Reviewing Jedd Medefind's response to "The Evangelical Adoption Crusade"
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Christianity Today published a clever response to Kathryn Joyce's article, The Evangelical Adoption Crusade, published in The Nation, last week. The author of this response, Jedd Medefind, happens to be the executive director of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, a coalition of Christian churches and child placement organizations that act like the functioning heart-muscle behind the Evangelical adoption movement.
The article, which carries the subtitle, what a misleading article in the 'The Nation' can teach evangelicals, is clever in the sense that it claims to acknowledge some of the concerns Kathryn Joyce raises, whilst dismissing them at the same time. This is to be expected from a man who once held the post of director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, a political insider, who became a master at damning someone with faint praise.
Let's look at what the articles says:
An article titled "The Evangelical Adoption Crusade" appeared Friday in The Nation, lodging a hard-hitting critique of Christians and adoption. Those who disapprove of Christian adoption efforts do so for many reasons. Some are troubled by real and perceived ethical concerns. Some feel an orphan's ethnicity matters more than their need for a family. Some have encountered purported Christians who bear little resemblance to Jesus. But whatever the motives, supporters of Christian adoption and orphan care can gain most not by merely dismissing the critics but by learning from them—even when we disagree profoundly with their claims and conclusions.
This is how Medefind's rebuttal begins, and it very much sets the tone for the rest of his article. Of course his opening move is a misrepresentation of what the critics of inter-country adoption (including those by Christian organizations) have to say.
First of all, most critics of ICA are not troubled by real and perceived ethical concerns. Critics of ICA are outraged about the flagrant lack of ethics among adoption service providers. There is nothing "perceived" about that. Child trafficking is a REAL issue in inter-country adoption; abuse in adoptive families is a REAL issue, due to lax monitoring of prospective adopters; disrupted placements is a REAL issue, since very few agencies make a real effort to properly match the needs of the child with the abilities of their prospective adopters.
In fact, most adoptions take place without any personal contact between the placement agency and the prospective adopters. More often than not, adoption agencies perform placement services for out-of-state adopters, relying on a piece of paper, in the form of a home-study, written by an often unknown social worker.
Because of this independent third-party set-up, many opportunities are missed to properly screen adoptive parents, but also to find the right match between the needs of an adoptable child and a family willing and able to fulfill that need.
These are all REAL issues, ignored and dismissed by the likes of Medefind, or ridiculed as somehow only being "perceived ethical concerns".
The rest of Medefind's characterization of adoption critics is even more condescending. He may consider a child's ethnicity of little concern, given the stab he indirectly takes at UNICEF and the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. We'd advise him to read the stories of adult adoptees from foreign extraction before making such divisive statements.
The lack of resemblance to Jesus of some purported Christians, is again a clever trick. It divides the world into "purported" Christians and "real" Christians, whatever that may mean, since there is no litmus test regarding ones Christianity. Of course by inference, we are lead to believe Medefind and his Christian Alliance for Orphans belong in the camp of the good guys aka as the unpurported Christian.
On with the next paragraph:
Such is the case with "The Evangelical Adoption Crusade." Author Kathryn Joyce spent more than a year seeking to find and amplify what she feels are the worst flaws of the Christian adoption and orphan care movement. But while the article may distort as much as it reveals, Christian orphan advocates would do well to listen to Joyce's concerns. Even if mistaken in many regards, a critic will almost always wake us to legitimate issues if we're attentive. Several vital reminders, in particular, can be taken from this article:
Medefind cleverly tries to portray Kathryn Joyce as being a nit-picker, who took it upon herself to lift every single issue regarding the Orphan Crusade from every obscure nook and cranny to come up with the article she wrote. This is far from true. The Evangelical Adoption Crusade is actually a high-level overview of the issues regarding the Evangelical adoption movement. In fact, very little of Kathryn Joyce's article is really new. Nearly everything in her article was investigated and confirmed before, making it more of a high-level overview of proven facts, than a truly revealing in-depth investigation.
