Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Lost Daughters Discuss The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce - Part One of a Series

Today we begin a series of posts about the controversial new book by investigative journalist Kathryn Joyce,  The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. Joyce's work has appeared in top-notch publications such as Mother Jones and The Atlantic, and she's been awarded numerous residencies and fellowships. A previous book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, was published in 2009. The Child Catchers takes us inside the evangelical Christian adoption movement, exposing the corruption of the so-called "orphan crisis" and of the adoption industry in general through rigorous research and numerous heartbreaking personal narratives.

In lieu of a traditional book review, we have decided to read the book together and discuss it book-club style. We are all adopted women, several of us are adoptive mothers as well, and one of us is also a mother who lost a child to adoption. You can learn more about our individual connections to adoption on our contributor's page. This week we discuss the first half of The Child Catchers, through chapter four, and next week we will talk about the second half. We have a lot to say, so grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and settle in. And we invite you to join the conversation via the comments at the end of each post.

Our first installment deals with the concept of God's will as it pertains to adoption and the moral imperative to adopt.

Karen Pickell:  Joyce hits us hard beginning with the preface where we meet Sharon, who already has seven biological children when she decides to adopt three more. After those adoptions, she is still not satisfied that she’s done all she “should” do to fulfill her Christian obligation to orphan care, and seeks to adopt more children. As I read her story, I couldn't help putting myself in the shoes of all those kids and wondering how they could possibly be getting the attention they need when Sharon was always so focused on obtaining the next child. How did you all react to Sharon’s story?

I personally find Sharon and others like her to be repulsively selfish, because their focus is not on helping any particular child but rather on their own ticket into heaven, their own “holiness,” if you will. This religious zeal is discussed later in the book as well, and it angers me that these kids are being used to fill a quota of “lives saved” for these parents and sometimes for entire congregations.

The other thing that struck me about Sharon’s story is that the huge demand for adoptable children stems less from infertile couples than from this religious quest. I feel like I’ve had my head in the sand in a way, maybe because I’m a Baby Scoop adoptee whose parents adopted due to infertility so that’s the reality I’m most familiar with and have learned the most about. This book is causing me to broaden my perspective in huge ways, which is a good thing.

Carlynne Hershberger:  I also was repulsed by Sharon and her attitude but I also felt like there was a compulsion similar to obsessive behavior. These children were like projects to her. It's almost like a hobby she became obsessed withhoarding children. I knew about the religious aspect of the call to adoption for Christians but had NO idea the size and scope of it. I'm finding that aspect to be horrifying and scary.

Deanna Shrodes:  I know individuals who have unexpectedly become pregnant, and were in a situation of already being overwhelmed with many children in the home and had concern about how they were going to give each child the attention they deserve. In such situations I've witnessed God's grace at work and strength granted to meet the needs of the children. However, I strongly believe that to purposely plan whether through birth or adoption to have additional children when you are not adequately caring for the ones you already have is not only unwise but tragic. When someone has made such a decision it is most certainly for the wrong motivations and, of course, never centers around the child.

Julie Stromberg:  Several thoughts came to mind while considering Sharon's story. There seemed to be such a lack of depth and self-awareness that came across to me as being somewhat childlike and elitist at the same time. This was a recurring theme throughout the book. Sharon felt that the God she believes in was entirely on her side so there was no need to actually investigate or take a more critical look at the adoption industry. Which confused me because the scripture verse Sharon posted as inspiration to her adoption blog reads "help the widows and the orphans." Many of those involved in the Christian Adoption Movement ignore the "widows" part of the verse and focus only on the orphans. I agree with Karen in that Sharon presented as someone who was taking on some sort of religious project designed to position herself at a higher level within her chosen religious community. The needs of the actual adoptee are inconsequential because Sharon hides behind the "it's God's will" wall of thought. It's magical thinking shrouded in religious dogma. And that can be dangerous for the well-being of a child adopted by Sharon and others who take a similar approach.

Karen P.:  Yes, Julie, the verse you mentioned is James 1:27, "Pure religion is this, to help the widows and orphans in their need," which Joyce repeatedly references as one evangelical Christians have latched onto as a directive to adopt. In fact, chapter one of this book is titled "New Life," a reference to the idea that adoption can be seen as a way of making new Christians. Laura Silsby--the woman infamous for attempting to whisk children out of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake (though she was hardly the only one)even believed that "God had spoken to her." As I read the first chapter, this particular brand of Christianity came off as cult-like to me.

