Children sleep in an orphanage in Nepal. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons (bit.ly/102eiwp)

Children sleep in an orphanage in Nepal. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: (bit.ly/102eiwp)

No one will ever accuse Mother Jones of being friendly to Christians, but you know their disdain for the faithful has reached fever pitch when they begin attacking Christians for the good things they’re doing.

According to the liberal publication, Christians are apparently too concerned with adoption. The article, “Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement’s Adoption Obsession,” argues that as a result of Christians’ efforts to adopt orphaned children, kids who may have been illegally obtained are being placed in oppressive, fundamentalist homes in order for parents to evangelize them. The problem is that the writer—Kathryn Joyce, author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, which not-so-coincidentally releases next week—relies on weak sources to paint a partial and distorted picture.

The article tells of Sam and Serene Allison, a Tennessee couple who adopted four children from an orphanage outside of Monrovia, Liberia. Their adopted kids were reportedly physically abused and denied a proper education. In fact, according to Joyce, “all but 3 of the Campbell’s and [Serena’s parent’s] 10 adoptions ran into serious problems.”

Allegations of child abuse should not be ignored or minimized by anyone for any reason. The proper authorities need to investigate these allegations, and they should not only punish anyone at fault, but also take appropriate measures to prevent this sort of occurrence in the future.

At the same time, one has to make a logical leap of stratospheric proportions to assume that the behaviors of this family are somehow representative of the thousands of Christians who adopt each year. Joyce presumably knows this, so to build her case, she leans on a slew of fringe ministries, publications, and personalities.

Much of the article draws from material published in a “magazine” called Above Rubies. It struck me as odd that even though I’ve covered the American Christian movement in over 500 articles for dozens of publications during the last decade, I’d never heard of the publication that Joyce seems to believe is so influential. Upon further research, Above Rubies basically amounts to a ministry newsletter and blog that exerts negligible influence over the Christian community. At the time of publication, the twitter account for the entire Above Rubies ministry was at an unimpressive 664 followers.

Joyce goes on to cite a ministry called Acres of Hope, which I’ve also never heard of. She cites a handful of homespun blogs with severely limited reach—all of which I’ve never heard. And she references a self-published book, To Train Up a Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl, two pastors I’ve never heard of.

While she weaves in less-than-interesting information about more mainstream adoption advocates like pastor Rick Warren, she never makes a connection between the behaviors and beliefs of more mainstream Christians and the fringe few. I can only conclude that Joyce is either so unfamiliar with American Christianity that she doesn’t know who the movement’s influencers actually are or she’s padding her piece to inflate the thesis.

To argue this thesis, Joyce implies that the Christian adoption movement is a cryptic attempt to evangelize unwitting children. But according to Russell Moore, President-elect of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and author of Adopted for Life, the idea that Christians’ desire to adopt children is a ruse for evangelism is little more than a tired cliché.

“Yes, [Christians] believe in rearing our children with instruction in what we believe is the most important part of life: the gospel,” says Moore. “That is hardly unusual. Buddhist parents rear their children with Buddhist values, such as mindfulness and meditation. Secular progressive parents rear their children with progressive values, such as equal rights and fair treatment of all. Why would it surprise anyone that evangelical or Roman Catholic or Pentecostal Christian parents rear their children as Christians?”

Joyce zeroes in on Bethany Christian Services, the nation’s largest adoption agency and an organization on whose national board of directors I serve. Unfortunately, when it comes to Bethany, Joyce can’t seem to get her facts straight.

“The article says [Bethany] donates money to orphanages and that we handle the paperwork. Number one, we don’t handle the paperwork. And whenever we donate to an orphanage, we will not do adoptions with that orphanage to avoid a conflict of interest,” says Bill Blacquiere, President and CEO of Bethany. “Additionally, whenever a child is referred to us for adoption, we perform a separate investigation with an attorney to locate the birth mother, interview family members, and verify that there is nothing improper happening. If anything questionable is discovered, we decline to be involved with that child. Joyce is alleging that we may be adopting children who were attained unethically, and that is not true.”

But the problems of this muddled Mother Jones article stretch well beyond Joyce’s non-representative sources, selective examples, broken logic, and half-truths. When she quilts all her “evidence” together, she still only tells part of the story.

Does Joyce mention that before Bethany will perform an international adoption, they attempt to reconnect the children with their next of kin, facilitate a domestic adoption, or place them in a domestic foster care program?

No.

Does she mention that Bethany is accredited by the Hague Convention in order to prevent child trafficking?

No.

Does she mention that in Bethany’s more than 70-year history, they’ve provided more than 70,000 women with free, confidential, professional counseling?

No.

Does she point out that Bethany places more than 1,500 children in loving homes every year, or that only a tiny fraction of these placements experience the kinds of problems she implies is normative?

No.

Joyce conveniently avoids telling a single story of an abandoned child being placed into a loving home even though these stories are far more common than the rare tale she tells. Instead, she sneers at Christian’s “adoption obsession” and “orphan fever,” which are about the oddest insults I can imagine. It’s like accusing the volunteers of a local soup kitchen of a “poverty obsession” or “homeless fever.” Shouldn’t liberals who claim to be protectors of children and the poor be cheering on Christians for their efforts?

“Abortion-rights supporters, such as these critics, have long lambasted evangelical Christians and their allies as caring only about unborn children. We believe, they have suggested, that life begins at conception and ends at birth.” says Moore. “When it is pointed out that Christians have always been ministering to vulnerable women and children, they turn the argument to suggest that such ministry is itself evil. If evangelical Christians didn’t adopt or care for orphans, there’s little doubt that the criticism from the same quarters would be that we are hypocrites. And we would be.”

Is this the best evidence Mother Jones can present for why Christians are such terrible people? That an evangelical denomination called on it’s members to get involved in “taking in [orphans], donating to adoptive families, or supporting hundreds of adoption ministries”? That they are igniting a movement to address the global orphan crisis through constructing an adoption culture in their churches?

Oh, the horror.

In the end, Kathryn Joyce curses the darkness without lighting a candle. She attempts to pour cold water on the Christian adoption movement, but her ideas for actually solving the orphan crisis that now affects more than 100 million children are more than lacking; they’re non-existent. We should expect more from even an unashamedly partisan publication like Mother Jones. Not to mention a writer who recently published a 352-page book on the subject.

About the only thing Kathyrn Joyce gets right is that there is indeed an adoption movement sweeping through Christian churches and communities. Thousands of orphaned children have been given someone to call “mommy” and “daddy” as a result. Believers in America are finally waking up to their responsibility to demonstrate mercy to those in need—orphans, the poor, immigrants. These are trends that should be celebrated, not criticized.

166 Comments

    • Chris Tehonica

      Ms. Joyce book did not even touch the surface of the abuses that go in this country by the above mentioned agency.
      How much are you paid a year for being on this board. Should we pull up Guidestar as well?
      If you are really unaware of what goes on then you should look into your agency. A true christian would want to know the truth. The abuses are factual no matter what you or anyone else says on this site. It is a big money game and as far from what god wants as you can be.
      Matthew 7:22-23

        • What about personal experience Paul. What about my child while in an evangelical foster home being forced to throw away any of his belongings that the “adoptive foster mother” deemed ungodly – while he was just a foster child.

          What about them sending him to a “christian based therapy center” where they convinced him that all of the issues he was having was because his mom did not “raise him in the church with a sense of a higher power” What about the court system in this area laughably attempting to deem me unfit because I am not traditionally religious and my child “needed religion in his life to feel stable”

          These gross abuse and negligence issues DO occur. Anyone claiming to be christian would not trust the word of the organizations involved alone – they would commit the time and effort into finding out those things that aren’t publicized … the things no one wants to study … poor unwanted (and at times badly wanted but desirable) children.

        • They may have many case workers and offices that try and do the right thing, but some pressure women into giving up their children or do what they can to take away fathers rights without their knowledge. Pup pound has many antic-dotes, and even ex case workers explaining the pressure put on them to reach quotas. My sources are solid.

          • I am not afraid to look at the truths, the negative that does happen. Can we talk about the positive without the negative? Sure, that’s what most want to hear. Can we talk about the negative with out bringing up the positive? No Way.

            Chris,
            Your sources are solid. I’ve seen them and have researched it all for years. Most are very easy to find with a google search.

            Jonathan, Jonathan, my advice would be to step out of that positive adoption bubble you are being kept in, or choosing to stay in, that totally positive bubble where all the money is made. Step out every now and then, look around, listen to those that have lived it.

            I personally know many, many adoptees and families that have lost children to adoption. There is a long line of families telling of the coercion and pressure they felt to place their child for adoption with Bethany.
            There is a long line of adult adoptees that have been denied any information, counsel or the time of day by Bethany.
            There is a line of adopted parents who will tell you important information was omitted about the children and their families. Information needed to make a good decision if this child was a good match for their family or not.

            I’m not picking on Bethany, it was brought up for me. There are many agencies that follow in similar practices, and many christian based agencies that are simply horrid to children in their warped way of thinking they are dong good while doing business and making a profit, or a very profitable non-profit.

            I am currently raising 4 children that have endured very traumatic disrupted adoptions. The adoptions went through a very christian based agency. The adopted parents, all good differing kinds of Christians, had no clue of what they were getting into. But they felt the “Call To Adopt” an international “orphan” strongly. Their churches pushed the ” Call to Adopt”, supported them wholeheartedly, until they ran into “behavior” problems with the kids at church and in the community. Then for some reason they weren’t so welcome anymore, maybe it wasn’t the best idea for these families after all. One of the former adopted parents told me they felt guilty, they felt as good christians they must adopt. Now they see the error they made, they feel duped. An error that has harmed these children greatly.

