Join 3,362 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"We went from Africa to Africa"
April 16, 2013 4:47 PM   Subscribe

"Orphan theology" in the evangelical Christian movement in the United States. One mother described herself as "a dumpster diving orphan lunatic" who was still "afflicted with my Orphan Obsession" after bearing two kids and adopting four more.
posted by spamandkimchi (32 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think that things in the Allison household kind of sucked for absolutely everybody, not just the adopted children.

Okay, granted, it doesn't absolve much, but I'm not sure they got worse treatment for being adopted so much as that adolescents especially in those hyper-conservative families are expected across the board to bear much of the burden of their parents' decisions.
posted by Sequence at 5:15 PM on April 16, 2013


What a shame. Caring for children everywhere is surely a Christian mandate, and yet there are so many ways to do it wrong, as this article illustrates.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:23 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


This seems to me like another tragedy of moral simplification. International adoption is a tricky issue in the best of cases (neocolonialism, shady operators/trafficking, the inability to anticipate the abuse and horror a child may have been exposed to, etc.) , and when the gray areas are glossed over to call it a GOOD THING, well, then bad things happen.
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns at 5:46 PM on April 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


More on this Quiverfull thing.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:49 PM on April 16, 2013


This is nothing more than child trafficking for slavery, whatever they say their intentions are. I'm glad it's being cracked down upon.
posted by goo at 5:52 PM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Caring for children everywhere is surely a Christian mandate, and yet there are so many ways to do it wrong, as this article illustrates.

I understand what you mean, but beating an adopted infant until she wets herself because she is attached to her older sister is not 'doing caring wrong'; it's straight out abuse.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:52 PM on April 16, 2013 [19 favorites]


I'm still getting hung up around the part where they went to Africa, and bought the cheapest children that they could find.
posted by schmod at 5:54 PM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Slate published a series in 2011 on international adoption generally and adoption fraud in Sierra Leone specifically: "We want our children who were sold to these white people," Suma said. "We want to know whether they are alive or dead."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:01 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


She touted the country's cost-effectiveness—"one of the cheapest international adoptions"—and claimed that 1 million infants were dying every year in this nation of fewer than 4 million people.

That's some straight-up Exodus Math right there. Good on them for keeping it Biblical, though.
posted by Avenger at 6:17 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, so this is what that episode of Law and Order: SVU was based on. But someone punched up the script a bit with some murder, homosexual child rape, and the evil woman is rich and white and lives in Manhattan.

But that part about buying the cheapest African children to be illiterate slaves? Yeah, same.

:(
posted by fontophilic at 6:45 PM on April 16, 2013


Joyce was on Fresh Air today:

How Evangelical Christians Are Preaching The New Gospel Of Adoption
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:08 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


These people don't want children.

They want pets.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:16 PM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


As a foster parent, this stuff especially bums me out. Why is God's work adopting kids from other countries? There are about 100,000 children in the US who could be adopted now, in most states basically for free. Why are they not on the radar of these people?

I fear that the answer is that people think or realize that children in foster care have been traumatized and that they will be difficult and have a hard time adjusting. Maybe they think that these kids from other countries won't be?
posted by Saminal at 7:20 PM on April 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think part of it is also the fear of having to do a lot of work with "the system". Who wants classes, licenses, oversight? Who wants to face the reality of what adoption might look like beforehand? Just dream a dream, go somewhere far away, get a kid, that's it! And there are a ton of agencies selling the dream ($$$$) that it can be that easy.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:26 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Saminal: I have a friend who wanted to do international adoptions instead of domestic foster-to-adoption because they wanted to have a closed adoption, if that's the right term -- they didn't want to have any contact with the birth family afterwards. I wonder if that was some of the motivation for these people, as well.

(I know that's not how it works. I'm just repeating what my friend told me.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:51 PM on April 16, 2013


As a foster parent, this stuff especially bums me out. Why is God's work adopting kids from other countries? There are about 100,000 children in the US who could be adopted now, in most states basically for free. Why are they not on the radar of these people?

