Rick Warren and Kay Warren both spoke on the second day of the Eighth Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit (May 4, 2012), held at Saddleback Church.
They got so much wrong---left out so much that is critically important---that a response is necessary.
I intend this response to be respectful---from one Christian to another. The response is public because their stance, statements, and activism, both on May 4th and previously, are public, and go out to extremely large numbers of people. I invite a response and discussion, whether from them, anyone else at Saddleback Church, or indeed anyone at all!
Before I get to the five reasons they got it wrong, two observations based on listening to the conference via the official web stream:
1. For Saddleback Church, Orphan Care Means Adoption: Kay Warren made this very clear: their goal is for every one of the purported 163 millions orphans in the world to be placed in a permanent family through adoption. Rick Warren, in response to Kay Warren’s passionately pro-adoption speech, summarized it something like this: “When we say orphan care, It’s adoption first, second, and last.”
2. The Summit’s Focus on the U.S. Foster Care System is Positive; the Summit’s Treatment of a Global Orphan Crisis and International Adoption is so Distorted as to be Harmful
The Orphan Summit gave significant attention to the 400,000 plus children in the United States foster care system, and especially focused on the 100,000 plus such children eligible for adoption. The Summit promoted the need for foster and adoptive families for these children. The Summit also promoted Safe Families for Children, a church based approach that attempts to provide temporary families for children in the hopes that the original family ultimately can be preserved. Safe Families for Children thus includes an aim of ministering to the entire family and seeking to restore and preserve the original family. (The only reference to family preservation efforts I heard at the Summit was the discussion of the Safe Families for Children program.) In addition, the Orphan Summit provided useful information on the special needs of traumatized children and how to parent and assist them, which would provide critically important context for those who parent children in/from the foster care system. Finally, the Summit emphasized the need of the entire church to minister to families who take on the care of traumatized children.
From my perspective, these emphases on the United States foster care system are positive. If the current Christian adoption movement was restricted to reaching out to children and families in the U.S. foster care system, or creating alternative interventions to that system, I would most likely be a fan rather than a critic, I can embrace the practical goal of providing excellent and safe family-based care for children removed from their families due to neglect or abuse of the movement, even if I still have reservation about the movement sometimes downplaying certain difficult issues. In addition, my impression is that the theological innovations to which I object come primarily from those in the movement who have been focused on international adoption.
Unfortunately, Rick and Kay Warren, and indeed the entire Summit, were very much focused on international adoption. The constant refrain of the Warrens, and many other speakers, were the purported 163 million orphans in the world. It was in the context of this “global orphan crisis” that Rick and Kay Warren set forth the goal of placing all of these 163 million orphans into families through adoption. Indeed, it was stated that the math was “easy,” given an estimated 2.4 billion Christians in the world: more than enough Christians to adopt all 163 million orphans. Rick Warren stated that Saddleback Church had set and surpassed a goal of 1000 adoptions by Saddleback Church members, and the goal specified that half would be international adoptions. The pre-Summit “intensive” on the “Global Orphan Care Revival and the Korean Church” was focused on using the missionary reach of the Korean Church to promote adoption both in Korea and globally. It is in the context of the movement’s focus on international adoption, as reflected by the Summit and by Saddleback Church, that the movement is doing more harm than good, and leading the church in the wrong direction. And it has generally been those emphasizing an global orphan care crisis and international adoption, and/or whose experiences come from international adoption, who have been most active in creating innovative Biblical interpretation and theology I view as erroneous and unbalanced.
FIVE REASONS RICK WARREN, KAY WARREN, THE SADDLEBACK CHURCH ORPHAN SUMMIT, AND THE CHRISTIAN ADOPTION MOVEMENT, HAVE GOT IT WRONG ON ADOPTION AND ORPHAN CARE
1. The figure of 163 million orphans in the world is entirely misleading in relationship to adoption, as 90% live with a parent, and many of the rest live with extended family.
The international adoption movement in the United States, secular and religious, has repeatedly used statistics claiming well over 100 million orphans globally. For example, at the Joint Council on International Children Services (JCICS) annual Symposium in April, an adoption agency ad in the program referred to reaching “the 132.2 million orphans worldwide who are in need of permanent homes.” Similarly, the Saddleback Church orphan has publicized varying numbers of orphans, in the range of 143 million to 168 million, with a range of 163 million to 168 million repeatedly provided at the Saddleback Orphan Summit.