            How many kids like this will it take before it’s Not All Good?

  1. It is hypocritical to argue against abortion but not to provide for the health and rearing of the unwanted who are born. “Orphan Justice Ministries” is another organization trying to help by encouraging Christian churches to get more involved in adoption and other ways of supporting these “orphans” and not enough Christians are responding to the vast need.

  2. In my experience, Michael and Debi Pearl and Above Rubies are very influential in some circles, particularly among some fundamentalist Christian homeschool groups, but I agree, they’re fringe and have come under a lot of criticism from more mainstream evangelical Christian groups.

    • You are right. Michael and Debby Pearl are extremely influential. The author hasn’t heard of them, but has he heard of the Duggars? They use his book.

      What people may not realize, is that Kathryn Joyce has stumbled onto a evangelical movement which is structured as a cult. The Quiverfull Movement, The Homeschool Cirriculum ATI (Advanced Training Institute) written by Bill Gothard, The Pearls in Tennessee, and most churches which consider themselves Independent Fundamental Baptist are very entrenched in this cult mindset. I know, I was raised in it all.

      So what Kathryn is saying is absolutely legitimate. The problem is, that she lumps all evangelicals together, and the mainstream evangelicals try to defend this fringe sect which doesn’t even want to be considered as evangelicals because they disdain their free-loving lifestyle and prefer a more Spartan, isolationist life.

      Children adopted by this fringe are (in my experience) undoubtedly in danger. Indeed, one adopted girl has already died of kidney failure due to her parents applying the “To Raise Up a Child” methods and spanking her until she died.

      Do some research and don’t make Kathryn’s mistake and defend a group as your own that you should have nothing to do with.

      • The Pearls and Above Rubies are very influential and have a close cult-like following among fundamentalists. They may not be large in number, but don’t for a minute doubt their power to influence and control families. Many families who follow them don’t use social media as part of being separate from the world and keeping their minds from pollution.

        I think what has happened in these circles, is that these fundamental parents have bought into the story, most with good intentions, to be fruitful and multiply(this is one of the most important commandments within these structures) and help needy children but haven’t had the necessary tools, space, time, energy and love to deal with complicated issues like PTSD, reactive attachment disorder, fetal alcohol and drug related issues and general uprooting of all said children have known as sacred. When these issues arise, they are advised by the fundamentalists to swat, withhold food, and embarrass their children into submission, which doesn’t work.

        How do I know these things? My family adheres and practices closely these methods of child-rearing and propagation. Did I also mention that we’re an adoptive family, with parents that have good hearts but took on too much?

        I know many Evangelical families that have adopted and as tough as it is, they are working through the issues at hand with counseling, lots of grace and help from others. However, Kathryn Joyce’s article is showcasing some REAL abuses that occur in these more obscure circles, like, Above Rubies and the Pearls. I’ve seen and been a part of them firsthand and my siblings and I will probably spend years continuing to work through it.

        Mr. Merritt, you may see the above mentioned article as only an attack on all Evangelical adoptions. And yes, some of her accusations could be far-stretched and seated in dislike of Evangelicals. But please, don’t turn your eyes and ears and throw the baby out with the bathwater. I’m thankful someone has finally spoken out against these injustices that have held my family and many friend’s families captive for years. I wish that the true Evangelical church would have caught it first, but I’ll take what I can get.

        Blessings to you and may you continue to seek truth in this.

        • I don’t think he was suggesting the Perls lack influence in certain circles. I think he was pointing out that they do not represent the evangelical adoption movement. The Perls, and the other parenting issues within fundamental families, are PARENTING issues, not specifically international adoption issues. The practices are harmful to bio and adoptive children alike. But horror stories that have occurred in fringe families should not be held as an example of the problems of the evangelical adoption movement, and that is what happened in the article he’s responding to.

          • This article is titled “attack on the Christian adoption movement” when the original article on Mother Jones is explicitly titled “The Evangelical Movement’s Adoption Obsession”. You may notice that other bloggers who have shared the link went so far as to specify Quiverfull (ie http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2013/04/saving-children-from-africa-a-quiverfull-adoption-fad.html). The original article talks about specific publications, congregations and the specific children who were harmed as a result of unethical adoption practices and abuse.
            How many families have to be involved before we’re allowed to talk about it?

      • I’ve read the Pearl’ s book, To Train Up a Child. While they say to train with a rod, and explain what they use as a rod, the entire book is about NOT being angry in one’s correction of a child. So the child who died of kidney failure….her parents were NOT applying the methods written about by the Pearls. They were angry and beating, not smiling with joy at their child. Not pouring their life and grace into her. They allowed anger to rule them. Please be careful with whom you blame.

      • Andrea & Scarlett, not everyone associated with a quiverfull belief or even Above Rubies looks alike or is following a cult & you are guilty of doing what you are accusing Kathryn of doing. I am a T-shirt & shorts wearing mom with 8 kids & am a grandma who happens to be an Above Rubies retreat coordinator for the last 17 years. I have interacted with hundreds of families through this ministry & they really don’t look alike at all but maybe because I am in California that could be a factor. Maybe your experience with people in a different region has given you a different perspective. No one I know follows Colin & Nancy like they are special *gods* or anything cultic. Nancy does not tell people what to do, our conferences are mostly families fellow shipping & sharing in their joys & challenges of life. My husband & I were counselors at a huge Calvary Chapel & are pretty versed in what “cult” looks like so at least for both Above Rubies & No Greater Joy we are not seeing cult at all. I won’t speak on some of the other ministries mentioned because I have seen some more cult like qualities there looking from the outside but I really don’t think that is relevant to the discussion as bottom line is there are problems in international & cross cultural adoptions that need to be discussed & worked through.

        I was very interested in Kathryn’s article because I want to know the truth of the matter & wanted to hear what the children had to say on it. I also have friends who adopted internationally from a European country & had a lot of problems & I watched that & am still watching that firsthand as they work together to try to be a family.

        I don’t agree with a lot of what Jonathan has written here because he hasn’t heard of some of these ministries. It seems that somehow he thinks that he needs to direct the focus off the families in these ministries to support the hundreds of successful adoptions by evangelicals that aren’t part of those ministries. Above Rubies is indeed a magazine, not a “ministry newsletter” as he has called it & like Kathryn stated it goes out to 130,000 people in many different countries. Today’s “likes” count on Facebook is 47,843. No Greater Joy’s (Mike & Debi Pearl) Facebook likes today were over 20,000. These are not small unheard of ministries & it is important to present the evidence that many people adopted who weren’t prepared but just thought God would “work it all out” somehow without having the support needed to work through these tough issues adopters & adopted children will face when they become a family.

        I think we can all have these discussions & instead of attacking each other, even the non Christians writing articles, we can look at the information & the interviews & try to get to the truth of the matter & do something to help the parents & the kids involved & make a difference so we can be a blessing to those choosing this road & the children who don’t have a choice in the matter. What I took away from Kathryn’s article is that my friends are not perfect & brought home kids with great intentions & maybe ended up in a mess & needed more outside help to work out some serious problems & that should not be discounted by countering the article with the information presented here.

        I believe there is the potential of bad things happening in adoptions whether the parents are Christians or not. I also believe there is the potential for great things to happen as well. The whole point of the gospel is that Jesus died on the cross for our SINS. None of us are going to be perfect parents of our biological or adopted children. Let us continue to support parents of adopted children & make sure people don’t feel they need to hide problems to look *perfect* to the rest of the world, let’s make them feel safe seeking help to work through them.

  3. Most of the people mentioned here are unknown to me, but the Pearls do have some influence in conservative Christian circles (we knew a couple reading their book).

    According to Wikipedia, their book “How to Train a Child” has sold 670K copies since 1994 and it is quite horrible (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Pearl).

    Here’s a story from 2011 about deaths linked to that method: http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2011/10/03/did_the_disturbing_philosophy_of_how_to_train_up_a_child_lead_to.html

    And a homeschool mom of 11 quoting relevant sections of the book:
    http://heartofwisdom.com/blog/pearls-to-train-up-a-child-and-child-abuse/

    Otherwise though, you are on point. We know many families who are adopting children because that’s what the Bible says to do. It’s not because they view the children as evangelization projects, but they see the need and want to love those kids.

    • I wouldn’t count on book sales to tell you whether people are in agreement with the Pearls & the like. I bought the book & read it before I knew about all the controversy surrounding them. I’ve bought lots of parenting books, ranging the spectrum between traditional to grace-based attachment parenting, gleaned what I could from them, & rejected the rest. The main thing I’ve learned from all these books is that most parents are better off without reading them!

    • Jonathan Merritt

      Chris,

      Being a student of the book publishing industry, I’d challenge that Wikipedia figure. First of all, since the book is self-published it’s sales aren’t being recorded through Nielsen Book Scan. That means the figure is likely unverified and has been self-reported through the ministry. Even if the ministry has distributed 670k in the last 19 years–and I find that highly unlikely–they could be counting all kinds of things. For example, some ministries will raise money for mass mailings of their founder’s books to Christian mailing lists that they purchased. All I’m saying, is that I would be careful not to read into this number too much.

