Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Child Snatchers: Doing God’s Work?

Review of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption by Kathryn Joyce.  NY: PBS Public Affairs, 2013. Review by Mirah Riben.
Kathryn Joyce is a hard-hitting, award-winning investigative journalist. She became interested in adoption through her in-depth probe of the Christian Quiverfull movement[1] Christian women bearing as many babies as humanly possible, many of whom now feel called or “commanded” by God and their pastors to add to their broods by adoption, some of which are akin to an unlicensed group homes often including children with special needs.
While Joyce was getting interested with the evangelic push for adoption, in May 2007, Evangelical Christians organizations such as Focus on the Family and pastors from across the nation were holding a three-day summit in Colorado to promote adoption. Among those present at this event was Tom Atwood, president of the National Council for Adoption, the largest lobbying organization of the adoption agency industry, with major funding coming from The Church of Latter Day Saints, as was reported in Adoption and the Role of TheReligious Right (Countercurrent Nov. 4, 2007).
With no personal stake in adoption, Joyce (and Erin Siegal, author of Finding Fernanda and E.J. Graff) offer purely objective professionalism to the passionately polarizing positions and different points of view about adoption practices. On one side are adoptive and hopeful adoptive parents and the practitioners who earn their livelihoods meeting their demands, and now these churches and the agencies and programs they sponsor. On the other side is UNICEF which is mandated to uphold local laws, international treaties, and reduce corruption and exploitation, as well as NGOs such as SOS for Children, Against Child Trafficking (ACT), with no financial or personal incentive other than the best interest of the world’s children.
Oddly enough, both sides actually have the same goal: to provide care for the worlds’ children in need. But the former believe this objective to mean “the end of orphans in the world” “via adoption first, second, and last”[2] meaning adoption by Christians in America and Europe.  The later believe the priority is family preservation first, domestic adoption second, and international placements last.
Whereas in the war on cancer, prevention and treatment co-exist, in adoption there is much demonization of those who seek prevention by those who seek to continue the flow of children for redistribution out of a misguided desire to help and also by those who have a financial stake in doing so.  As with the pharmaceutical, oil, and gun industries, there are mega-billion dollars at stake in adoption, and powerful lobbyists who work hand-in-hand with the movers and shakers of the evangelical adoption movement.
Some call the push for adoption by churches “from Methodist to charismatic Christian to parachurch groups to homeschoolers” misguided. Instead of seeing dwindling numbers of adoption placements as an indication of a healthy society that does not need to resort to stranger placements of its young, these missionaries and adoption industry practitioner’s with a financial incentive, call it an “adoption crisis” and claim adoption to be “under siege.” They “blame familiar scapegoats like UNICEF” and the Hague Convention calling them  “evil and anti-child.” At a Christian pro-adoption meeting at Saddlebrook Church in 2012, Joyce reports Chuck Johnson as identifying all who prefer to help families in crisis and reduce the tragedies that result in loss and separation of kin and culture as “forces that take great delight in the suffering of children.” This obscene, vitriolic rhetoric is intended to – and succeeds in – riling up the faithful to get out and keep snatching up babies and children for adoption.
Joyce cites instances of churches setting goals or quotas and pro-adoption church leadership ignoring or acting as if they are above the law.  They seem to see themselves as Freedom Fighters like those who committed civil disobedience to free slaves. The difference is that the slaves requesting them to help them escape. These are children that may or may not want to be taken from family or home lands.
