•  Culture, Morals

Child catching.

I spend a lot of time behind the wheel these days, what with one appointment and another, and so yesterday afternoon found me in my car listening to Fresh Air. To be honest, talk radio is usually semi-background noise for me (I work with the radio on all day and often have to listen to things two or three times to make sure I didn’t miss something), but the interview Dave Davies was conducting with Kathryn Joyce was so riveting—and horrifying—that at one point I almost ran off the road. Joyce, a journalist whose last book (Quiverfull) explored the world of the movement whose anti-contraception philosophy is followed by the Duggars of 19 Kids and Counting, has exposed the fraudulent practices brought about by the recent entanglement of adoption with Christianity in The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption.

If you’re like me, you probably thought until this moment that the push to adopt kids, especially kids from foreign countries, was probably the least malevolent part of the conservative Christian agenda. True, there are plenty of needy kids right here at home, and then there’s the religion thing, but hey, nothing’s perfect, and to me, it’s more important to save a child first and ask questions about that child’s religious education later. I mean, what could be bad about bringing children who aren’t wanted and who have nowhere to go into a loving home? Plenty, according to Joyce—and, if the stories she told on Fresh Air are anything to go by, I agree. Imagine the following scenario, for example:

A loving and childless couple in New Mexico, he an Army career officer, she a homemaker, want to adopt an orphan, or a family of orphans. Via a Christian adoption agency, they see a video of three sisters, aged 5, 7, and 9 years, and fall in love (long distance; the girls are in Ethiopia). They are told that the girls’ mother died of HIV/AIDS, and that the father is dying, too, and that there is no money to take care of the girls, who are about to become destitute and may in fact have to turn to prostitution to survive. Their hearts open to these poor kids (no wonder; I was almost crying at this point in the story myself), and Mrs. Homemaker flies to Ethopia to meet the sisters. The only problem? The girls are actually 7, 11, and 13 years old; they’re not even remotely orphans (their father is alive and well); and they’re pretty far from the destitute status they were advertised as having (their father has a good government job and, by Ethopian standards, they’re actually middle class). The girls, however, are excited to be traveling to the US…because they’ve been told, essentially, that they’re being enrolled in an extended home stay program to get a good education, and that they’ll be going home to Ethiopia at some point when they’re older and their schooling is complete. So, all is vanity, nothing is fair, and everyone’s in the dark as to the real story.

You might think at this point that the story would unfold with Mrs. Homemaker returning to the US without the sisters. After all, there are, as we have discussed, plenty of children who are legitimately orphaned—both in our country and abroad—and surely the couple could satisfy their admirable need to be parents of disadvantaged kids without splitting up a perfectly good family. I would love to be able to report that that’s how things proceeded. But, as I said, I almost ran off the road during the story, and this is where it happened. Yep, that’s right: Those non-orphaned, non-destitute, non-family-less sisters traveled back to New Mexico (where they still live) with Mrs. Homemaker—who presumably perpetuated the fiction of the educational home stay in order to get the insta-family she had paid for. Making the adoption agency that handled the transaction—and presumably the individual who facilitated the selection of the sisters as suitable for farming out—a lot of money in the process. I love a little Christian capitalism in the afternoon, don’t you?

Leaving aside for the moment the big no-no of purchasing your offspring, what could possibly have motivated an ostensibly compassionate woman to believe that three kids with a devoted father and several aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends—three kids with lives and futures and identities of their own—would be better off traveling thousands of miles from their home to live with people they had never met in a country whose language and customs they had no understanding of? Here’s where I learned to hate the enmeshment of the Western concept of adoption (the relinquishment by one or more parties of their parental rights) and the commandment felt by conservative Christians to fulfill the Great Commission—i.e., to preach, proselytize, and convert. Apparently, according to Joyce, the impetus to save children from what admittedly are, sometimes, truly appalling conditions has led to a sort of ‘adoption theology.’ And, as Joyce says in Davies’ interview, ‘Implicit in that—key in that—is this idea that you are saving children twice: You are rescuing them physically from conditions you think they shouldn’t have to live in and also you are saving their soul.’

OK, so we’re back to the religion thing, which I thought didn’t bother me so much in connection with adoption, but which I now realize does. A lot. And now we’ve also got to contend with the really awful truth that people are being paid to lie about the status of children in order to make possible and render acceptable what in effect is legalized kidnapping. I don’t know about you, but I can’t see that as moral in any way whatsoever.

I’m sure The Child Catchers will be vilified by the conservative Christian movement, as was Quiverfull (ironically, the book was awarded the 2009 Vulgaria Child Catcher of the Year Award*). And I’m equally sure that won’t stop Kathryn Joyce from working to expose the other tenets of today’s brand of conservative Christianity that are equally icky. But I’m not sure how her work is going to help the thousands of kids who don’t understand why they can’t see their birth families anymore—not with so many members of the Christian community believing, as they so obviously do, that ‘saving’ children by any means necessary is the right thing to do. And certainly not with the momentum the Christian adoption movement has achieved. I can tell you one thing, though…I won’t be registering for next month’s Summit 9. I don’t want to listen to Michele Bachmann justify the tactics of this very special interest group as she ‘inspires, equips and connects for adoption, foster care and global orphan ministry.’ I just want to know how those poor kids from Ethiopia are going to get home.

*The Child Catcher was originally an evil character in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, written into the screenplay by Roald Dahl as a villain who transported children to Vulgaria to be killed.