Again, Medefind emphasizes his position that the critique to the Orphan Crusade movement is distorted, without actually saying why the critics are mistaken. Of course nowhere in his article does he even make an attempt to do that. Instead, he lifts some obscure issues from the article to show his willingness to listen, even to those he profoundly disagrees with.
Affirm the complexity and engage it wisely. Every orphan's story includes tragedy, and bringing healing to tragic circumstances is never simple. We must acknowledge this and talk frankly about hard issues like how to do more to hold fragile families together and how to appropriately honor birthmothers. If we're serious about loving orphans well, we must do the hard work of study, preparation, and continual recalibration. The history of efforts to help the needy—both secular and religious—is rife with good intentions gone amuck. Christians should lead the way in always pairing compassion with knowledge.
Medefind is certainly correct that efforts to help the needy is rife with good intentions gone amuck. In the field of inter-country adoption such practice is even worse, because altruism is not really altrusim if selfish motives get cloaked as "good intentions". The desire to adopt comes before the needs/best interests of the child and the need to keep an adoption business afloat comes before the concerns of family preservation and best interest of a child.
For the rest, Medefind' statement doesn't say anything that has not been said a million times before, and which has just as often, fallen on deaf ears. Being in the process of adoption is somewhat comparable to being love-sick: There is no room to see concerns, there is that photo of that poor dear hurting child... the one prospective parents so much want to have, for whatever reasons their hearts and souls are called and justified.
All the shoulds, oughts and have-tos mentioned in the article can be found on nearly every adoption agency's website; they are mentioned in preparation classes, they can be found in nearly every article about adoption, but those words have proven to be ineffective. The mindset of many prospective adopters is more often than not geared towards the goal to obtain the desired child. This goal-oriented mindset is further driven by the many hoops and hurdles it takes prospective adopters to finally "take home" the child they so much want to have. Adoption "requirements", as established by the independent adoption agency.
Holding fragile families together and honoring birth-mothers, is mostly seen as yet another road block toward the desired goal, than something to take really seriously. Maybe when the dust has settled and after the "gotcha day" has been celebrated, will concerns for the original family enter the mind of many an adopter, but before or earlier.
Medefind, even though an adopter himself, seems to have very little understanding of the mindset of prospective adopters. Adoption is both financially and emotionally a risky endeavor. Money may be lost, referrals may be lost, scams can run-aplenty, sending countries can "suddenly" decide to close their borders, so chances are many factors and extenuating circumstances and situations may prevent an adoption-plan from becoming a reality. These are not just fears, these are real threats to the investment prospective adopters make.
Some people can handle these uncertainties and still look at the bigger picture, acknowledging the ethical issues and social impact the adoption has. However, most people are not good at juggling such conflicting mindsets properly, and this is one of the main reasons why so many prospective adopters are so unconcerned about ethical issues while in the process of adopting. Once the child is "home" that may change, but then it is often too late to do something to honor the original family or make efforts to keep fragile families together.
It may sound ethical and wise of Medefind to bring up these issues, but it doesn't help, it never has helped and it will never help because there is a cognitive dissonance between the ethical message and the risk-based goal-driven mindset most prospective adopters follow, a mind-set that is not geared towards learning about ethical considerations, but toward eliminating such concerns.
Adoption service providers and their facilitators know this all too well, This is one of the reasons why so many birth-mothers are conveniently (and fraudulently) pronounced dead. [Watch: Children for Sale- KRO Brandpunt ] Not only does lying, on record documentation, help to obtain an orphan status for the child involved, it also conveniently ends any consideration for the original family.
Ensure that we work with trustworthy organizations. Whether in adoption, orphan care, or any other noble effort, there are always plenty of charlatans. There are also many others with good intent but poor practices. Confirming the quality of an organization before working with it is one of the most important things we can do. (This is one important purpose of the Christian Alliance for Orphans.)
Ah the reputable agency argument.
