The Delegitimization of Orphan Care

image_thumb[11]A couple months ago, I wrote a post in defense of the evangelical orphan care movement, despite my differing religious affiliation. I wrote that I didn’t see a problem with the orphan care movement.

But after watching the unrelenting media attacks on the orphan care movement, I DO see a problem now. And this is what it is: 

You haven’t been fighting back.

There is a vocal, well-funded, radical left-wing delegitimization campaign against international adoption. International adoptions into this country have dropped by well over 60% in the past 10 years, despite millions of children living outside of parental or kinship care. At this rate, there will be virtually no opportunities to adopt kids who need families and they will be doomed to early death or, if they make it to their teenage years, human trafficking.

Not surprisingly, one of your most visible  opponents, Kathryn Joyce, author of “The Child Catchers,” has a bio that reads like a who’s who of radical left-wing publications. (Even I, with my liberal background, couldn’t take these publications seriously once I had passed the age of 17.) And yet Joyce managed to get published in the New York Times on Sunday, which is relatively mainstream compared to the rags she is accustomed to.

For those who missed Joyce’s op-Ed piece, she attacked the legitimacy of the orphan care movement, alleging that there are virtually no unparented children in the world and that evangelicals have been stealing or buying pseudo-orphans so that they can feel morally superior.

If you’re in the field of orphan care across a variety of countries, you know firsthand how great the need is and how absurd these claims are. But Joyce distorts the facts so that her arguments seem reasonable to those who have no education in this area. The message is alluring and comforting: “Impoverished countries are just peaceful little villages where all children are loved, there is no mental illness, substance abuse, child neglect or abuse, or dysfunctional families. If there are orphanages, it is only because we created a market for them. Limit your involvement to buying fair trade coffee and UNICEF holiday cards, please. We’ll take care of this.”

This is a lie. Children are living and dying on the streets and in institutions all over the world and we need to come to terms with the following: Delegitimization differs from criticism. Criticism identifies areas of needed improvement, such as increased transparency and best practices, which adoption agencies, governments and parents have been working on. Delegitimization is simply about tearing down a system or practice (or country, as in the case of delegitimizing Israel). And people who are committed to delegitimizing anything are not genuinely interested in solutions. They simply want the system/practice/country to disappear. So please, please take note: the high ground, and resolving to simply love your obstinate neighbor, will not work in this scenario.

Furthermore, delegitimizers are rebranding their message to target a new, broader audience. This is why they are showcasing Joyce, just days after CHIFF, a bi-partisan, effective piece of child welfare legislation, was introduced.

Their target audience is moderate liberals. But moderate liberals don’t have much patience for radical left-wing histrionics. Moderate liberals are well educated, are not opposed to transracial families the way that radicals are, and have rightly been skeptical of radicals’ smear campaign against international adoption, with its overreaching name-calling: “slavery,” “trafficking,” “colonialism,” and “imperialism.”

But moderate liberals DO raise their eyebrows upon hearing that their traditional, political opponents–pro-life, anti-LGBT, anti-feminist evangelicals–are involved in international adoption. Delegitimizers are using evangelicals as a wedge issue to gain widespread support. This is a brilliant tactic and evangelicals have not been recognizing it for what it is. And when you look at the steep decline in international adoptions, you have to acknowledge that their marketing campaign is working, and yours is failing.

There’s no excuse for this. I know, from being on the other side of certain political issues, that when you guys mobilize and focus, you are formidable opponents. So where are your fighters? If you truly mobilize, this should be an easy win because you are so obviously RIGHT that (1) millions of children live outside parental/kinship care, and (2) these children need families. Everyone (except for delegitimizers) can get on board with this. But you have to get your message out there beyond your own evangelical borders. The fact that the opposition is winning the battle with their distorted facts and reasoning is shameful and it shows just how much evangelicals have checked out of the national debate.

Here are 10 ways you can start winning:

1. Rally your troops. The opposition is using the orphan care movement to deal the final death blows to international adoption (and millions of children worldwide). And many evangelicals have responded by turning inward and criticizing each other! Self-reflection and analysis is important, yeah, but recognize also that delegitimizers aren’t playing a fair game and they are not interested in finding solutions to problems, unlike you. So take a deep breath and regroup.

2. Rally your troops WITHOUT alienating your potential allies. When I saw a new article, “Dubious Reporting About International Adoptions” appear in my inbox last night, I got excited that you all were fighting back. Then I read it and my heart sank. The author DID counterattack, but he did so by calling Joyce a “pro-abortionist” feminist. First, he played right into the opposition’s hands. The opposition is wooing moderate liberals, so how do you respond? By attacking your desired market of potential allies?!? That is just SO STUPID! Second, I am a pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights feminist ALLY, and he just ticked me off too. That is not productive. And it’s not even necessary. When you’ve got right on your side, you don’t need to reach into the hate bag.

3. Outreach. Not only should you not alienate your potential allies, you should reach out to them. That means interviewing and publishing in mainstream press. Insist on a fair presentation of the facts. Write op-Eds. Write letters to the editor. Educate NON-evangelicals on the needs of unparented kids worldwide.

4. Don’t be taken prisoner by semantics. The delegitimization campaign is having a field day with the word “orphan” because, as they have pointed out, being an orphan doesn’t necessarily mean the kid is unparented. But on the flip side, having two living parents does not necessarily mean that the kid is being parented, as many children in our foster care system can attest to. So find a more accurate term, like “unparented” or “kids in crisis.”

