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The Good Heart of the Adoption Movement

May 3 2013
Kathryn Joyce's book, 'The Child Catchers,' misses out on how adoption benefits women.

At age 34, I'm trendier than I've ever been. When my husband and I adopted our son in 2008, we didn't know anyone else whose family looked like ours. We were more oddity than poster family. But, by 2011, when we adopted a second son, the evangelical orphan care movement had gained momentum, and, like it or not, we were suddenly cool.

Kathryn Joyce's new book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, focuses on the negative consequences of this movement, contending that Christian adopters, "wrapped in the enthusiasm of their new calling, didn't recognize the problems."

Through investigative reports on adoption cases worldwide, she seeks to uncover the implications of what she calls, in a related Mother Jones article, "the evangelical movement's adoption obsession." Joyce criticizes the theological motivation for human adoption, accusing evangelical theologians of "crafting an extensive orphan theology to undergird the movement" as if the doctrine of adoption were something new. Adoption language has been a feature of Christianity from its beginning.

Fundamentally, Joyce believes the evangelical adoption movement has created a supply and demand situation, where the number of adoptable children is much smaller than the growing number of evangelical prospective adopters. In foreign countries, Joyce pins blame for relinquished children on lack of social services, misinformation, shame-inducing moral codes, and poverty. In the U.S., she argues that crisis pregnancy centers use dishonest and coercive tactics to pressure women to give their children for adoption.

While much has been written about the mischaracterization and selective anecdotes used in Joyce's book, sadly, there are even deeper issues about her approach to adoption, children, and women in particular.

As a Christian and adoptive parent, I found Joyce's pro-abortion stance to be one of the book's bitterest ironies. Calling the abortion debate a "culture war" and referring to abortion restriction as "a return to patriarchal sexual morality," Joyce refuses to acknowledge abortion as a children's issue with disastrous consequences for the weakest members of society. Compared to the numbers of children aborted annually (some 43 million worldwide, according to the World Health Organization), the 260,000 annual global adoptions seem almost insignificant. For every one child who is placed for adoption, 200 of the world's children are killed in the womb, and those aborted children are often only a few months younger than the ones Joyce's book proposes to protect.

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