They are definitely on the radar, but this article focuses primarily on international adoption. I know many evangelical Christians involved in domestic adoption and/or foster care.

If some of these people have a greater sense of urgency to adopt internationally, it may very well be that they think the prospects for a, say, Ukrainian orphan are much bleaker than for a child in the U.S. foster care system.
posted by BurntHombre at 7:51 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe they think that these kids from other countries won't be?

The use the excuse that they're trying to introduce these kids to their brand of Christianity. In the author's book, I wonder if she questions whether they figure US kids have already had the "religious opportunity," or if it's what you said.

The most heart-breaking part of the stories to me are the families who sent their kids to the orphanages temporarily only to have them end up "adopted."
posted by drezdn at 7:53 PM on April 16, 2013


Why are they not on the radar of these people?

I think also, I'm cynical I grant, but:
a) These kids are already part of the state system, where they will be monitored and followed up on. Things like home schooling and the abuses detailed in the article will likely be caught early and there will be lots of state intervention regardless - which these kind of extremists regard as basically wrong.

b) Racism. Black children from Africa represent a kind of Edenic idyll/blank slate. Poor black kids from the ghetto or whatever represent the laziness/failings of their parents, or even the society that condones such conditions - that kind of self-reflection spoils righteousness very quickly.

c) Related: Complete and utter ignorance about Africa ("it's a Christian nation etc"), PTSD etc.
posted by smoke at 8:01 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The most heart-breaking part of the stories to me are the families who sent their kids to the orphanages temporarily only to have them end up "adopted."

This is the real crisis in international adoption -- focusing on a handful of sinister evangelical homeschooling families is just a distraction. Well-meaning prospective adoptive parents, both religious and secular, are travelling to developing countries to adopt children who, unbeknownst to them, are simply not orphans. The childrens' biological parents have often been coerced with all sorts of lies into sending their children abroad for what the biological parents think is basically an overseas boarding school opportunity, after which they expect their children to come home.

See the documentary Mercy Mercy on Netflix for a tragic look into a situation like this involving a couple from Denmark and a family from Ethiopia. As you said, it's heartbreaking.
posted by BurntHombre at 8:05 PM on April 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


I had heard about how adoption of kids out of Russia to the US is an issue that makes many Russians furious and has even been addressed by Putin, but I never knew what the issue was. I think I'm beginning to understand.

And it is depressing to read that the book To Train Up a Child has sold 700,000 copies.
posted by eye of newt at 9:10 PM on April 16, 2013


Class it up with as many crosses as you want, this is yet another form of colonialism where greedy white people are exploiting others and stripping a land of its precious resources and posturing about their moral imperative to do so.
posted by sobell at 9:42 PM on April 16, 2013


NPR had a great interview with the author of the FPP today, discussing the difficulty verifying whether a child is really an orphan, industries that spring up to accommodate adoption interests when a country becomes "hot" for adoptions (say, an explosion in orphanages), and the fact that the kids truly in need, like street children, never really have a shot at international adoptions because of lack of papers.

She was so knowledgeable and well spoken. I imagine that her current book, Child Catchers, is amazingly well researched and written.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 10:40 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


sobell: Class it up with as many crosses as you want, this is yet another form of colonialism where greedy white people are exploiting others and stripping a land of its precious resources and posturing about their moral imperative to do so.

It's more precisely evangelical colonialism. And it speaks pretty directly to the martyr/saviour complex that tinges some adoptions and is part of the adoption trope of how lucky children are and how grateful they should be.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:09 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


the adoption trope of how lucky children are and how grateful they should be

I have always thought that adoptive parents are the lucky ones who should be grateful. The children are the ones who will be growing up while grappling with something that is unimaginable to many people: That neither of the two people who created them are there for them.

