Adoption growing among evangelical Christians

By Peter Smith

January 18, 2011 /

David and Tera Melber always knew they wanted a large family, but they didn't expect it to grow the way it did. 

The southern Jefferson County couple already had three biological children when David's overseas visit several years ago to a crowded, seedy orphanage convinced the couple that there were too many children in need of a home to ignore.

In 2005, they adopted a daughter, Maritess, from the Philippines, followed by two sons from Ethiopia, Jonas in 2007 and Isaac in 2010. Their six children now range in age from 4 to 16.

“We believe that's part of our mandate as believers, to be able to go and help those who are in need,” said Tera Melber.

The Melbers are part of a growing adoption movement among evangelical Christians. They see taking in children — whether locally or from different countries — as fulfilling biblical mandates to help the needy and to evangelize children.

Religious groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family, a prominent Colorado-based evangelical organization, have made a strong push in recent years for adoptions.

Christianity Today, the flagship evangelical journal, published a cover story in July promoting adoption, authored by Russell Moore, a dean at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

The movement does have critics, who see it as severing adoptees from their culture and religion, particularly in the case of foreign adoptions.

Such criticism was further stoked in early 2010 after the arrest of a Southern Baptist church team suspected of child smuggling after the Haiti earthquake.

But evangelicals say adoption is simply a way to spread their religious message and provide orphaned children a loving home.

Researchers into evangelical family trends say the adoption movement is too new to have been studied or to count how many adoptions it has inspired. But nationally, adoptions grew 22 percent to 57,466 between 1999 and 2009, according to U.S. figures.

But adoption has unquestionably risen as a major focus of evangelical churches and organizations through sermons, conferences, support groups, subsidies and orphan-awareness Sundays.

Tera Melber coordinates an adoption ministry at Highview Baptist Church, where 95 families have adopted 140 children — the majority since the ministry started five years ago, she said.

At least 13 families have adopted or cared for foster children, she said.

"“We have various people who are adopting little babies from right here in Louisville, Ky., or going overseas and adopting a sibling group of three children,” said Tera Melber.

Other church members volunteer their time to care for orphans or donate money.

“We don't really believe every Christian is called to adopt, but we do believe every Christian is called to do something,” Melber said.

A gentler message

The trend partly “reflects a desire of evangelical Protestants to pursue family-related goals that are softer, less divisive” than confrontations over volatile cultural issues such as abortion, said Brad Wilcox, a University of Virginia researcher into evangelical families.

Evangelicals say they want to put their anti-abortion words into deeds by providing an alternative.

“Being pro-life is not simply holding to certain legislative goals about abortion,” Southern Seminary's Moore said.

Evangelicals also depict adoption in theological terms — as a real-life parable of biblical texts describing salvation as adoption into God's family.

Christians who are adopting “get a new sense of the Gospel that they've already embraced,” said Moore, who adopted two sons from Russia and authored the book, “Adopted for Life.”

A 2009 Southern Baptist Convention resolution called on churches to “be concerned for the evangelism of children — including those who have no parents … (who) will never otherwise hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The message behind the movement

But critics warn there deeper subtexts to the push for adoption.

Mirah Riben, author of books calling for ethical reform of adoption practices, said the evangelical push “satisfies several right wing fundamental Christian agendas,” from evangelism to opposing abortion.

Writing on the blog “Dissident Voice,” she warned of unregulated international adoptions and the potential for birth parents being shamed into giving up children.

Kathryn Joyce, author of “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement,” warned of a “strong taint of colonialism” in the evangelical adoption movement. It is casting Americans “as saviors and focusing on adoption as a solution for impoverished communities,” she wrote in a Daily Beast blog post.  

But Terry Singer, dean of the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville, said that he isn't as concerned about a possible goal of building “an army of converts” if “some of these kids can be given some permanency and consistency in their lives and some love.” 

And Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said, “The option for any of these kids is not a good one if they're not adopted. It's pretty difficult for me to have concerns about folks taking kids in and loving them.”

Blake Ring, an adoptive father and a minister at Ninth and O Baptist Church, said his church unapologetically sees adoption as “a gospel witness to these children” in deed as well as word. Church families have adopted about 15 children in recent years, with 11 families now in the adoption process, he said.

Keeping perspective

The evangelical initiative is also showing practicality, warning against adopting because it's trendy.

Parents should be prepared to deal with children with potential health problems or with distress over separation from birth parents and homelands, they said.

Parents adopting cross-racially may learn “who the bigots are in their extended families,” Moore added. “That can be quite painful.”

For the Melbers, where the children are home-schooled together and cooperate on child care and other chores, the adoption experience has broadened the perspectives of both parents and children.

“It's given me more thought about more countries,” said Jonathan. He said “we're so blessed” to live in this country, but he realizes the world is “not just America.”

David Melber agreed with those who say crises of poverty and child welfare can't be solved by trying to “adopt every orphan in every country.” He cited church mission teams that work alongside locals to improve conditions for everyone in a country, including its orphans.

