Haiti: Abduction, Adoption, or Arrogance?

Some friends and I have been pondering on my Facebook profile about the recent allegations of child trafficking in Haiti. Of course by now you would recognize the allegations that have been levied against a group of well-meaning Baptist from Idaho.

Today in my class on Ethics, we spent a good deal of the time discussing and talking about this particular situation with specific regard to how each person in the class experienced this story; that is, how was it that with our experiences as sources of ethical authority we were processing whether this was a tale of horrific magnitude or just a big misunderstanding. (See Margaret Farley on The Role of Experience in Moral Discernment)

As I processed this more, my thoughts on my Facebook page began to make more sense and I began to draw greater links between the experiences that had shaped my responses and my thoughts there. For instance, on Facebook I wrote:

1. I’m convinced that there should be strict regulation of American non-profits who move to “help” other countries in crisis. Ex. Haiti!

From an international development stand point, my experience with those who said to me, “I just wish the evangelical Americans would stay out of the way and let the people who know what they are doing do it” deeply influenced my response. These comments were most often spoken with regards to development work in Kabul and in the tsunami in Southeast Asia.

In a way, I still find the critique of internationals with regard to American arrogance in action a fair one. In fact, I for one think that most Americans who live abroad need this kind of exposure to how Americans are perceived in these kinds of situations. (This isn’t to say that Americans don’t do an enormous amount of good in the world!)

Then I commented:

2. So, if its not regulation then what is it?

I still think in these situations (regardless of the phase of development or response) that some kind of monitoring needs to happen. In fact, because the opportunity for well-meaning but misinformed action is possibility in many cases, I think the international community needs to do even more.

Seriously, though Paul commented on my blog “if you are going to sin, sin boldly” with regard to doing good in this kind of the situation, the horror is: the Baptist got caught doing this but there are hundreds more children who have already been trafficked to other parts of the world WITHOUT ANYONE KNOWING IT! This is why groups like this I think need to be punished regardless of their intentions. It was illegal.

[As an aside, I also am one who thinks that the situation a few years back with regards to the two young missionaries from America who were captured by the Taliban and then rescued by the US military is an interesting case in ethical religious processing. Was this not the intervention of the US military into the legal system of a country of a different religion for religious reasons? In other words, they were breaking the law and yet we kept them from punishment? But what if a tactical group of Muslims broke into Guantanamo and rescued the people held there? Would they be liberators or terrorists?]

Finally, I commented:

3. At some point, every non-profit has to use donations to pay for overhead, people, and resources to help. It’s an illusion to think otherwise and I don’t trust ones that say 100% goes anywhere!

While Ben was right to point out that there are specific giving campaigns for certain causes, my experience is that non-profits inevitably have to use funds from somewhere to pay for things everywhere.

By this I mean to simply say that someone gave money to pay for their greatest vision for the work and most donors don’t find giving to admin stuff the sexiest thing to give to. Some do, but in my experience, most don’t.

This is why I wonder if most non-profits shouldn’t also be experimenting with some Fourth sector thinking. Or if not this, a stronger consideration with regards to for-profit activities ought to be taken during times of financial difficulty. And lets face it, we are in one of those times.

So, these are just a few more of my reflections on the situation. I must admit, after the conversation today in my class, I’m convinced that there are other classrooms of students who weren’t reflecting on how this situation reminded them of the exploitation of enslaved Africans brought to the Americans or, the sexual exploitation of children in India or, the need for people to know what it is they are doing when they travel internationally to help others (obvious).

I’m sure there were students at others schools praying for these people to be freed, hoping for the truth to be revealed, and yes, even rationalizing the good reasons why some of the parents have said they wanted to give their children up for a better life. Regardless of whether I agree, they think this is right.

The truth is, depending on where you are from, who you’re friends with, and what you’ve experienced in life, what you really think about this (tragic) situation is not borne out of a vacuum nor based on some greater ultimate principal. In fact, I think this situation may just demonstrate again why it is not reasonable to suggest that there is any kind of a universal moral ethic.


14 thoughts on “Haiti: Abduction, Adoption, or Arrogance?

  1. I’m in total agreement on #1 — at least in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. The UMVIM coordinator in my conference says:

    “I know personally how hard it is to sit and watch, thinking, ‘I need to get on a plane and go there personally to see what I can do to help.’ Noble thoughts, but not really all that helpful. Our need for shelter, food and water, language assistance and supervision would be the second great disaster to visit Haiti this month. Patience is a virtue and in this case the rule for the day.”

    The rules that UMCOR, UMVIM, and FEMA (yes, I just combined the UMC & the US government in an example!) have created are that
    1) only trained “First Responders” can go into Hait right now,
    2) work teams with previous experience in Haiti will probably be able to go in mid-March or later,
    and 3) new work teams may go in late spring or early summer to build on the earlier work.

    In the case of the Baptist missionaries, I would argue that their abduction/adoption was a combination of arrogance (as you suggested) AND ignorance. A person with a minimal amount of attention to international news would know that child trafficking is a huge problem and that Haiti is a major source in the Western hemisphere.

  2. And re: #3, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) *does* send 100% of donations received to the project specified.

    The overhead is paid for by a yearly offering called “One Great Hour of Sharing”:


    (Wikipedia also has a decent article that explains how all designated giving goes 100% to the intended project).

  3. After reading these articles via the links you provided I have to say I disagree with your assessment if it’s based on this story.
    Are we implying this was actually child trafficking? I would be more inclined to say it was a dumb decision from a place of well-meaning intent.
    Secondly, you still haven’t said WHO exactly makes these regulations. If it’s the government then that’s pretty bold faith. All we need to do is look at Katrina and its aftermath to see how inefficient the federal government is.