      Jm

      • Actually, the book sales probably are not far from accurate. I know dozens of people, firsthand, who have the book. Regardless, the Pearls do have widespread influence within some reasonably large Christian circles, for better or worse. I also personally know dozens of people who receive Above Rubies – which is an actual, full on magazine.

        I appreciate your article, but you do sound a little ignorant in a rebuttal of an article you claim is very ignorant. I’m just saying this in hopes that you might consider making a few edits so that the hundreds/thousands of people who are familiar with these organizations don’t just roll their eyes at your article.

        Thanks.

      • I would say the Pearls have a pretty big influence. Many more orthodox organizations have published warnings about them. I would say the number is low because probably at least one third of their readers read books that are passed along to them or shared second hand

  4. Also, here is their IRS Form 990 information. The Pearls NonProfit took in over a $1 million in 2011.

    http://www.guidestar.org/organizations/62-1855964/no-greater-joy-ministries.aspx

    • Jonathan Merritt

      Chris,

      Can you find a breakdown of this? A lump figure like this provides very little insight into how influential this organization may be. For example, if the 1 million dollars came from a single wealthy donor, it would be very different than 1 million people donating a dollar each.

      Jm

      • Just anecdotal here, but I’m not an Evangelical Christian, nor an adoptive parent, nor someone living the “Bible belt” and I’ve even heard of the Pearls and their parenting book. I have no idea how influential they truly are, but their book is pretty well-known in parenting circles (especially among anyone who researches various parenting philosophies and/or goes on any parenting boards). I first learned about them twelve years ago when my oldest child was a baby, and I came across several people online touting their book and their methods. Scared the crud out of me. :)

  5. When you find out (as my friend did) that the child you adopted had a living birth parent–despite what the “Christian” agency told you, though they clearly knew, you will understand why the above book was written. When that agency then threatens you for speaking the truth (as many others she knew had adopted from that agency were threatened), you will recognize that there is a problem out there that needs to be solved. Yes, we need to put our money where our mouth is and adopt the children in our country, many of whom have special needs and have been thrown into the foster system. Or we need to better support the unwed mothers to raise their children–those are ways to combat abortion. To coerce parents into believing that their child is receiving an education abroad when they are actually being adopted by an American family? That does nothing to combat abortion.

    • Michelle, thanks for sharing and your story is not uncommon. Gagging clauses in Christian adoption agencies are a repulsive and unChristian way of trying to shut people up from speaking out the truth.

  6. Jonathan,

    After 10 minutes (quite literally) of shouting, “Yes!” and “Thank you!” and “Absolutely!” while reading your article, I think my two little boys will finally settle down to their playing with some modicum of trust that their mother is done shouting at her computer.

    I read the Mother Jones article earlier this week and have lost sleep over it. As a multi-generational adoptee (my grandma adopted my mom who adopted me who adopted my son) I was sick about the article’s lies and misrepresentations, but I was so baffled by its claims that I felt like Alice in Wonderland trying to sort it out.

    Your response is both a both a balm and a boost. I, for one, will continue passionately advocating the choice that saved my life and the life of those I love and made us a family.

    Consider this a virtual fist bump.
    Trisha

  7. It might be a good idea (for balance purposes on your part) to research the Pearls and Campbells as they are influential leaders in the homeschool movement. That won’t likely change your perspective on the adoption issue at hand, but it might lend some insight into why the author to whom you are responding feels as she/he does.

    • I’ve been involved in homeschooling my kids for over 20 years and I’ve never heard of either of the ministries. Not to say none of our associated homeschoolers have not, because we consider ourselves the “liberals” among the group, but it’s nothing I’ve heard promoted or mentioned among the evangelicals we associate with.

    • Chris, the reverse could be said to you, “Well of course since YOU have heard of the Pearls, then they must be well known.” I think it’s been well established that among fundamentalist Christians that the Pearls are well know and that they have influence. Please quit picking at one part of a well written article. I’m a Southern Baptist (gasp) pastor and have many friends in the fundamentalist and quiverfull movements and have never heard of the Pearls. This does not mean they aren’t influential in some circles, it just means in my circles (under 40 pastor) they are not very influential. Of course, I’m reformed and so not very Fundamentalist.

      Thanks Jonathan for this article. I don’t always agree with you, but am troubled by this vitriol against Christian adoption. My wife and I are considering adopting domestically in the next few years and I am surprised by this.

  8. Unfortunately, you’ve linked to the wrong Acres of Hope ministry. Here’s the correct link” http://www.acresofhope.org/Pages/AOHStaff.aspx. The one you’ve linked to in the article is a well-respected shelter for women and children escaping abusive environments. It was started by local churches and enjoys broad evangelical and business support in the greater Sacramento community in Northern California. It doesn’t have anything to do with adoption. Nevertheless, nice article.

  9. Thank you!!! That was an excellent and truthful response to a certainly shameful and far-from-truthful article from Mother Jones.

    The original article angered and sickened me and I haven’t been able to shake it completely off since I read it. I am the adoptive mother of seven and live full-time in Cambodia where we have a Christian Children’s Home, Bykota House.

    Your reply was so very calm and right on target.

    Thank you again and God bless!
    Rhonda

  10. As the grandmother of an adopted child from Guatemala and twins from Ethiopia, I am APPALLED by this! These babies could not be more loved if they were ours biologically. Of course as Christians, our grandchildren will be raised in a Christian home and we pray that God will turn their hearts to Him. The things of this earth are fleeting and our lives are but a vapor. We do not take lightly what God has entrusted to us. Thank you for sharing this.

      • Jess, as an adoptive mom, I can just chime in that in an international adoption both the country of origin and the US have separate investigations that verify a status of orphan. The US will not allow a child in country until they are satisfied that the proper investigations have taken place. These are becoming more and more stringent and the Hague certification represents a high level of vigilance for child traffiing. There are very corrupt people out there who will steal children, and birth parents who will take bribes to sell their children. Sometimes the status of the child is “abandoned” in which case public notifications are sent out searching for information of the birth parents, all family members are searched for and interviewed, and a lengthy time is given for anyone related to the child or with information on the case to come forward. From there every country has multiple further steps that they use to try to be certain the child is orphaned. Then the US gov does their investigation. There is a reason why international adoptions take years. It is not always fool proof – but no one is out there selling children by the side of the road.

        • Concerned Adoptive Mom

          Don’t be so certain of what you speak.

          Children are being “bought” for international adoption.
          Lies are being told.
          Government officials are being paid huge bribes (in other countries).
          “Christian” orphanages are very involved in these unethical practices.

          I know.
          I have been there.
          I have adopted children.
          I have seen the bribes being paid.
          I have met the biological parents
          that the adoptive parents had been told were dead.

          I don’t know about the Hague Treaty,
          but not all countries have signed the Hague,
          nor are they doing adoptions according to the Hague.

          • Laurel – It is interesting that you failed to mention that YOU are one of the APs who really, truly should have known better but proceeded with your questionable adoption of 3 kids from Ghana anyways.

            Oh, and that you disrupted one of those kids from Ghana inside a year (oldest boy) and shipped another (youngest girl) off to a ghastly, unlicensed Christian facility for “treatment”… you sent your Little Miss, who you claim has a serious mental illness, off to an unlicensed facility that has no licensed medical practitioners who can provide appropriate medical treatment.

            You fail to mention how very proud you are of disrupting your adoption and sending Little Miss into exile! That you offer unconditional support to other adoptive families who are contemplating dumping their adopted kids and/or shipping them off to unlicensed facilities that do not have the staff (eg licensed doctors, nurses, psychologists, etc) to provide treatment to very, very mentally ill youngsters. If Little Miss broke her leg and you took her to anybody but a proper doctor to get it checked out, it’s be straight up neglect. But Little Miss is mentally ill, so no need for a real doctor, eh?

            You also curiously fail to mention that you’ve alienated most of your 10 biokids – they’ve moved far away, rarely call or visit and pretty much want next to nothing to do with you. You pray for healing and the for your family to come back together — but fail to acknowledge your role in alienating your loved, nurtured, healthy biokids. Maybe they’re disgusted with how you treat your adopted kids? Or that seeing you kick the adopted ones to the curb, they fear you’ll do the sane to them?? It’s also fascinating just how any of the biokids that you raised to love Jesus and homeschooled to spare them improper outside influences managed to get knocked up / knock their girlfriend up out if wedlock. Or maybe they’re taking lessons from their biodaddy???

  11. Wait soooo….in order to be influential one must have more than 664 tweets ? Wow. Good to know. Oh, and if YOU don’t know about them, then they must be an irrelevant publication? Also good to know. You MUST be all knowing. People are being lied to in the adoption process, Mr. Merrit, and Ms. Joyce is bringing that to light. And even if the “darkness” only includes a “tiny fraction” of adoptive situations- at least someone is holding a flame to those candles instead of just blowing them out to look perfect.

        • As an individual, 664 followers would be pretty good, but not influential except within a small circle. I just checked and Jonathan has about 11,000 followers. That indicates a little more influence but it still not considered phenomenal. (Sorry Jonathan.) :-) From the descriptions in the comments, I’d expect that the people involved in these fringe ministries are not exactly social media fans anyway.

    • If you’ve been covering the evangelical movement for over a decade and have researched and written over 500 articles (as the author of this post has) and you haven’t heard of the so-called influential people, that is relevant.