5. Go on the offensive. Insist that children have human rights, being in a family is one of those rights, and that those who would take away that opportunity are violating children’s human rights. Call the opposition’s campaign what it is: delegitimization. Call the leaders what they are: radicals. Call attention to the fact that they are not looking for solutions. Call attention to the fact that in 2013 Americans will internationally adopt less than several thousand children, yet every single statistic and expert recognizes that there are millions of kids living outside of parental care. Call attention to the cruelty of delegitimizers like Joyce who think that millions of children should be collateral damage so that radicals can push their vision of global socialism and knee-jerk, outdated anti-imperialism.

6. Join the Both Ends Burning Campaign. But don’t sit around and wait to be told what to do. Be proactive in creating and strengthening your advocacy network, regardless of whether there are BEB events scheduled.

7. Spend your resources wisely. Really think about every penny donated and how that will impact kids now and in the future. For example, donations to orphanages should be carefully rethought: orphanages maintain not just kids, but the orphanages themselves. Orphanages are horrible for children (not to mention a PR nightmare which opponents will use against funders). Explore reunification, poverty alleviation, and temporary foster care as charitable endeavors. But don’t forget that you also need to set aside time and resources for fighting to keep international adoption open as an option for those kids who need it.

8. Get informed about all legislative activity that could impact kids in crisis and be prepared. Delegitimizers want U.S. adoptions limited to Hague convention countries, not because they believe this will curtail fraud (Hague convention countries struggle with adoption fraud too), but because they know that it will curtail international adoptions even more. Every country that joins the Hague Convention has vastly decreased levels of adoption, NOT because of less need or even less fraud, but because radical left-wing organizations overseeing Hague implementation enact cumbersome, impossibly-restrictive rules. Most countries that have trouble caring for their children will not be able to afford the expensive, red-tape nightmare that the United Nations has made of the Hague Convention.

9. Do grassroots advocacy. Support CHIFF. Form relationships with your representatives. Your conferences need to have advocacy break-out sessions if they don’t already. The evangelical movement has done well with fundraising efforts – it is time to turn that energy and creativity to political advocacy. Myself and others are happy to help and stand as allies on this issue.

10. Get focused and be disciplined in your messaging. For example, as heartrending as the Baby Veronica case was, it was a sideshow. This child has two loving, capable families who want her, which puts her way ahead of the game in terms of orphan care. So why did some of you wade into the fray? Kids who need just ONE family need all your energies right now.

I think about faith a lot and how it calls people to action or lulls them into inaction. I get distressed about all this because as a Jew, I keep thinking about how President Roosevelt refused to meet with rabbis who tried to tell him about the Holocaust. He wouldn’t meet them because the Jewish community at that point in time had not been politically engaged in this country and therefore we had no voice. But if we had, millions of lives could have been saved. And I worry that the orphan care movement envisions Jesus only as this sweet hippie, chilling with a little lamb, with a halo over his head. But Jesus overturned money-changing tables in the temple. He was a hardcore rebel too. I will not overstep my boundaries and tell evangelicals what Jesus would do, but I hope that I find myself working alongside some new allies soon.

3 thoughts on “The Delegitimization of Orphan Care

  1. A big part of the reason there are fewer IAs in the US is bc of the Hague Convention and the work of Unicef. Somehow people believe that if a country goes Hague, all of a sudden corruption stops. Doesn’t mean we don’t concern ourselves with ethics. OF COURSE we do. The Hague Convention put in some needed measures that I am sure have helped. But it also complicated things in a huge way and leaves many children in orphanages who have families waiting. The reality is that there will likely always be orphans. The crisis requires a complex and diversity of solutions. Money won’t solve it, Governments won’t solve it, more orphanages won’t solve it, fewer orphanages won’t solve it, parenting classes won’t solve it, adoption won’t solve it. Frankly one argument I am tired of hearing are stupid things like, “Christians adopt because they think they can rescue a child. Christians adopt because they think they are a savior. Christians adopt because they see it as a form of evangelism. Christians adopt because the bible tells them to.” I am a Christian, and none of those reasons are why I am adopting. I am adopting to provide a home for a child who doesn’t have one, and a family to a child who needs one. My motivation is love. Adoption is ONLY one way to love and take care of the orphan in their distress. So is sponsoring a child. So is building orphanages who are being responsible to both love and care for them as well as promote family reunification and permanency. So is supporting these orphanages. So is supporting family reunification ministries. So is supporting families who want to keep their children. So is mentoring a child who has an absent parent. So is mentoring parents who may need a hand with parenting bc there is an absent parent. All of these are ways to help. ways to love, ways to reverse the orphan crisis. None of them alone will solve the problem. And frankly nor will finger pointing at what someone else IS or ISN’T doing.

  2. Today NYT published a letter by JEDD MEDEFIND, President of CAFO, and it is so elegant and concise, I just love it and am going repost here:

    “The Evangelical Orphan Boom,” by Kathryn Joyce (Sunday Review, Sept. 22) offered important cautions for those seeking to care for orphans but ultimately obscured the most important truth of all. Indeed, as the essay argued, international adoption carries real risk of moral hazard and unintended consequences. This is true of any effort to address deep human need and demands great discernment and care.

    The growth in action by Christians to aid orphans amplifies these hazards. Whenever efforts to aid the destitute increase, both positive and flawed outcomes tend to increase also.

    But these important truths must never obscure the reality that millions of children today live without the love and protection of a family. Many can be reunited with relatives. Others can find other welcoming homes nearby. And for some, the only hope of a permanent family lies with foreign adoption.

    Today’s Christian engagement in orphan care includes all of these priorities. Caution and critiques are necessary in any such endeavor. But these actions can also serve as a rallying cry to all people of good will, reminding us that complexity must never become an excuse for inaction.

    JEDD MEDEFIND, President Christian Alliance for Orphans
    Merced, Calif., Sept. 23, 2013

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