Jan

08

2013

Russell Moore|10:00 PM CT

The Answer to Russia's Orphan Crisis

As the father of two sons born in Russia, I was enraged by Vladimir Putin's government ban on American adoptions from the former Soviet state, and I said so in every venue open to me. A Russian national (and evangelical Christian) responded to me via social media with a rebuke: "Russia needs the gospel, not Americans adopting our children," he said. "Why don't you Americans solve your own problems before interfering in ours?" I think his response is worth pondering.

We must first acknowledge that this reaction is precisely what the Putin government wants from Russians. The Obama administration rightly supported sanctions against Russia for its abysmal human rights record. The leftover KGB thugocracy responded by "punishing" Americans by cutting off adoption, knowing this would play well with jingoistic nationalism.

At one level, this is quite understandable. Imagine if the Cold War were reversed---the United States having collapsed into impoverished separate states and Soviet citizens adopting children from here. We'd probably see people screaming lines from Red Dawn at the new parents in the airports. The situation would be a blow to national pride. And that's exactly the point.

National Pride

This Russian evangelical's taunt seems to assume "the gospel" is something that doesn't address questions of national pride or public justice. It is simply "spiritual" in giving the way to heaven. But that's not the kind of gospel Jesus or his apostles preached. The gospel not only proclaims grace, it also exposes sin and calls for repentance. The gospel of the kingdom announces, as theologian Carl F. H. Henry put it, "the criteria by which God will judge men and nations."

That's why John the Baptist, in preaching the gospel, spoke also of sexual morality (Luke 3:18-20). That's why Jesus, in preaching the gospel, talked about the economics of tax collecting and caring for the poor (Matt. 22:15-22; Luke 12:33-34). That's why the apostle Paul, in preaching the gospel, talked about self-control and the coming judgment (1 Thess. 5:1-11). The gospel confronts us in our sin---in that persistent, satanic temptation to shrug, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen. 4:9).

This is hardly unique to Russia. Jesus' contemporaries thought they were making a merely political statement when they said, "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:15). My Southern Baptist ancestors said they were simply protecting their Southern "way of life" when they cruelly denied justice to African Americans for more than a century. And, even now, many professing Christians think it's none of the church's business when we speak of the lordship of Christ over pocketbooks or hormonal glands. The gospel blows all of that prideful resistance away by offering mercy, but also by convicting us in sin.

The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has endorsed this Russian strongman's wicked policy, as the church has done too often in history. At the same time, though, he has called on Russian Christians to adopt orphans. I can only pray this will gain traction.

The answer to orphanages teeming with doomed children isn't, ultimately, American adoption. The answer is, ideally, a Russia so revived by the gospel of adoption in Christ that Christian families receive children even as they have been received into the household of Christ. Ultimately, of course, we seek a a landscape devoid of orphanages, as American cities are devoid of slave auctions. To that end we pray the gospel would stabilize families and uproot the causes of orphanhood: poverty, alcoholism, illegitimacy, and so on.

Until then, we preach the gospel to every creature, including our Russian friends. And, until then, we stand for what Jesus cares about, including the "least of these," those orphaned in the womb, in foster care, and in orphanages at home and around the world.

The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. But a different gospel, one that says to the hurting, "Be warmed and filled" (Jas. 2:16), is a gospel to which we must say "Nyet."

Russell D. Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

  • Pingback: The answer to Russia’s orphan crisis « africabound

  • Tyler

    I guess I just don't understand the appeal of adopting foreign children, and the outrage that we can't adopt from Russia anymore (or as you feel the need to put it: from "the former Soviet state").

    Why do American Christians insist on adopting from Russia, China, Ethiopia, and other countries, when we can't find nearly enough loving adoptive parents for American children? I've heard terrible stories from children/teens committing suicide, being shuffled from one abusive home to the next, and just living miserable lives until they age out of the system.

    Are people just not aware of the problem/need?

    I'm not trying to pick a fight or anything. I am just genuinely curious.

    • http://www.theworksofgoddisplayed.com Shannon Dingle

      Tyler, the outrage (at least my outrage) is about the conditions of Russian orphanages and institutions. As a mom (of two biological children and one child with special needs adopted from Taiwan), my heart is grieved by the ill treatment of children in any country, including our own. For our family, the lack of the most basic care for orphans, particularly orphans with special needs, in other countries was the motivating factor to adopt outside of the US. When I consider God's focus throughout the Bible on the nations, that draws my heart to love the world instead of only focusing on my own country. The gospel is as much for them as it is for children born here. That said, I am thankful that Christian families are caring for children here through foster care and adoption, just as I am thankful for the way He worked in our family and in our youngest child's life through international adoption.

