So today is "Orphan Sunday". A day that many Christian churches "focus on the plight and reality of orphans around the world" as one website says. While you will hear some mention of sponsorship or other care, the key focus has been and continues to be on adoption. You'll see some heart tugging pictures and hear some gut wrenching stories about "The Orphan". You'll see the "Happy Ever After" pictures and hear those stories. Depending on the group presenting, you'll get the feeling that you can't possibly be a Christian if you do not jump up from the pew and sign on with an adoption agency right then and there to rescue one of "The Orphans". You'll definitely hear some really, really big numbers thrown around... 148 MILLION or 153 MILLION or even 160 MILLION ORPHANS!!!
Lets stop right there for a minute. What is an orphan? If you're like me and English is your primary language (and you probably are) then I think we can agree that webster's is a good source for the answer to this question.
If you read wikipedia it goes on to say "In common usage, only a child (or the young of an animal) who has lost both parents is called an orphan." Hmm, yeah, sounds about right to me. Ok, lets check back in on that HUGE number of "orphans", that 148 MILLION or 153 MILLION or 160 MILLION ORPHANS! Well those numbers come from UNICEF. And UNICEF has a funky definition of an "orphan". Their definition is "a child who has lost at least one parent". Wait, say what?? Yup, you read that right. The vast, vast majority (roughly 90%) of those 148/153/160/whatever-it-is MILLION "orphans" are not actually orphans at all!! And even fewer of those who are truly orphans are "lacking support or care or supervision" since they live with extended family of one form or other. Ok, continuing on.
As you have probably guessed by now I am no fan of "Orphan Sunday" or people who refer to "The Orphan(s)". There is a lot wrong with this in my opinion from the focus on adoption over family preservation, to the pressure placed on Christians to adopt (which can and does result in children being placed in unprepared homes), and the objectifying of the children, and the pressure placed on children who are adopted to be grateful, and to the misrepresentation both of the true numbers and the type of child needing adoption! The hard part is that there are children in need of new families, but they are almost never healthy, infant girls. Actually they are rarely either healthy or young. If the Christian church truly wants to follow the command of James 1:27 then they must stop ending the verse after "care for the orphans". They must start caring for the widow. If they will focus on that, very few orphans will need their care.
In case you happen to be interested in some good ways to support family preservation and avoid the whole orphan thing in the first place here are a few of my favorites: In Ethiopia, Because Every Mother Matters (facebook page explains more) and Embracing Hope and In China: Love Without Boundaries Unity Fund.