It is certainly true there are several adoption entrepreneurs that are particularly unethical, but if that was the only problem, there would be very few critics of the current adoption system. If this argument held, Fruits of Ethiopia - A study on intercountry adoption in Ethiopia would not have resulted in the finding that 19 out of 25 cases at Dutch adoption agency Wereldkinderen contained irregularities.Wereldkinderen is as reputable as an agency can be, licensed and accredited to perform inter-country adoptions, and more importantly, using the same resources most other reputable adoption agencies use.
Don't take our word for it. This is what the executive director of a Hague Accredited American adoption agency wrote to us some time ago:
If anyone wants reform in adoption, all parties should work together, it’s a waste of time to fight evil agencies because essentially all agencies are doing the same thing (outside of real psychopath like Orson [Moses]); there is no such thing as a good agencies.
It is impossible for the Christian Alliance for Orphans to confirm the qualities of an agency, because agencies themselves are not able to guarantee the quality of their work. They depend on facilitators and orphanage directors who handle sums of money that are unheard of in the countries they operate in, countries that more often than not are among the most corrupt in the world.
Root out irresponsibility. Even the very best social movements have reckless and unhelpful elements on their fringes. As people of integrity, Christians should be the first to root out irresponsible practices among self-labeled Christian organizations. We must do this gently and graciously at first, but if the behavior persists, we must take aggressive action to bring change.
If Medefind would take his own words seriously, he would dismantle the Christian Alliance for Orphans for being an irresponsible, reckless and unhelpful fringe movement. For more than a century the demand for adoptable infants has exceeded the supply, and for more than a century there has been baby brokering and child trafficking to meet that demand.
In its recklessness to give the Evangelical movement a kinder face, the Christian Alliance for Orphans, irresponsibly fuels the demand for adoptable infants, while the supply is going down. In doing so, the Christian Alliance for Orphans is virtually an accomplice in the child-trafficking schemes taking place in countries like Ethiopia. If not for the huge demand for Ethiopian children, there would be no child trafficking of adoptable children.
In this paragraph, Medefind again, tries to pit "purported" Christians against "real" Christians. Interestingly enough his own organization IS a self-labeled Christian organization. In fact every so-called Christian organization is a self-labeled Christian organization. There is no proof of Christianity, and if there were, many secular organizations would probably pass, along with many organizations of non-Christian denomination.
As to the integrity of self-labeled Christians, I don't think Medefind wants to go there. Need we really have to mention: George Alan Rekers, Richard Roberts, Paul Barnes, Ted Haggard, Kent Hovind, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Billy James Hargis, or are all these self-labeled Christians, "purported" Christians only?
Make clear that we care for orphans because it reflects God's heart. The article depicts many Christians as adopting simply to proselytize. This is hard for me to imagine given the immense cost, sacrifice, and lifelong commitment of adoption. (There are far easier ways to share one's faith.) But still, the author's perception reminds us that our language and manner should never imply that adoption is merely a scheme to "get souls into heaven." Yes, Christians desire that every person would know the love of God personally, including orphans. But we care for orphans foremost as a reflection of the heart of God, who himself is a "father to the fatherless" and "sets the lonely in families" (Ps. 68).
Jedd Medefind can't be that naive, can he? One only needs to look up the membership list of his own organization to find out that there are resources (The ABBA Fund, , Shaohannah's Hope and Home for Good Foundation) that help prospective adopters meet the financial aspects/requirements needed to compete an adoption plan. On top of that, most adoption costs are tax-deductible! So, in the end, the financial cost of adopting can be minimal, especially when the church community is willing to chip in, as many do, quite often these days.
There may be easier ways to share one's faith, and wealth, but there are fewer ways to heavy-handedly impose one's faith. Just in case Jedd Medefind missed out learning about these sort of situations, let's introduce a couple of names: Albert Smith, Andrew Burd, Brian Edgar, Bruce, Michael, Tyrone and Keith Jackson, Cassandra Killpack, David Polreis, Dennis Gene Merryman, Dominick J. (Andrew) Diehl, Faith Raeanne Robinson, Joseph Beebe, Kristoff Beagley, Lydia and Zariah Schatz, Milena Slatten, Rachel Joy Thompson, Sean Paddock, Tina Anderson and Viktor Alexander Matthey.