      In other words, I don't think it's a lack of awareness of the problem/need here in the US. We love children created by God and without families, wherever they may be. It's not an either/or thing with domestic adoption and international adoption pitted against each other, no more than we ought to question the motives of international missionaries by asking why they aren't evangelizing here because the US has unbelievers too.

      • Tyler

        Thanks for the response, Shannon.

        I could be (and probably am) wrong. But, I would think that orphans in Russia still have better living conditions than orphans in war-torn parts of Africa, areas of central/south America with drug cartel/sex trafficking problems, or even unwanted Americans who are just being shuffled from one abusive home to the next until they turn 18. Therefore, why not just move on and adopt from any of those places, instead of focusing on Putin and how unfair "the former Soviet state" is being? That's more what I'm wondering about, not adopting from one specific country over another. I'm not trying to make it a patriot 'Merica! type of thing. The context just happens to be America/Russia. I hope that makes sense.

        "It's not an either/or thing with domestic adoption and international adoption pitted against each other, no more than we ought to question the motives of international missionaries by asking why they aren't evangelizing here because the US has unbelievers too."

        Thanks for that. Good perspective. But, wouldn't it be silly if a foreign missionary wanted to go to Russia, couldn't, and then made a big stink about it instead of just going...well, just about anywhere else? The need is everywhere, as you said.

        • http://www.theworksofgoddisplayed.com Shannon Dingle

          In the same way as missionaries often feel called to minister to a particular country or people group, some families I know say they felt called to a particular country (while others choose countries based on ease of process, requirements, and age/circumstances of available children, and others - like us - chose a child from a waiting child listing and end up in her country because of her, not because Taiwan was a country we had been considering before).

          That doesn't completely answer your question about Russian vs. other countries. To me, it seems that the answer is twofold: (1) the condition of many orphans in Russia and (2) the ethics of adoption in countries engaged in the kinds of activities you list above.

          (1) The condition of many orphans in Russia:
          Here's what one of my friends who adopted from Russia shared with me: ""Natalie's Russian orphanage used electric shocks on the children who were all under the age of 4....shaved all of their heads....never spoke to the children (didn't even allow the children to look them in the face)....at age 3, Natalie had never been bathed, had never been outside, was hungry because of too little food, and was covered in bloody scrapes and burns. The answer is NOT to leave these children in Russia, but to offer better training to families who are adopting children who suffer from RAD because of the abuse and neglect in many of the Russian orphanages."
          And from another friend: "Melanie's story is not uncommon. Antiquated medications & health care practices are common. K's orphanage had no water filtration system. Water was the color of tea and was in limited supply. He was on seizure meds to keep him sedated. During the coldest months, orphanages are placed on rolling blackouts to conserve power. People don't realize...children are treated far worse than animals."
          Russell Moore, the author of the post we're commenting on, writes in his book Adopted for Life about the eerie silence in the orphanage where his boys lived before adoption. Babies learned not to cry because no one would come. In a room full of cribs, each with a baby or young child in it, no coos or cries or babbles were heard.
          Here's a post from one of those friends (the mom of "K" mentioned above) about the conditions in her son's orphanage, that is meant for children aged 4-18 but only has children as old as 10 because children don't live that long, given the conditions: http://oureyesopened.org/2012/12/618.html

          It's not just the stuff of anecdotes, though. Here's a 198 page report on the atrocities of Russian orphanages, published in 1998 by Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/news/1998/12/15/report-documents-brutal-treatment-russian-orphanages
          Here's a CNN article that covered that report: http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/europe/9812/28/russia.orphans/index.html
          And here's an NPR article from 2007: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9810880
          And here's a piece from the American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.int/EN/mag/magazine2000_1/voyage_en.html

          In other words, their living conditions are awful. And, if they live long enough to age out of the system, most of those teens commit suicide, turn to prostitution and other crimes, or freeze to death (especially if they are physically disabled, because most of Russia is devoid of handicapped accessibility). Very few are able to survive.