      If this were an article on advanced robotics and he said “Sebastian Thrun? Never heard of him, so he can’t be that big.” you would have a point that what he does or doesn’t know isn’t significant. Given his depth if experience in THIS field, it is odd that he’s not heard of people the MJ author claims are movers and shakers in the evangelical world.

  12. “I accept this child as a trust from God for the purpose of adoption into my own family, and I promise, together with my husband/wife, to bring up this child in the love of God and the knowledge of Jesus Christ.” – These were the words on the standard receipt given to my adoptive parents from Holt adoption agency in 1971. This speaks of an agency who believed that evangelism was core to their mission of providing children to adopt. Incidentally I was wrongfully sent for adoption like many other children of that era and up to the present day, greatly to the grief of our natural families. I have found no channel by which to seek justice for this.

    Pound Pup Legacy, a watchdog for adoption abuse, has over 50 cases of child abuse by those that adopted them that are listed as “fundamentalist faith” on their website. However, the case of Hana Alemu Befekadu (Hana Grace-Rose Williams) who was abused to death by her adoptive family (the book by the Pearl’s featured in this case as it has in other listed cases) was not put under fundamentalist faith even though this was a faith-based adoption. I don’t know how many other cases missed a faith labeling, nor do I know by what criteria they made this call, all seem to be Christians. I don’t know if the abuse numbers are proportionate (or disproportionate) to the statistics of those who adopt because I consider it not that relevant when you can identify over 50 cases it still speaks to problems of abuse with adoptions within the Christian faith. Something that I sincerely hope Christians who encourage others to adopt will take on as something they feel responsible to address, rather than to go into denial about.

    The Evangelical Christian adoption movement has a lot to answer for in terms of its missions which result in the wrongful movement of many children across the globe and the people who these children are placed with. Please do your research if you want to comment credibly on this subject. It would seem like an admission of ignorance if you have never heard of Michael and Debi Pearl’s To Train Up A Child, it is well known by those who follow adoption abuse cases, although the Pearl’s would like to distance themselves by stating that this was not what they were teaching. It has sold more than 670,000 copies.

  13. I heard the author of the Mother Jones article on NPR Monday (Terri Gross) and she was more than fair to Christians for all their good intentions and the good they have done through adoption. But she is 100% right on about the West’s desire for adoptable children creating a “demand” and market in many poor countries, which has led to corruption–even if it’s been something of an inadvertent consequence.

    I’ve been involved in adoption for 10 years and have witnessed it over and over again in country after country. And unlike you, I am not biased by being on the board of an adoption agency. Defensive articles such as this one, which doesn’t get all its facts straight, only makes Christians look worse.

    • Jonathan Merritt

      Wait, so I’m biased for having served in an unpaid advisory role of an adoption agency for 17 months, but you’re unbiased even though you’ve “been involved in adoption for 10 years”? I’m no numbers guy, but it seems like there’s some fuzzy math in there.

      • chris tehonica

        Ms. Joyce book did not even touch the surface of the abuses that go in this country by the above mentioned agency.
        How much are you paid a year for being on this board. Should we pull up Guidestar as well?
        If you are really unaware of what goes on then you should look into your agency. A true christian would want to know the truth. The abuses are factual no matter what you or anyone else says on this site. It is a big money game and as far from what god wants as you can be.
        Matthew 7:22-23

      • You may be missing the point. Bias of a commenter isn’t at issue here.

        We all agree that none of us wants to see children or families suffer – either needlessly, through need of a family, or due to greed, corruption or even good intentions.

        Fair enough?

        I prayerfully and respectfully ask you to see the trees AND the forest. There is ample documentation (maybe it is, maybe it is not in this book) that adoption as we know it 1. Creates a demand for children and 2. Creates an atmosphere ripe for corruption.

        I didn’t know Bethany took such careful steps to preserve families. Kudos! No wonder you are upset at Bethany being possibly maligned.

        That said, sir, from one sympathetic advocate to another, if you aren’t familiar with conservative Christian law professor David Smolin’s research on international adoption, I implore you to become so.

        Blessings to you, sir.

        • PROF.DAVID SMOLIN,S RESEARCH IS BREATHTAKING, every christian involved within the adoption world, should read his research, his lectures, a wealth of knowledge ensues,
          knowledge is a virtue, David Smolin’s material should be available and acknowledged in every christian church and associations accross the globe.

    • I would highly recommend you listen to Joyce’s Fresh air interview her information about child trafficking to find adopatable kids in Guatamala eEthiopia was edifying. She praised how Rwanda partnered with Christian oprhanage s to provide superb care for orphans while keeping them ffrom being trafficked.

        • That said, the solution is certainly not removing these children from their extended families, communities and countries. It is not in their best interest to do so. How about providing support/mentorship to the extended family or at a minimum, create programs where they can be raised by their countrymen? Living in a well organized, educated and nutrional environment is much better than being removed by narcissists that believe they have the only ‘way’. What happened to ‘it takes a villiage’? Why are westerners so convinced that they can provide a better family than the child’s own family? Taking advantage of poverty is immoral and not Christian.

          • And when the extended families, communities and country do NOT want to take care of these children, then what? That is reality in many countries. Westerners don’t believe they can provide a better family than the child’s own family . . . they believe they can be a family and offer love for a child who has no family or others willing to take care of them. There is no doubt that it is a better choice to be placed in a loving family environment as opposed to being raised in an orphanage. Anyone who has visited these orphanges would be hard pressed to disagree. The important goal is that governments have processes in place that protect the children from unethical practices but also have the children’s best interest at heart.

          • These would be the very same Westerners who fail to acknowledge how waving tons of $$ by developing country standards around CAUSES unscrupulous folks to steal/kidnap/coerce folks to give up their beloved child so they can earn oodles of $$ by getting a foreign family to adopt him. These would be the PAPs who merrily pay $5000 orphanage “voluntary donations” in countries where a middle class income is the equivalent of $600 per year.

        • Then you undoubtedly know that in some countries what we call “orphanages” are more akin to “church boarding school,” used by the poor to provide care for needy children – parents have no intention of terminating their parental rights.

          Do you believe that these children are better served by being adopted by families overseas?

        • Children should be raised within the NATURAL FAMILY, if not by their parents, then grandparents, aunts,etc, if Kinship care cannot be made available, then christians should SPONSOR and MENTOR LOCAL COMMUNITIES.It is a travesty to take children from their place of birth,their home,to a STARNGERS home to a STRANGE COUNTRY, STRANGE LANGUAGE, and CULTURE.

          • While what you say seems so straight forward and black and white, there is a HUGE grey area. Unfortunately, it is not always possible for a child to survive in his/her birth community, especially in war torn countries. Our daughter was adopted from Liberia w/ quad Cerebral Palsy six years ago. She was 2 at the time and the size of a newborn and had been severely sexually abused. She was barely alive when we picked her up. She had been abandoned b/c she would never be able to contribute to her community. She was starving, and so was her community. He birth mom was told to take her to the bush and let her die b/c she was only going to take resources from them, but could never give back. Does she not deserve a shot at life and happiness w/ a family that ADORES her, just b/c we don’t look the same or talk the same? I am pretty sure life and love trump language and culture in her case, and I know she’d agree. We send letters and photos to her birthmom regularly and our hope is to reunite her w/ her birth family when she is older and stronger. It’s easy to have an opinion when you have not been in the trenches. We have seen children literally starving on the side of the road in Liberia while their birth parents are spending money to buy minutes for their cell phones. This is not the case w/ every Liberian family, but you have to understand, the regard for life, especially the disabled, is not the same as it is in the west.

      • Mary did you miss the part in the interview where kids were kidnapped so that westerners could adopt them? Or the Ethopian family who put their children up for adoption, because the agency lied to them and said it wasn’t permanent they could go to America to get an education and come back?

        Child trafficking as adoption is not an isolated issue, it happens anywhere there’s an a demand for adoptable kids.

  14. What I struggle with is the author’s inability to follow the ten commandments. ‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’ I’m pretty confident that this would include their children, too?

    Why the willful ignorance and failure to comply with these simple commandments? Please look into your hearts and discover that you are meant to help them where they are. Provide assistance to the parents and extended family, Charity does not include stripping families, communities, and countries of their most precious resource – their children. By your own actions you imply that Jesus should have been taken from his mother and given to the richer, more sophisticated and dominant culture of the time – the Romans.

    May God have mercy on your souls for your imperialistic and blatantly un-christian treatmen to of your brothers.

    • Shar, have you EVER been to an orphanage? Have you ever spent a day with hundreds of parentless children? Children who are not going to school, not receiving imperative medical attention, who are hardly being fed? Have you ever met a child who can’t walk simply because he doesn’t have walker, or who will never sit up because she doesn’t have a wheel chair? Have you ever met a typically developed child who was given up for God knows what reason? I have. And I can tell you their names.

      So let’s support them in their communities, shall we? Providing support in the form of money and supplies is fruitless. The supplies get sold and the money is used to provide more opulent living conditions for the directors. I have seen this. Have you? And then what happens to the children? I’ll tell you. They rot in these places until they age out. And then what? And then they rot in a society that treats them like garbage because they were the neglected, the disabled, the unwanted.

      Providing support for these societies and communities is a great idea. But changing ideologies and mindsets to include acceptance of those who are disabled or developmentally delayed is going to take generations. And these are children NOW who need help. Not all of these children were coerced out of their parents homes. Many were given up willfully. Please tell me I have misunderstood your comment. Otherwise, may God have mercy on your closed-minded, misunderstood soul. For the well-being of these children, adoption, both domestic and international, is imperative.