Ironically, the part in Kathryn Joyce's article that most directly speaks of proselytizing comes from Medefind's fellow orphan crusader, Dan Cruver, whom is quoted in the article saying: “The ultimate purpose of human adoption by Christians, therefore, is not to give orphans parents, as important as that is. It is to place them in a Christian home that they might be positioned to receive the gospel.”
Apparently Medefind disagrees profoundly with Cruver, but it would be disingenuous to blame adoption critics for the words of those drumming to the adoption beat.
In all of his talk about being Christian and wanting to help orphans, Medefind suspiciously fails to mention "widows". One of the most often cited verse on Orphan Crusade related websites is James 1:27: Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
The quoted version of the text is the New American Standard Bible's, but most versions are basically the same, varying on the word orphan versus fatherless, to visit versus to care for and unstained versus, unpolluted, uncorrupted, unspotted.
This particular verse is being used in all sorts of christian adoption promotion to mean an appeal to adopt and is a self-serving and shortsighted interpretation.
Let's assume we want to have a pure and undefiled religion, we should do as the text says: visit/take care of orphans/fatherless AND widows in their distress AND remain unstained/uncorrupted etc. The call to adopt only adheres to one of the demands, and only when negating the meaning of the word "to visit".
Looking after widows in their distress seems to be the lesser of Christian causes, when judging the website of an average church. Most church websites have information for children, men, women, they have information about marriage and some of them have specific missionaries, where orphan care is often present, while widow care is rarely seen.
Why is it never considered that orphans and widows ("fatherless") are used in conjunction? Why does the adoption interpretation of the verse so much want to separate the child from the mother? Doesn't the verse mean that we have to visit/take care of orphans AND widows, as a single unit?
The bible version that uses the word "fatherless", the one that is never used on adoption promotion websites, reveals just how much the concept of orphan is related to that of widow. Once we look at that, do we see that indeed the instruction means to visit/take care of those families where the man is no longer alive and able to provide.
The final part of the verse gets ignored most of all, the command to stay unstained/uncorrupted. Again, in the context of a fatherless family it can make perfect sense. "When visiting a fatherless family, do not screw the widow or any of the children, and do not expect special favors in return of the care given." [Treat others as you yourself would like to be treated.]
Back to Medefinds rebuttal:
Admittedly, "The Evangelical Adoption Crusade" misrepresents much and misses even more. It bends the intention of quotes offered by thoughtful adoption advocates who were willing to be self-critical. It presents the reckless Baptist group arrested in Haiti as the emblem of Christian adoption and describes this episode (perhaps wishfully) as "what most people will remember about adoption in Haiti." It misses almost entirely the growth of special needs, older child, and foster adoptions. It ignores the growing vigor among Christians to match international adoption with all manner of in-country care and localized adoption efforts.
Speaking or misrepresentation and missing even more. Of the entire 3804 words The Evangelical Adoption Crusade is long, only 93 words are actually spent on the reckless Baptist group. Much more prominently featured is the organization Both Ends Burning and its leader Craig M. Juntunen. More than 500 words are spend to describe this reckless group.
Certainly Kathryn Joyce missed certain details in her story. She failed to mention that adoption powerhouses like Alliance for Children and Holt International Children's Services have thrown their weight and lobbying power behind Juntunen's initiative. She failed to mention that the über-reckless adoption promoter Elizabeth Bartholet is supporting this cause, but those are small omissions compared to the complete silence Medefind demonstrates toward this aspect of the the original article.
Medefind doesn't spend a single word on the reckless activities of Both Ends Burning, he even fails to mention the agreement found with the vision of adoption critics in his own circle:
“We’re killing ourselves with these ethical lapses,” says Chuck Johnson, president of the secular adoption lobby group the National Council for Adoption (NCFA). “I think Christians are the worst at this sometimes, about the ends justifying the means. ‘I will do anything to save this one child’s life’; ‘I will falsify a visa application if I have to.’”