          (2) Ethics of adoption from countries high in trafficking: For the countries you mentioned, many of them do not have active adoption programs (though they do have orphans) because of unethical (or absent) record keeping to ensure that the orphans are actually orphans and because without records it's not possible to know if a child is an orphan (either by death of parents or abandonment) or if a child was kidnapped or trafficked and has family looking for them. Some African and Central American and South American countries do have ethical and active adoption programs, but some have had to close or never opened at all to adoption because the consequence of war and trafficking and other systemic problems is that the needs of children become messy to the point that adoption might not be the ethical response. (Thankfully, though, I do know faithful missionaries who are serving in countries like those, and we pray for God to provide for willing servants in that country to be equipped to love those children well and to bring others to help and to change the hearts of leaders, that the effects of systemic sin are not so devastating for the rising generations there. Adoption is not - as Russell Moore points out here - the answer to all the problems in Russia isn't international adoption. It's that - for them and us - "we stand for what Jesus cares about, including the 'least of these,'those orphaned in the womb, in foster care, and in orphanages at home and around the world.")

          That said, our family hopes to adopt again in a few years, and all the options are on the table (except for a couple of countries where current age/health/family size requirements prohibit us from adopting, though those might be an option if requirements change). We are seeking God's direction, and right now we are just as strongly considering domestic adoption as international adoption. The need is great for children without families, no matter where they were born.

          • Tyler

            Thanks again, Shannon.

            I had no idea living conditions in Russia were that bad for orphans. I've been to Russia and know Americans who now live there, and it seems like a typical European country as far as living conditions and general treatment of people (I've only been to bigger cities, however). So, that definitely sheds light on it.

            And I figured not all countries had institutions in place for adoption; I'm guessing you can't just hop on a plane and fly to Somalia to check out an orphanage, for example... Those were more just examples.

            Thanks again for kindly explaining your position to me and not simply dismissing/judging me as a troll for questioning what seems to be a pretty accepted stance (at least in my corner of the Bible Belt world...).

  • IBAR

    Tyler, How many children both international and within the United States have you adopted??

    I'm not trying to pick a fight or anything. I am Just genuinely curious.

    • http://www.theworksofgoddisplayed.com Shannon Dingle

      IBAR, I think I know where you're coming from with this, because I've seen this as the standard reply to snarky trolls who comment about domestic adoption vs. international adoption. Tyler doesn't seem to be snarky or rude, though. He and I have been having an amicable conversation in which I'm sharing with him openly about the reasons many people choose international adoption, just as Russell Moore acknowledges at the beginning of this post that the question posed to him on Twitter was worth pondering.

      When my husband and I were first considering adoption, we had the same attitude as Tyler and were initially only open to domestic adoption, considering US adoption to be better in all circumstances. I'm thankful for godly people who were willing to open my eyes to the needs of all children instead of just dismissing my questions because I wasn't an adoptive parent, just as I'm thankful for our precious youngest child who came to our family via international adoption.

      • IBAR

        I sent my reply before I read your responses to him (Your well written thought out responses I might add). I agree with what you wrote clearly. I don't think Tyler seems snarky or rude either, but I believe honestly asking that question I posed reveals the error of "the right places to adopt from" argument that needs to be erased from our thinking. Orphans need care. Christians need to respond to that need no matter where it is.

        • http://www.theworksofgoddisplayed.com Shannon Dingle

          Agreed that your question can expose one issue behind the myth of one best/right/only country worth adopting from, because it is frequently people who haven't adopted before who rudely judge international adoption (not in the case of Tyler's comment, which was respectful, but I'm sure you've seen his question posed in a much less respectful way too). I'm often surprised that we can go from quoting "for God so loved the world..." and singing "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world" to arguing "you should care for orphans here first before considering international adoption." The inconsistency is troubling, but I'm thankful for grace and that God has convicted me at times - even today - when my attitudes haven't been consistent with His Word.

        • Tyler

          IBAR, I'm going to assume you're genuinely curious and not just trying to paint me as a troll, in order to dismiss/judge me. But, I'm only a single man in my 20s. If and when God blesses me with a wife, I will be thrilled to explore adoption - both here in the U.S. and abroad.

          My issue isn't with adoption as a whole (obviously), or even where the child is adopted from specifically. I just don't understand the anger at not being able to adopt from a particular country when there's millions of kids around the world in need of adoption - whether that's in Russia, China, Ethiopia, Minnesota, Korea, South Carolina, etc...

          If I were looking to adopt a Russian child when this happened, I'd merely look at other Eastern European countries, reconsider an American child, or look at any number of other options.

          Note: it's a different scenario if a family has already met the child and are now unable to adopt him/her/them.

          • http://www.theworksofgoddisplayed.com Shannon Dingle

            The anger - at least for me - is what is going to happen to these orphans now, given Russia's track record on adoption and orphan care. If international adoption closed in a country that was caring for its orphans well and actively promoting and encouraging its citizens to adopt, I wouldn't have a problem with that.

            • Tyler

              That makes perfect sense. And as I mentioned above, I didn't realize how bad conditions were. I figured they were worse off, but still ultimately comparable.

