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?