Deanna:  I have been debating how involved I am going to get in this round table as, while I completely agree with my adoptee counterparts on the dangers exposed in this book, I also realize my views as to WHY will be seen as narrow. Okay, so with that said, here goes.

I am concerned about the false theology this book exposes. It is correct that you cannot "make a Christian" by adopting a child. As a pastor, the theology of "adoption as salvation" is greatly concerning to me because it is leading a lot of people astray to what I see as a false sense of security. Mankind does not experience salvation because they are raised by a certain parent(s), or because of any early legal arrangement. We are not "saved" because we are raised in a Christian home. We also do not experience salvation simply because we live and breathe on the earth. The Bible gives very clear instruction about what one must do to experience salvation. It has nothing to do with adoption as it concerns adopting a child. The fact that people think it does is very much an issue to me for more reasons than those that upset my adoptee friends. For me, it's an issue of false teaching that affects people's destiny. And nothing is more important to me than that. So yes, I am very disturbed by this heresy.

I have many more thoughts about the book, but for starters, the adoption as salvation message = dangerous.

Julie S.:  Karen, I can definitely understand why some would view Sharon's version of Christianity as cult-like. Those and others like her choose to live purposefully insulated lives based on their own opinions of biblical theory. I say this because they pick and choose bible verses to suit their own wants and desires and revise accordingly. They claim to be bible literalists but the truth is that they are not. Additionally, their entire social circle revolves around those who are exactly like them. There is no room or consideration given to those who have different belief systems. And children adopted into such an environment will be expected to meet the requirements of this insulated and dogma-filled religious system. I am concerned for a child who has been separated from his or original parents, country and culture who suddenly finds himself or herself in a family with seven biological children who have all been indoctrinated in an extremist branch of Christianity. Does someone like Sharon have the willingness to think outside of her own very narrow beliefs to consider the needs of a child who has lost so much? I, personally, do not consider "we are all adopted by God" to be an adequate or responsible response to my question. I'm concerned that folks like Sharon view adoption as a way of creating more Christians who think just like her. And that is not about the needs of the adoptee at all.

Carlynne:  The willful ignorance of this mindset is what I find so scary. They are using children to fulfill their own ideas, or what they've been instructed is the correct idea, of salvation. Being raised Catholic I saw some of that isolationism. It wasn't to the extremes that I see in this book but it was still there. I was warned of the danger of experiencing another viewpoint, visiting another church and hearing a different opinion. Loyalty to the dogma was paramount. To the extremist, taking the blinders off is the real danger and it doesn't seem to matter what the child might be experiencing. As more and more people take this extreme message to heart and close their eyes to what adoption does to children, there will be more children harmed.

Deanna:  I think it's important to note that Sharon's version of Christianity is one extreme version. Something that needs to be called out for what it is? Yes. Absolutely it must be exposed. The Bible says judgment begins in the house of God. So bring it.

On the flip side of that, I am concerned that some may view parents who raise their children in a Christian home and strongly lead the way to be doing something inappropriate. In fact, good Christian parents do lead, set the example and have standards in their home. I'm not my kids' pal or friend. They have many pals, only two parents. While the obvious abuses in the book sadden me, I am concerned some may go the other extreme where they believe strongly leading children to be inappropriate. I have lovingly but strongly led my children in all ways, including faith. And no, I'm not in a cult nor leading one.

I also believe in evangelism. It is simply sharing the good news of the gospel. It is what I do worldwide, in addition to being a pastor. I go to many other areas of the world and do that, openly. Truth be told, the most important place I ever did it was my own home. (If I can't lead in my home, I'm not qualified to lead anywhere else.) I am passionate about evangelism, starting in my home, however ADOPTION IS NOT THE WAY TO DO THAT. Hidden agenda is not the way to do that. False motivation is not the way to do that. Breaking laws is not the way to do that. I am saddenedtotally grieved about the people who have done such.

I believe living our faith and setting an example IS what evangelism is all about. As a parent, I've never done anything so important. A part of the book I find a little concerning is the aspect of parents, whether natural or adopted, sharing faith with their children as questionable. If a parent of ANY faith didn't do that, I'd think their faith isn't too important to them, or they aren't really living it.