    Re #2: There is a huge difference between a recognized government capturing US missionaries and the Taliban. The US rescues ANY Americans captured by the Taliban because it’s the Taliban-not because of any preferential religious alignment. Surely as a person who speaks out for religious equality and peace you can’t recognize the Taliban with any legitimacy. The Taliban is a group based on hatred who is guilty of bastardizing the Koran.

    Here is another question: If these were not Southern Baptist missionaries would you feel as strongly about their punishment? In other words, if they were from a less fundamentalist organization would you feel as strong about their being punished?

  4. Diane- Thanks for the ongoing dialogue about UMCOR. You and Ben are pretty good Methodists. I’m still not 100% convinced, but that is just my experience with organizational life. I can be honest about that.

    Ben- as you will have seen from the news reports today, they’ve been charged with kidnapping. Bluntly, the only difference between kidnapping and trafficking is exchange. And as reported, the group explicitly stated on their website that they had intention to work towards offering adoptions. From my perspective, that is intent to traffic.

    As for the legitimacy of the Taliban: no, I’m not sure I give much weight to them. However, that doesn’t mean that the women didn’t break the rules of the local government and deserve punishment. Do we agree on that? That in the name of their ideology they broke the law to advance their cause, which was different than the ideology or culture of the country in which they were residing.

    I need to say that I really do think that this stuff matters. I think it matters because this is the world in which we now find ourselves: global, connected, diverse (and we know it) and always able to find out about something happening somewhere else instantly.

    In my opinion, this ought to inspire people of every faith (and non-faith) for an even greater understanding of what it means to be good, compassionate, ethical, and law abiding neighbors.


  5. I’m enjoying the in-person and on-line dialogue…

    We’ll make a Methodist of you yet 😉

    I will admit that Ben’s question about judging them immediately because they’re SBC stopped me cold. After thinking about it for a while, however, I think that regardless of political/theological leanings, I am always suspicious of “rogue” groups (in the sense of unconnected to larger institutions/formal denominational structures). But that reveals my deep institutional bias… (and hence my trust of UMCOR as the best manager of our resources).

    Josh, your last sentence — “good, compassionate, ethical, and law abiding neighbors” strikes at the heart of the matter for the missionaries. If I may speak for them for a moment: What happens when what is “compassionate” is not the same as “law-abiding”?

    ps. I’m always adoring alliteration 🙂

  6. *And please note that my question on judging them so quickly because of their SBC credentials was a statement of indictment for myself.

    Any country run by the Taliban doesn’t have legitimate laws in regards to human rights-and I am fully aware of how biased, Western, American, Christian, etc. that statement is. That’s like saying we have to respect the human rights laws of the government of Sudan while they commit genocide. If they had been residents of that country we would hail them as heroes for their civil disobedience in the face of a corrupt and tyrannical government.

    If we are a global community where do we draw the line of helping and aiding those in need? Material goods and resources? Teaching that will empower? Or participation in such civil disobedience even as outsiders?

    Sorry-I know this is getting way off the issue at hand.

  7. If there’s no ultimate ground for moral norms, then what is the basis for implementing the policies you say you want? If your answer can’t be — and to be sure, it simply can’t be — that it is wrong or bad to kidnap or rush in without adequate training, then I can’t tell why you think it would be okay to force people to act one way or another. I can call that immoral and foolish on Aristotelian/Thomistic grounds — but what have you left yourself to call that stuff except “stuff Josh doesn’t like”?

    If there’s no ultimate ground, there’s nothing worth calling ethics — only the illusion of ethics.

  8. I agree that arrogance, ignorance, or over-zealous religious chauvanism may well be PART of the issues for the American Missionaries now accused of International Child Trafficing violations.

    But on the other hand, it is very difficult to find concrete information about who ORGANIZED this operation, and what their initial interactions were with their contact people in Haiti.

    In my opinion, this subjects this whole matter to uninformed, opinionated debate from both PRO, and CON directions.

    Truthfully my OWN interpretation of the matter is equally opinionated.

    However I am negatively influenced by the abcense of any indication of commanding legal restraint, among the alleged perpetrators.

    Uniformly they all rush to offer International Journalists, and anyone else, their ubiquitously smiling, self-serving, statements, and legally DANGEROUS interpretations of their organization’s mission.

    Hence it is my opinion that no legitimately organized Charitable Program would allow its personnel to procede on this kind of “every man (or woman) for himself” track, unless it was about to roll up its own carpet bag, and leave its indicted go-to people to fend for themselves.

  9. Kevin-

    Thanks for making sure that the logic fits. I expect that from you.

    So let me clear this up: I believe that you can have ethics without the need for ultimate ground. Inevitably though, this is much messier.

    I mean, think about all that we have learned with the lessons of post-colonialism. Or think about the way in which many are describing the increasing failure of systematic theology. In both cases, that something can be local, rational, orderly, and coherent without having to be ultimate or universal is proving to be true.

    In fact, I would argue that if we are learning much from the age of technology within which we currently live, it is that people everywhere are more different than we thought, and, really have different experiences of what is true.

    Thus, we technosapiens must hold in delicate tension the experiences and realities of other people not on the grounds of discovering something ultimate, but in the hope of discovering that which is both particular and good (and possibly shared).

    So, I can talk about the poor decision making of the Baptists not because “I don’t like it,” but because the laws of the international community (and the local government) have deemed child trafficking as wrong. And, I don’t like it:)

    What is more problematic are situations where local laws and larger culture of life activists seem to be at odds. Like the death penalty for homosexuals in Uganda, or for journalist/protestors in Iran. In those cases, the laws seem to be out of sync with what is good, rational and coherent. But here I am admitting my own bias. Or worse, I am admitting that the technology which has made the knowledge of such things available to me has also left me full of opinion, but powerless to actually changing anything.

    Does this make sense?


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