Children, Adoption, and Idolatries

Amy links to Mere Comments which reproduced this article on adoption.

Lots of good things are said on those sites, and some things are written which miss the point quite badly.

“Infertile couples could develop an idolatry of having a drive to have their own genetic material in front of them. That is something that ought to be crucified,” he said. “We have had to sit down with infertile couples who are about to begin in vitro fertilization and tell them we don’t think this is right and here is why. I have said to them, ‘You are struggling not with infertility, but with idolatry because you are not really wanting children; you are wanting yourself.’”

Given that an evangelical might not be able to articulate Catholic teaching, I can see where Dr. Russell Moore is going with this. But if we’re talking “idolatry,” let’s not narrow the focus or miss it entirely.

My sense is that the desire to perpetuate one’s genes may be part of the picture. But only part. Some couples likely want the whole experience of pregnancy and childbirth, and it’s less a question of sending one’s gene pool into the next generation, and more a desire for inclusion and participation. Yearning for that full experience? I can understand that. Setting aside the Church’s moral teaching on artificial conception methods, I think it’s premature, if not naive, to ignore a “non-idolatry” possibility.

Let’s consider the adoption of overseas babies, the choice of Dr. and Mrs, Moore. David Mills of Mere Comments posts a portion of a 2005 essay from Moore. Read it over, and then I’ll wrap up with a few comments:

As I write this, somewhere in the Kremlin officials are weighing whether to cut off the adoption of Russian children to Americans and other foreigners. Two former Russian orphans, my sons Benjamin and Timothy, are running around my chair singing songs as I type.At issue are a series of horrible abuse cases in which American families have harmed, or even killed, their children.

These cases have given impetus to a nativist Russian nationalism that hates the idea of their children becoming, of all things, Americans. At one level, I can understand this. Imagine if the United States collapsed into a hodge-podge of independent and impoverished states and American children were being adopted by citizens of a Cold War triumphant USSR.

Nonetheless, it would be quite different if there were a vibrant adoption culture in the former
USSR. This is not the case. The leftover effects of Communist materialism matched with the instability of the new economy have resulted in a skyrocketing abortion rate and orphanages filled with abandoned infants and children. The children who are not adopted languish in these orphanages until they are old enough to be thrown out into society, where they often find few options beyond the Russian military, prostitution, or suicide.

I would be hard-pressed to concede the unspoken conclusion that we Americans have a “vibrant” adoption culture. Not with 127,000 American children ready to head into permanent homes. Not while many child-seeking couples attempt medical intervention to achieve conception, surrogate mothers, and overseas adoptions.

I suspect that some couples who seek infants are not all that different from some couples who are seeking the whole pregnancy experience. It is very, very difficult to get a white, healthy, American newborn because the demand for such a child is high. Couples with economics means will engage in foreign travel, IVF, legal procedings, and other costly methods to satisfy the desire for “full” participation in a child’s life.

I grant the brutal truth of the adoption pipeline that older kids can be very damaged heading into an adoption. That scares off many prospective parents. And that’s a good thing, in balance.

My wife and I were very fortunate that our daughter was well-cared-for in four foster homes before she came to live with us. She was not abused, neglected, or emotionally scarred at age four. We are also fortunate for having baby pictures, oral stories and scrapbooks from her foster families. We weren’t there for the cooing, the teething, the feedings, the late-nights, the three open heart surgeries–all the things wonderful and traumatic. But they are part of our daughter’s life and we can engage her remembrances, and that counts for a lot in my book.

It is difficult for me to conceal my frustration with the situation of America’s hundreds of thousands of needy older kids. When Dr Moore suggests that Russian orphans have little future beyond the “military, prostitution, or suicide,” he might well be writing the epitaph for hundreds of thousands of boys and girls languishing in American foster care. Without permanent, stable, loving homes, many of these kids will end up committing crimes, victimizing other people as they were abused, and creating a drain on the fabric of society.

If IVF is an idolatry, what about the jetting to foreign lands to procure a kid fresh out of the womb? I feel a bit strange advocating what seems to be an “America-first” adoption policy, but the truth of it is that we have these orphans in our midst right now. They inhabit group homes, institutions, psychiatric hospitals, and foster homes. They had no other fault than be of mixed race, or the birth child of a drug addict, or the child of parents who were able to hire a lawyer to delay termination of rights to an age where they might be considered “unadoptable.”

I know people who have adopted from overseas. I respect the discernment of these friends and acquaintances. From what I see they made heroic decisions laced with personal sacrifice. But I think it takes considerable nerve to be casting moral aspersions of idolatry toward couples who are not too dissimilar from Dr. Moore and his wife.

The best solution I can offer is that if you want to experience pregnancy, take a hurting pregnant mother into your home and care for her and the unborn child. If you want the experience of babies, volunteer at a pediatric ward, or befriend and sit for the babies of couples you know. If then you want to adopt a child of your own, consider the girls and boys who live not so far away from you this very moment. See if your heart will not be touched and any whiff of idolatry be banished as you consider the very needy very near to you.

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. (Isaiah 58:6-8)

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to Children, Adoption, and Idolatries

  1. Angie Welch says:

    Very cool design! Useful information. Go on!

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