The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. If you missed the previous installments in this series, you can read them here:
- Part 1: God's will and the moral imperative to adopt
- Part 2: Domestic adoption and the rebranding of adoption via specific language
- Part 3: Orphanages, deception of adoptive and original parents, and coercive tactics employed by the adoption industry
- Part 4: Attachment, abuse, and the beginnings of reform
Karen Pickell: In terms of balanced reporting within the pages of The Child Catchers, I was happy to see the examples you pointed out, Julie, of Christians who are trying to affect change within the orphan adoption movement. While reading earlier chapters, I wondered whether Joyce would give us a sense of what adoption done right could look like. I think chapter seven, which covers Rwanda, is that scenario I was hoping to find—an alternative way of handling adoption that addresses true need and puts biological family and culture of origin above international adoption, proof not only that adoption can be done differently, but also that change can happen within the Christian adoption movement itself, as we begin to see happening at Saddleback.
Mila: Very good point, Karen. I love the empowerment that the Rwandans have, that they are not intimidated by America and do not view it with awe. I love this quote from chapter seven: "The minister told me: do this yourself. We will not work with agencies. You do it yourself and you show me why you want to be a parent of a child from Rwanda, and I will look at your paperwork." I, too, was encouraged by the shift in work and focus that Saddleback exemplified in Rwanda. However I will say, as Joyce points out, that this shift is NOT reflected in their main message here in the States. As Joyce noted, Rick Warren still proclaimed at the Christian Alliance Summit, "When I say orphan care, it's adoption first, second, and last." I know I'm sounding like the disagreeable, never satisfied critic here. I realize that the kind of reform and change necessary within the Christian adoption movement is going to take time, but I guess I believe it shouldn't be taking as long as it is. And in some ways, it could change so much more quickly, if the leaders within the movement would take responsibility for the message they're preaching about adoption.
On a different note, I do appreciate Joyce's discussion of how culture is such a complex factor that influences how adoption practices develop within a country, as exemplified in the last two chapters that focus on Rwanda and Korea. I think Americans are often so naive and ignorant of the cultural influences and complexities, and how these affect adoption practices and attitudes within a country. Both Rwanda and Korea have complicated cultural and social dynamics to address and overcome in order to develop domestic solutions. However, as Joyce discusses, these obstacles are often used as excuses rather than actively dismantled: "Agencies that have highlighted South Korea's Confucian heritage as the reason that so many mothers must relinquish did nothing to challenge the stigma . . . but instead used the stigma to justify continued adoptions . . . agencies even helped perpetuate that stigma by reinforcing the status quo." But as Jennifer Kwon Dobbs acknowledges, particularly in the case of Korean adoptions, "rather than US parents saying how sorry they felt about the circumstances that led to unwed mothers to relinquish . . . adoptive parents could instead become their allies, helping change the system that compels them to do so." I think what happens is that international adoption is viewed as the "easy option" in the minds of adoptive parents and adoption advocates. And in some ways, it is, when you consider the work it takes to shift cultural attitudes, to overcome social injustice and poverty, to address the complicated economic and political systems. But as Joyce and other reformists acknowledge, adoption is ultimately a women's rights issue and has become a social justice issue. Change can happen, but people have to be willing to do the work. And they can't do the work until they're willing to see the truth. I am glad that there are those within the Christian adoption movement who are finally beginning to see the need for reform and to address the root causes. I believe it is a moral imperative that current adoption practices change, and the Christian adoption movement is largely responsible. I hope they will listen and act.
Julie Stromberg: Mila, as I revisited chapter seven, I thought of your comments on the sense of entitlement that many leaders in the American Christian adoption movement seem to have regarding children in other countries. The pressure was put on Rwanda to release its children to the United States adoption system. The environment in Rwanda had the potential for turning into another situation like that in Ethiopia. Yet, Rwandan officials remained grounded in its mission to preserve its families and culture.
One passage that really hit home for me was Joyce's conclusion that ". . . Rwanda's government maintained a tight grip on its adoption process, scrutinizing each case extensively and effectively challenging prospective parents to demonstrate why they deserved to adopt one of Rwanda's children [emphasis mine]."
In keeping with that theme, the National Director of SOS Children's Villages-Rwanda, Alfred Munyentwari, told Joyce that Rwandans are afraid of not knowing whether their children are okay after they leave the country. I couldn't help but think about how many American parents have lived and experienced this exact fear. My natural parents waited 27 years to find out if I was okay. And I was raised just a few towns away from them. I had not left the country but I might as well have been halfway around the world. This is what the American adoption system—with its altered birth certificates and sealed records—does to parents and children, be it domestic or international adoption.
Karen P.: Honestly, I felt like I wanted to kiss Munyentwari. He really gets it. I love this quote from him: "This story is to tell you that sometimes children can go and when they go, they will get homesick . . . They will say, 'I am well fed, well clothed,' but no one can feed that need." And this quote, too: "There are some people coming and saying, 'the Rwandese are stupid because they don't want the good life for their children.' But people have to think twice. I may be in a miserable situation today and not able to educate my children, but maybe tomorrow can be better."