled at the antagonism for people who devote unimaginable effort into helping others. I think if we spent half as much time actually pitching in (locally, abroad, wherever, however) as we do complaining about and questioning the people who actually do pitch in, we’d make a lot more progress and perhaps even get a more accurate sense of what drives those on the other side of the aisle.

        1.  I do pitch in.  Money and effort are where my mouth is.

          My focus is on helping deliver basic necessities to communities in need, and providing the educational and economic mechanisms to make sure they have durable platforms for life improvement.

          Whenever religion gets involved, things seem to get tangled.

      2. Nowhere did @GertaLives:disqus  make the utilitarian argument that 95% positive results justify 5% negative results.  All (s)he argued was that it’s unfair (and revelatory of the kind of bias that usually gets criticized in these quarters) for media outlets to use an isolated anecdote or two justifies statements like: “When devout Christian families made it their mission to save children
        from war-torn countries, the match was often far from heavenly.” Mother Jones is like the Fox News (or maybe the Blaze) of the left for pulling crap like this.

        I join many others in this thread who share very little political common ground with right-wing evangelicals. But we can disagree with their worldview and debate and fight them on intolerance, patriarchy, etc. (and also work to educate them about how some of their well-meaning actions might actually do more harm than good), all without denigrating the good that they actually do or smearing the whole group for the despicable actions a few assholes take in their name.

        It’s not acceptable to smear all Hindus or Muslims because a few immigrants enslave their household help.  And it shouldn’t be acceptable to do it to Christians either.

        1. Yes! I also think that the polarized ideological debates are a distraction from the real problem. How do you fight ideas? You can’t, but thankfully the problem is not ideology, it’s something that can be addressed by taking action.

      3. This is one anecdote, and therefore it’s your job to convince people that it’s systematic, not the other way around. If this story had been about abortion clinics and gave the recent case in Philadelphia as an example of how they are all somehow involved (as I’m sure plenty of Evangelical websites are doing), you would rightly object.

        I do know a number of families with adopted children, and only two that seem to have had a very negative effect. One was a pastor and his wife who had adopted an Indian boy. They were very caring people but he always felt that he was missing something of his culture. I didn’t know him personally (the couple was older by this point) but I know he got in trouble with the law for smuggling drugs in West Africa. They bailed him out and brought him back to the country, but I think by this point they’ve let him do his own thing.

        The second couple I know lost their three children because of drug addiction, regular stays in prison etc. All three children were sent to the same couple in the city by UK social services. The couple had never had children before and didn’t really have much experience. After a while they started beating the children and kept them locked in the house, to the point where the oldest boy had to jump out of a second floor window to call for help. Obviously the newspaper article about this didn’t mention the couple’s religious affiliation, but it at least demonstrates that this can happen even with no religious adoption organizations involved.

        From my perspective, my main criticism of Evangelicals is the uncritical way that they accept anything with a Christian stamp on it. People will assume the good nature and motives of everyone involved and allow the kind of abuses of the system you mentioned for too long. Unfortunately though these abuses are far from exclusive to the religious population, and seem to be more examples of human nature.

      4. This is one anecdote, and therefore it’s your job to convince people that it’s systematic, not the other way around. If this story had been about abortion clinics and gave the recent case in Philadelphia as an example of how they are all somehow involved (as I’m sure plenty of Evangelical websites are doing), you would rightly object.

        I do know a number of families with adopted children, and only two that seem to have had a very negative effect. One was a pastor and his wife who had adopted an Indian boy. They were very caring people but he always felt that he was missing something of his culture. I didn’t know him personally (the couple was older by this point) but I know he got in trouble with the law for smuggling drugs in West Africa. They bailed him out and brought him back to the country, but I think by this point they’ve let him do his own thing.

        The second couple I know lost their three children because of drug addiction, regular stays in prison etc. All three children were sent to the same couple in the city by UK social services. The couple had never had children before and didn’t really have much experience. After a while they started beating the children and kept them locked in the house, to the point where the oldest boy had to jump out of a second floor window to call for help. Obviously the newspaper article about this didn’t mention the couple’s religious affiliation, but it at least demonstrates that this can happen even with no religious adoption organizations involved.