    • Yes, it’s free. And I agree more Christians should do so – but only those who are equipped to help children who have been abused, neglected, or unwanted to heal. One also must be prepared for the biological parents to be a part of these children’s lives forever – even after adoption occurs. One needs to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually mature to adopt through foster care – and our kids in foster care deserve parents who are.

      • Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment

        This is an example of the well-intentioned but very misleading kinds of comments that inform parents considering international adoption. There is this idea that somehow international adoptees are unabused, un-neglected blank slates that are free from the emotional and psychological scars of children in the US foster care system. I feel like we’re setting people up with very unrealistic expectations, and with an entitlement complex in which we think we have the right to rip children out of their birth community and “save” them without having to deal with the problems in that community that led to them being placed for adoption in the first place.

        The truth is that adoption is both beautiful and messy. We can’t ignore the messiness of domestic adoption and the brokenness of the communities and families from which children in the foster care system come–that brokenness stares us in the face. So we turn to adoptive situations that minimize the messiness, adopting from communities whose brokenness is far enough away to ignore.

        I’m not saying this as a criticism of people who adopt internationally–by and large they are amazing, committed people who do their absolute best to provide the children they adopt with loving, nurturing homes. But there is a kind of collective self delusion going on about international adoption in the Christian community that absolutely needs to be dealt with.

  15. Thank you for this insightful article. As a whole, it is imperative the adoption community is well informed of arguments being made on all sides. Your explanation of Joyce’s weak research is helpful for me as I continue to educate myself. We are in the middle of an international adoption … and we are so excited to get our kids home! Part of our journey has been focused on helping to make friends and family aware of adoption needs and orphan care. Your article has opened up some new resources to me as we continue in our journey. Thank you!

  16. If you’ve never heard of Debi and Michael Pearl, you should definitely educate yourself. Because within fundamentalist circles, they are HUGE, and very dangerous teachings. I agree that this sampling is by no means representative of Christians or adoption as a whole, but it does bear more looking into. Their teachings are absolutely appalling and many children have been abused even to the point of death by people who are trying to live them out.

    • I agree with Crystal. The Pearls are very well known within fundamental Christian circles. Their teachings are dangerous and promote abuse of children. They are “fringe” Christians and definately do not represent the views of mainstream Christianity. I recall reading the Above Rubies magazines when I was involved with that QF movement. The Pearls are highly respected, but their child rearing views are abusive, at best.

    • I agree. Michael and Debbi Pearl’s teachings are quite influential among the Patriarchal, “Quiverfull” types. They are widely followed, and becoming more popular all the time. See TLC’s show, “19 Kids and Counting”. There are many many families that ascribe to this mindset.

      I grew up in a patriarchal/Quiverfull church, and I can tell you that it is a scary and dangerous way to raise kids.

    • People were subscribing to “Beyond Rubies” and reading the Pearls in the 1990s in Tasmania, the little island off the south coast of Australia when I was growing up. If they had spread that far, I really can’t believe an American who has made a living writing about Evangelical issues has never heard of them.

  17. Great article! Sometimes you just “can’t fix stupid.”

    So…if an atheist, Muslim or Buddhist provides orphan care they must be proselytizing for their faiths. What else could it be about? It’s amazing that those who are operating Buddhist and Hindu orphan homes in Nepal are always willing to use American support dollars while continuing to share their faith. Perhaps they don’t want any more of our tainted “Christian” dollars? Right!

    • Those Christian dollars come with strings attached – adoption of children. It promotes human trafficking. The demand of Christians that they obtain ownership (via altered birth certificates through adoption) is not being charitable. Funny that you mention Buddhist, Hindu and Muslims. They don’t believe in exporting and wiping out a child’s name, heritage and culture for the selfish sake of ‘saving’ someone.

      • Three families that I know have adopted boys from Ethiopia. They have kept their Ethiopian names as their middle names and have made a HUGE effort to incorporate the culture of Ethiopia into their household. They WANT their boys to know where they come from and their heritage. Oddly enough, these three families don’t know each other and live in different parts of the country, but all three are working toward making sure that their sons know their heritage. They didn’t adopt these boys to “save” their soul, but to give them a home. Don’t judge all by a bad few.
        I have been in an orphanage where I was mobbed because I gave a girl with an open wound a band-aid and the rest of the kids wanted one – if I could have adopted then I would have.

  18. Thank you for your article. There are many of us with passionate views regarding adoption but it is sad to see so many negative comments regarding adoption in general. There is a definite need for adoption as there ARE orphans needing and WANTING a family! True Christians adopt out of love – not for a need to “save” anyone. You cannot, with any intelligence, lump Christians who adopt into the same category as this group/cult of people who we know do not represent the majority. The article/book being discussed was not objective and obviously the author did not investigate anything that would hinder her from getting her own personal opinions across. As always with journalism, it seems the worst stories get the press. Bottom line, it’s not a clear and honest picture.

  19. Jonathan,

    Thank you! You are right on point with your response. As always, I appreciate your winsome, prophetic voice.

    I am not surprised when people who do not share our worldview do not interpret our motives correctly. I am sure that there are exceptions, but the evangelicals I know like us who have adopted transnationally have done so because they wanted to be parents first and foremost. I can see how someone could be confused by the parallels that we draw between our adoption in Christ and our adoption of children. I love the fact that the story of our family gives us a great way to advance the conversation about the gospel, but we are not saviors. There is only one with the pawer to truly rescue anyone, and I am filled with awe that He cared enough to sacrifice Himself for us.

    There are a number of things in both the Mother Jones blog and the NPR interview with Kathryn Joyce that still need to be discussed. Several of us who are active in the evangelical orphan care and adoption conversation have taken on a few more in an exchange with Ed Stetzer at his blog. I will also post a few more thoughts on my own blog later today. I would love to hear your reaction to both.

    Blessings,

    Rick Morton

  20. Dr.Kate Waller-Barratt a fine christian woman, ran mother and baby homes, her motto above the entrance ‘NEVER SEPARATE THE SACRED BOND OF MOTHER AND CHILD’. Psalm 139, we are fearfully and wondefully made, thou hast covered me in MY MOTHERS WOMB. Here is the crux, God chose the MOTHER and the womb,naming mothers that have lost their children as a birthmothers is an absoluter travesty, they will be the mother of that child till their last breath. Christians accross the globe need to waken up to this fact, THERE ARE VERY FEW ORPHANS, most have poor extremely poor parents, that put them in the care of christians that guarantee food and shelter, yet christians accross the globe like Rik Warren and John Piper, call on folks top ADOPT, ADOPT. A more christian act, would be to SPONSOR and MENTOR communities, and within the local churches, let the elder women teach parenting skills, and let the tithes of the churches support the POOR, WIDOWS, and AFFLICTED, this is biblical christianity. Moses in Hebrews 11 Tells us By faith Moses REFUSED TO BE CALLED THE SON OF PHAR’-AOH’S DAUGHTER. Gods inspired word speaks for itself, Moses new who his mother was, not a birthmother HIS MOTHER. Christians that change the name of a child are guilty of ancestride, read Matthew 1, God,s inspired word lets us know how important genealogy is, Exodus 20 verse 16 We are commanded Not to bear FALSE WITNESS adoption does just that, bears false witness of every child it brings into the country, more God honoring would be to find out genuine orphans, and be God’s nurturer’s of these children, keeping their identity, and culture, and country of origin throughout the childhood years alive, and visiting again the place of their birth, what a wonderful privilege, these children will grow up with the deepest love and respect for the folks that care so deeply for them in the saddest of circumstances, orphaned. Truly that would be God honoring,not closed adoption where the reward for adoption is owner identity, possession, which burdens the child with a life of gratitude and loyalty, suffering greatly from serious separation and loss issues.

  21. As an adoptive mother of 5 internationally adopted children, I can honestly say that adoption is not for the faint at heart. Especially for those of us who have adopted children who have a painful past. I remember very well the Above Rubies magazine and the adoption frenzy that blew thru that Quiver Full movement. At the time I was a homeschooling mom of 10 children, and fully believed the agenda to “multilpy and replenish” the earth. The fact is that the Campbells and Sam and Serene were unequipped to handle the children they adopted. These kids were coming from war torn Liberia. These children have knnown heartache, war, PTSD, sexual abuse, etc. I read thru the entire article by Mother Jones, and honestly — for the most part they are ‘spot on’ in their conclusions. The fact is that most families, Christian or not, are not equipped to handle the realities of adopting a child from a 3rd world country that has expierenced neglect, abuse and abandonment. I also understand that there are evil people in this world who are all to eager to make $$ from selling children. I saw this first hand when I lived over seas and witnessed children being ‘brokered’. It happens friends. I am sorry, but it does. We live in a broken world, and there are many broken children. There are so many waiting to prey on their precious souls. While the body of Christ is called to care for the orphan and the widow — we need to find fair, and just ways to do so. Sometimes taking children from their nation is not the answer. Sometimes it is. We need discernment and direction. Adoption is a gift, but it is not a gift for everyone. Many, like myself have been blessed by the gift — but I will be honest…. it has not been easy. These children have come with broken hearts. Therapy, time, lots of love and prayers are needed. Honestly most parents are not equipped. Adoption agencies need to be very careful with who they choose to work with in country. Baby brokers are out there, waiting to lure agencies with promises of orphans, and infants. It is sad reality. Are there easy answers to the plight of the orphan? No. Must we do something? Yes! May our Lord guide our steps and help us make gracious and just decisions on how to do so.
    Grace & peace,

  22. So we are told in the Bible to adopt. The best example of adoption in the Bible is Moses (who incidently was brought up by his mother). What did Moses do when he grew up- oh yes he repudiated his adoption. Great example of what all adoptees should do. Actually what you are told in the Bible is to provide support and assistance for single mothers and their children. There is nothing said about taking the children and leaving the mother with a lifetime of grief, guilt and other associated issues.

