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Jonathan Merritt


Exploring Adoption

Are evangelicals doing more harm than good?

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We can assume that Bethany is not the only adoption agency expending effort to eliminate corruption and protect children from trafficking. After all, as the problems Joyce describes have come to light, the entire system has become increasingly regulated. This has resulted in a 62 percent drop in international adoptions to the U.S., from from 22,991 in 2004 to 8,668 in 2012.[6] While this has created more work and less money for adoption agencies, Bethany's president is on record saying that the organization supports more government regulation for international adoptions, not less.

These facts provide another side to Joyce's tale of Christians feverishly snatching up children in developing nations while thumbing their noses at the problems created along the way. But you won't encounter references to them in Joyce's book. In fact, she never spoke with any high-level official at Bethany. That she would attempt to write a definitive record of the Christian adoption movement without even making an effort to speak with the largest provider of adoptions in America is difficult to understand.

One might wonder if Joyce's selective storytelling has been influenced by her pro-abortion fervor. In the book, she describes herself as "a secular, feminist journalist" with a special interest in "reproductive rights." Joyce says she is particularly disturbed by how conservative Christians have presented adoption as "an essential part of anti-abortion politics," or, more pointedly, as "a decisive rebuttal to the taunt that Christians should adopt all those extra children they want women to have."

Joyce returns to the abortion issue in chapter after chapter, including an account of arguing with one of her interviewees about the topic of abortion and a prolonged rant against Christian homes for unwed mothers who wish to bring their children to term. By my count, she returns to the issue of abortion no less than 22 times throughout her eight chapters.

In the end, The Child Catchers is mostly a missed opportunity. It is a missed opportunity to educate objectively, to report fairly, and to provide substantive solutions for how to improve the broken parts of the system. As Christians embrace adoption and orphan care as part of the compassionate social work we've done for millennia, we need to learn how to correct mistakes we make along the way so that children can be better protected and cared for. As several authors have recently noted, sometimes our efforts to help can inadvertently hurt those we serve.

Joyce ends her preface with a statement of profound truth: "figuring out how to do better means understanding what has gone wrong." She's right. We need objective, empirical critiques followed by constructive proposals for how to improve. Unfortunately, Joyce's crusade to discredit evangelicals and make a case for abortion rights fails to do either effectively.

Jonathan Merritt is author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars (FaithWords) and senior columnist for Religion News Service. He has written more than 500 articles in outlets such as USA Today, The Atlantic, and National Review.

1. rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/buy-sell-adopt-child?-trafficking-in-china/

2. npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102005062

3. hslda.org/research/faq.asp

4. jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/04/22/how-influential-are?-michael-and-debi-pearl-and-how-harmful/

5. jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/04/22/how-influential-are?-michael-and-debi-pearl-and-how-harmful/

6. nytimes.com/2013/01/25/world/us-adoptions-from-abroad-decline?-sharply.html

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