Adoption and the Culture Wars

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kathryn Joyce, journalist and the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption (PublicAffairs (April, 2013), looks at international adoptions and conservative Christianity.



Excerpt: The Child Catchers

Adoption is often described as a “win-win” solution—for a child in need of a home and for adoptive parents longing for a son or a daughter to raise. However, in the fuller equation adoption is too often a zero-sum game, in which the happiness of one family comes at the expense of another, particularly that of birthmothers and birth families, both in the United States and overseas, whose choice to relinquish for adoption is sometimes no choice at all. Despite the varied but largely altruistic motivations of evangelical adoption advocates, as a movement it is directing hundreds of millions of dollars into a system that already responds acutely to Western demand—demand that can’t be filled, at least not ethically or under current law. What that can mean for tens of thousands of loving but impoverished parents in the developing world is that they become the supply side of a multi-billion- dollar global industry driven not just by infertility but now also by pulpit commands.


The Christian adoption movement’s rapid rise and the complicated scandals it has been party to provide lessons that are not limited to the faith-based sphere. This book focuses on evangelical Christians as the dominant group in adoption today, promoting an agenda that shapes larger trends. However, many of the same complexities are present in all adoptions, domestic and international, religious and secular. Although the Christian movement has led to particular problems and may be more blinded by the certainty that what they are doing is right and even divinely ordained, the movement’s failures reflect the broader problems in the adoption industry as well as the intricate moral balance of how Americans and Westerners should engage in child welfare missions on the global stage.


“If you want to look at what’s wrong with international adoption, state adoption, and Christian adoption,” one agency director told me, “it all has to do with how they treat birthmothers. The common denominator in all of these is that the birthmother is invisible.” When you get that, one adoptive parent wrote, it changes everything. Or, as another told me, “It’s like the Wizard of Oz. You open the door and either you have to accept it’s a house of cards or you stay in denial. There’s absolutely no middle ground.”


When I titled this book The Child Catchers, I thought of the tension be-tween two possible interpretations of that phrase: a savior catching a child falling in midair and bringing him to safety or the darker image of some-one’s offspring being snatched away from her family and home. It’s the same tension that underlies the dueling narratives about the institution of modern adoption, often viewed as an unqualified good or an unqualified evil, purely rescue or purely theft. The truth, as usual, probably lies some-where in between, a different answer from case to case. But the rise of the Christian adoption movement threatens to tip that balance, bringing millions of new advocates on board to fight on behalf of an industry too often marked by ambiguous goals and dirty money, turning poor countries’ children into objects of salvation, then into objects of trade. That’s not always the story, but in the movement’s short history, the sense of mission has frequently obscured the harm the industry can do, excusing missteps as the cost of doing God’s work. It doesn’t have to be that way, but figuring out how to do better means understanding what has gone wrong.

From the book: The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption by Kathryn Joyce. Excerpted by arrangement with PublicAffairs, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2013.


Comments [25]


< Ed from Larchmont

"Another opportunity to beat up on Evangelicals." >

- And with good reason.

Apr. 23 2013 08:01 PM

to jagarbuz: The reason we need good men is because they make excellent PARENTS. The role of mothers and fathers is very small compared to the role of parents. And yes, when parents of a child cannot get along, custody assignment is often unfair.

Apr. 23 2013 12:46 PM

jgarbuz from Queens ~

It's no surprise you "just don't get it", here. Your condition is omnipresent on these boards.

Apr. 23 2013 12:22 PM

To Jgarbuz - yes you may be right - that is ,if we don't fry or poison the planet before we head in that direction. The YA novel "Feed" describes the future you predict quite well. But - if we get that far - why need children at all? By then we may be able to live forever

To Ed: 22 children in one family??? From my experience as a sibling from a big catholic family, I'd call that child abuse. How could ANY adoption agency allow this?

Apr. 23 2013 12:12 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

to dboy

Where is the FATHER (you know, the sperm donor) in this world? Does he have anything to say about it, one way or the other? Or must government become big daddy forever after? Just so as not to be totally sexist, why not remove mommy and just start to seriously think about producing children OUTSIDE of this old dying system? I just don't get it.

Apr. 23 2013 12:07 PM

Look; when a society puts an emphasis on empathy in the form of universal healthcare (including free access to reproductive choice - abortion) and family support systems, the incidence of abortion drops dramatically.

When women can afford to have children, they choose not to abort.

See Canada.

Apr. 23 2013 12:00 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

Women seem to want "the government" to "help them." They want gov't to be the big daddy. Why not just have gov't be MOMMY and DADDY too already? Soon it will be possible, Inshallah!

Apr. 23 2013 11:55 AM
joy from westchester

UNICEF just launched their handbook on implementing the guidelines for the alternative care of children
Please read this amazing book!

