Adoption Ethics - An Introduction

In 2010, Amber and I were somewhere around three reams of paper into an international adoption. We had chosen the country of origin, completed the application with our prospective adoption agency, and begun the process compiling our dossier--a group of legal documents required by our would-be child's country of origin. We had begun the process of figuring exactly how we would manage the over $20,000.00 in expenses that we would incur in the process. We had chosen the name of our little girl, purchased a few pink dresses and the like, and re-familiarized ourselves with the soundtracks of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. But in the process of preparing for the coming adoption, I ran across this video. (Warning: Examples of Adoption Fraud.)

I am well aware that investigative journalism can be biased, that it sometimes sensationalizes for the sake of making a story more compelling. But after I watched the "Fly Away Home," a few questions continued to nag.

I devoured journal articles on the topics of international adoption. Questions still nagged.

I reviewed reports of previously closed countries such as Guatemala and Cambodia. Questions still nagged.

And Chief among the nagging question was this: how can I be sure that my little girl wasn't being trafficked from a family unit that could provide for her needs within the social context of her birth?

And here's where it gets sort of mucky. Amber and I discussed the concerns, and I called our prospective adoption agency. I asked the question--how do I know that my daughter was not trafficked into the adoption care system?--and the answer I received lacked nuance, was impractical, and dismissive. The answer? "It's the duty of the local government to make sure that children aren't trafficked into the system," we were told.

We wrestled with the response. When you are dealing with a country where known corruption exists within the orphan care system, how can you turn a blind eye to potential abuses in the name of trust and duty shifting?

We raised our concerns with others in our community. "Don't worry," some said, "you are doing God's work. Your child will have a better life than they ever will in their home country."

"Better by what standards?" I asked.

In the end, Amber and I were unsatisfied with the answers we received from the agency and those in the adoption community. And after a good bit of soul-searching, a long lot of prayer, and many nights of lost sleep (not to mention a few lost pennies), we withdrew from the adoption process.

We still count it as a miscarriage of sorts.


Our story is essential in understanding my view of international adoption. I'm an advocate of ethical adoption, and I am no stranger to the spiritual metaphors that can be drawn. I am also a lawyer by trade, a policy geek, and a strong believer in the idea that discrete people groups need less paternalistic oversight that we Westerners might think. These are my biases. I am unashamed of them. I wear them in the open so that those who would criticize my views do not feel as if they are trying to draw a bead on a moving target. This, as my friend Mike Rusch might say, is the first step to authentic conversation.

I have been loathe to discuss this topic much publicly. As a preliminary matter, we have many children adopted from international contexts in our local community, and to dispel any rumors, I love these kids and their parents. I do not cast sideways glances, or speculate as to the legitimacy of the adoption. They are members of my community, and I love my community. I do not discuss adoption ethics with them unless asked.

That being said, I've watched as an evangelical movement has fomented a theology of adoption based in part upon Biblical metaphor and extrapolation. It seems, at times, as if this theology is reactionary theology du jour--there is a crisis, after all, and there are some children that need adopting, right? No doubt. But what if the theology does harm to native peoples, what if it strips others of common dignity? What if it removes an opportunity from the local body of believers? What if that theology places us in the position of savior? What if it undermines the basic dignity of other tongues, tribes, and nations?  Does theology that values the theologian over the dignities of others make good sense? I'd like to offer my reservations on that last one.

And so you know, I am open to criticism and take it in stride so long as it does not contain profane language. I'll take it in the comments. I'll take it in emails. I'll even take it on the phone if you happen to know how to ring me.

Finally, I realize that this series will not be for everyone. To that end, I'll likely post only once a week on the topic. So, if you are interested, pop in from time to time. I'll keep this all under the category "Adoption."


To get us started, let's have a discussion. Does your church, peer group, or community promote international adoption? What are the rationales given? Do they discuss alternative in-country community development plans so that children can stay with their families or extended families?

Kabede, This is Going to Get Heavy

Johnny Cash Our driver’s name was not Kabede, but for the sake of giving you the sense of things, it will be his given name in the following. The English translation of Kabede is “getting heavy,” so it seems appropriate, and I must admit, when I discuss my time in Ethiopia, it tends to come across this way.

As a caveat, I mostly prefer to confine my discussions of Ethiopia to the internet real estate of others. I do this for two distinct reasons. First, I enjoy stirring the pot, although this enjoyment is typically confined to the pots sitting on my neighbors’ stoves. Secondly, writing in another forum allows me some notion (perhaps a feigned one) of plausible deniability...


Follow me to my friend Lore's place for the rest of this story. I hope you're ready. This is going to get heavy.





