Adoption Ethics -- A Call to Prayer (and an Invitation)


I've been hesitant to continue the discussion of adoption ethics. The fact is, I've had several exchanges (both online and off) with good folks since my first posting on the topic, and they seem to divide into two camps.

Friends have approached me, said that they disagree with any implication that corruption is prevalent in the adoption system. Child-trafficking, falsified papers, orphan brokers--these represent only the smallest percentages of adoptions, they've said, and asked, "at the end of the day, isn't the child better off anyway?"

Others have called me, indicated that they believe the problem of child-trafficking within the international adoption system is of paramount concern (and perhaps more prevalent than most scholars believe). They've said that international adoption should be shut down and fully investigated, regardless of the country.

And though they might not admit it in public, both camps are suspicious of the other.

You don't believe me? Ask yourself--do you really trust those who hold the opposing view? Do you think they're judging you by implication?

The truth is, there's so much nuance in the issue of international adoption that it can be hard to find any common ground.


In September, I'll make the nine hour drive into the heart of Texas. There, I'll join a grand group of miscreants for a conference known simply as "The Idea Camp." This year's theme is "human care," and will focus on topics from international orphan care, to guarding against activist burnout. It's my must-attend event, a conference jam-packed with people who aren't afraid to ask difficult questions, even when the answers might not be apparent.

There, I'll be discussing the western legal framework of international adoption and how that framework sometimes rubs raw against an indigenous world view. Consider the following: western Family X adopts from sub-Saharan Family Y. Family X operates under the legal understanding that the rights of the birth family terminate upon adoption. Family Y operates under the assumption that the child will receive a good education, and may even return to the extended family unit. (For more on the extended family in African culture, read this article by Conrad Mbewe.) Both the adopting family and the relinquishing family operate under a particular set of assumptions.

I'll tackle these issues at The Idea Camp among a very diverse group of attendees. Practitioners with years of experience in international adoption will be in attendance. Adoptive parents who are smack in the middle of African adoptions will be there. There will be anti-trafficking activists. Folks will stand and say "the Gospel is the only hope for any of this," and others will respond, saying "developing structures is the only way to alleviate the conditions that lead to the orphan crisis."

See how this discussion could get dicey?


"Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers." ~2 Timothy 2:14

These words to Timothy might not have been spoken within the adoption ethics debate, but they ring true, nonetheless. Certainly, we come to the table with different views, but quarreling over the best practices and solutions does nothing to alleviate the plight of the orphan.

The quarrels are nothing more than a distraction.

How then do we avoid the quarrels? How do those with different views come together and reach consensus on any hot button topic of the day? How do we create hospitable environments for productive conversation? I think this sort of environment can only be cultivated through prayer and careful consideration of thoughts, ideas, and arguments.

As we move forward, let's practice. Today, I'm inviting you to join me in active, intentional prayer and careful consideration as we continue the adoption ethics discussion. Consider the position of those with whom you may disagree. Instead of reacting, pray for them. Not the praying kind? Take a moment and reflect, ask yourself whether there is any merit in their point of view. But however you approach it, do it intentionally, without immediate reaction.


Sure, we'll continue to talk about the issue of adoption ethics in this space. But (and I realize this is a selfish request), I'd love for you to join me at The Idea Camp in September. Come participate in discussions with some of my favorite folks, practitioners who know their stuff and aren't afraid to ask the hard questions. You'll find deconstructionists, builders, pragmatists, and activists. You'll find a community of folks who can vehemently disagree one moment, and prayerfully encourage each other the next.

Will you consider attending?

Idea Camp Human Care - Austin Intro from The Idea Camp on Vimeo.

*Join me later this week as I begin to unpack the interplay of the western adoption framework and an indigenous worldview.