But I also have the radical idea that children's emotions need to be recognized as valid and legitimate, and it seems that the evangelical culture described in this article regards children's emotions as inherently perverse. The insistence that children are emotionally satiated after spanking -- as quoted in the article -- certainly suggests a lot of projecting on the parts of the adults, and none of it wholesome.

These people who profess to love a guy who was all about the idea that we should be as into other people's happiness as we are our own, but the culture they belong to is so aggressively selfish and joyless. These poor kids from African nations. I hope some day, they forgive us.
posted by sobell at 11:25 PM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


She was so knowledgeable and well spoken. I imagine that her current book, Child Catchers, is amazingly well researched and written.

If it is, it's a break from her last book, which profiled some of the same people. Even people who saw merit in Quiverfull had lots to say about where she overgeneralized and went wrong. Joyce's modus operandi seems to be to find the most extreme cases she can come up with of whatever she's covering, and then present them as representative of a much larger category of people. Last time around, she took the far fringes of the "patriarchal" Christian movement and then used the overall numbers of homeschoolers in the US to sound the alarm that the patriarchal army was on the march to global dominance. In doing so, she made all sorts of wild assumptions (patriarchal churches have 100% retention of their kids, most evangelicals will eventually be drawn toward extreme patriarchy, patriarchal American Protestant churches have controlling influence on ultraorthodox Jews in Israel and far-right Catholics in Poland, everyone who purchases books from Vision Forum can be counted as a full-on Vision Forum fanatic, etc.) The fact that this book focuses on the family of Nancy Campbell does not make me optimistic that Joyce is the right person to expose the very real issues around international adoptions through Christian agencies.
posted by Wylla at 11:37 PM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a foster parent, this stuff especially bums me out. Why is God's work adopting kids from other countries?

As someone with adopted sisters (not for explicitely Christian reasons), the specific reason was that Britain either has or had a limit on how old you may be when you adopt and my parents were over that age. There are sometimes reasons.
posted by Francis at 4:07 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Joyce's modus operandi seems to be to find the most extreme cases she can come up with of whatever she's covering, and then present them as representative of a much larger category of people.

I'm torn. I was homeschooled for almost a decade, and lived and worked in the venn diagram overlap between Charismatic Fundamentalism and Evangelical Politics. I don't know whether Joyce overstates the number of Quiverfull families, but the "extended philosophical family" that she describes matches my experiences. Every homeschooling community I've known has one or two that are at least trying to meet those standards, and many others who don't self-identify as part of a "movement" but read similar materials and treat it as an important spiritual issue.

The adoption cycles are similar; everyone knows at least one or two families that have turned their home into makeshift orphanages, where the older children stay in their parents' home through their twenties (even thirties) to help "care for the next generation."

There's always a tendency to overstate the breadth of influence that a given philosophy has in a community. Think about how liberals talked about Straussian Neoconservatism during the Bush years, or how conservatives now discuss the danger of Alinsky Tactics. The disproportionate attention given to the philosophical leaders, and the inflated headcounts for their self-professed followers, are definitely problematic. That doesn't mean that they don't have a genuine -- and significant -- influence in the communities that are affected by them.

The ideal of a "Proverbs 31 Woman" and the fantasy of rescuing orphans from war-torn locales are all very, very strong in the Charismatic and evangelical communities I've known. Campbell's been able to put a marketable polish on it, which is... troubling.
posted by verb at 7:48 AM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Verb, I don't deny that there are extremists among homeschoolers and adoptive families, but Joyce seems to be up to the same tricks she used in Quiverfull in the excerpts I've seen of the new book.

She discusses the most extreme examples she can find (The Botkins and their ilk in Quiverfull, Nancy Campbell's daughter Serene here) and then cites large numbers of a general category of people (homeschoolers of all kinds, international adopters for any reason) to suggest that the extremists are the leaders of an organized movement and the larger group represents their shock troops for world takeover. Panic now! I'm unimpressed.
posted by Wylla at 1:16 AM on April 18, 2013


I think it's obvious that in this article Joyce isn't talking about international adoptions; rather, a particular approach to adoption where a lifelong commitment is transformed into a dysfunctional evangelistic effort. I watched when Liberia-Baby-Fever swept through my family's congregation, and vanished just as quickly. I watched as China-Baby-Fever followed the same course, and so on. Saying that she's painting all international adoptions with that broad brush is disingenuous.

