The following is part 1 of 2 blog entries that deal with Dr. Smolin's article, "Of Orphans and Adoption."
Recently, I had the distinction of being mentioned in Dr. David Smolin’s article “Of Orphans and Adoption.” My inclusion in the article was due to my book, A Passionfor the Fatherless, being cited several times throughout the article—and usually not in a good way!
Nevertheless, I found the article instructive and encourage others to read it and think through Smolin’s argument. The article may be found here.
The primary purpose of Smolin’s article is “to demonstrate that the scriptural and theological analysis undergirding the evangelical adoption and orphan care movement is patently and seriously erroneous” (1). His secondary purpose is to demonstrate that these errors have led to serious consequences in terms of the orphan care ministry.
In one of his first footnotes, Smolin refers to four books that serve as representatives of the evangelical orphan care movement: Adopted for Life by Russell Moore; Reclaiming Adoption by Dan Cruver; Orphanology by Tony Merida; and my own A Passion for the Fatherless. Of those four books, mine is certainly the least well-known, so it was—in a weird way—an honor to be included with men I respect and some I have the privilege of calling friends.
At the conclusion of his article, Dr. Smolin offers an invitation for continued dialogue. I have already corresponded with Dr. Smolin and told him I appreciate his critique. In my correspondence with him, I have found him as good as his word. He is cordial to those with whom he disagrees and enters into discussions with good faith.
Here are some of my thoughts on Smolin’s article that may be helpful for continuing a dialogue:
First, Smolin rightly realizes that theology has practical consequences.
The impact of theology on our actions is a major concern of my ministry and book. I appreciated that Smolin’s article is a theological argument. He is concerned with dangerous currents within the pro-adoption movement and realizes that faulty theology may be to blame.
He contends that “the errors of scriptural and theological analysis have produced, and are producing, practices that in scriptural and Biblical terms would be called ‘sinful’ and in more secular language can be called exploitative” (1).
While I disagree with aspects of his contention regarding the extent of the scriptural and theological errors and the extent of the exploitative effects of the ministry, Smolin and I are very close in terms of where the starting point of the discussion should be. Furthermore, his desire to be faithful to the biblical evidence has certainly caused me to search the Scriptures more carefully in the days since reading his article.
Second, he rightly understands the need to care for the disenfranchised.
This is obviously an area of significant agreement. Smolin cites my work at the conclusion of the following paragraph:
…God asserts his role as the protector and provider of this vulnerable family unit, and demands that His people, rather than exploiting the vulnerability of this family unit, imitate Him by protecting and providing for the widow and the fatherless (20).
I’m uncertain as to whether or not Smolin is citing me to indicate my agreement with this statement or to suggest that I disagree with it. I’m also unsure why he cited pages 23-56 of my book. I think he meant to cite pages 39-55. So, while I may be wrong, I will assume he understands that I absolutely agree with this statement and the larger point he is making.
Third, Smolin is right when he warns of the danger of confusing texts on caring for orphans with calls to adoption.
Smolin argues that one of the fallacies of the evangelical orphan care movement is to see “adoption” injunctions in every text dealing with caring for orphans (e.g., 2). He is correct to see this tendency. While I would argue he overstates the discontinuity between adoption and caring for the orphan, his point deserves consideration.
I make a similar point in my book (e.g., 22-23; 195). There is a reason I tried to make my book deal with orphan care ministry and not just adoption. I’ve been concerned that churches have focused too much on adoption and not enough on holistic orphan care ministry. Even though I’ve been vaguely aware of this danger, I certainly haven’t been able to articulate it as well—or as strongly—as Smolin.
Fourth, he grapples with moral issues that must be addressed by the evangelical orphan care movement.
Smolin offers a blistering critique of the evangelical orphan care ministry’s intercountry adoption focus.
The intercountry adoption system routinely is willing to spend $20,000 to $40,000 on an intercountry adoption, while not being willing to spend even a few hundred dollars on the preservation of the original family. Hence, taking away children from the poor is not considered a corrupt or illegal practice by the modern intercountry adoption movement, but instead is considered standard practice. Intercountry adoption systems that offer family preservation assistance to avoid relinquishment due to poverty are, in developing nations, the exception rather than the rule. The movement has yet to learn that taking away the children of the poor and vulnerable is neither a Christian nor a humanitarian act” (30, emphases added).
Yes, Smolin verges on presenting a false dichotomy between adoption and family preservation and over generalizes, both of which I will address later. But my stomach churned as I read these words because I fear Smolin is largely right. This reality must be forcefully addressed by the evangelical community.
Next blog will look more closely at areas of disagreement with Dr. Smolin's article.