The international adoption movement, secular and religious, has repeatedly indicated that the estimated 132 million to 168 million “orphans” are children lacking a family and hence in need of adoption. This was done at JCICS in April and at the Saddleback Orphan Summit in May.
This is total bunk. These global orphan estimates comes from UNICEF, which is using a broad concept of “orphans and vulnerable children” which includes children who have lost one parent but are living with their other parent. 90% of these “orphans” are living with a parent, and thus certainly are not in need of a family through adoption, for they already have a family. Of course some of these 90% of orphans and vulnerable children may be in families that could use assistance of one kind or another to alleviate poverty or other vulnerabilities; taking away the children of the poor however, is neither a Christian nor a humane intervention.
For documentation, see http://www.brandeis.edu/investigate/adoption/orphanstatistics.html.
2. The Movement Ignores and is Naïve Concerning Abusive Adoption Practices in Intercountry Adoption, and Thus Promotes the Involvement of Christians in Child Trafficking and Other Abusive Practices
Incredibly, at the Saddleback Orphan Summit, and in the broader movement, there is virtually no discussion of the child trafficking that has permeated international adoptions from many nations, including Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Samoa, and Vietnam. There is virtually no discussion of the fact that intercountry adoptions to the United States are in severe decline, from a high of almost 23,000 in 2004 to 9300 in 2011---in large part due to child trafficking and other abusive adoption practices. There is little or no discussion of the pattern by which new nations are opened up to international adoption, the numbers rise, and then corruption and abusive practices overwhelm the system, leading to moratoria, slowdowns, and closures. In the rare instances where abusive practices are discussed, it is to provide false assurances that such could be avoided by following governmental rules or using good/Christian agencies.
The end result of this kind of extreme naivety about the current state of intercountry adoption is to send Christians into adopting internationally like lambs to the slaughter, unaware of the dangers they face. Christians are adopting children with falsified paperwork who are not true orphans, in Ethiopia and elsewhere, and therefore unwittingly participating in child trafficking.
For documentation of these difficulties, see my various articles on Child Laundering, Child Trafficking, and Abusive Adoption Practices, which themselves provide many other sources:
Or view the following documentaries on Christians adopting from Ethiopia using a Christian agency:
http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2009/s2686908.htm --- Fly Away Children
http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2010/s2834100.htm ---Fly Away Home
3. The Movement Relies on the Wrong Experts on Intercountry Adoption, and Therefore Promotes False Assurances and False Information
Ambassador Susan Jacobs, Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, United States Department of State, was the primary expert on international adoption presented at a Plenary Session of the Saddleback Orphan Summit. Incredibly, Ambassador Jacobs claimed that in a Hague country we have never had a problem with fraud or misrepresentation. I will give two counter-examples for this patently false statement, although many more could be provided:
a. India ratified the Hague Convention in 2003, but the notorious scandals associated with Preet Mandir, one of the most popular orphanages in all of India for international adoption, dragged on for many years thereafter. See, e.g., Arun Dohle, Inside Story of an Adoption Scandal, Cumberland Law Review, available at: http://jjtrenka.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/adoptiondohlecumbfinal.pdf .
b. China ratified the Hague Convention in 2005, but significant reports of abusive practices continue. See, for example:
Of course, even if adoptions from Hague nations were all free of abusive practices, it would not solve the problem of abusive practices, since the majority of the adoptions to the United States are not from Hague countries, and some of the most popular countries from which to adopt (such as Ethiopia) are not Hague countries. And of course Christians influenced by the movement have been particularly active in adopting from non-Hague countries, such as Ethiopia.
Susan Jacobs is typical of proponents of international adoption who repeatedly minimize the extent and significance of abuse practices, and thereby keep the system from correcting itself. The result is the decline in intercountry adoption, and a constantly expanding pool of victims from a system shot-through with abusive practices. While relying on this kind of expertise may make the movement feel well connected, it is deceptive. These kinds of experts will flatter and reassure the Christian adoption movement, and in turn the Christian adoption movement will flatter them with attention and praise. I would suggest the movement expand and diversify their pool of experts to those who will challenge them with difficult truths; write to me and I can give you quite a list!
