Kathryn Joyce’s The Child Catchers is being promoted in some quarters as a critique not only of an abusive adoption practice, but also of Evangelical Christianity. It is yet another example of how dangerous American Christianity can be, or so the line goes. And there is certainly much that could be said in criticism of the Evangelical adoption movement, to be sure. But what isn’t getting as much attention is that Mrs. Joyce’s work relies in part upon the legal and theological work of a conservative evangelical law professor, Dr. David Smolin of Cumberland Law School at Samford University.
In a recent interview at Salon, Mrs. Joyce cites Dr. Smolin’s work in answer to a question about the exegetical and theological grounding of the Evangelical adoption movement:
In the book, you mention a verse of scripture that’s considered incredibly important in evangelical circles: James 1:27 [which says it is pure religion “to look after orphans and widows in their distress”]. Can you explain the significance of this verse?
That verse is cited very commonly among lots of Christian advocates involved in the orphan care and adoption movement. So tons of people who have come to [see] adoption as this perfect way they can live out their faith and mirror their own salvation experience in the adoption of a child – that is one of the bits of scripture they turn to.
But [something] that came up in my reporting is [questioning] that verse in terms of how well widows are being incorporated into this movement. One of my sources, an evangelical law professor named David M. Smolin, who has been a longstanding adoption reform advocate, spoke to this very eloquently, saying, “This movement has divorced the orphans and the widows from each other.” A lot of Christians who are involved in advocating for [adoption] reform say, “If you want to follow the Bible’s call, then you need to be caring for poor children and their families together.” What David Smolin was saying was that too often, many parts of this movement find it easier to help children by themselves — to just approach orphans as if they were standing all alone in the world and not look at the broader circumstances of the families they’re coming from, whether that’s a poor mother in Ethiopia who, after her husband died, is now in this position of having to find a job or keep her child, but has no good option to do both … A lot of times, people could do more help by addressing the holistic picture – helping a family stay together, rather than relinquishing a child for adoption in these cultures where adoption is becoming a go-to solution for poverty or family instability.
This ought to teach Evangelicals, of whom I number myself, to be more critical of some of our friends and associates, but also to protest the media’s totalizing use of the nomenclature. Evangelicalism is a very diverse thing, and it is even more so when it comes to social and political theory. And, perhaps, The Child Catchers might not be a book which is hostile to Evangelicals after all, but rather a tool that can actually be used by them.