The religious homeschooling community (for example) has a long history of circling its wagons to protect its own. Some of that is historical -- I knew families who'd started homeschooling in places and times when it was illegal, and the homeschooling groups we were part of religiously protected the identities of their members, lest authorities crack down in the future. But some of it is also pure defensive tribalism, the same kind you see in any group that harbors extremist fringes.

Quiverfull, arranged marriages, flat-out neglect in the name of "unschooling," and more do happen and I've never met a homeschooler who didn't encounter those things during the course of their education. As with most fringes actors, there's a great deal of difficulty in separating the vocal, high-profile extremists from the broader communities they are a part of. Insisting that Joyce's articles are discredited, or that she is deliberately deceitful in her work because she didn't split hairs fine enough, is part of the problem.

Christian Patriarchy movements, "white man's burden" evangelistic adoptions, abusive and neglectful homeschooling practices, and so on are not part of some unified conspiracy. They are, however, overlapping issues in a broader community whose culture and theologies provide fertile ground for some of the problems. That should be a concern for those outside and inside.

It's definitely possible that your experiences with those communities didn't bring you in contact with any of those elements. Mine did, and from conversations with other Christians and homeschoolers around the country I can at least say that my experiences aren't exceptional. Making hard and fast claims about how many people agree with Campbell is silly, but as far as I can tell that's not what Joyce has done.
posted by verb at 7:03 AM on April 18, 2013


Verb, I think we're talking past eachother, and we agree on most of what we're discussing. I am not an evangelical of any kind, much less a follower of Nancy Campbell, and I fully accept that the problems you mention exist, and that the virtue of Joyce's writing is that she points out abuses that are easy to ignore. The negative of her writing - and I find it to be a pretty big negative - is that she does often present all of the issues you mention as if they were part of a huge conspiracy, in which the extremists who serve as her sources are the leaders. Her use of numbers is slippery: she tends to cite large numbers of people doing X thing in a way that makes it seem as if her sources are "directing" them. This article seems to repeat that issue - claiming that a Christian adoption movement that long predates Above Rubies and is way more mainstream that it is, is driven by it. That's the point I was trying to make.
posted by Wylla at 12:13 PM on April 18, 2013


The negative of her writing - and I find it to be a pretty big negative - is that she does often present all of the issues you mention as if they were part of a huge conspiracy, in which the extremists who serve as her sources are the leaders.

I think that's probably a fair criticism of the two articles being cited, Wylia. It's one of the reasons that I think coverage of any kind of extremist movement inside of a larger community can be extremely slippery: oftentimes, the larger belief-community is stuck in the middle of the debate while the extremists want to elbow their way into a more influential role.

I definitely didn't intend to put word in your mouth.
posted by verb at 12:39 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another excerpt from Joyce's book, this time focusing on Rick Warren's Saddleback Church and Rwanda.
It followed that Saddleback’s prioritization of orphan and adoption issues became influential in Rwanda. Saddleback staffers, including Styffe, were among the first families to adopt Rwandan children to the United States. And Archbishop Emanuel Kolini, the influential head of the Anglican Church in Rwanda as well as a partner in the P.E.A.C.E. Plan, having visited Saddleback three times, believes that Saddleback’s prominence has aided individual adoption applications. “Rick Warren is well known” and the Rwandan government trusts Saddleback, Kolini told me. “Otherwise, [Rwandan government officials] are not sure what [adoptive parents are] going to do with the children.”
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


« Older Youtube user Seth Cutler lovingly crafts powerpoin...  |  Blood, Sweat, and Steel: My Af... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments