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Democratic Republic of Congo, Christianity and International Adoption

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'Pray Emma home' is an effort by the Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington (KY) to help their fellow church members Eric and Katy Harshman. The couple adopted a child in the Democratic Republic of Congo; all the papers are signed and complete, but for one, an exit paper. The Congolese authorities decided last year to put all adoptions on hold and Emma and about 100 other children are now in limbo, most of them in orphanages. An understandable anger developed amongst the waiting parents. The 'Pray Emma home' action is one of the answers to this difficult situation: 'We want you to pray as if your own daughter were stuck in a foreign land and unable to come home. Everyday, every moment that you are reminded of Emma, ask our Father to bring her home.' The twitter hashtag #PEH shows how this action catches on.

On a larger and political scale the well funded organization Both Ends Burning (BEB) started a petition to congress to intervene in the Congolese impasse, to -- as BEB calls it -- unstuck the 'orphans'. In a short time it collected over 100,000 signatures. BEB 'believes every child has the right to a permanent loving family' and focuses on international adoption as a way to solve the 'world orphan crisis'.

BEB is fully immersed in the so-called Evangelical Adoption Crusade, as is the Ashland Church in Lexington. This Crusade has as objective to follow the word of the Bible to take care of orphans and widows by way of adopting kids. And in the process of adoption the crusaders not only 'save the lives of the kids' but also like the Roman Catholic Africa missionaries of my youth in the early sixties, they 'save their souls.' How hard the situation may be for the parents involved, both examples show what is problematic with the Evangelical Christian attitude toward international adoption.

On the 'Pray Emma home' website the wording takes the perspective of the adoptive parents: our child, a foreign land, home. The child however is not yet 'ours', it is still part of the extended family and the community in which it was born, a Congolese child for whom the US is foreign and the DRC is home. It is an open question whether the Father to whom the Americans pray is the same as the Father to whom the Congolese pray. In other words the perspective is not that of the child; the child's needs and wishes are not acknowledged nor analyzed, but appropriated and fashioned into the parents' needs and wishes. The child has to travel to the parent not only in reality but also in a metaphorical and metaphysical sense. The black child has to become an American Evangelical God loving Christian like their white adoptive parents.

The same parent centered 'travel-attitude' shows in the Both Ends Burning action. In their letter to Congress it says: 'The DRC has suspended the issuance of exit letters, an immigration document required for these children to leave the country. As a result, there is no way for the adoptive parents to be united with their children short of relocating to DRC indefinitely.' (Would a great parent not do everything for its child? Even move to the Congo?)

More serious is that the letter does not address the reason why the Democratic Republic of Congo doesn't want to issue the needed documents. It is not personal or anti-Christian. That reason can be found in a blog by a Christian social worker, who runs a Congolese orphanage, Reeds of Hope. Holly Mulford writes,

If you have followed media reports coming out of DRC over the past four years regarding adoption (for example, through Radio Okapi), you will have read reports of child trafficking, orphanage raids, and illegal border crossings. If you have followed individual stories of adoption in DRC (via blogs and stories in the U.S. media from adoptive parents), you will have learned of falsification of documents, DGM bribing, siblings spilt apart, lost referrals (only to have them referred to other agencies), abuse of children in orphanages, false abandonment reports, coercion of birth parents to relinquish children, and high foster care fees without documented expenses (average of $500/month/child), monthly orphanage donations (average of $300/month/child), and child finder fees/social service referral fees (average of $1000-1500 per referral). If you have followed the embassy announcements and update calls of the past 2-3 years, you will also have found concerns of corruption, false documents, bribery, illegal border crossings, and backdated court documents. All of this information is publicly available, and all of it paints a very clear picture of endemic corruption and fraud in the international adoption business in DRC.