Oldest son Alex Melber, 16, for example, has already volunteered to work with orphans in Haiti and plans to do so again.

“Having siblings that didn't speak English, it helped me communicate with kids down there,” he said. “I had already done it here.”


We Forgot the Widow

What Evangelical Christians are forgetting is to take passages of scripture, and the Bible, as a whole, not just in pieces.

Almost every single passage in the Bible that calls for the help of orphans also mandates help for the widow. It is always "the widow AND the orphan." Yet adoption takes the "orphan" and leaves the widow and the "orphans" surviving family in their current plight. I say that trying to aleviate the world of its poverty through adoption is a lot like trying to solve global warming with central air conditioning. While it may seem to provide immediate help, it may hurt more than it helps. Paying governments tens of thousands of dollars to take dependant children off of their hands and leaving their families impoverished (the UNICEF definition of "orphan" is a child that has lost ONE parent. Many "orphans" have living parents and relatives that could take them home if they had the means to) does not encourage the government to make ethical policies to provide social welfare programs for its citizens.

Adoption is not included in the great commission. We can show people the grace and love of Jesus Christ, where ever they are. We do not need to take their children and assimilate them to American culture to "save" any one.

Left Behind, thanks to divine intervention

In another article, we see just how 'Christian' international adopters, (following God's Plan and heeding His Call), can be.

Adopting from overseas does raise some questions. Critics wonder why couples are eager to adopt a child halfway around the world, but not a child in foster care in the United States.

There’s no easy answer to that question, says Lisa Lancaster, an adoption worker at Bethany Christian Services in Nashville. Sometimes, she says, couples find it easier to work with a foreign government than with state agencies in the United States. Other times, they fear dealing with birth parents so close to home.

[From:  Faith moves families to adopt children from overseas ]

Let's let this digest a bit:  Sometimes couples find it easier to work with a (more than likely corrupt and unstable) government, than with state agencies in the US, and others fear dealing with birth parents so close to home.

Well, thank God for mega adoption agencies like Bethany.... masters of maternal-child separation, creating infant orphans Christians really want.

Oh, but fear not...those widows, (mothers who may not have a husband), assisted/counseled into an adoption-plan? ... ye of little faith, they ARE being cared for... very well.  Let me share some awesome examples. Sometimes, the mothers are given favors, like the hope that their children could study and be well fed, others are promised photos, letters and perhaps money... and the child's return when he/she turns 18.  But more typically, if the impoverished woman is uncared for, alone, and pregnant, she will be gifted nice accommodations, a little spending money, and quality health-care, at least temporarily...once the baby is born, and her body is no longer needed, she... the mom who received care and help.... is free to live without the burden of everyday child-care.   [Thank you kind adoption industry!  Thank you so much for those awesome blessings!]

So what if it reads as if the more poor, more desperate, woman with child is forced to make a pact with the devil, this is how adoption services operate, Christian, or not.  

how to talk to the deaf?

What a wonderful article, explaining the orphan crusade movement, while only giving two half-baked critical commentaries.

The issues with the evangelical orphan crusade run deep, much deeper than a single article can ever address, but this article doesn't even try to explain the dangers of the evangelical adoption movement.

All problems arise from the fact that the evangelical movement is faith based, not evidence based. This also makes criticism of the evangelical movement particularly daunting. The movement operates in a fact-free zone, so rational arguments will not be effective when countering the influence of the evangelical movement.

One of the orphan crusade's favorite statistics is from Unicef, claiming the existence of 143 million orphans. This very large number is derived from an estimate of children that have lost at least one parent. While sad, this doesn't mean that 143 million children are in need of help, and if they need help, that adoption is an appropriate option. This figure also doesn't reflect the fact that most Unicef-orphans are in fact older children, while most children being adopted are under the age of five.

Despite many attempts to debunk the claim of 143 million orphans as adoptable children, the figure keeps being used, because it is effective in the recruitment of prospective adoptive parents, and members of the evangelical movement are generally deaf to factual information when it is at odds with their belief system.

Just like the evangelical movement resists scientific knowledge in such areas as geology, cosmology, physics and biology to hold on to a notion of young earth creationism, so do they resist knowledge about proper child placement practices and corruption in sending countries.

Who cares if a child was stolen, when the adoption was God's will?

Who cares if a child will be disciplined to death, when the adoption was God's will?

The resistance towards facts and rational thought makes the orphan crusade hard to counter. The only feasible route is legislation. Of course there is no hope to achieve that in the United States. One party is completely dependent on this voting block, while the other party tries to build friendly relations with the movement in order to win elections. Legislation unfriendly towards the evangelical movement is political suicide and all in Washington know this. Of course the Evangelical movement hardly ever gets the legislation they want either, but that's another story.

The only possible way to block the expansion of the orphan crusade, is through the political systems of sending countries. In the end, the orphan crusade leads to far too many problems to be sustainable. Large scale inter-country adoption is impossible without large scale fraud and corruption. It has been observed in Latin America in the 1980's. It has been observed in Romania in the 1990's. It had been observed in Guatemala in the first decade of this century, and it is now blatantly present in Ethiopia.