  23. I really did not think the MJ article was a fair representation of the Christian Adoption Movement on the whole, BUT there is a belief among us that adoption is THE answer. Rick Warren recently tweeted that exact thing. I love most of his views but on this I cannot agree. We should be focusing on WHY these children are “orphaned” in the first place. Dare I say that adoption is the EASY answer! Helping an entire country or community rise up and alleviate poverty is far harder. It’s time we called for fair wages, fair trade, education, empowerment, and family preservation to prevent dissolution of a family.

    • I would think, a few orphans raised to God, well educated and well fed, returning to their birth countries as adults could indeed effect that desparately needed change that would eventually prevent the travesties. But without God, those countries will never conquer the evil that governs them.

  24. http://www.buzzfeed.com/jillfilipovic/why-evangelical-christians-love-adopting-kids

    “There are not hundreds of millions of children who are available for adoption. The orphan crisis has become this extremely amorphous term, but one of those commonly-cited figures is 163 million children needing adoption. But of that number, it’s estimated that only 17 million children have lost both parents — meaning that almost 150 million children defined as “orphans” have one living parent. In the U.S. we would not consider children of single parents “orphans” available for adoption. People need to come to terms with the fact that these numbers are being used in a dramatic way that changes the meaning of things. A lot of the 17 million children who have lost both parents are also living with extended family, so the numbers are almost meaningless.”

  25. criticism is crucial–we can celebrate christians caring for vulnerable kids and still engage in necessary and critical reflection about the process. good motives alone aren’t enough, and positive outcomes don’t excuse corrupt or exploitative processes.

    adoption can be redemptive and beautiful (and painful), and it is always extraordinarily complex, but your article doesn’t acknowledge much nuance. if we are honest, there are aspects of White Savior-ism/White Man’s Burden/cultural imperialism within parts of the evangelical adoption movement, and we need to talk about that. just like interracial marriage won’t magically solve racism, interracial/cultural adoption won’t either (although i’ve heard white adoptive parents naively claim otherwise).

    we need to talk about family reunification and community support and how it may not be the best thing in the world to adopt/uproot/”save” kids across the world by bringing them here–especially children who are not orphans! there are serious, concerning, exploitative elements within international adoption that “meaning well” will not–and should not–gloss over. adoption is only one of many ways to demonstrate mercy to those in need. it’s not like our only choices are either sitting on our hands or bringing every kid from africa to america.

    also, the pearls are tremendously influential in fundamentalist christian circles. writing them off as fringe “crazies” minimizes the harm they cause and excuses us from examining harmful evangelical theologies (of submission, power, discipline, adoption-as-salvation) which may fall more centrally along the same spectrum. children have died, and it’s on our watch.

  26. Bill Blacquiere

    When Bethany donates to an orphanage we do so with no expectation of getting referrals. Also, Bethany partners with many organizations to provide foster care to adoption in the child’s own country, family preservation services and sponsorship of families so they can keep their children and adequately care for them. At times these partners do refer children to Bethany for adoption. The majority of these children have physical and mental impairments and are older. 65% or more of all our adoptive placements are children with special placements needs.

  27. I was really amazed to hear that you’d never heard of any of these “fringe” authors when I, a Catholic living in Milwaukee, knew of them all. I think they may be unusual, but since I find the atmosphere of most non-denominational churches to be along the lines of Wonder Bread, maybe you need to widen your horizons before depicting them as utter aliens.

  28. I grew up reading all of Above Rubies publications, and with parents who bleieved what they believed and practices the disciplinary tactics that the Pearls teach, we had all their books as well. I experienced the same abuses and educational neglect that these adopted kids did, and this mentality happens more often than you think in the christian homeschooling circles where these publications are popular and sold at most of the conventions. Nice to know how little my experience matters to mainstream christianity. Maybe you should be reading more on this topic to educate yourself on the plight of kids trapped in these families all over america.

  29. I know others have pointed out the prominence of the Pearls (though you had not yet been aware of their teachings.) Sadly, they are making inroads into more broadly evangelical circles from their fringy beginnings.

    There are three deaths documented as being connected with the Pearls’ teachings, and many more children abused. Their parents are usually well-intentioned, loving, Christian parents whose actions are abusive, even though their hearts are loving, under the teaching and guidance of the Pearls.

    It is not insignificant that ALL THREE documented deaths were of adopted children (two children adopted internationally and one was domestic foster-to-adopt.)

    It would behoove you to learn more about the Pearls and how they have impacted the Christian culture (fringe, evangelical AND mainstream), as well as how adoptive parents have been influenced by them.

    For more information:
    http://www.tulipgirl.com/index.php/category/michaelanddebipearl/

    May we always remember Lydia Schatz, Hana-Grace Williams, and Sean Paddock. May we, as Christians, shine the light on abusive teachings which hurt Christian families.

    Grace and peace,
    TG

  30. Hi Jonathan. As one of those 70,000 women who have recieved counseling from Bethany, leading up to the relinquishment of my daughter, I am saddened by your apparent willingness to use us as support for your own thesis. Having relinquished a child through Bethany, I can tell you my experience was not a good one and there are certainly issues within the agency in regards to attitudes about biological parents.

  31. I too am surprised you haven’t heard of the Pearls and agree with what other commenters have said: Don’t rush to the defense of some of these movements and practices. Though Mother Jones is certainly wrong to lump reputable Christian adoption agencies such as Bethany in with those movements and agencies who have harmful practices, evangelicals should not make the same mistakes. We should be just as quick to criticize the harmful practices of the Pearls and others in the “Quiverfull” movement.

  32. I want to add one more thing: I think what’s needed here is some journalism that goes deep into the Christian adoption movement and evaluates where it is working and where it isn’t working – and how it could be improved. Certainly there can be unexamined prejudices at work and a “white savior” mentality. But to say that’s happening in all cases is incredibly reductive. The Mother Jones article clearly paints with too broad a brush, but so does this reply. I eagerly await a more neutral and balanced approach.

  33. Adoption corruption and adoption trafficking exists and is a multi-billion dollar industry with the majority at fault are the Evangelical Orphan Movement. Because of their ‘Savior complex’ and believing white parents make better parents then colored parents they have created a HUGE freaking mess overtaking poor countries and creating this propaganda (besides all of the manipulation and lies) of ‘give us your child because it is in their best interest and then telling Western folks that your child is ready to come home! The problem is that now thousands upon thousands of U.S. or Europe owned ‘orphanages’ have been popping up everywhere into foreign land. These foreigners have no idea what ‘adoption’ really means. Children are being stolen in HUGE numbers from hundreds of countries and taken to these orphanages. The agencies then market these children as ‘orphans’ when in reality paperwork is being falsified (such as death certificates of one parent or a long paper trail of lies and deception) to fulfill the demand. The downside is that the ‘street kids or the kids who are really in need of help are NOT being helped, nor the children of the US. It’s really a modern day ‘slave trade’ if you look at it without all the emotions of ‘saving a child’. http://www.againstchildtrafficking.org/2013/04/taken-never-returned-when-adoption-profits-the-middleman/

    • Jonathan Merritt

      Jenette,

      I think you’re making a lot of baseless accusations. At Bethany, for example, we explicitly believe it is in the best interest of a child to remain in their home culture. Therefore, we use a continuum of care to first attempt to locate their next of kin or facilitate an in-country adoption/foster option before even considering international adoption. For this reason, most of Bethany’s international adoptions (about 7 in 10) involve special needs children. Bethany does not believe that white and/or western parents are better.

      Jm

      • Except that to point to 7 of 10 adoptions being special needs children, while totally accurate I am sure, is less a statement about Bethany’s commitment to children and more a reflection of the current situation in international adoption world wide. China (until recently the largest sending country) is almost exclusively a special needs program since the wait for a child without a known medical condition is currently approaching 7 years. Any agency with even a slight regard for ethics has shuttered their Ethiopia program in the face of the corruption there and is only placing special needs children. Korea’s program has always been limited to a few states that an agency can place children (states where the agency has actual offices) but Korean allows agencies to make exceptions to that rule for special needs children. So the fact is that most agencies, except the lost unethical, are placing more special needs kids. That says little about the agency and more about the current realities of international adoption. An in Ethiopia specifically, Bethany has been a partner of the Mussie orphanages, which had their own issues with corruption until the government shut them down last year.

      • Maureen Flatley

        But certainly Bethany prevented many children from “going home” if that home was populated w/ Catholic, Jewish or Muslim parents, including very well qualified heterosexual two parent families. the bottom line is that though Bethany has done some good work the adoption industry needs a serious wake up call. More broadly the United States needs to take a hard look at the money involved in adoption and the almost complete lack of a national strategic policy to address both the needs of American children trapped in foster care as well as the millions of economic orphans around the world, children who w/ minimal “investment” could remain w/ their poor but loving families abroad. Adoption is not a bad thing. But it’s not the answer for many many children.