In Child Catchers, Joyce provides an impeccably well-researched window into the world of Christian adoption. Joyce shines a light on the well-meaning who fail to accept – and those who serve them fail to care – ­ that they are too often taking children who have families and are unintentionally increasing an already over-burdened demand that in turn proliferates kidnappings and deceptive practices to fill orders. With their hearts filled with love, salvation and desire to aid those in need, they mistakenly believe that “tickets to America for a handful of children are an appropriate fix for an entire culture living in poverty.” Pumped up with religious fervor they are blinded to the fact that the tens of thousands spent to take each child could be put to far better use helping an entire village build a school, dig a well, purchase school books or buy medical supplies.
The book opens with a literally earth shaking event: the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti and the rush to adopt it engendered. Joyce focuses immediately on the infamous case of Laura Silsby’s band of bible-thumping pseudo missionaries from Idaho who were arrested trying to leave Haiti with 33 children and charged with kidnapping. Silsby and her Reverse Robinhoods felt justified and self-righteous, about taking from the poor to give to the rich, even building a resort in the Dominican Republic for adopters. A fit beginning to describe the zealousness that drives evangelicals to “save” children physically and spiritually.
In the end, many if not most churches dissociated themselves from Silsby after she was charged with kidnaping.  The adoption industry and adoption advocates put the incident, like all adoption horror stories, in a neat little box labeled anomalies and continue right along, business as usual simply moving from country ad they close adoptions in order to end the corruption. Not unlike claims that women cannot get pregnant from “legitimate” rape, Chuck Johnson at the Saddlebrook Church, argued that claims of fraud had been blown out of proportion, saying: “We have no indication of real, true corruption.”
But, Silsby was not the first nor was she the last to exploit a tragedy to obtain children to meet a demand, albeit in the name of doing good. The tsunami in Indonesia brought out the same baby seekers prior to the earthquake, as did the historic Vietnam Baby Lift operation. These “rescue” missions are reminiscent of an old folk tale about a Boy Scout trying to earn his merit badge: The scout spots an old lady standing at the corner as cars whiz by. He gallantly rushes to her side and assists her safely to the other side of the street. He feels quite proud of himself until she asks that he return her to where she came from and wanted to be. Ah, the roads to hell we pave.
The book is excellent and needed albeit with a title Joyce chose as a mid-ground between the saving and the snatching sides of adoption. “Catching” however suggests and implies something is dropping or falling; being thrown or tossed away.  In some instances adoption is analogous to the image of a fireman catching a child tossed in utter desperation out the window of a burning home.  But more often, it is a child snatching cloaked in pseudo-humanitarianism.  All too many adoptions involve running in and grabbing children from a simmering political or natural disaster firestorm. Instead of pouring water on these fires and attempting to save all the victims, as we would want done for us, children are grabbed leaving the rest behind in the same situation with the addition of a grievous lifelong loss. The age-old “women and children first” is disregarded. In fact, Joyce reports that Haitians were warned not to try to flee in the aftermath of the tragedy and their needs ignored as adoption took center stage in the aftermath mayhem in Haiti.
Tom Benz, an Alabama missionary who also attempted to hustle children surreptitiously out of Haiti on a wink and nod pretext of an English-language educational cultural exchange program all the while recruiting adoptive parents[3] said:, “every child that is adopted gets snatched out of horrible possibilities” [emphasis added]. Indeed, even those doing the snatching know it for what it is. Why not? The King James Version of the bible which  uses the word “pluck” in Job 24:9 has often been translated as states it as: "The wicked snatch a widow's child from her breast, taking the baby as security for a loan.”[4] Or: "Others snatch the orphan from the breast, and against the poor they take the pledge.”[5] Clearly, snatch – or even grab – is a better translation for “pluck” than “catch.” The book title, like the entire process, verbally annihilates the mother from whom the child was clearly “snatched.”