        From my perspective, my main criticism of Evangelicals is the uncritical way that they accept anything with a Christian stamp on it. People will assume the good nature and motives of everyone involved and allow the kind of abuses of the system you mentioned for too long. Unfortunately though these abuses are far from exclusive to the religious population, and seem to be more examples of human nature in action.

    5.  In the adoption community, the dark side of evangelical adoption is well known and documented. This is merely one example.

      Non-Christian children from other countries are being adopted *specifically* to be raised Christian and to elevate their adoptive family in the eyes of their particular congregation.  In fact, in many religious communities, they’ll actually try to relinquish their adoptee if it turns out the child doesn’t have serious enough medical conditions.  It’s not about the child’s needs….it’s about how saintly it makes the parents seem.

      The US and Somalia are the only countries which have not ratified the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of the Child, and Somalia has stated it will do so as soon as it gets its political act in gear, whereas the US has stated it will not sign because it takes rights away from Christian parents to raise children the way they want to.

      This, in all too many cases, is how they want to.

      1.  > In the adoption community, the dark side of evangelical adoption is well known and documented. This is merely one example.

        Please, by all means, cite sources!

      2. In fact, in many religious communities, they’ll actually try to relinquish their adoptee if it turns out the child doesn’t have serious enough medical conditions.

        Citations?

        1. Conveniently, NPR’s Fresh Air just did a show about this yesterday: The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption

          There’s a start for you.

          edit: oh, wait, now I see you want citations for the medical conditions issue. There are underground forums where these things are discussed, and I’ve gotten multiple confirmations of the problem in my local area from medical personnel who have been shocked by what they witness when they tell newly adoptive parents the “good news” which turns out to not be taken well at all. I’ve also spoken at length with a pediatrician who has been invited to speak at a number of evangelical churches on the subject (who was similarly horrified at the twist on what they are doing and why). But as far as research on the subject, no, I don’t know of any academic citations to link to. It’s not publicly disseminated info, after all.

          1. None of that is new to me; I already have concerns about the adoption movement although I personally don’t know any parents where I would be concerned about them mistreating their foster/adoptive children. What I have seen and heard of is repeated cases of corruption in smaller orphanages, as there’s a lot of money going towards international adoption (as the program mentioned, this represents a lot more than many nationals would receive by other channels). My argument is that the widespread abuse (not counting proselytism) by Evangelical parents that is assumed isn’t obvious from the links people have given in this thread. I haven’t seen anything to back up the claim that children are relinquished if they aren’t disabled enough (and certainly not in ‘many religious communities’). The focus on adoption as an evangelistic tool is much more realistic and it’s something I’ve seen in some cases (although the many Christians who do it for less ulterior motives should be mentioned).

            From what I can tell, adoption has been a reality in the church for as long as the church has been around, but the more recent attempts to use it to bolster the church and gain some moral high ground, along with the many problems from the sending end make it a lot less of a good cause than people think.

    6. Yeah, I have no great love for American Evangelicalism, but this story seemed to be taking a single anecdote, drawing a connection to a thematically but not casually or geographically related phenomenon in Guatemala, and conjuring a pattern of abuse from seemingly nowhere. I imagine a lot of conservative evangelical families, while they probably teach their adopted kids ideals I would not appreciate, do provide them with a safe home and genuine parental love.

      I also wouldn’t be surprised if there were corruption, kidnapping, and trafficking rampant in the international adoption industry, either, but this story doesn’t actually explore that possibility beyond conjecture. I would actually love a genuine bit of muckraking about this stuff.

    7. I wonder if your point of view would be so differentiated if the article was about a catholic movement and/or couple.

      1. I’d like to see the rush of support for openly Satanist people wanting to adopt.

  2. Jodi, I am in complete agreement – I love the diverse subjects on Boing-Boing, but am finding the anti-theistic bias becoming more and more a topic of posting – makes me sad and feel unwelcome here…

    1. I agree.  And get ready for the “there is no bias here” comments.

      That, or “the bias is justified” comments…

      1.  And lets not forget the “Christians have some sort of martyr complex where, despite being the clear social majority, they feel the need to vociferously point out where this is not the case and act like this somehow marginalizes their voices.”