            • IBAR

              I don't mean to come across as judging at all, but the issue is orphans and caring for them, not where they come from or how "worse off" some children are as compared to others. Also, I agree with Shannon in that most people are angry with the fact that now thousands of orphans are going to wallow in filthy orphanages with not much hope for a family. However I can understand that a family who was in the adoption process with Russia would be devastated too. I realize you would not understand this, but adoption is a long, grueling emotional process that takes a lot of time and money. Many parents grow attached to their country or culture they are adopting from. Also, merely switching from one Eastern European country to another would be a nightmare. Often it means re-doing a home study that took months to complete as different countries and States have different requirements. I would conclude by saying everyone arrives at the decision to adopt differently. Everyone comes to the decision of where to adopt from differently as well.
              We need to support those adopting and foster an environment that encourages more Christian families to adopt and we do not get there by questioning where and sometimes why the adopt. Frankly, the process is hard enough ( but beautiful) for everyone involved already.

  • Pingback: The Briefing for Wednesday 1/9/2013 « Ponder Anew

  • Vik

    I am an Asian-American christian who have friends who sought to adopted from Asian countries. I think a big part of it is this sense of trying to stay in-tuned with an "Asian" identity for the child. In the Asian American christian community, I think we are more open and accepting that Asian parents want to adopt Asian kids. And there doesn't seem to be anything negative about that. I'm not against international adoption - God has and continue to use to for Good. But I have seen people/article talk about the racialism concerning adopting Russian kids. Basically, upper middle class white families want blond/blue eye kids instead of mostly minority kids within USA and even other countries. I wonder if you feel like there is a degree of this racialism when it comes to adopting Russian kids - but its tinged with christian ethics. Cause besides Russia, where else could American families be able to adopt white children from horrible conditions (in a sense, live out christian principle with white children)?

    • Greg

      I'm a bit puzzled at your comment. To just assume a significant incidence of racism among adoptive parents doesn't seem like a very kind thing to do. Nor is there much rational basis for doing so.

      Anyone interested in the actual numbers of children adopted from each country to the United States can look at the official numbers by year here:

      http://adoption.state.gov/about_us/statistics.php

      For example, the top 5 countries that US citizens adopted from in 2011 were, in order:

      1. China
      2. Ethiopia
      3. Russia
      4. South Korea
      5. Ukraine

      Looking at the numbers, the primary determinant of "sending country" (and year to year changes in the relative numbers from those countries) is probably primarily difficulty and expense. (I know that those were huge factors in each of my own family's four adoptions.)

  • Lucien Tenebrae

    Ignoring adoption issues, the whole assumption about Russia's "absymal human-rights record" is laughable. The United States--fierce patriots should never be afraid to point out problems with our own country--has one of the worst in the world right now, invading countries right and left to suit our purposes, sending drones to kill hundreds of people at wedding parties (all 'collateral damage'), deciding (under the NDAA) which American citizens are or aren't worthy of basic constitutional protections, etc, etc. etc.

  • Greg

    (posting this again higher up instead of a nested reply, as it may be of broader interest)

    Anyone interested in the actual numbers of children adopted from each country to the United States can look at the official numbers by year here:

    http://adoption.state.gov/about_us/statistics.php

    For example, the top 5 countries that US citizens adopted from in 2011 were, in order:

    1. China
    2. Ethiopia
    3. Russia
    4. South Korea
    5. Ukraine

    Looking at the numbers, the primary determinant of "sending country" (and year to year changes in the relative numbers from those countries) is probably primarily difficulty and expense. (I know that those were huge factors in each of my own family's four adoptions.)

  • Pingback: The Answer to Russia’s Orphan Crisis

  • Pingback: Passing along a few good articles… « Counting it All Joy

  • Pingback: “He Smelled of Urine and Infection”: On Adopting a Russian Orphan

  • Peter Keay

    Hey Russell... just a heads up. I travel often Ukraine, another popular country to adopt from, and I heard from a source near the top that there is similar legislation in progress in that country. It's not a sure thing, but it's in the works. Families in the adoption process may want to know that they have limited time.

    Ukraine is, on the whole, doing much better; pushing a culture of adoption, setting up foster families, and closing down orphanages. But there are still many orphans in orphanages there.

    • Greg

      Based on what we see in, for example, the realities of the US foster care system(s), foster care is *far* from a panacea.

      Realistically, a well-run orphanage system would probably be better for all involved.

  • Pingback: Russian ban on U.S. adoptions - The Layman Online - The Layman Online