The Danger of 'Orphan Theology'

THE MAXIM states that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But what happens when well-meaning Christians construct and lead others down that road? In her new book The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption (PublicAffairs), investigative journalist Kathryn Joyce explores how some evangelicals have fueled the global adoption frenzy—and how adoption reform advocates are trying to stem the tide of trafficked children (and the rampant spread of misinformation) across borders. Sojourners contributing writer Brittany Shoot recently spoke with Joyce.

Brittany Shoot: Why do you think it’s been primarily evangelicals who have led the surge in international adoption?

Kathryn Joyce: The idea of the “global orphan crisis” needs some unpacking. People who talk about this crisis often cite UNICEF estimates that there are between 150 and 210 million orphaned children in the world. While the figures actually refer to a wide range of orphaned and vulnerable children in need of services, often people only hear the word “orphan” and presume these children are parentless kids in need of new homes. In fact, most of these children have a surviving biological parent or other extended family who may need some support.

Additionally, adoption has become a powerful metaphor in many evangelical churches studying and preaching what has become known as adoption or orphan theology. Many leaders within the movement teach that earthly adoption is a perfect mirror of Christian adoption by God, and it’s a way that Christians can put their faith into action in a very personal manner. Evangelicals have been encouraged to adopt by this theology as well as by other developments in their churches or denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2009 resolution that asked its members to prayerfully consider whether God was calling them to adopt.

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