        Oh wait.

      2. Look, maybe you should use your energy to try and fix the problem.  From within.  Instead of getting all butt hurt when outsiders bring to light the awful, awful atrocities that happen in the name of religion. Not even in the name of god — in the name of religion.

        It would do the entire world a WHOLE lot more good.

    2. But the editors (nearly all of them professed atheiests or agnostics) make no bones about hiding their beliefs. I can’t imagine going to a Christian website and saying “As an athiest, I feel unwelcome.” I know what I’m getting into.

    3. I don’t believe BB is anti-theistic.  It does however carry into the limelight issues inherent in religious institutions, and give forum to discussion around those.

      Child abuse is such a horrific and shameful disabler of a fulfilled life that it is incumbent on each and every individual, of whatever religious creed, shade or level of disbelief, to protect children.

      And if a charge is levelled at the segment that you stand up to represent, you must stay standing and answer that charge, and absolve yourself and your institution of suspicion by permanently convincing the wider audience of the inaccuracy of the statements.

      To avoid doing so is to tacitly acknowledge the truth of those charges.

      As a simple example, do not forget the factual evidence proving beyond any doubt that the Catholic church has, in modern times and in history, enabled, disguised and practiced child abuse of the very, very worst kind.

      You are not at a starting point of having a heavenly reputation tarnished.

      1. I find BB to be anti-religious and mostly anti-theistic, but I’m willing to defend myself.  ^_^

        What tends to set me off is when a deep and egregious ignorance of theology results in anti-religious bigots loudly castigating religion itself for real flaws that are specific to individual faiths.

        If I said “all physicians are poisoners because dentists put toxic mercury in your mouth” I would be thought mad – even the people who think dental amalgam is equivalent to Zyklon-B know dentists are only a subset of physicians.  But it seems like you can’t go a week without some forum-posting bigot insisting that some particular sort of nonsense that’s specific to their neighbor’s religion is a feature of all religions everywhere.

        If your theology, your philosophy, your religious beliefs and your study of science and the physical world are all entirely integrated and function consistently to help you navigate your life with maximum happiness and serenity, then you can’t do anything without religion being at least peripherally involved.  For example, I can honestly say I strongly support the rights of non-bigoted atheists and agnostics for religious reasons.  And I support marriage equality for religious reasons.  Hell, I even vote Green for religious reasons.

        So while my family adopts for many reasons, and we’re not Xians, I’d be lying if I said religion had asolutely nothing to do with it.

        1.  eh?

          I think para 2, 2nd half says what I think.  Not really sure.

          Maybe we should discuss Catholicism and the driving forces behind over-population in evangelical catholic under-developed areas?

          Having been brought up in a christian family, it is impossible for me to do or think anything without some degree, however faint, of christianity.

          But that doesn’t mean I can’t stand back and criticise it.  I can, and do, because I see the flaws, tearing and shredding at the simplistic platitudes sold to the masses as the central tenets.

          But then, at some level or another, I’ve noticed that even religious people see it too.

      2. I don’t think they’re intentionally anti-thiestic, but positive stories about christians are simply outside of their scope. It’s not like it’s very hard to find a positive story about christians. It’s a religion founded on the principle of putting *love* above all else… I just don’t think any of the contributors are even remotely connected to (or interested in, or engaged with) christian communities.

    4.  JD, much of the anti-theistic bias that I see is rooted in the fact that vocal people who identify as evangelical have a selective view of the Bible when it comes to judging others. The likely reason that the Republican party is swirling the drain is that the hateful right wing religious types want more control over the actions of adults that is really none of their business. I hesitate to call them Christians because I doubt that Jesus would be a right wing evangelical if he were here today. I hear that religious freedom is threatened when a more accurate interpretation is that the freedom of so called religious types to control others is what is really being threatened.

      1.  Not so much “accurate,” because the bible has a lot of room for interpretation (except when it comes to *loving each other*). But Jesus said a lot of stuff that would, depending on how you interpret it, bring an end to organized religion in favor of more diffuse, disorganized communities that are focused on a direct relationship with God…

    5. Kind of interesting and very, very telling that you are far more offended that Boing Boing dare not speak 100% nicely about religion, than you are about blatant and really awful child abuse in the NAME of religion. Something that is very, very common.