        You simply cannot dismiss Joyce’s premise. There is much that should be addressed w/ serious thoughtful dialogue.

      • There is no desire to locate the next of kin, your statements are a joke. Most of them do not care about the biological parents, just the money.

  34. Johnathan,

    I think in this topic most people are missing the forest for the trees. As John Piper has said, “adoption is greater than the universe.” Adoption is the primary way in which God makes his family, and our ‘vertical’ or spiritual adoption is the primary motivating force in chrisitians practicing ‘horizontal’ or sociological adoption. We get stuck on the evils that happen in the world and are going to happen, and forget that our adoption by God, if not the greatest, is one of the greatest themes in Scripture. That is the reason christians adopt and practice orphan care. All other reasons are secondary. We are the community of the redeemed who have been adopted, so we adopt.

    My seminary thesis was on the doctrine of adoption and I’ve spent the last two years turning it into a book. It comes out next month (May). It also contains my famlies story of adopting our children.

    It is a strong theological treatise on the doctrine of adoption and the impact it should have on the church. It’s called, ADOPTED: GOD’S PLAN A.

    It will be a good read for any who are interested in the theology behind adoption and why orphan care is pivitol to our faith and the identity of the church. It is well researched and all sources are in the bibliography.

    Thanks
    Aaron Hartman MD, MAR, FAAFP

    • Your ignorance to biblical adoption is breathtaking…Adoption in scripture is the doctrine of predestination,absolutely nothing to do with you taking new borns/toddlers etc.from other countries, bearing false witness by giving them a false identity, and worse still living that lie by telling the world they are your children. THEY HAVE A MOTHER/FATHER, the parents GOD GAVE THEM Psalm 139. Ethical care of children will separate the sheep from the goats, and is God Honouring. There are folks that will SPONSOR KINSHIP CARE or, SPONSOR and MENTOR families/children through christian charitable schemes within the community the children were born into. Your saviour attitude of taking babies from poor countries and believing this to be the latest form of evangelism is nothing less than A MAN MADE ACTION, and worse still to profit from this is simply disgraceful,charlatan’s and for filthy lucre. How many within these bodies have studied the separtaion grief and loss these little ones suffer and their parents, it would suit you better to spend your time researching the AMPLE research available to this end, and take a leaf out of Dr. Kate Waller-Barratt, your fellow countryman, America’s GIANT for God, in her christian act of compassionate care to ‘NEVER SEPARATE THE SACRED BOND OF MOTHER AND CHILD’

  35. I have thrown my two cents into this argument in a blogpost, “Is the gospel of adoption always good news?”

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/gospel-adoption-always-good-news

  36. Mom of the Horde

    I think the real crux of the issue isn’t that the Evangelical Adoption Movement is corrupt or bad persay, but that there’s a real lack of an adequate screening process or preparation/support/follow up with the adoptive parents once they get home.

    I’ve been reading a lot of blogs of evangelical families that are adopting overseas the past few years. Some families seem surprised once they get home that the kids they’ve brought home have problems other than medical ones stemming from their time in an institution. Add in the tendency of some to homeschool and eschew contact with the outside world and you have a recipe for disaster.

    Things like Reactive Attachment Disorder and Institutional Autism can’t just be prayed away. You can’t just throw a kid who has never known life outside of an orphanage, who may not even know any English, to be able to function well in a family setting without extra support. Sometimes the best of intentions and love isn’t enough…. it’s important, but not always enough.

    • That’s an important point. We have heard of six disruptions of children adopted to the USA from Uganda in the last few months. Many blame severe RAD as a reason for the disruption…. however what I would say, having information about the background of these Adoptions, is that some of the children are not suffering from RAD at all… but actually suffering extreme trauma and grieve after being dragged away from their parents and communities, where they had good attachments, and placed into the hands of unsuspecting US families by orphanage directors who will receive an orphanage donation of up to $5000 for placing the child.

      Anyone who doesn’t suspect these things go on, or perhaps think these incidents are a very small minority, really need to come to somewhere like Uganda for a length of time and see what happens on the ground.

  37. THANK YOU. I heard an interview with Kathryn Joyce on the NPR Fresh Air podcast this past week, and I was incensed. She used phrases like “adoption obsession” and “supply and demand” in regards to Christian adoptions. She essentially accused Christians of creating a ‘demand’ for orphans that has directly caused countries to practice unethical adoption practices. She specifically targeted Ethiopia, but did not mention any of the preventative measures that Ethiopia has taken in the past two years to ensure that child trafficking does not take place.

    I love NPR Fresh Air, and normally find their interviewing to ask some of the harder questions, but in this case the author was given a free pass, and none of her statements were questioned. Thank you for your well-written article. I am so tired of the recent, very disturbing trend of bashing adoptive families. I certainly would never want to see any kind of unethical adoptions take place; but lumping all international adoption into that category and accusing Christian adoptive parents of having “orphan fever” does a disservice to both the parents, and also the adopted children who have to hear this nonsense.

    I think that this recent trend of attacking international adoption by using these very isolated cases is a convenient way for people to go about ignoring the orphan crisis and giving themselves a free pass not to do anything about it. Adoption is ONE of many, many possible solutions to the orphan crisis, and is a small part of it. But it is a part of it!

  38. OK so she doesn’t much like us, maybe she is even suspicious of us and our motives. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a point. Can’t we test everything and hold to what is good (or as my husband would say, “keep the fish and throw away the bones”)?

    There are often huge problems with the ethics of international adoptions. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a part of God’s plan. It DOES mean that we should approach the subject with discernment and do our best to ensure all actions taken are above reproach.

    Children from these situations, whether they’re coming from foster care or overseas, can have serious needs/problems as a result of their circumstances. That doesn’t mean they don’t need or want or deserve a family, it DOES mean that families interested in adoption need to educate themselves about such things, that agencies need to be honest about the children in their care, that post-adoption support for these families is essential to good outcome.

    While Kathryn Joyce is painting Christian adoption with a broad brush, there WAS something there to paint. That should outrage us all, not to be defensive, but to work at keeping ourselves informed and the adoption process above board. I have read issues of Above Rubies that corroborate the state of the Allisons’ home at the time of their adoptions. With no running water or electricity, there is no way they would pass a home study today. There is no way their adoptions would be legal today (I admit I don’t know what the standards were back then, but it wasn’t all that long ago).

    As for the Pearls, I’ve heard of them too, and I find their views deeply disturbing. I have seen their books used in small/women’s groups at churches I know, offered to new mothers by respected members of these same churches. Their teachings have led to the deaths of several (adopted) children and the continued abuse of who knows how many more.

    The bottom line is these are absolutely issues that SHOULD concern us as Christians, please don’t ignore the problem because you don’t like who is pointing it out.

  39. Dear Jonathan,

    I read your article and the responses of your readers with great interest. I am not adopted, nor an adopter, nor likely to ever become one, so I hope what I have to say has a modicum of objectivity: your logic and the stated experiences of many of your responders leave me wanting to say “Yes” both to you and the Mother Jones article. Undoubtedly Mother Jones and Ms. Joyce are more than slightly reserved in their accolades for Christianity and its movements. But, equally, your zeal for the “Adoption Movement” and anger at the perceived injustice of their commentary, leads you, I believe, to a much too easy dismissiveness of at least some of the article’s trenchant points…that is, if the witness of many of your responders is to be heard and respected.

    As I read what you and they have to say, the first thought that hit me was the memory of Ghandi when he was asked by a fellow Hindu who had killed a Moslem family after his own family had been massacred, but who now wanted to repent and seek forgiveness for the sake of peace: Ghandi instructed him to find a Moslem orphan, raise the child as his own, but raise him as a Moslem. Given Christianity’s history of alliance with colonizers and the perpetuation of oppressive economies, I wonder if Ghandi’s directive might not have a message for us Christians today. Perhaps, perhaps not…but what worries me most certainly is the phrase “of course” used by one of your responders who is an adoptive parent and was indicating her intentions about what values her adopted child would be raised in.

    I do not believe that tose who adopt children of other cultures and backgrounds automatically have the right or the duty to raise those kids in their own value system or religion, for to automatically assumethe right to do so, is a form of triumphalism. Note that what I am criticizing here is not the willingness, the blessed willingness,of people to adopt, nor their concern for the child’s values and faith, nor even necessarily the decision to raise the child as Christian; it is the attitude that underlies a comment like “of course” that bothers me. Whether realized and intended or not, such an assumption impies a kind of arrogance and insensitivity that is decidedly un-Christian, but all too often very American.

  40. you write, “Does Joyce mention that before Bethany will perform an international adoption, they attempt to reconnect the children with their next of kin, facilitate a domestic adoption, or place them in a domestic foster care program?”

    i have adopted 2 children through bethany’s international adoption program….and to the best of my knowledge NOTHING was done by bethany to investigate birth parent and kin…..to place the children up for domestic adoption or domestic foster care…….

    you quote the president of bethany….