Joyce delineates clearly how the adoption industry enables – nay incites – religious do-gooders by reinventing the word “orphan” to include so-called “paper orphans” and “half-orphans”, i.e. children with a living parent in order to intentionally inflate numbers of orphans in need. Worldwide, 90% of children in orphanages targeted for international adoption have at least one parent as orphanages provide temporary care, food, education. These children often have large extended families and there is no intent for them to be given away permanently.
The only children “languishing” in orphanages, like the children in US foster care who could be adopted, have a disability or are older than those seeking to adopt are prepared to accept. Some are sibling groups. We often hear those who are pro-adoption bemoaning a “shortage of available” children for adoption, and in fact demand far outstrips the number of children that fit the popular criterion for adoption. Thus encouraging well-meaning congregants to add to the demand is counterproductive. Additionally, pushing people to adopt often causes them to take in children they are not equipped to handle and Joyce cites several cases of terminated adoptions which inflicts lifelong on vulnerable children.
The industry uses terms such as “parentless” all in an effort to create visions of children in need, isolated and all alone, as opposed to members of a community who all need assistance. Repeating phrases like “every child deserves a family” obliterates the reality that every child is born into a family – families intentionally kept invisible and silent. Often deceived, not told the truth, or hearing what they want to hear, would-be adopters identify with a photo that becomes of a child who they think of as “theirs” early on. When thwarted by efforts to slow down or halt the process in order to document a child’s orphan status, waiting adopters take their pleas to politicians to help them “reunify” and bring “their” child “home” to unrelated strangers in a strange land.
The media, as Joyce notes, describes children being snatched up in Haiti “as though they had no unique past, no personal history deeper than their evident need” or the tragedy that brought their existing plight to public attention. And yet is this not the plight of every adoptee?  They are as if just waiting in suspended time and space to be plucked from their cabbage patch by those who believe themselves to have been chosen by God to covet them as their own.
American adoption practice in fact deliberately and intentionally erases any and all past connectedness in order to provide the paying client a child with no strings attached who will know, love and be grateful to only their adopters and no other. Adoption destroys all ancestral and genetic ties; obliterates heritage and lineage which pro-adoptioinist Professor Elizabeth Bartholet[6] has called “over-rated” – easy to say when you know yours.  Adoption creates bundles of joy eagerly waiting to be taken like shiny cars in a showroom. Each cleverly devoid of familial attachment (linguistically and often aided by fraudulent documents), not unlike the way we dissociate young enemy soldiers in war, never thinking them of them as someone’s child.
As for adoption meeting the goals of evangelicals, it certainly succeeds in increasing the flock. Not by proselytizing or even conversion but by a process painted as adoption which in many cases verges on or crosses the line into abduction.
Obviously international adoption does nothing to reduce abortions. Domestically, the lives of the unborn could be saved and their mothers helped to raise them. The only reasons to do otherwise are: 1) judging unwed mothers as sinners and thus unfit; 2) to maintain an ample supply of newborns for adoption. Encouraging single mothers to relinquish children for adoption is the antithesis of the teachings of the birth of Christ to a woman who may or may not have been married at the time of conception, depending upon the translation of the word “betrothed” which most take to mean promised or engaged. “Adoption not abortion” slogans turn mothers into incubators, suggest that children who relinquished were unwanted, and hurt those adopted by creating an illusion that those adopted were more likely to have been aborted than any of us, even those born into intact families.
Believing God has preselected a child specifically for someone other than the parents God chose to birth them is preposterous and egotistical and implies God makes mistakes. Like all fundamental religious fanatics, those who use the bible and teaching of Christ to promote adoption are selective in bible quoting. They ignore or somehow misinterpret Matthew 1:27 which asks that we visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (or distress) and keep ourselvesunspotted from the world (avoiding false teachers and doctrines).” Some translations suggest that we are obligated to care for orphans. But nowhere, in any translation, does the bible say visit the fatherless and take them, covet them as your own. Viewing adoption as “God’s work” or “God’s plan” ignores the need to address and help eradicate the root causes of social and economic injustice and in fact proliferates the suffering by creating increased demand for adoption which triggers corrupt means of obtaining them.
The bible which begins with who begat whom indicating the importance of bloodlines, focuses on a pivotal adoption story, that of Moses, a text book case of a devoted, loving and capable mother - Jochobed - surrendering only in utter desperation when it was it the only way to save her son’s life. The bible names this woman and makes her struggles very real and poignant for a reason. The baby she sets adrift is not a nameless, unidentifiable, abandoned child floating on a raft needing to be saved. Even the child’s sister plays a role. Moses never forgets his roots but lives to be reunited in a way that was extraordinary for millions of people and forever changed world religious history. He was not converted, erasing the faith of his forefathers.Moses was raised to be familiar with his background as a Hebrew.[7]  But alas, we will not change people’s religious beliefs.
I highly recommend this book. The only thing that concerns me is that beyond the inner circle of the adoption reform community, it will be ignored as being specific to one peculiar niche of adoption. I fear that those considering adoption – and more so the general public – will not read it and even if they do will fail to see how much of the pro-adoption tactics impact all adoption, not just adoption by Christian evangelicals. The failure of the book to not make that crystal clear is for me the biggest loss. Buy the book. Read it. It will be a treasured addition to your adoption library.