      It astonishes me how very self-centered religious people can be.

      Your personal offense is ridiculous. This has nothing to do with you or your personal beliefs.

      And even if you’re personal offense isn’t so ridiculous, shouldn’t you be more offended that people use religion in such awful ways, rather than with BoingBoing for pointing out FACTS?

      It’s also very telling when religious people become offended over facts.

      1.  Weeelll, a fact isn’t a fact until god tells you it is.  So until then, it’s open season on facts statements

      2. Well if you care about the Liberian children being abused, then shouldn’t you be careful about how you represent their story? This problem is solvable… Unless you frame it as a problem with the *entire* christian ideology.

        Frame it like it actually is – an example of the fundamentalist orphan theology movement, something that could be addressed through policy, improved child services, etc.

  3. This is a peculiar article, because on the other side of the coin there’s a large anti-adoption movement coming out of the more right-wing American Catholics, funded through institutions like the National Organization for Marriage and the Ruth Institute, that is vehemently anti-adoption.  It’s a logical consequence of their “the only true family is one where a child has their biological mother and father present,” and they’ve more or less embraced it.

    1. That’s kind of odd, seeing as adoption is such a major theme in the Bible – Esther was adopted by her cousin Mordecai, the whole idea of Christians being adopted into God’s family, etc.

      1. Especially when you read where for most of history a lack of records, high death rates, and no birth control meant that orphaned or out of wedlock kids were much more common back then.  Even royalty adopted children.

    2. …that is vehemently anti-adoption.

      Any references? My googling turned up some quotations from the NOM chairman calling adoption a “second-best option” (which, as an adoptive dad, I agree with), but I can’t find anything about NOM being anti-adoption in general.

      1. The only reason NOM says this is so that when adoption by gay or lesbian couples comes up, they can have a stock answer.

        I have a feeling this is what JonCarter is referring to.

        It’s not an anti-adoption campaign; it’s an anti-adopt
        ion-by-gay-parents campaign.  Huge difference.  Their tune changes when the subject is no longer gay marriage, I’m sure.

        This is just yet another example of the many bullshit arguments and blatant contradictions NOM and other organizations like them use to try to defeat same-sex marriage.

    3.  Yes, references please as this is the first time I’ve ever heard Catholics as being “anti-adoption”. In fact, for most of the last 100 years, the Catholic church has been involved with placing adoptees with families. The Ruth Institute, it appears from a Google search as this view of adoption which is very unlike anything that you suggested:
      “Adoption exists to give children the parents they need, not to give adults the children they want.”

      1. Indeed, my personal experience echoes this.

        In fact Catholic Social Services was, until Putin ruthlessly (all but laughingly) pulled the plug, one of the more active, ethical, and efficient adoption agencies helping American parents to adopt Russian children. And while we are neither Catholic nor especially Evangelical (in the sense of this article), my wife & I are forever grateful to CSS for facilitating our adoption of a little boy 5 years ago.

        As both a Christian and an adoptive parent, I acknowledge that there’s a radical subgroup of each but I sure hate to see those disproportionate few cast such a bad light on the rest of us.

    4. Oh, that’s not about straight couples adoptiong. 

      That movement is all about gays and lesbians adopting.
      It has almost nothing to do with adoption itself, and everything to do with teh gays.

      NOM in particular.  I mean this is pretty obvious, isn’t it?

  4. Reminds me of the Mormon Church’s program in the 70s to take in Native American children… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Placement_Program

    1. I know quite more than a handful of Navajos who got sucked into that program. I think Rez life was so boring and the thought of moving to a “big city” was quite appealing. Anecdotally, there were lots of complaints of the native kids getting unfair treatment, and some of the girls were married off at a young (however legal) age and then abandoned with children to take care of.

      Mormonism and the southwest tribes have an interesting and somewhat disturbing history.

      1.  

        Mormonism and the southwest tribes have an interesting and somewhat disturbing history.

        I’m admiring your gift for understatement!