One after another, countries close their borders to inter-country adoption because the corruption and fraud easily gets out of hand.

Adoption agencies and leaders of the orphan crusade movement of course know this. but will keep pushing the inter-country adoption card as long as it is economically feasible. At the same time the movement is already moving towards the domestic market, claiming that children in foster care are "orphans" too.

There certainly is potential for the movement within the United States. Over the last three decades, income equality has grown dramatically, creating a larger and larger pool of poor people to remove children from. There is very little political will on either side of the aisle to counter the decline of the middle class, so the number of children growing up in poverty will certainly increase in years to come. With an increase in poverty there will also be an increase of adoptable infants. This is true all around the world and the United States is no exception.

The orphan crusade movement is certainly a dangerous development, because it is so antithetical to rational thought and therefore to best practices. Of course that will eventually be the downfall of the movement, but before that happens many children will have to suffer unnecessary removal and substandard care. I fear the crash course of the orphan crusade movement cannot be turned around. There is no political will to do so, and the number of critics is small in comparison to the huge membership base the evangelical movement can count on. This won't stop us from pushing back, but I am also aware that our words are lost on those most in need of hearing them. I wish there were a way to reach this segment of society, but the way it stands now, I am afraid they won't listen until the day we can finally say: "I told you so."

God Points

I'd also like to add to the giant crap-bag that is the Orphan Crusade, the notion of extra "god points" to be earned for those Aparents who adopt disabled children, older children, sibling groups, or the more "unpopular" (ie, hard to sell) kids. In fact, the more disabilities, differences or challenges the kid(s) has, the more god points and praise the Aparents get awarded in their faith based communities. Not to mention the APs earning boasting rights on their quiver-full blogs and mega-family online journals about the halo they've earned by (purchasing) yet another child (one they are probably completely ill-equipped to raise).

We've all seen the steady rise in the desirability of severely disabled and challenged kids in ICA, who are being adopted to families who don't appear to have the skills and experience to justly handle the inherent needs of these children, and I dare to make a direct correlation with a rise in abuse cases with these type of placements. Of course, par for the course with lousy ICA agency placements who also don't want to slow down the almighty buck machine of ICA, it's not about the child's needs being met by being placed in a home that can truly care for their needs, it's about the Aparent's needs to have the pearly gates of Heaven thrown open for them, get a seat on the board at their local fundamentalist church, or re-write their inherent sins of being born.

From the marketing perspective, it's the ultimate sales job on the part of the agencies: create even more of a market and demand for the "hard to sell product" by throwing in the god-points. It's a win-win for the bible-thumping orphan saving APs AND the money grubbing agencies.

But we all know who loses.

"Care to make a small charitable donation?"

From the marketing perspective, it's the ultimate sales job on the part of the agencies: create even more of a market and demand for the "hard to sell product" by throwing in the god-points. It's a win-win for the bible-thumping orphan saving APs AND the money grubbing agencies.

I swear, I cannot make the following crap up, because even me with my many wicked thoughts, I could never think to do something so blatantly cruel:

As is tradition, the evening got under way with a parade of adopted children dressed in native costumes entering the ballroom.

Chairwoman Karen Szabo and her 5-year-old daughter, Piper, welcomed the guests and tied the evening's education theme with education programs offered by Dillon International.

During the evening, Deniese Dillon, who with her husband, Jerry, founded the agency, presented an award to Dwayne Craul for his many years of contributing creative decorations for the annual dinners and support of Dillon International's services.

[From:  Annual dinner raises money for adoption agency , February 14, 2011]

And just as it's seen at the Angels of Adoption Award Gala, an adoptee was used to give the invocation.  In keeping with Chinese Year of The Rabbit motif, Dillon spokespeople chose a girl from China to do the welcomes and thank-yous, (proving how serene, well-mannered and conservative the adoptee's nature can be?).  

All what-killed-the-rabbit jokes aside, it ought to be mentioned what's included on the Dillon International home-page.

Dillon International has a long history in international adoption beginning with our South Korea program.  Through the years we have had the privilege of helping homeless children in various countries, including Guatemala and Vietnam until the adoption doors were recently closed.  Currently, we offer programs in China, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, Korea, and Nepal.  Through our new affiliation beginning in 2009 with Buckner International and its adoption program Buckner Adoption and Maternity Services, we now offer adoption opportunities from Ethiopia, Russia and Honduras.

I'll let others make the connections, and do the math.... but allow me to add an often missing piece of information OTHER adoptive parents AND adoptees associated with one popular sending-country are trying to get others to support: 

Buckner's MATERNITY SERVICES + Ethiopia + Russia + Honduras + China + Haiti + Hong Kong +India + Korea + Nepal =  _________?

Hmm... where should those cash donations collected for charity go?

Pound Pup Legacy