Evangelicals Launch Crusade to Adopt Children From Around the World
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Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
In late March Craig Juntunen told a group of Christian adoption advocates assembled at a Chandler, Arizona, home about his plans to increase international adoptions fivefold. Just over a year before, the world had been riveted by the saga of Laura Silsby, the American missionary arrested while trying to transport Haitian children across the Dominican border. But the lessons of that scandal seemed far from Juntunen’s mind as he described his “crusade to create a culture of adoption” by simplifying adoption’s labyrinthine ethical complexities to their emotional core. Juntunen, a former pro football quarterback and the adoptive father of three Haitian children, has emerged as a somewhat rogue figure in the adoption world since he recently founded an unorthodox nonprofit, Both Ends Burning. He has commissioned a documentary about desperate orphans in teeming institutions, Wrongfully Detained, and proposed a “clearinghouse model” that will raise the number of children adopted into US families to more than 50,000 per year.
Juntunen acknowledges that many adoption experts find his proposals naïve, particularly in a year that witnessed scandals in Haiti, Nepal and most recently Ethiopia, where widespread irregularities and trafficking allegations may slow the once-booming program to a crawl. He met a chilly reception recently at the Adoption Policy Conference at New York Law School when he spoke alongside State Department officials. But Juntunen insists that his ideas for increasing adoption constitute a social movement, akin to the civil rights movement, and that the force of a growing “adoption culture” will help them prevail.
In this expectation, he may be right. In Arizona, Juntunen was speaking with Dan Cruver, head of Together for Adoption, a key coalition in a growing evangelical adoption movement. The event was the first of the organization’s new “house conferences”: small-scale meet-ups bolstering an active national movement that promotes Christians’ adopting as a way to address a worldwide “orphan crisis” they say encompasses hundreds of millions of children. It’s a message Cruver also emphasizes in his book Reclaiming Adoption—one in a growing list of titles about “orphan theology,” which teaches that adoption mirrors Christian salvation, plays an essential role in antiabortion politics and is a means of fulfilling the Great Commission, the biblical mandate that Christians spread the gospel.
Yet while Cruver and his colleagues have inspired thousands of Christians to enter the arduous and expensive process of international adoption, the adoption industry is on a steep decline after years of ethical problems and tightening regulations around the world. Since the mid-’90s, eighty-three countries have ratified the Hague convention regulating international adoption. By 2010 there were 12,000 such adoptions in the United States (including 1,100 exceptional “humanitarian parole” cases from post-earthquake Haiti)—almost half those at the peak in 2004. If evangelicals heed Cruver’s call en masse, it could mean not just a radical change in who raises the world’s children but a powerful clash between rapidly falling supply and sharply inflating demand.
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Adoption has long been the province of religious and secular agencies, but in the past two years evangelical advocacy has skyrocketed. In 2009 Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of the 2009 book Adopted for Life, shepherded through a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resolution calling on all 16 million members of the denomination to become involved in adoption or “orphan care.” Last year at least five evangelical adoption conferences were held, and between 1,000 and 2,000 churches participated in an “Orphan Sunday” event in November. And in February, the mammoth evangelical adoption agency Bethany Christian Services announced that its adoption placements had increased 13 percent since 2009, in large part because of the mobilization of churches.