By Fritz Gutwein
Associated Baptist Press
The arrest and jailing in Haiti of 10 Southern Baptists on charges of kidnapping and criminal association is appropriate and consistent with gospel values.
While I do not like to see anyone suffer, I fully support the Haitian government in its prosecution of the Americans who thought they were doing God’s work when they sought to, in their own words, “gather 100 orphans from the streets” in their bus and take them to the Dominican Republic.
Haiti is in crisis from a devastating earthquake like no other in our lifetime. 200,000 people have likely died. And 10,000 non-governmental organizations, all with good intentions, are descending on Haiti in an attempt to ease suffering. The better NGOs work with the Haitian people and what is left of the Haitian government.
The Southern Baptists from Idaho appear to have worked solely with a single Haitian-American pastor and ignored advice that what they were doing was wrong, illegal and that they would likely be detained when they attempted to cross the border with these passport-less, non-orphaned children.
That they would go from orphanage to orphanage and then door to door looking for children to take to the Dominican Republic and then hopefully to good Christian homes in the United States is an exploitation of the suffering and desperation of the Haitian children, their parents and prospective adoptive parents.
The people and government of Haiti need our help. But they don’t need American Christians coming to their country to take away their children.
All people cherish family. For years, my wife and I worked with Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children as therapeutic foster parents. We went through countless hours of training, sat through many in-home visits from qualified social workers and were overjoyed to share our lives with children in crisis. Our first priority was the care and safety of the child. The second was reunification with their birth family.
Breaking up a family is serious business. Removing a child from its culture is serious business. Children always dream of going home. And yet, sometimes what is best is for children to be placed elsewhere. But it is impossible for that to be determined without a good deal of investigation and reflection — and that certainly can’t happen in a quick trip across two countries by people not trained in social work or running an orphanage. This should be done by well-trained professionals and not inexperienced, well-intentioned people on their first trip to Haiti.
Accelerating the adoption process for children already in the system who have been matched with families is one thing. Combing the streets to find children to remove from any home or homeland is another — and, frankly, is quite appalling. Would it have been God’s will for missionaries to have descended on New Orleans after Katrina to rescue children by taking them to Canada with the hope of being adopted in France?
The prosecution of these well-intentioned, but misguided and unrepentant Baptists is good for the church.
The lawyer for the Idaho 10 has called them victims — victims of the Haitians who duped them into thinking they had the correct paperwork. He is both right and wrong. They were duped by the peculiar strain of American evangelicalism that seems to think the United States is God’s chosen country and that seeks conversions by any and all means, including adoption.
This strain of American evangelicalism has duped many churchgoers into thinking the lifestyle enjoyed by middle-class Americans is the ideal. If someone, or some country, has a lifestyle that is not up to our economic standards, they are somehow in need of our lifestyle and our culture.
This has been taken to the extreme by theologians and pastors who encourage infertile couples to have the family of their dreams and expand the Kingdom at the same time by adopting a child from another culture and heritage and replacing that heritage and faith with their own.
It should not be surprising that well-intentioned, God-fearing Baptists of such congregations would then respond to a tragedy such as the Haiti earthquake by flying to the Dominican Republic one day, driving a bus to Haiti the next and attempting to return with children that will both fulfill their dreams and expand the rolls of those who will enter the kingdom of their God.
This doctrine of salvation is false. It is good for the church that it is exposed for the heresy it is by this prosecution.
It is my hope that those of us who want so desperately to help our Haitian brothers and sisters will respond to this crisis with swift aid and thoughtful attention to the dreams and plans of the Haitian people themselves. I hope we will be able to work alongside them to help them refine those dreams for a new future on the island they call home. That is good for Haiti, good for families and good for the church.
Fritz Gutwein is a Baptist minister, a therapeutic foster and adoptive parent as well as co-director of the Quixote Center and coordinator of their Haiti Reborn program.
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