It is a long but needed quote, because it shows how broadly and deeply the adoption corruption is rooted in the DCR. The government doesn't want to give exit papers for kids who might have been trafficked, who have extended family or even a parent or parents who could take care of them. And it wants to be sure that all kids that will be adopted in the future are 'real' orphans or vulnerable kids with no other option than international adoption. It is a difficult situation, but a situation which was by the way forced on the DRC by the demand created by Christian adoption agencies working in that country in the first place, a steadily growing demand since the start of the 'adoption crusade' in the first years of this century. The research of Kathryn Joyce in her book The Child Catchers and in her many other publications documents the nefarious effects of this crusade in the 'donor' countries.

The mainstream Evangelicals do not take the criticism of Joyce and other researchers like E.J. Graf and David Smolin seriously and they keep promoting international adoption as the solution to the orphan crisis. At the end of the day Salvation in Christ counts for them more than documented crimes against children and families.

There are however some Christian dissenters like the earlier cited Holly Mumford. But there is also popular blogger Jen Hatmaker who wrote about ethics in international adoption. And recently Catholic essayist Leslie Fain published in Ethika Politika an article with the telling title: Adoption Has Become a Conservative Sacred Cow.

But reason, even from 'inside', cannot convince orthodox Christians, as shown in two comments on Hatmaker's piece:

I agree with most everything you said EXCEPT I DO believe that God is sovereign, even over the trafficked kids. He could close all those doors. Not that we shouldn't fight for justice, or be informed, but there is only so much "checking" we can do. The rest is trusting in His sovereignty. What about Joseph? Was he meant to stay with his birth family, or was it God's plan and sovereignty that his brothers sold him into slavery and he became a ruler in Egypt and eventually provided food for his birth family and many others? "What you meant for evil, God meant for good. Gen 50:20.

And a second comment:

Just wanted to chime in here too. Honestly, I pretty much quit reading after the writer claimed not to say it's God's sovereignty. God knew all along my daughter would be orphaned, knew all along He would send us to China for her, and so yes, I believe fully without a doubt that while she was birthed to another woman, God in His ULTIMATE authority chose her to be MY daughter. Things in this temporary life do not make sense sometimes, but God's plan was for her to hear the gospel in our home.

This reliance on God's will in international adoption makes the Congolese adoptees and their first extended families and communities even more powerless than they already were because of their poverty. God took the side of the American evangelical adoptive parents.

International adoption is, thank God, not only the playing field of evangelicals. More and more countries become stricter in their regulations and sometimes even close their borders for adoption. International adoption law, secular adoption law that is, gradually finds its way in the daily adoption practice and the US Department of State and UNICEF definitely don't walk at the leash of the evangelicals.

Their political influence is however alarmingly large. A bipartisan coalition focused the fact that stimulating international adoption is proposing legislation, which will make adoption quicker and easier. I wrote about that elsewhere. Unsurprisingly is Both Ends Burning one of the forces behind this legislation. Other supporters are from the mostly Christian adoption industry, which has seen adoption numbers going down over the last years and are in need of new 'supply'. This law, would it ever come to fruition, would not be an international child welfare law, but a Christian missionary law, and should therefore be confronted with the First Amendment. Taxpayer's money for religious use?

In the course of this month a delegation of the Democratic Republic of Congo will be invited by the Department of State to visit the US to talk about the current problems with the exit visa. They will speak with the adoptive families and with the so-called stakeholders. I hope they will be able to implant some empathy and to convey to the American adoptive families the urgency of the dark and disturbing problems of hundreds of Congolese families and communities in the international adoption process. And I hope that they are able to explain to the stakeholders that the Will of God, whether (s)he is Christian or Islamic or Jewish or not defineable, is great and respected, but that on earth international secular laws defend the rights of the powerless.*

*Senator Mary Landrieu who initiated the abovementioned legislation (CHIFF: http://childreninfamiliesfirst.org ) decided last week to complicate that meeting - bypassing the Department of State - by issueing a rather aggressive statement announcing that she is coordinating an action to sending letters by 'hundreds members of Congress' to the President of the DRC. This all will for sure irritate the DRC delegation and will be counter effective.