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Evangelical Christian Serial Adoption Of West African Children Leads To Child Abuse And Death

by David Badash on April 15, 2013

in News

Post image for Evangelical Christian Serial Adoption Of West African Children Leads To Child Abuse And Death

In “Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement’s Adoption Obsession,” Kathryn Joyce writing at Mother Jones investigates the Evangelical Christian serial adoption industry that has brought — sometimes illegally — children from Liberia in West Africa into the United States. Many of these children are told in Liberia the U.S. is “heaven,” some of the children’s parents often believe they are not being adopted but just going away to school, then some of these children become immediate second-class citizens, used for labor, live in compounds, receive no formal education, are beaten and abused, and, sadly, some have died. Others get “returned,” dropped off in Liberia with a few dollars in their pockets and no where to go.

The investigation is detailed and extensive, and even includes mega-churches like Pastor Rick Warren‘s Saddleback Church.

Joyce, who is the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, details heartbreaking stories of parents who follow the “teachings” of fundamentalist Michael Pearl, whose philosophy on child rearing is, basically, to beat the crap out of them.

These U.S. Christian Ministries advocated adoptions from Liberia via unlicensed agencies that sound more like WalMarts of children than organizations that bothered to investigate prospective parents.

One important note: Ministries like Warren’s Saddleback Church, and so many others, and anti-gay groups like the Focus on the Family, and pretty much everyone on the religious right all advocate against contraception, and against sex ed, and then ignore the results of their theocratic policies. It’s great they want to help others in other countries, where policies they advocate — the religious right has strong ties in developing nations, and especially in Africa — are doing real damage too.

But it’s impossible to note that there are so many same-sex couples who are also adopting children, and they are being attacked as bad parents, with the religious right using junk science like the Regnerus “study,” to “prove” their point of view, and yet here we have a huge example of the religious right wholesale adopting children in need then treating them horribly, as this Mother Jones article shows.

“Adoptive parents ‘were going to Liberia and saying, ‘this is how much I have, give me as many as you can,”” Joyce writes.

The article, while fascinating and an easy read, is extensive, and there’s no way to condense or excerpt it and do it justice, but below are a few excerpts. I urge you to head over to Mother Jones to read it.

IN 2005, Sam Allison, a Tennessee housepainter in his 30s, arrived at Daniel Hoover Children’s Village, an orphanage outside Monrovia, Liberia. He’d come to adopt three children, but ended up with four: five-year-old Cherish; her nine-year-old brother, Isaiah; their 13-year-old sister, CeCe, who had taken care of them for years; and Engedi, a sickly infant whom Sam and an adoption broker had retrieved from “deep in the bush.” The older children’s father had sent them to Daniel Hoover during Liberia’s 14-year civil war, after their mother died in childbirth. The orphanage, run by a ministry called African Christians Fellowship International, often ran short of food, and schooling was sporadic. The children, who were forced to flee temporarily when rebels attacked the facility in 2003, referred to America—whose image looms large in a country colonized by freed slaves in the 19th century—as “heaven.”

In Tennessee, Sam and the four adoptees joined his wife, Serene—a willowy brunette who’d attempted a career in Christian music—and their four biological children. Together they moved into a log cabin in Primm Springs, a rural hamlet outside Nashville. Serene welcomed the children with familiar foods such as rice, stew, and sardines, and they were photographed smiling and laughing.

The article focuses on Colin and Nancy Campbell, and Nancy’s 35-year-old magazine, Above Rubies. (The death was not of a child adopted by the Campbells.) The image above is of Nancy Campbell’s family on her Above Rubies Facebook page.

In 2005, Above Rubies began advocating adoptions from Liberia, arranged through private Christian ministries. Campbell—who likened adoption to “missions under our very own roof!”—spent a week visiting Liberian orphanages and returned with “piles of letters addressed ‘To any Mom and Dad.’” She touted the country’s cost-effectiveness—”one of the cheapest international adoptions”—and claimed that 1 million infants were dying every year in this nation of fewer than 4 million people. “When we welcome a child into our heart and into our home,” she wrote, “we actually welcome Jesus Himself.”

