Last week I flew to Minneapolis to present at my second KAAN (Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network) Conference. Leading up to the conference, I had been preparing presentations with Shaaren Pine and Grace Newton.
In my first presentation, “Body Betrayal” with Shaaren, we talked about our bodies and growing up with brown skin in white families and what that meant for our identities. As moms, we also talked about how we are trying to raise our children to love themselves and appreciate their respective cultures.
My second presentation, “For God’s Sake: the Role of Christianity in Adoption” was with Grace, and I was a little nervous to present. We wanted to explore the role of the church in international adoption and how our religious upbringings played a role in our lives as adults. But I wasn’t sure how the presentation was going to be received since the session was open to adoptees and their families.
In my experiences so far, adoptive parents can be very defensive. And sometimes deservedly so. The decision to adopt (especially transracially) is very public. It’s sometimes impossible to avoid questions from strangers about your family, and everyone has an opinion about what you’re doing right or wrong. Sometimes you’re praised, sometimes you’re criticized, and adopting is never neutral act. Adoption is a charged, complicated, complex thing.
Truthfully, I was a little nervous about both our audience of adoptive parents and our questioning of the church, and in the minutes before our presentation started, my heart starting beating a little faster. What if they call me out? What if they ask me a question I’m not sure how to answer? What if they tell me I’m wrong?
Fortunately, none of those things happened. I started the presentation by explaining that our session topic was born out of a conversation I had with Grace. The previous year, we were roommates at KAAN in Pittsburg and back in our room we started sharing our backgrounds stories, and we realized that we had a lot in common.
Grace and I both grew up in the church, and church attendance was a big part of our lives. We also knew that we weren’t alone and that there was a obvious connection between Christianity and adoption. I told the audience that so many international adoptees come from Christian homes, which lead Grace and I to explore the topic further.
Throughout our presentation we discussed how adoption in the church is seen as a form of charity, a tool of evangelism, and a fulfillment of God’s promise of children. Early on in our presentation, Grace basically summed up our message in one sentence: “When you see adoption as divine, you ignore the economic, social, and political conditions that created the circumstances for adoption.”
We explained how we’d like to see the church change in its role in adoption. There is a Biblical command to care for widows and orphans, but history shows the focus has been on the latter. And interestingly, many children adopted internationally are not actually orphans, but have a living parent or living family members. We ended the presentation with ideas of how the church can change its role in international adoptions including the support of single mothers, family preservation and reunification, and post adoption services.
When we finished our presentation, several audience members expressed their gratitude that we were talking about a sort of “taboo” topic, and our Q&A period produced a meaningful discussion among adoptees, adoptive parents, and other family members.
I was encouraged that people were open minded and listened. The experience also encouraged me to keep speaking out about the hard stuff because we need to have the difficult discussions. As Grace and I explained, adoption isn’t going anywhere. It’s as old as the Bible. But what can change is how we approach the removal of a child from their country, culture, and family. Change has to start somewhere, and I’m hopeful that honest conversations about adoption can initiate changes in international adoptions.