As an adopted person, I believe perpetuating the conversation between abortion vs. adoption moves toward no real effective change. Would love to see these NGOs, religious organizations use their funds to create and perpetuate real assistance and provide the help children and their families actually need.

Brian Lehrer! I love your show. But please ask a few adopted people to join you in these discussions. The last few reports you have done included no one who actually lives the experience. Many thanks.

Apr. 23 2013 11:53 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Peg

At what point does this institution called "marriage" cease to be a drain on financial resources of the general taxpayer? Once the medical technology is in place, why rely on the womb to get the next generation of consumers, producers, taxpayers and soldiers? If the government has to "help" everybody, why not just turn the production of new humans over to the government altogether?

Apr. 23 2013 11:49 AM
Ed from Larchmont

How about doing a segment on Kermit Gosnell and the trial in Philadephia?

Apr. 23 2013 11:46 AM
Brock from Manhattan

Feminism is already irrelevant jgarbuz.

Is your name actually Melissa?


Apr. 23 2013 11:45 AM

Ed and jgarbuz - I agree with you that abortion is a terrible choice. But I think the emphasis needs to be on the mother or parents who make the choice to give their children away rather than raising them. More help to families so that they can keep their children and raise them well is what is needed.

In the US, we encourage young people to "Get a Career" first - before they begin to reproduce. But, the best time to have a healthy child is when the parents are young (under 30) and most likely not in the best financial situation for family life. I'd prefer that our culture help young parents when they are biologically most able to have healthy children. Perhaps some of those who have the financial means to adopt children should consider "adopting" and helping to support a family.

Apr. 23 2013 11:44 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Another opportunity to beat up on Evangelicals.

Apr. 23 2013 11:44 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Once marriage becomes an obsolescent, antiquated relic, and most children are produced by corporations, the whole issue - like most domestic issues - will become moot. Abortion, adoption, feminism, et al, will become irrelevant once children are no longer produced in "families." When individuals are freed from having to "belong," or to care, or be cared for by anybody. When everyone belongs only to himself or her self.

Apr. 23 2013 11:42 AM
Brock from Manhattan

Is there a concern among certain interest groups in the US about the importing of children to be raised to vote as conservatives?

Apr. 23 2013 11:37 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

To hjs

Under communism, fatherhood and family was virtually destroyed, and really the USSR was the first country where women were put to work every place and anyplace, and many pro-Stalin women became commissars. So drinking oneself to death became far more common for Russian men even than for American men. So as men lost control over the old patriarchal institutions, especially the one we call "marriage," the rise of men doing away with themselves prematurely rose concomitantly. Men are often very weak.

Apr. 23 2013 11:34 AM
sp from nyc

None of this is new; Brandeis University has been studying and publishing on the international adoption racket since 2008 (see link below), and there are many earlier, very reliable investigations. Only the willfully blind could go into the international adoption market ignorant of this ghastly child trafficking and their starring role in it. What sense of entitlement and moral turpitude would ever allow someone to buy a kidnapped child ("knowingly" or not), then refuse to return that child to her family when she is, miraculously, identified, as has happened frequently in the US?

Apr. 23 2013 11:33 AM


Apr. 23 2013 11:32 AM

Abortion from Larchmont


Apr. 23 2013 11:31 AM
Ed from Larchmont

There is one family with 22 children, mostly adopted.

Apr. 23 2013 11:31 AM

MORE religious NUTISIM!!!!


Apr. 23 2013 11:30 AM

im so glad Russia has banned adoption to the USA
these infant sleepers cells have been troubling me since the end of the cold war
but im not sure what russia’s goal is? kill more Russian?
Russian life expectancy is lowest in developed world (a global low 130 out of 198.) LIFE in Russia is a death sentence.

Apr. 23 2013 11:28 AM
jgarbuz from Queens


I agree with you. Adoption is far preferable to abortion. However, I believe that by the end of this century, marriage and "family" will virtually have ceased to exist and children will be produced outside the womb. The traditional "cottage industry" of bearing and raising children in a "family" is coming to an end - by the end of this century - as did the spinning wheel and making clothes at home come to an end by the end of the 19th. At least, in the West.

Apr. 23 2013 11:07 AM
Ed from Larchmont

So we would beg women who have an 'unwanted pregnancy' to give their child to adoption. They will be very proud and happy, and there are many couples out there dying to raise children.

Apr. 23 2013 08:07 AM
Ed from Larchmont

We are driven to adoption as a response to the slaughter of abortion, of course. If it weren't for abortion, there would be many children available for couples to adopt, domestically. Any flaws in the adoption efforts are small compared to the outrage of abortion.

Apr. 23 2013 05:54 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.