4. The Biblical Interpretation and Theology of Adoption Put Forward by Rick Warren and the Broader Movement are completely erroneous
If you actually read the Bible for what it says, rather than the meanings we put into it, it is apparent that the Bible neither portrays the people of God adopting unrelated orphan children, nor recommends that the people of God do so. It just isn’t there, in either the Old or New Testaments! Nor are the kinds of adoption practiced in the United States (closed-record “as if” adoption that pretends that the child was born to the adoptive parents and that the child never had and never will have a relationship to their original family), compatible with the Bible. The Bible, instead, assumes that the original identity and biological lineage of the individual remain as important and true facts.
Of course the Bible teaches that we are to provide for all kinds of vulnerable persons, including widows and the fatherless (orphans), the poor, the stranger, etc. And yes, there are five mentions of a word that can be translated “adoption” in the Pauline corpus----although there are no uses of the word adoption in the rest of the New Testament. But none of this adds up to anything like what the movement claims. In fact, the only way to have a Biblical “orphan care” movement would be have a “widow and orphan” movement---in the context of a poverty alleviation movement---because in the Bible and in the contemporary world, the vast majority of so-called “orphans” are living with a parent or extended family, and the Biblical call is to assist the "orphan" and other family members in staying together. Thus, the interventions for the “widow and orphan” which are portrayed in the Bible are those which help the widow and the orphan to remain together. Yet, you almost never hear about family preservation programs or widow alleviation programs at the movement’s events or in their literature. The net result is that the movement exploits the very people it claims to assist. Taking the children of the poor and the vulnerable for adoption is neither a Biblical nor a humane practice. And even in the circumstances where some kind of adoption would be appropriate, the movement fails to apply Biblical understandings of what adoption is and should look like.
For a fuller explication of the Biblical issues, you can read my article, found here:
An abstracted and full version of the article, plus rebuttals by two Christian adoption movement leaders (Jedd Medefind and Dan Cruver) will be out within a month; see the web site of the Journal of Christian Legal Thought or this blog for updates!
5. In the Longer Term, it is a Reality-Check That Will Demonstrate that Rick and Kay Warren, and the Christian Adoption Movement, Are Wrong about Adoption.
Rick Warren is a marketing genius who has reached tens of millions of people with his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life. The adoption and orphan care movement has within a few years succeeded in permeating the American church with their message. If you compare their combined reach with that of the Christian critics of the movement, it would seem that we are hopelessly outmatched. But none of that will matter in the longer term: it is reality that will continue to bite back at the Christian adoption movement, and it is reality that will continue to prove the critics right and the Christian adoption movement wrong. In this way, it will happen for the Christian adoption movement just as it has been happening for the broader international adoption movement. For years the international adoption movement ignored their hopelessly outmatched critics, only to be constantly brought down by reality: scandal after scandal, closed countries, steeply declining numbers. At some point, rhetoric gives way to reality.
Already the gap between the grandiose rhetoric of the Christian adoption movement, and the realities surrounding international adoption, invite a reality-check. It is almost comic to listen to this grandiose talk of adopting 163 million children, in a time when international adoptions to the United States have declined to 9300 in 2011---and international adoptions globally to perhaps 25,000. It is a kind of absurd theatre to listen to the movement’s rhetoric of adopting 163 million “orphans,” when over 90% of those purported orphans are children living with their biological family. This is a movement that can’t even bring home 9300 children for international adoption, without wrongfully participating in child trafficking, visa fraud, and production of falsified documents---and they are going to save 163 million?
I agree with Rick Warren that the church has a mission in regard to church planting, poverty alleviation, education, and medical care/healing. I agree that the church’s mission includes special actions on behalf of the widow and the orphan, the poor, and the stranger. I just pray that this tragic/comic international adoption detour will not undermine these fundamental tasks of the church.
The reality-check will come sooner or later---I pray it will be sooner, before there are too many more victims of this zealous but misdirected movement.