The First Domestic Ethiopian Adoption (for Abrihet)

This week, I stumbled across this Pure Charity Challenge by Kacia. Kacia is trying to raise funds to assist in the domestic adoption of 8 Ethiopian Children. Domestic adoption? As in, Ethiopian families adopting Ethiopian children? Yes, it's a reality thanks to the Kidmia Foundation's vision to equip and empower the Ethiopian church. It's beautiful.


When we first met Aschalew Abebe, the in-country director of Kidmia, Amber and I told him that we had planned to adopt an Ethiopian baby. We had withdrawn from the process, we said, because we felt the still small Voice asking us instead to engage in the work of unifying Ethiopian orphans with local families, and after hearing how Kidmia was working to rehabilitate at-risk Ethiopian families, we thought that perhaps Kidmia was just the right organization for us. Aschalew listened to us intently. Smiled and nodded with understanding.

"What was her name to be?" he asked.

"Who's name?"

"Your Ethiopian daughter. What was her name to be?"

"Abrihet," Amber said and tears filled her eyes. He pulled us close, invaded our personal space with unbridled Ethiopian compassion and said, "I know you feel like you have lost a daughter, but think of the many Ethiopian daughters you can save."


Please read the conclusion of the story at Coconut Robot, and consider throwing a nickel or two into the Pure Charity bucket. I'd love it if we could help Kacia finish this challenge! Who's in?

*For regular updates, follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page.

The Cushite Bride

Have we stopped to consider? Today, I stumbled across a video reminding me of the orphan crisis in Ethiopia.  It is a significant issue, one in which I am deeply invested.  Frame after frame, the statistics were presented—the number of Ethiopian orphans; the percentage of the world population living on less than one dollar a day; the number of children who will die from malnourishment or a preventable disease.  Then the payoff—do you know how much a Starbucks latte costs?  How big is your television?  Have you shopped for a new pair of shoes lately? Did you know you can sponsor a child, donate to this new orphanage, do x, y, or z?

I get it.

But there are too many people too afraid to say this—statistics move me only to unsustainable reaction.

Statistics make for good marketing, package well.  Statistics may make me think that my forty dollars a month will “make a difference.”

But have we stopped to consider?

A packaged crisis imputes necessity.  “Immediate action is needed, donate now.”  And the more quickly we act the less we think.  About what?

About the dignity of the global church. What if the Ethiopian church could solve its own crisis?  What if we were to support them by prayer, fasting, and funding?  What if they don’t need our videos, our marketing, our physical presence?  What if living out sainthood means living lives of quiet humility, without non-profits, videos, or blog posts—without a movement to pimp?  What if our names are never known?

Ethiopian Church is the descendant of Zipporah, the Cushite bride of Moses who saved her children from fatherlessness by consummating covenant with the living God.  She was bold and beautiful.  And we give her too little credit.

Have we stopped to consider?


Will you join me for a few days of prayer for the Ethiopian church?  They are a beautiful representation of the body of Christ and they do have a crisis on their hands.  There is a quiet way to support a revolution of dignity. For more information, visit Kidmia.

Remembering the Metaphor -- Part 2 (of who knows how many)

Part one here.______________

When Sosi was only months old, her parents crossed and ocean to find her. Her father, a man I know well, itched with anticipation for months, couldn’t scratch enough to cure it. “My daughter is in another country,” he begged me to understand. I said I could, but truth is, it was his daughter. She was not some lost coin or lamb. She was beautiful and she had a name. “A name,” he pleaded.

On the night of Sosi’s homecoming, our boys wore pajama pants and matching shirts made by Sosi’s parents. We explained to them that Sosi’s skin would be darker than her parents’ because she was from another country. They had flown across the globe to bring her home.

“Is Ethiopia in Africa, Daddy?” Isaac already understood the concept of worlds away, other continents. “Yes,” I told him.

“Her skin will be soft and beautiful, won’t it, Daddy? She’ll look like the people you visited in Africa, won’t she?”

“Maybe a little,” I said.

We walked into the airport lobby as a family and were greeted by close to one-hundred others who had gathered to meet Sosi for the first time. We assembled like desperate saints, telling stories to fill anticipation. Staring at the escalator that led down from the main concourse—the only concourse in our regional airport—it was our turn to itch, to long for the first glimpse. Saints are selfish that way.

And then they appeared. She looked down from the top of the escalator as she descended toward us, timid and held close to her Daddy’s chest. His itch was gone, you could see that in his smile. Scott reached from behind me, caught me unexpectedly by the shoulder and pulled me close to his towering frame. “This was ordained before the foundations of the earth,” he said. “She is home now.” He turned me loose and half-jogged to greet his new sister.

I was left contemplating this tangible expression of true religion, dumb-founded by the embodiment of the meta-narrative.

Thanks be to God.