Recently I had the chance to catch up with Rick Morton about his latest book on orphans and what churches need to know about the topic. His new book is KnowOrphans: Mobilizing the Church for Global Orphanology.
In the first part of our conversation, Rick discussed where the church has come from in the adoption and orphan care movement and what we need to do now.
Today, he responds to some of the critiques of the evangelical adoption movement and where we go from here.
Trevin: Evangelicals have been criticized for inflating the orphan crisis by increasing the demand for adoptable children in developing nations. Explain this critique a little more and why it doesn’t apply to us.
Rick: The line of logic is this: rich westerners (particularly evangelicals) have caused the orphan crisis to become worse by creating a demand for children through international adoption. Critics point to cases of fraud, child stealing, and child trafficking from within the international adoption community over the past decade or so as a “smoking gun” to give credence to their argument.
Undeniably, there has been unethical and criminal activity in international adoptions. No one would argue that point, but the truth is those cases are in reality a small fraction of the tens of thousands of international adoptions processed by the United States government in the past decade when the evangelical adoption movement took hold.
In fact, as the evangelical orphan care and adoption movement has hit its zenith in the last 6-7 years, there has actually been a precipitous decline in international adoptions. This is a result of more cumbersome policies by the US government and by more restrictive adoption policies from many countries resulting from a UN policy initiative to encourage countries to make international adoption the last resort option for orphan care.
Some of the more virulent critics seem to want to emphasize the bad without regard for the good, and I believe that it comes from a deep place of wanting discredit evangelicals at every turn. A respected voice in evangelicalism reminded me recently, ”These are the same people who would be criticizing us if we were doing nothing to help orphans and weren’t adopting.”
In addition, these same critics minimize the Christian adoption community’s role in advocating for better adoption laws and better adoption policies that protect children against the illegal practices they decry. Organizations like the Congressional Coalition for Adoption and the Christian Alliance for Adoption have been on the front lines of advocacy for laws that protect children and standardize ethical standards for adoption providers.
Ultimately, the critics want to frame this argument as an economic issue. They speak in terms of supply and demand. Their position is that money involved in adoption coupled with the poverty present in many nations causes people to orphan children or steal children en masse for economic gain.
At best they paint us as well-intentioned do-gooders who make a bigger mess by inflating the crisis by flooding money into countries and creating more orphans, or at worst, they portray us as indifferent consumers only interested in pillaging countries of infants for some twisted altruistic delight. I guess that makes for a great tale, but the numbers just don’t support their argument.
There are millions of orphans across the world available for adoption transnationally, and in the past 14 years, Americans have adopted less that 250,000 children. Adoption isn’t making a significant dent in the number of adoptable children.
Coupled with the fact that the greatest period of evangelical attention to the issue has come at a time when the pace of international adoptions by Americans has slowed by more than 50%, the argument falls flat.
Still, we can’t ignore that there is a grain of truth in their charges. People have used adoption for dishonest gain in the name of Christ. We shouldn’t be surprised. There have always been wolves in the church. Paul warned us about them, how to spot them, and how to deal with them.
Neither should we be surprised that there are critics outside the church that lob unfair attacks at the adoption and orphan care movement because they are opposed to the gospel. Our greater task is to remain sensitive and responsive to genuine critics and reformers.
All of the critics are not wrong and all of them do not critique out of a motive to harm Christ or His church. We have to acknowledge that the Christian orphan care and adoption movement is still young and we are still learning some lessons the hard way. We must continue to approach our critics and their criticisms humbly and prayerfully and to change when change is warranted.
Trevin: You write “It takes a village… and a church” to care for orphans and vulnerable children. Aside from financially supporting parents who are seeking to adopt, how can churches support these families long-term?
Rick: I believe that James 1:27 houses a call to every disciple of Jesus to care for vulnerable widows and orphans. Too often we take that call as optional, but it just isn’t.
We would never take the second half of the verse as optional. We think it is obvious that “keeping oneself unstained by the world” or personal holiness is a universal. So why don’t we take the first half of the verse as being as universal?
I think in many cases it is because we think that to care for orphans means that we have to do something like adopt or care for a child in foster care. In reality, only some in the church will actually ever step out to do those things. But there are things that everyone can do.
Many people think that the hard part of an international adoption is getting to a child. It isn’t. The hard part begins when you get home. I can tell you from experience that you will need a great deal of support in even the best situation.
Churches can help by doing simple things like providing meals or even giving a shower for a family even if the child is not an infant. Chances are that the family is going to need referrals to doctors, dentists, counselors, therapists, tutors, language development resources, and so on. The church can be a great wealth of help in providing this information (or even these services) for families.
Even helping with things like transportation as families have to run to appointments with all these professionals while trying to maintain a semblance of normal life for the rest of the family can be a ministry for some people in the church.
Older families can volunteer to be mentor families and extra grandparents for families who need a little extra support. Sunday School classes can adopt families to become consistent prayer supporters for them.
You would be surprised how much even collecting restaurant gift cards to give to adoptive families who may be experiencing tight financial circumstances after paying for an adoption can really be an encouragement. The ways that we can support families are limited only by our creativity and willingness to be engaged.