K. Dahlquist & R. Bangert

Julie S.:  Deanna, I totally hear what you are saying. My husband identifies as Catholic and we are raising our children Catholic. Our children attend Catholic school. And while I was raised Catholic, I left the church and now identify as a secular humanist. As Carlynne pointed out, Catholicism has its own extremists and a strong cultural aspect to the faith tradition. My husband is the youngest of six and my aunt and uncle on the Catholic side of my adoptive family have eight children. So I get the big family thing. And despite what some Protestant Christians think about Catholics, Catholics most definitely consider themselves to be Christians.

What concerns me about Christian extremist or fringe groups such as those featured in the book is that one specific take on religious practice is often used to stifle productive discourse on topics that exist outside of their narrow religious views. Adoption is not a "Christian" thing. Yet some Christian groups are commandeering adoption as a religious-based mission mandated by God and the bibletwo things that many, many people do not believe in or follow.

Sharing a theistic faith tradition with your children can be a very healthy aspect of family life. But atheist parents can also share the golden rule with their children and have it be a very healthy aspect of family life. There are many Christians in our country who feel that everyone around them should adhere to their personal religious views on social issues and are not willing to consider ones that differ from their own. I consider Sharon and some of the other Christians featured in the book to be a part of this group.

When people who already have seven biological children are actively trying to convince expectant mothers who are struggling to give them their babies due to some sort of mandate from God, they are ignoring the bigger picture and the views of others. This can become a slippery slope as evidenced by the fact that Sharon and her "adoption friends" consider adoption to be the alternative to abortion. Sharon and her "adoption friends" do not view parenting as an alternative to abortion because "when you *take* one of these children, you are literally saving them from the ghetto life in America." They use their religious views to position themselves as better than the struggling expectant mothers. And that has nothing to do with the healthy inclusion of faith in a family system.

Deanna:  I do understand where you are coming from Julie. I'm just making the point that raising children to share one's values is not a smoking gun.

Julie S.:  Totally agree with you Deanna. Raising children to share one's values is not a smoking gun. Often times, though, the extremists get all of the attention because they make the most noise. Which often means that those who are less extreme are lumped in with those who are. This happens as much in the Catholic community as much as it does in the Protestant Christian community. I have been accused of not being Christian by Protestant Christians just because I was Catholic. And I have been accused not being Catholic "enough" by some Catholics. Sharon would most likely consider me not to be a Christian or a Catholic. LOL!

Deanna:  Absolutely!!!

Carlynne:  No, it's not a smoking gun. We all raise our children with our values whether it's conscious or not, intentional or not. No matter what we say, they see what we do and how we live. Extremists in any religion can be a danger.

Karen P.:  I totally agree that raising a child to share your values is not a smoking gun. I don’t know how anyone would be able to parent effectively without sharing their values with their own children. This is not what I meant when I used the word “cult.” Two aspects of this Christian adoption movement strike me as cultish: the systematic brainwashing of followers to believe in the so-called orphan crisis in the first place, and the drive to recruit new followers via adopting children from other belief systems.

In chapter two, Joyce refutes the often quoted figure of 143 million orphans worldwide, saying the number of real orphans—those who have lost both parents—is only about 10% of this, closer to 17.8 million, and that many of these likely live with their extended family. However, this movement seems not to care too much about whether or not a child has living relatives. One proponent named Cheryl Ellicott is quoted as saying, “Your main goal is not to raise well-adjusted children, but rather to bring the life-changing message of the Gospel to lost souls.” Another, Dan Cruver, writes that “the ultimate purpose of human adoption by Christians . . . is not to give orphans parents . . . It is to place them in a Christian home . . . .” When these children are brought to the U.S. from distant cultures like Haiti, Uganda, or Russia, there is little attempt by the adoptive parents to integrate these home cultures into their children’s new lives. In fact, Russell Moore writes that his approach is to raise his adopted sons as no longer Russian but now Mississippian.

So, yes, it makes sense that parents would naturally impart their own culture and values to their children, however shouldn't adoptive parents also have a responsibility to maintain links to their children’s native cultures and heritage, including religious beliefs?

K. Dahlquist & R. Bangert
Deanna:  We differ on this last part, Karen. While I do believe adoptive parents should live with no secrets about a child's heritage as well as teach them about their native cultures, I would not raise my adoptive children (if I had them) by spiritual values with which I did not agree.

Carlynne:  But does giving a child information about their history, including their religious history, and cultural beliefs equate to raising a child with beliefs which you may not agree with?