Campbell urged readers to contact three Christian groups—Acres of HopeChildren Concerned, and West African Children Support Network (WACSN)—that could arrange adoptions from Liberian orphanages. At the time, none of these groups was accredited in the United States as an adoption agency, yet they all placed Liberian children with American families for a fraction of the $20,000 to $35,000 that international adoptions typically cost. Before long, members of a Yahoo forum frequented by Above Rubiesreaders were writing that God had laid the plight of Liberian orphans heavy on their heart. “Families lined up by the droves,” one mother recalled. They “were going to Liberia and literally saying, ‘This is how much I have, give me as many as you can.’”

The magazine’s Liberia campaign, it turned out, heralded an “orphan theology” movement that has taken hold among mainstream evangelical churches, whose flocks are urged to adopt as an extension of pro-life beliefs, a way to address global poverty, and a means of spreading the Gospel in their homes. The movement’s leaders, as I discovered while researching my upcoming book on the topic, portray adoption as physical and spiritual salvation for orphans and a way for Christians to emulate God, who, after all “adopted” humankind. Churches reported that the spirit was proving contagious; families encouraged one another to adopt, and some congregations were taking in as many as 100 children. Dozens of conferences, ministries, and religious coalitions sprang up to further the cause, and large evangelical adoption agencies such as Bethany Christian Services reported a sharp increase in placements at a time when international adoptions were in decline.

Then, this:

In October 2006, a year after their first Liberian adoptions, the Allisons adopted another pair of siblings: Kula, 13, and Alfred, 15. “In Africa we thought America was heaven,” recalled Kula, who is 19 now. “I thought there were money trees.” Primm Springs was a rude awakening: It was dirty, she recalled, and she had no toothbrush. The new house Sam was building—with the older kids working alongside him—often lacked electricity. There was only a woodstove for heat, and no air conditioning or running water yet. Toilets were flushed with buckets of water hauled from a creek behind the house. The children recalled being so hungry that they would, on occasion, cook a wild goose or turkey they caught on the land. “We went from Africa to Africa,” CeCe said.

They didn’t attend school, either; home schooling mostly consisted of Serene reading to the younger children. When the older kids watched a school bus drive past on a country road and asked why they couldn’t go, they were met with various excuses. So Isaiah and Alfred worked with Sam in his house-painting business or labored in Nancy Campbell’s immense vegetable garden while CeCe, Kula, and Cherish cleaned, cooked, and tended to a growing brood of young ones. It was also the job of the “African kids,” as they called themselves, to keep a reservoir filled with water from the creek. CeCe hadn’t yet learned to read when Serene gave her a book on midwifery so she could learn to deliver their future babies. “They treated us pretty much like slaves,” she said. It’s a provocative accusation, but one that Kula and Isaiah—as well as two neighbors and a children’s welfare worker—all repeated.

Discipline included being hit with rubber hosing or something resembling a riding crop if the children disrespected Serene, rejected her meals, or failed to fill the reservoir. For other infractions, they were made to sleep on the porch without blankets. Engedi, the toddler, was disciplined for her attachment to CeCe. To encourage her bond with Serene, the Allisons would place the child on the floor between them and CeCe and call her. If Engedi went to CeCe instead, the children recalled, the Allisons would spank her until she wet herself.

There’s so much more, I strongly urge you to read it.

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{ 3 comments }

SeanLiberty13 April 15, 2013 at 3:20 pm

More evidence that far right-wing "Evangelicals" are actually EVILgelicals.

James_M_Martin April 15, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Second your recommendation of that powerful article in "Mother Jones." The reporting is objective. Had I written the story, I would have excoriated the religion involved (evangelicals) for their stupidity and casual disregard both of women's rights and those of children.

bgryphon April 16, 2013 at 7:56 am

NPR's program Fresh Air will be presenting an interview with Kathryn Joyce (author of the Mother Jones article referenced in this piece) today (Tuesday). It is about her book on this subject. Check with your local NPR station for schedule.

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