      2. My parents took in a Native American boy in 1979 who was 12.  He lived with us for two years.  While I think the program was completely bizarre, we still keep in touch with him and he still calls my parents “mom and dad”.  

        Did you know that the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon are the principal descendants of Native Americans? ;P

    2.  You should see the decoration they’ve added to Leicester Square tube station here in London.  They’ve plastered http://www.mormon.org.uk just about everywhere – including on the escalators, which I’ve never seen.

      You’d almost think that they believe by shouting loudly enough (and hurting my eyes) they will ‘win’.

      This of course has nothing to do with the wildly successful opening of The Book of Mormon here.

  5. There’s a great book called The Orphan Trains which talks about one of the very early adoption movements. The moved orphans out of New York via train to the countryside. There was a philosophy underlying this that the countryside would be good for the orphans. Unlike today, the most valuable orphans were the older boys who could work the farms. There were some awful abuses of the system because they did not do the extensive background checks and follow ups typically done nowadays.

    This story reminds me a lot of what they describe in that book of some of the unexpected problems they found out of what was a well meaning attempt to help children.

    I think the real issue here is not the mismatch between the children and their families, or the religious zeal that is making people want to adopt, but the lack of oversight of the adoptions by the African adoption agencies or their American counterparts.

    Abuse and neglect are well known problems with adoptions and should have been watched for by these agencies.

    1.  It wasn’t a well meaning attempt to help kids.  It was an attempt to get as many kids as possible out of the local orphanages.  In this case, we really are talking about orphanages, and orphans….during the Great Wave of Immigration, so many children lost their parents during or shortly after immigration that NYC orphanages were full to bursting.  The orphan trains were a way to get rid of the surplus as quickly as possible.

      What the newspapers or orphanages reported as the “reason” to the general public has to be taken with a grain or two of salt.

      1. The book is great and goes into a good deal more depth than I can in a short comment, but, yes, there were a lot of mixed reasons why kids were stuck on trains and chugged into the countryside. However, the underlying idea that went along with the trains that “fresh country air” is good for kids is as valid a reason as the ones Evangelicals are using to adopt kids. In other words, in any attempt to help others there can be good intentions and philosophies involved, but the consequences of acting on them are often a far cry from the intent. 

        I used to work in food aid and there is all kinds of awful consequences of giving out free food to poor countries, and always a ton of graft and thievery. People always get mad about this when they find out its going on in projects they are aware of (“the Welfare Queens” for example) but people who work in the aid field are aware of this ongoing problem and count it as part of the price of helping, so this well known abuse of food aid is considered and factored in when evaluating projects. It’s impossible to eliminate but possible to contain to acceptable levels.

        Same thing here – adoption has been going on now for a long time. People the organizations are well aware of the problems – child abuse, children used as free labor, people overextending their resources, kids being sold and not actually orphans – and should be responsible for following up to make sure abuses are kept to a minimum. 

        You really can’t stop the well meaning Christians from desiring to adopt, nor the well meaning gift giver from handing a check over to aid those in (insert: Haiti, Ethiopia, Kaitrina victims, Newtown victims, etc.), but those who are running the programs should be aware of the well known problems and create solutions that minimize the inherit abuses.

    1. On the other hand, four of the five main stories are referring to the same case (and the religion of the parents isn’t mentioned). There’s a sixth article about a different case that also doesn’t mention the religion of the parents. The Illinois study you linked to states that there are measurable benefits from homogeneous religion in foster care, but that more regulation and study is needed.

      In summary, there’s not a lot to back up the claim that religious adoption is bad for the children per se, just that it’s very common and the religious aspect isn’t taken into consideration enough.

      1. It’s not that it’s bad for religious people to adopt….it’s that adopting someone from a different religious heritage with the specific goal of raising them in the adoptive parents’ religious heritage instead is wrong.

        In fact, in Muslim countries, adoptive parents are legally and morally required to raise their adoptees in their original religious heritage.  It’s considered a basic right of the child to not be forced to covert.

        1. I think we’re in pretty close agreement on that issue, we’ve just come across different anecdotes as far as how these adoptions have turned out in practice. It is a problem that the issue isn’t studied enough, especially considering the scale of what’s going on. It also seems that international adoptions are subject to less scrutiny than others, which would leave the child more vulnerable to abuse than in a domestic adoption.