“There are not 145 million kids out there waiting for someone in America to adopt them,” says Paul Myhill, president of the evangelical orphan ministry World Orphans, which he calls a “black sheep” in his field for its prioritization of in-country orphan care over adoption. “It’s unfair to bat these statistics around without using all the qualifiers.”
In early 2010, Johnson told me, NCFA held an online ethics seminar that drew roughly twenty-five representatives from religious and secular adoption agencies. As part of the webinar, NCFA took a blind poll of participants’ responses to various ethical situations. Either through ignorance or a willingness to bend the rules, 20–30 percent of agency representatives gave answers that were tantamount to committing visa fraud or other serious violations. “You’ll hear people saying, I’m following God’s law, not man’s laws,” Johnson says.
Brian Luwis, founder of the evangelical agency America World Adoption and a Christian Alliance board member, says ardent adoptive parents can wreak havoc for those coming after them. “I call them ‘adoption crazies,’” he says. “They’re such strong advocates, they’ll do things in desperation to have a child they think is theirs. Some are really unlawful, falsifying an adoption or something like that. Many won’t get caught, but once you get caught, what have you done to the system?” It’s not hard to imagine how movement rhetoric that casts international adoption as emergency rescue and spiritual battle could inspire a willingness to use any means necessary.
from: The Evangelical Adoption Crusade
Paul Myhill's words are especially interesting. His organizations World Orphans is a member of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, calling it "a black sheep" for prioritizing of in-country orphan care over adoption. So there may be a vigor among Christians to match international adoption with all manner of in-country care and localized adoption efforts, but it must be a one-man's vigor, otherwise Myhill wouldn't call his organization a "black sheep".
Ultimately, "The Evangelical Adoption Crusade" spotlights many complex questions and sad stories, but misses the far larger reality. That reality is that there are millions of children who will wake tomorrow morning without the love of mother or father. Many of them live in orphanages and on the streets. These children need families. Yes, great wisdom must be applied in discerning what is truly best for each child. Some can be reunited with relatives. Some will need to spend years in an institution. But a great many, we can pray, will find the love and belonging of family via adoption, both local and international.
Of course Medefind had to bring up this age-old false dichotomy that has been such an effective argument to adoption proponents throughout the years, and which is the ultimate dismissal to all ethical concerns that exist around adoption: The "reality of the millions of orphaned children".
This juxtaposition of ethics concerns as "sad stories" (of which there are none in Kathryn Joyce's article, by the way) versus the needs of orphans as "real" is a clever rhetorical device and it has worked well over the years. Too bad we don't buy it, certainly not when that "reality" is meant to make the case for the continuation of the adoption gravy train.
The needs of orphaned children in this world is of course real, but the practices of those preying on the weaknesses of others and the money involved in adoption and orphan care is just as real. The zealous adoption mania of those willing to break the law and bend the rules is just as real. The less than perfect adoptive families found by Albert Smith, Andrew Burd, Brian Edgar, Bruce, Michael, Tyrone and Keith Jackson, Cassandra Killpack, David Polreis, Dennis Gene Merryman, Dominick J. (Andrew) Diehl, Faith Raeanne Robinson, Joseph Beebe, Kristoff Beagley, Lydia and Zariah Schatz, Milena Slatten, Rachel Joy Thompson, Sean Paddock, Tina Anderson and Viktor Alexander Matthey (to only mention those children killed or abused by religious zealots), is, sadly, just as real.
Ironically, the concerns of adoption critics is much more real than what Medefind has to offer: a prayer that a great many orphans will find love and a sense of safety and belonging to a group/family. (Is adoption the only option, and the ony way to make these long-term living situations possible?)
In reality, adoption does not do a thing for the needs of orphans. Certainly adoption helps change the lives of some children, but even then, adoption itself, does not necessarily change the lives of children, for the better, as Medefind seems to suggest.
