Today, let’s talk about the light and upbeat topic of adoption ethics, shall we? Huh? It’s not your favorite topic of conversation? Well, you’re in good company. You should have seen the look on Matt’s face when I casually mentioned, “hey, so I think I’m going to write a blog post about adoption ethics this week.” Classic.

There’s just been a whole lot of chatter in and out of the adoption community recently about the ethics surrounding international adoption (and rightfully so). I get that it’s hard to consider these issues and engage in these discussions. It’s not pleasant. It’s not clear-cut. Adoption is messy and complex beyond my understanding. But as I have read and learned and grown, I have realized that it is absolutely imperative to engage in the dialogue. So that’s what I’m doing… trying to continue the discussion to the best of my non-professional, rookie-adoptive-parent, heart-on-my-sleeve ability.

Many of us in the adoption community have heard about this article related to this book that was recently published. A primary question raised here is whether the current “orphan care movement” within evangelical churches is doing more harm than good. Ethical issues are addressed, and many proponents of adoption are completely up in arms about it all. I have not read the book, but I do believe, at the very least, that it opens the doors for us to dialogue about these issues. Truthfully, I wish we (those within the evangelical “orphan care movement”) were initiating the discussion rather than responding on the defensive, because as Christians, I firmly believe that we should be on the front lines of addressing adoption ethics.

Y’all, I love adoption. Talking about adoption makes my heart beat faster and gets me all riled up. But I also believe that adoption is just one component to “orphan care”. I believe that we, as Christians, should get just as riled up about community development, helping to ensure that poverty isn’t the sole reason children are being adopted. I believe that we should support options for in-country care just as fervently as we support those adopting internationally. Ouch. That one stings on a deeply personal level. Because, you guys, when Rwanda closed their doors to international adoption program after our two year wait, I cried and cried over their commitment to in-country care. I wanted to be the one adopting a Rwandan baby. At the end of the day, it was about me. Because if Rwanda was indeed deinstitutionalizing all of these children and if they were in fact all placed in loving families, then isn’t that accomplishing the greater goal of caring for the orphaned child? What if I had shifted my gaze away from myself and my personal desire to adopt from this country and, rather, enthusiastically supported efforts to mobilize individuals and families within Rwanda to care for these children?

You see, this isn’t easy stuff, and I’ve often failed and faltered and lost focus. My intentions and motives were good, but I wasn’t ready to think outside of the box in terms of orphan care. But I think the tide is turning within the “orphan care movement”, and I think as a whole we’re ready to consider the possibility that this movement- that the Biblical mandate for orphan care- won’t simply be about adopting. Are we willing to expand our definition of “orphan care” within the Church? Are we willing to engage in discussions on ethics in adoptions? I think it’s time.

It’s time because I’m sick and tired of hearing about horrific cases of innocent children being trafficked, often unbeknownst to adoptive parents. Children are being taken from families who never knew they were being adopted. Documents are falsified. Birth parents are coerced. It’s an unpleasant to consider, but it’s crucial to the discussion. I often have potential adoptive parents come to me for adoption advice, and over time my advice has evolved from “go for it! adopt right now!” to “do your research. know your agency. ask hard questions. and investigate the heck out of everything.” I’m telling adoptive parents not to not always take their agencies’ claims at face value. To be wary if they’re promised a super fast adoption. To be extra wary if they’re not giving straight answers and are pushing back on your hard questions. I’m not trying to be a kill-joy here, people. I’m just trying to be real. Adoption is a beautiful, redemptive thing if it happens correctly. But I don’t believe that our mandate in scripture to care for the orphans is a mandate to potentially traffic children who already have loving families. I think that the most just thing we, as Christians, can do is to ensure that we can look into our adopted children’s eyes one day to tell them their story with assurance that we have done everything in our power to know every detail about their story that we could possibly know. That the hard questions had already been asked before we went to court. Certainly before we bring them home.

Obviously, I know what some of you are thinking, and it’s the reason why it’s been so difficult for me to formulate my thoughts and type these words. “Dude, who is this girl to ramble on and on about ethics and indigenous care? She already has her beautiful daughter home! Hypocrite.” I totally get this. I’m not trying to feign having arrived at a complete understanding how to navigate this process of international adoption. And I’m certainly not saying we have done all of this flawlessly. But you have to understand that, while I’m a complete work in progress, I have learned quite a bit through the process and while in Congo. I’ve learned through our failed Rwandan adoption. I’ve learned and have been stretched through brave, passionate people who have no qualms about speaking the truth. And I’m still in the process of grappling and wrestling with these issues. But the more you learn, the more you know. (How’s that for profundity? I clearly should pursue a career in writing, ya think?) On this note, let me be crystal clear about one thing: this is not about Elizabeth. We had the privilege and blessing of working with an amazing non-profit undeniably committed to holistic care of vulnerable children in DRC and ethical adoptions. While her story is hers to tell (i.e. not mine to broadcast via this outlet), I believe with every fiber in my being that through God’s redemptive ways, she is ours. And that when we share her story with her one day, we can do so without hesitation or guilt.

I know that some might be unnerved by this post. It’s not the rosy picture of adoption that we typically like to paint. But let me reiterate, God clearly led us to adopt… and I so hope that He might lead some of you to do so as well. Because, goodness knows, there are many, many children across the globe who need homes. It’s been an amazing journey, and one that I would do again and again. It’s just that we owe it to these children to ensure that we are truly living out Micah 6:8, doing all we can “to act justly to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Being pro-adoption and pro-ethics do not have to be mutually exclusive. So let’s keep the dialogue going.