          I like the comment that someone (Dawkins?) made that there is no such thing as a Christian/Muslim/Hindu/Atheist child; we’re doing them a great disservice when we bring them into our turf wars. If I’m being cynical, I’d say that the laws in Muslim countries have a lot to do with preserving the status quo, but I know the UK and other countries also work hard to make sure children end up in a family that is as similar as possible to their own, in terms of race, religion and other factors.

  6. Slightly tangential, but I’m reminded of a very long article I read awhile back about a family that was exactly what an adoptive family should be, and that after discovering that one of the children they had adopted had been stolen from his (her?) family, not only worked hard to reunite them but to also to make sure that the other children they were in the process of adopting were not trafficked- not stolen from their families, or other shady things- and how next to impossible that turned out to be, even when everything was supposedly well above board. (They’d never tried to do things through back channels in any case, but even the supposedly best of the best super legitimate channels turned out to be very, very suspect). Man, I wish I could remember more about the story so I could find it again.

    1. Unfortunately, there are so many stories that fit this plot line it’s impossible to know which one you mean without more identifying info.  Even the originating country name or the year it happened wouldn’t be enough to determine which story you’re talking about.

      1.  I think the husband was involved in some sort of international aid effort, which is how they got involved in the adoption thing in the first place. And they adopted like three or four kids (on top of their genetic children). The thing that I remember about it is how basically every kid they adopted turned out to not be an above board adoption, despite the fact that they had done everything they could to ensure that it was all legit.

  7. On the parent’s end, it boils down to motivation. If you adopt children because you want to “save the world” or score points with God, you are not doing the individual child any favors. You adopt because you want a child to love and raise. I’m sure all faiths, or lack of faith, has examples of good and bad motivations.

    And then between the parent and the child, there is always plenty of corruption in the adoption systems, because there is money to be made. A responsible potential parent will try their best to avoid those providers.

  8. Xeni’s absolutely right that abuses need to be brought to light, and child abusers shouldn’t be permitted to hide behind religious beliefs or authorities.  However, check out modern Chinese orphanages some time, or Soviet-era Eastern European stuff, if you think child abuse is something that is caused or enabled by religion.  One of my nieces was unable to walk and had no baby teeth when she left the Chinese orphanage system at one year old, because she’d never been out of her crib or fed nutritious food in her life.

    I disagree with some of the comments about the importance of the motivations of adoptive families.  If you want to take a parentless child into your heart because you think your desert war-god will like you better for it, that’s OK with me and (according to research) far better than letting a child grow up in institutional care.  Even a bad family is better than no family at all, according to the people who study these things.

    1. Eh… yeah there is some truth here. I mean, luck of the draw for the bio children too. You get an abusive family some times either way. 

    2. Are you sure? Because I can speak from the point of view of someone who was actually adopted and abused and all I wanted was my parents to put me into a boarding school, which was what finally happened. Maybe the questionable state of orphenages is the problem, not the fact that the children there don’t have a “real” family.

      1. Maybe the questionable state of orphanages is the problem, not the fact that the children there don’t have a “real” family.

        I very much agree.  I don’t think it’s impossible to have orphanages that are at least as good as a bad family, it just seems (according to current research, which necessarily lags behind actual changing conditions) that we’re not doing it.

        As blueelm points out, you can get an abusive family in any case.  The research seems to show that the more closely genetically related someone is to a child, the less likely they are to abuse them – yet, sadly mothers do abuse their own children, and a great deal of abuse occurs in the home from tangentially related individuals.  The adoption system is aware of the research and tries very hard to filter potential parents (much harder certainly than orphanages screen their staff) and yet there is some amount of abuse going on right now in adoptive families.   It’s very sad and makes one disgusted with the human race in general; I’m sorry you had to live through that and glad you got away.

  9. From the adoptee’s pov, what is the difference between slavery and adoption?
    Both involve payment to a third party for ownership of a human being..
    Both systems place serious responsibilities, legal and moral, upon the master/parent.
    Both create a legal fiction to extinguish the adoptee/slave’s civil and moral rights of identity, culture and free will.
    Both treat the adoptee/slave as a child long past adulthood.
    Both entitle the master/parent to the fruits of the adoptee/slave’s domestic labor and biological offspring.