    “The article says [Bethany] donates money to orphanages and that we handle the paperwork. Number one, we don’t handle the paperwork. And whenever we donate to an orphanage, we will not do adoptions with that orphanage to avoid a conflict of interest,” says Bill Blacquiere, President and CEO of Bethany. “Additionally, whenever a child is referred to us for adoption, we perform a separate investigation with an attorney to locate the birth mother, interview family members, and verify that there is nothing improper happening. If anything questionable is discovered, we decline to be involved with that child. Joyce is alleging that we may be adopting children who were attained unethically, and that is not true.”

    where are my children’s reports?…..what lawyer was used?…why is it when i asked bethany to help find my daughters birth parents that said they couldn’t help until she was 18……..

    no i am sorry mr. merritt……bethany has not done everything they can for every child that has been adopted internationally through the agency…….

    you have made false claims…….sweeping general statements that may be a partial truth for some children….but not mine………

  41. Actually, some evangelicals on the ground in these adoption zones are ringing alarm bells over the adoption industry that is thriving overseas. In some countries, adoption thieves have a punchlist of characteristics to look for as they roam streets, and they kidnap kids to sell to adoption mills. Many “orphans” are not parentless, and others are “sold” into the orphan system without their parents and relatives realizing they’ll never see their kids again. Mother Jones has its reasons for castigating the adoption problem, but there is a real problem, and evangelicals need to wake up. For starters, check out http://bringlove.in/ and read “No Greater Love” by Levi Benkert.

    • Thank you Tim. I’m a Christian and have been ringing the alarm bell you speak about in Uganda for sometime. I know Levi personally and love the work. Merritt turning this into a left/right issue really is quite pathetic.

  42. It seems like no good deed by people of faith goes unpunished by the main stream media.
    Whenever people are involved, bad ones will crop up, but they don’t represent the whole. Look at the Kermit Gosnell story, do his actions represent those of all abortion doctors and clinics? Not only did various state agencies overlook the numerous problems at his clinic, even the National Abortion Federation (NAF) visited and rather than do anything to protect women’s health, they did nothing.
    I sure hope Kathryn Joyce will write an objective article about that, and also the ‘babies as pawns’ problem in the U.S. which encourages many infertil American couples to seek foreign adoptions.

  43. Bethany, like the other 30 or so adoption agencies operating in Uganda, are using a loophole to get children out of Uganda.. Using guardianship orders, which are not part of the legal framework for adoption, Bethany are purposely avoiding the rules and regulations as set-out in the Children’s Act.

    Furthermore Bethany say on their website state:

    “Bethany values our in-country partners and the openness to finding mutual solutions to the orphan crisis. For instance, when the government in Uganda recently asked Bethany to participate in a debate about the merits of international adoption, Tendai Masiriri, Bethany’s director of Africa programs, presented Bethany’s position to the Uganda Parliamentary Forum, and later he spoke at the government’s invitation to a larger group of Parliament. As a result, Bethany is now registered to carry out international adoptions in Uganda, with 40 to 60 children to be referred to Bethany each year.”

    There IS NO agreement between the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) and Bethany – NONE, ZERO, ZIP. In addition are the orphanages they are using licensed? (rhetorical question) PLUS their experience at the Parliamentary Forum for Children was FAR from what they reported. Thanks to ChildFund for speaking the truth.

    Making this into a political issue is pretty low. Rather than, as Christians, take an introspective look at our movement some are sadly determined to make this into a political issue to deflect attention from the movement and perhaps even their own ‘dodgy’ adoptions – mocking Christ, integrity, intelligence and justice in the process.

  44. Johnathon,

    The Board of any organisation is responsible for setting policy directions, but Board members do not have a hands-on role in implementing these directions. That is up to the management team. However, if the management team are failing to adequately implement the Board’s directions, then it is up to the Board to investigate and replace management as necessary.

    It would appear, from the responses received on this forum alone, that there is enough anecdotal information to trigger a concerned reation from the Board.

    Ultimately, the buck stops with the Board and with individual Board members and Johnathon, as a Bethany Board member, I suggest that you have some difficult questions to ask of your fellow Board members and of your managment team.

  45. Mr. Merrett,

    My husband and I adopted our daughter from Romania in 1998.
    Romania and Russian no longer permit International Adoptions.

    Your blunt criticism of Kathryn Jones because she appears to criticize some Christians for adoptions – is a bit difficult to accept for a couple of reasons:
    –You present yourself as “an authority” when you state you’ve written/published over 5,000 articles over the past decade:
    YET, you admit you’ve never heard of Michael and Debi Pearl, and their book – To Train Up a Child.

    I’m most certainly not a fan of the Pearls or Ms. Jones….
    But, since you present yourself as some type of authority in the this field – I’d THINK you would have heard of the Pearls and this book of their’s; which has been connected with the sad deaths of several children.
    PLUS: The Pearls have been interviewed on mainstream news programs like – The Today Show; and Anderson Cooper’s CNN program 360 Degrees.

    The Pearl’s book, To Train Up a Child has/is reviewed on Amazon and Goodreads. Perhaps you should read the reviews and know about the book you seem to be dismissing. It has had generous influence over lots of people; some to the point they “claim” it caused them to actually beat their innocent, helpless children to death!

    I do agree with the poster: Concerned Adoptive Mom who stated:
    Not all countries have signed The Hague Treaty. One country that HAS NOT signed The Hague Treaty is Uganda.
    If you do some research – you will find: Uganda has many, many Christian Orphanages throughout the country that push, push, push adoption of the children in these NUMEROUS Christian Orphanages.
    In my opinion – this is concerning.

    I’d never spend my money on The Pearl’s books – but sadly; these people are influential and not in a good, positive way – and that’s simply my personal opinion.

  46. Jonathan,

    It’s not just secular news outlets such as Mother Jones that chastise the evangelical christian adoption movement.

    If you haven’t already, consider reading “Of Orphans and Adoption, Parents and the Poor, Exploitation and Rescue” by Dr. David Smolin, an international adoption expert. He is a Christian and professor of law at Cumberland Law School. Here is a link: http://works.bepress.com/david_smolin/10/

    I see that a reader suggested that you read Dr. Smolin’s writings earlier in this thread.

  47. Katie,

    Here is a link to the article: http://works.bepress.com/david_smolin/10/#sthash.Fn8h7rsN.dpuf

    Also below is a link to the adoption issue in the Journal of Christian Legal Thought, which Smolin was the guest editor of. His writings surround the same issues that are being discussed above. The issue also contains my own narrative and experience with the unseen side of adoption from a natural mother’s perspective. (page 23)
    http://issuu.com/clsnet/docs/cls_journal_spring-12?e=3406189/2618070

  48. I have been a reader of Above Rubies for years. I have also been outspokenly opposed to the particular child training method mentioned in the Mother Jones article, that of Michael and Debi Pearl in their book “To Train Up a Child.” Although you might never have been aware of these publication until recently they do hold considerable influence over a number of Christian homes that I know. The child rearing methods advocated by the Pearls are dangerous and unbiblical. I believe that it is vital for the Christian community to speak out condemning these abusive practices against children. Please inform yourselves of what the Pearls teach so that you can help other parents avoid their deception.

  49. I’d love to have a chat with Ms. Joyce. One of the things I’d like to ask her is: I totally believe how devastating it must be when a mother “gives away” her child, and how that is with them every minute. I’m curious how Ms. Joyce never seems to connect that, regardless of any secular views otherwise, it is the same with moms who abort babies. I wonder if she would be able to be objective about that. I also recently read her book on Patriarchy, and noticed the same trend there- to pick out the extreme, and lump others in the same category. If she met our family, she’d probably lump us with them, but I say, come to our house, live with us awhile, and see what we are actually like. I agree, this is quite selective journalism, not subjective.

  50. It seems there are two different stories. The atrocities happening in fundamentalist (often homeschooling) homes NEED to be exposed. If you go to any homeschool conference, you will hear of the Campbells (Allisons) and the Pearls. Their influence is strong and if it causes even one child to be beaten or harmed, we should be concerned. Are all adoptive families bad or ill-prepared? Of course not. But, she does shed light on some bad teaching and for that, I am thankful. I wish fellow evangelicals would do the same. The children caught in abuse may thank us. I am an adoptive mother and a Christian woman who homeschools. As I just heard of another child beaten into submission this week, I realized we need to start exposing this wrong authoritarian style.

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  52. Kenneth Barnett

    You lying, self inflated pieces of CRAP! Does Bethany use methods to unethically obtain children for adoption? You sure as hell do!!! How about assisting the kidnapping of my son??? How about knowing full well from the start that I wasn’t an active participant and would not consent to an adoption, yet used coercive and threatening tactics with my ex wife to get control of my son? How bout the fact that I was STILL THE LEGAL FATHER!!! How about the moment that DNA test showed me to be the father did you THEN try to walk away and avoid your responsibility to what your people had done. To try to run from a legal mess YOU created. Bethany is a joke! Claiming hypocritical christian and family beliefs when that is the farthest thing from the truth! You people disgust me! Hiding behind and using faith to mask what you truly are… CRIMINALS!! I know, we all know. … you’re too much of a bunch of cowards to post this

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  1. [...] In my response to her article, I did not deny that her stories and examples were truthful or accurately reported. From all I can tell, Joyce is a solid reporter who has gathered stories from various sources on the topic, and I look forward to reading a fuller treatment of the topic in her forthcoming book. But I did (and do) question whether or not the stories told in her article are representative of the large and diverse Christian community in America. One comment I made particularly rankled readers: [...]

  2. […] In her article, Joyce again paints the picture of evangelical adoption as a well-intentioned, but misguided, Christian adoption movement that exacerbates corruption and harms children around the world. It is a perspective I was first introduced to after reading Joyce’s “Mother Jones” article (“Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement’s Adoption Obsession”). I responded to her article at “On Faith and Culture”: […]

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