Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement's Adoption Obsession

Kathryn Joyce - Mother Jones

In this article in the magazine Mother Jones, Kathryn Joyce, the author of a recently published book on the issue titled The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption chronicles the rapidly growing evangelical movement for international adoption in the United States since early 2000, and its impact on children and their families, with a particular focus on Liberia. She follows the story of four children adopted by a Tennessee family from Liberia, a country that had just emerged from a 14-year civil war, and the serious struggles they faced with their new adoptive families.

Joyce reports on what she refers to as "orphan theology", a movement that has taken hold among mainstream evangelical churches in the US, whose members are urged to adopt as an extension of pro-life beliefs, a way to address global poverty, and a means of spreading the Gospel in their homes. Touting the fact that international adoptions from Liberia were “cheap, easy, and fast”, Joyce reports that three Christian groups that were not accredited in the United States as adoption agencies, placed Liberian children with American families for a fraction of the typical costs of international adoptions. Adoptions that took a year to process in other countries could happen in weeks or days in Liberia, where bribery was allegedly rampant. Liberian parents began complaining that adoption had been misrepresented to them as some sort of temporary education arrangement. The struggling Liberian government had little chance to monitor children leaving the country or distinguish licensed adoption agencies from groups that merely had nonprofit status. In 2009, the Liberian government imposed an emergency moratorium on international adoptions, citing “gross mismanagement”. At the time of writing this article, according to Joyce, the country was poised to reopen for overseas adoptions, apparently with more stringent requirements.    

The article is accompanied by charts that illustrate the trends in international adoptions from Liberia, Kyrgyzstan, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Haiti to families in the United States. To access the charts, click on the link.