Not all adoptions are good adoptions. At least some 10%, but probably closer to 20% (accurate figures are not collected) of all inter-country adoptions end in disruption or dissolution. A significant number of children ends up being abused in their adoptive family, and for many more children, the family gifted through adoption, was not at all loving or a place where the adopted child felt safe, loved or like they belonged.
It's a false dichotomy to pit life as an orphan (considered to be horrible), against life in an adoptive family (considered to be all loving).
In fact, the study published in Scientific American under the title Orphanages Rival Foster Homes for Quality Child Care, states that contrary to popular melodramas and musicals, orphanages in many countries seem to take care of abandoned children just as well as adoptive homes. The question needs to be asked: what type of orphanage provides a sense of belonging for a true orphan... a traumatized child, with simple basic needs?
Altogether, both the placement with an adoptive family and the placement in an orphanage can work our well, but both can also have devastating effects on the child involved, especially if negligence, under-funding, and gross oversight (corruption) is rampant. There simply is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Of all possible solutions to the needs of orphans, inter-country adoption is a hugely ineffective measure. It is both excessively expensive and reaches only a handful of children in this world.
Members of the Christian Alliance for Orphans love to tout the number of 143 million orphans, so for arguments sake let's use that number to validate the effectiveness of inter-country adoption.
Last year, the US adopted approximately 12,000 children from foreign countries. So using that number and the beloved 143 million figure, we'd have to conclude that inter-country adoption is a measure that annually reaches 0.008% of the children they claim to help. Even if we take a far more realistic number of 10 million orphans world-wide that are actually in need of care, inter-country adoption still reaches little more than 0.1% of the children in need, and even if Craig Juntunen gets his way and the US will start adopting 50,000 children per year, inter-country adoption will still only reach 0.5% of the children in need.
The cost of helping this handful of children is staggering. Last year alone at least some $300,000,000 was spent on inter-country adoption. Just imagine how much local help could have been provided if that money was used effectively. Far more children could be lifted out of poverty and given a much better life if the money spent on inter-country adoption was spent on child care, instead of processing fees and travel expenses. Of course that would require real charity, (real altrusim), where nothing is given in return.
After having called the critique to the Evangelical adoption movement misleading without actually indicating why; after having lifted concerns from the article that were not there, after having evaded all real responsibility for the ethical issues that exist in Adoptionland, Medefind finishes with this burb of wishful thinking:
Christians must always pair compassion with knowledge in caring for orphans, and even an article like "The Evangelical Adoption Crusade" is an important means for weighing how best to do so. But it provides no excuse to ignore the cry of the orphan. The world is hurting, and to address this hurt wisely will always come with difficult questions. But we dare not turn from sacrifice and hard decisions and return to comfortable homes and lives simply because the cost and complexity are too great. That was never Jesus' way—and it must not be ours.
Again Medefind comes up with something that Christians should do, but in reality seldom do: use knowledge. There are best practices in child care, there are evidence based approaches to social and economic problems, and they are more often than not met with resistance from Christian organizations. This resistance enters the field whenever facts don't mesh with their ideals.
For the Evangelical Christians movement, the nuclear family is one such ideal, a family consisting of a father, a mother and several children, in that particular hierarchical order.
This is one of the reasons why Evangelical Christian organizations oppose abortion, because it often relates to sexual activity out of wed-lock. This is also the reason so much opposition from Evangelical Christian organization exists against comprehensive sex education.
Homosexuality another favorite target of the Evangelical movement, defies the "natural order", as does women's liberation which denies the patriarchal hierarchy promoted by many Christian organizations.
The call to promote adoption among Evangelical Christians should be viewed against this backdrop. The overwhelming focus on the need of a family subscribed to orphans is much more part of the ideal of the Evangelical Christian movement to fit all human life in the structure of the nuclear family, than it is a reflection of the true needs of orphans. For some orphans having something to eat or having a pair of decent shoes is actually a more urgent need than having a family life they have not been used to.