    The evangelical and African details of this story are a good journalistic ‘in,’ to activate the readers’ moral compass, but I’d like to see Xeni dig a bit deeper. The real reason we tolerate the slavery model of human adoption is that the children are still treated like bastards–even, and perhaps especially, by feminists who see the adoption process as a narrative in which the mother is the active protagonist rather than the child.

    1. “by feminists who see the adoption process as a narrative in which the mother is the active protagonist rather than the child.”

      Citations badly needed.

    2. Wow, these are true about biological children too! I think you’ve really hit on something!!

    3. I did not pay any “third parties” for “ownership” of my children.  I paid for a home survey and some other investigative costs which were then refunded to me via adoption tax credit, because the government saves money when children are taken out of institutional care.

      We’ve made no attempt to “extinguish … identity, culture, and free will” – my adopted daughter knows just as much about her ethnicity and background as my biological son does and she has a picture of her birth parents on her dresser.  We write her birth mother twice a year, on birthdays and Christmas.
       
      The rest of what you’ve said is so bizarrely disconnected from reality I don’t really know how to respond to it.

  10. all the people i know who were adopted were adopted by christian families and are very happy healthy individuals who have nothing but positive things to say about their families

    off the top of my head I have close personal friendships with 5 people who were adopted

    im not saying that abuse doesn’t exist, just that successful adoptions also do

  11. Xini, I think that the way you framed this might serve to distract people from the actual problem. In your title you point to the “evangelical movement,” even though the article explicitly says that this is part of an associated “‘orphan theology’ movement.”

    “Evangelical” christian churches have existed for a long time, and depending on how you use the word, “evangelism” is as old as the church. What you are pointing your finger at here, I think, is fundamentalist (or extremist) christian churches – part of a movement that is as new as the 1980’s, and has since become the “mainstream” (or rather, the loudest) throughout western protestant churches.

    Your title would imply that somehow the entire evangelical movement – which is older and more diverse then the current fundamentalist mainstream – is somehow lumped in with the abhorred behavior of this particular group. You are overgeneralizing. It’s not fair to the sweet friendly baptist lady (who happens to be a second gen African-american woman) who adopted a child and loves it dearly. Not fair to the evangelicals who put *love* before everything else. And it’s not fair to the Liberian children who’s abuse could go ignored if your readers perceive this as a larger, less-solvable problem then it is.

    Sometimes I worry that people get lost in a perceived ideological battlefield. Like somehow problems like this are due to some growing, untouchable ideological force (in this case, the scarey “evangelical movement”) that is clouding peoples mind; tricking them into being angry, hateful, conservative, repressive, abusive, or whatever. But I think this is a distraction. The problem here is systematic, it’s in the adoption policies, underfunded (and often mismanaged) child services, high adoption fees, the political discourses, the media narrative – and I don’t even know, to be honest. I don’t have all the answers, but I worry about the distractions. There are easy, pragmatic solutions out there, yet the people who operate the social mechanisms that need to change are not doing it. So focus on that.

  12. On a somewhat related tangent, if our nation spent a fraction of the time, energy, and consierable resources railing against abortion on encourgaing domestic adoption and smoothing the process to make it more feasible (and permanent), there’d be a lot less need for international adoptions.

    Instead of fixating almost exclusively on the negative aspects of unwanted pregnancies and deegrating mothers seeking abortions – a truly tremendous waste of effort – why don’t we instead turn our focus towards more positive, family-building approaches?

    1. The article went to how the adoptions in this subculture were viewed as missionary work to foreign lands. They weren’t interested in domestic adoptions.

    2.  Abortion has absolutely nothing to do with adoption.

      In fact, the states with lower abortion rates also have lower adoption rates. The states with higher abortion rates have higher adoption rates too.

      Abortion is effectively not available in many states at this point, and yet adoption is much less likely than in the past to be chosen by US women with unwanted pregnancies.  Instead of being relinquished, more babies are being kept in their original families now.

      Or is that not the “family-building” you mean?

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