Julie S.:  I think there is a distinction to be made between raising adopted children with shared family spiritual values and adopting specifically to make more Christians. The first is about the child and the family. The second is not really about the child as an individual at all. The quotes that Karen referenced are quite telling as there is an indication that "bringing the life-changing message of the Gospel to lost souls" and "placing children in *Christian* homes" is the motivation. It is not about meeting an adopted child where they are and providing the right sort of guidance and parenting needed. A "Christian home" does not necessarily mean a better or superior home to non-Christian ones in the context of adoption. We have all said this as adopted women many timesadoption does not guarantee a better life, just a different one. Yet the assumption here is that *Christian* means "better." Shared family values are one thing. Positioning the American Christian agenda as the best and only option for adopted children is another.

Deanna:  I would never withhold information from them of any kind, including but not limited to their background. My three children are versed on world religions. Having the information is one thing. Raising them in it is quite another, I agree.

Karen P.:  Deanna, we may not disagree as much as you think. I also don't raise my children with spiritual values with which I don't agree, which is why I don't raise them in the Catholic faith in which I grew up. However, I do educate them about Catholicism because it is part of their heritage since all of their extended family on both sides, birth and adoptive, is Catholic. I don't think adoptive parents need to raise their children in their native religions, however I do think these children need to understand the culture they come from, and religion is a huge part of any culture. I think it's fine for adoptive parents to say, "This is what your original family likely believes, these are the portions of that belief we share, and these other aspects of that belief are things we disagree with." I think also that adoptive parents need to be open to their children possibly wanting to explore the faith of their origin.

Deanna:  You're right Karen, we are more alike on this than different. I don't want to veer too far off topic here but it may help to understand, I don't consider myself religious or practicing a religion. So for me as a Christian, it's not about religion. And I know to many of you that will sound crazy. Not to sound like a clich√© here, I mean it in all sincerity that for me and my house it is not a matter of religion but relationship. Anyone can do something religiously. I can eat brownies religiously, and I do. I can go to a certain number of church services or have perfect attendance or get a bulletin each week or recite prayers or memorize scriptures. And at the end of the day, it's not about any of that but about an actual living relationship with God. And in turn, it's about introducing my children to a PERSON not a "religion." And, not because I'm a pastor but because I'm a believer, it's not "a part of my life," just one aspect—He IS my life. My reason for living, my reason for being. And this relationship, I would live...or die for. So you see for me it's not just a matter of educating children about a certain background or exploring different ideas. It's about introducing them to a person.

Julie S.:  Ah but Deanna, you welcome the opportunity to engage with those who worship or approach their spiritual lives in a different way than you. The relationship you personally have with the Christian God is very important to you and something that makes you the warm, caring, thoughtful, sensitive, and deep thinking person you are. Yet here you are engaging with your fellow adult adopted women who span the spiritual spectrum. Ours is an interfaith community of adopted women who are working together to express our thoughts. And you are right here with us. Do you think Sharon would hang out with such a mixed bag? The bigger question becomes one of how do we get the Sharons of the Christian community to broaden their adoption worldview and consider the experiences of actual adoptees regardless of our spiritual paths?

Susan Perry:  This is a great point, Julie. The most dangerous religions, in my view, are those that will not allow for divergent viewpoints, those that insist "my way is the only way," and unless you think as I do, you are lost. It saddens and frustrates me that adoption has become intertwined with a fundamentalist brand of religion. As we all know, it is so easy to be misled and misinformed about adoption, and when it is driven by ideology, coupled with a business model, the best interest of the child often becomes lost.

Deanna:  Good point.

Rebecca Hawkes:  I second Susan's statement. I'm disturbed when I see human beings stumbling around (as we ALL do) making human mistakes and viewing things from a limited, human perspective but placing it all under the umbrella of "God's work." It's not that I dispute the influence of the divine in our lives; I don't. But once a person has decided that his or her actions have an absolute heavenly stamp of approval, or that the actions are an embodiment of God's will, it becomes hard for that person to take in a different point of view or to think critically. I'm seeing a lot of that in this book. Adoption itself is not divine. It is a human-created institution. And it's essential that we hold it as such in order to see clearly for purposes of reform. As things currently stand, adoption is causing a huge amount of harm in the world. Ignoring the harmful and immoral aspects of adoption in favor of a simplistic, sanitized view of it is not helpful. It is not even benign. It contributes to additional harm, and I don't believe that's God's intent.

To be continued . . .