Sometimes I am bewildered.
In the past number of weeks, I have read a number of articles that seem to be distinctly anti-adoption. Have you sensed this too?
There was a really long one about this terrible underground world of "re-homing" difficult adopted children--usually those adopted internationally.
There was the one about how most orphans are not really orphans because their parents have died, but placed in orphanages due to poverty.
There also was the one I have seen a few different times, about how evangelicals are apparently to blame for all of the abuses in international adoption, because of their fervor to adopt orphans. (Oh, those nasty evangelicals....how could they do such a thing?) That article was written by an author who has written an entire book on the subject.
Tomorrow is Orphan Sunday, the day when thousands of evangelical churches will be emphasizing orphan care.
How dare they?
Seriously, I am bewildered. Since when did adoption become a bad thing?
I am not an expert. I do not know very much about adoption in countries other than Tanzania and Ethiopia. But I have a few thoughts on this.
Like every other system in the world, adoption has been tainted by sin. It's a good thing--a great thing--but there are still people in that system who are corrupt and will use it for their own gain. This does not mean we throw out the system....or blame the people who want to adopt the children! And there are many wonderful organizations out there who are working hard to make sure this corruption is kept at bay. For our Ethiopia adoption, our agency sends out a private investigator to create a video record of the background of each and every child it places for adoption. We can have absolute assurance that everything has been done to research these children. There is always risk, but there are ways to keep it to a minimum.
Let's talk about those poverty orphans. I think somehow we envision the poor, starving, weeping mother handing her baby over to an orphanage worker, while the orphanage greedily accepts the baby and shoves the mother out into the cold.
Have we ever stopped to think about the fact that most babies placed for adoption in America could be considered "poverty orphans?" Yet do we wring our hands about this and discourage couples from applying to adopt them?
Of course, any mother or father who desires to keep their child should be given every opportunity to do so. Absolutely. No question. Shame on the orphanages who discourage this. I know they exist, but that does not mean that we deem the whole system corrupt.
Poverty is complex. Money alone does not solve poverty. Just like in America, poverty in the third world often includes all kinds of other problems: addictions, family breakdown, abuse. In America, a mother may relinquish her child for adoption even though she loves that child. She wants the child to have a better life than what she can offer him. Can't an African mother do the same?
There is no easy answer. It is complex.
Or what about the reality that in some countries, many true orphans end up in relatives' homes where they are treated as second-class citizens? Where they are given food and shelter, but become the house servant? Is it better for such a child to stay with her family, or go to an orphanage?
I think that a problem with Americans in general--not just evangelicals--is that they like a quick fix and an easy answer. In reality, it's never like that. Which is why orphan care and poverty alleviation need to be long-term and relationship-based and gospel-centered--because that, of course, is the ultimate solution.
But let's just step back and say for a minute that we'll only consider true orphans for adoption. Okay. What about them?
What about those that were abandoned in fields or down outhouse pits?
What about those who live in countries ravaged by so much AIDS that there are not enough adults to go around?
What about those girls from countries where female babies are thrown away like trash?
What about the special needs children living in ill-equipped orphanages around the world?
These types of children still exist. In droves. What happens to them?
Yes, we need to work to change cultural attitudes towards girls. Yes, we need to help prevent the spread of AIDS. Yes, we need to help governments to value special needs children. But in the meantime?
Apparently, someone other than evangelicals need to advocate for their adoption.
So. Here are my conclusions as we celebrate Orphan Sunday:
As I have written and continue to write on this blog, strive to help and not hurt when you consider poverty alleviation. Let's not fixate on orphanages just because they give us the warm fuzzies. If you volunteer at an orphanage or financially support one, ask good questions. Do they strive for family reunification whenever possible? Where does their funding come from? Are they involving the local community and local church in their decisions?
Sponsor a child. Lots of good things come from this, and many times kids get to stay with their families when they otherwise wouldn't be able to. But not all organizations are alike, so ask good questions in these cases as well. Don't choose one based on TV commercials. Do your homework.
And above all, please don't give up on international adoption! It's gotten harder, all over the world, and I'm sure that's related to the negative press. But there are still millions of children all over the world who need a family! And if you don't feel called to it yourself, then look for ways you can support people who do. The adoption process can be really hard, and sometimes it can be even harder to raise an adopted child, depending on the circumstances. The Church needs to get behind these families in better and more tangible ways.
Don't be afraid, my friends, to advocate for adoption. And my fellow over-zealous evangelicals--I count myself as one of you. Yes, be careful. Ask good questions. Don't look for quick fixes. But don't stop advocating for the orphan!
Evangelicals, keep at it. I'm proud to be one of you.
*Note added in 2016: Though I stand behind a lot of what I wrote here, my eyes have been opened to the reality of the corruption involved in international adoption. Please click here to read what I discovered.