[1] Quiverful: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement
[2] Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback, one of the largest churches in America attended by twenty thousand weekly.
[3] When Benz plan failed in Haiti, he simply played the same façade in the Ukraine, proving it was never about rescuing children from an earthquake and ignoring the fact that the Ukraine was trying to reduce International adoptions and increase domestic placements for their children in need. This “Christian” man who openly lies about his true intentions not only has adopters paying high fees for adoption, he also has donors coughing up thousands for his temporary excursions in his alleged cultural exchange hoax. All dollars which could instead provide direct aid to impoverished nations.
[6] Joyce accurately identifies Bartholet as “one of the most polemic adoption advocates in the field.” With no claim of doing God’s work she is a zealot who speaks for those whose livelihood is heavily if not solely reliant on adoption.


Anonymous said...

Hilarious. Some Christians and their crap. Adoption is nothing less then infertile Christians NOT accepting God's and twisting that denial into a torturous mind glitch called helping children. Amazing all the damage done when some people just refuse to handle reality and won't do their religion right either. Really helping kids is selflessly donating money so their REAL families are all better off, not ripping them away from them. Joyce is the saint not idiots like Focus on the Family. Great book and great post Mirah.

Mirah Riben said...

Right,except the majority of these people are not adopting because of infertility. They are doing it because they are bing encouraged to "rescue" "orphans" many of whom have parents.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 1 - Just an FYI, not just Christians adopt, and not just the infertile adopt.

Mirah Riben said...

@ Anonymouse 1 - and for YOUR information, I never inferred EITHER! Unless you were commenting to the previous anon poster who i already replied to.

Anonymous said...

It may be true that not everyone who adopts is infertile or Christian but I suspect that most fall into one (or both) of those groups.

However, most infertile couples who are adopt aren't motivated by their religion, they are motivated by their infertility.

I have no idea what motivates those who are not infertile or not living in a religious fantasy. Perhaps Anon 2 could enlighten us.

Mirah Riben said...

I agree that infertility and religious zealousness are likely the top two reasons for adoptions today.

The rest are liberal do-gooders and those who emulate Angelina Jolie and Madonna, et al. Liberals love to adopt inter-racially as a badge of just how progressive they are!

There are people who have publically stated that they just always believed since childhood they would adopt some day. They follow that dream blindly without stopping to read and educate themselves to the fact that adoption today involves exploiatation and often child trafficking and never ever does anything to resolve the problems that caused the dissloution of the family.

There are huge numbers of Americans - other than Christian evangelicals - persuaded by the adoption industry and its false numbers claiming huge numbers of orphans "languishing" in orphanages....

Finally, adding to the demand today are same sex couples.

Adoption is seen as "good" by ALL: right wing, left wing, religious athiests, gay, straight, right-to-lifers and pro-choicers....

Unknown said...

We are adopting through American foster care. The children who are in foster care are there because their biological parents were abusive or neglectful and didn't care enough to finish basic things like parenting classes or rehab programs to make their children safe. Once enough time has elapsed, the state gives up on the parents and turns its attention to extended family or close friends to take in the youth. If no one is interested or capable, the net is then cast wider, to anyone with licensing and an interest. We are working with a nonprofit that helps teenagers who have spent more than three years in foster care find families. Yes, reunification or extended family placement is best, but not always feasible.

Mirah Riben said...

VPS takes MANY children from GOOD people!!




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