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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Concern for Orphans (book review: Christianity Today)

The Politics of Adoption, by Mary Kathleen Benet
Christianity Today
October 7, 1977

Is there a relationship between the adoption practices and the abortion epidemic in this country? In an adoption should the identity of the natural parents be revealed or should the child’s desire to know be subordinated to the parents’ wish for secrecy? Is an unmarried father justified in asserting a parental claim? Is interracial adoption a humane and workable solution to the needs of the child and both sets of parents or is it a form of “cultural imperialism?” Who should allocate children to would-be adopters, and whose needs should take precedence in the decision?

These and other questions concerning adoption practices are being asked with greater frequency these days. Mary Kathleen Benet’s book deals with many of them. Unfortunately, most of the current books dealing with adoption (e.g., Beyond the Best Interests of the Child and Children Who Wait) devalue theology in answering these questions. Benet’s book does the same.

The current sociological attention on adoption is a healthy development. How will ever, much of what Benet says be discounted because of the radical solutions she suggests.

She is understandably disturbed over the secrecy surrounding various aspects of the adoption procedures in our country. She is further disturbed about the way in which our country treats its orphans. She questions the American practice of adopting foreign children. And she is concerned that our way of life leads inevitably to the destruction of the natural and most beneficial way of raising children. Anyone who has tried to adopt an infant recently knows the frustration and disappointment inherent in our adoption system. Furthermore, anyone who reads the papers is painfully aware of the thriving baby black market, where healthy infants will fetch as much as $25,000 from childless couples, or where young virile couples are paid to breed children in the best tradition of a laissez faire economy.

Benet’s book would be better had she not used a meat ax on American society. For instance, the author (who fives in France) sees the American Vietnamese baby lift as just one more example of our imperialistic nature, this time shown in a racist baby stealing project. She also sees the capitalistic West as destroying the family unit. Urbanization, she reasons, is a product of capitalism and urbanization fragments the family. Only in non-capitalistic countries can the proper family unit, the extended family, function.

Benet maintains that only in the idyllic Polynesian Islands is the extended family adoption concept practiced. Children are passed around within the entire family (grandparents, siblings) so that the child will not form an attachment to the biological parents only. The idea is that the child will be reared by the best equipped people within a “kin group.” In short, biological attachment is not nearly as important as a symbiotic attachment. Indeed, Benet holds that the tight nuclear family concept is a product of the Western industrialized world and not the healthiest environment for child-raising.

The author distorts Christian teaching. She remarks that one reason for the current “success” of the evangelically founded Holt Adoption Program was that it “stopped insisting on the religious commitment that its founder saw as indispensable to parenthood.” She also ignores the biblical teaching on sociological adoption (see Deut. 27:19, Ps. 146:9, Jer. 7:6, and James 1:27).

Having said I disagree with the author’s perspective and value judgments I nevertheless believe this book can provide a necessary stimulus for Christians to re-enter the adoption arena with creative proposals to solve some of the problems Benet recognizes. This is not to suggest that there are no evangelicals presently involved in this area (for instance, Bethany Christian Services), but it is to suggest that dealing with the problems surrounding orphans is not a vital concern for many Christians. If James is correct when he writes that our Christianity can be judged by how we treat orphans (among others) and that we ought not to leave it to the world to deal with the fatherless, then we need to once again pray for the vision of a Thomas Bernardo who took the Lord’s words in Mark 10:14 as a personal call to minister to the little ones.

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