This is a review of Johnny Carr’s book Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adoption. We want to thank Keelan Cook, doctoral student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, for doing this book review at the request of Baptist21. This book is available for purchase here.
Take care of orphans.
It is pretty clear this is a command to the church straight out of the pages of Scripture. James says it this way, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Js 1:27, ESV). It cannot get much clearer than that.
However, understanding we have a responsibility to orphans and widows in their affliction and actually knowing what we should do are completely different things.
Of recent, the discussion of orphan care has seen new life. Men such as Russell Moore, Tony Merida, and Dan Cruver contributed much to this conversation, and now Johnny Carr adds to the growing movement with his new book, Orphan Justice.
This book is not a theological treatise on adoption, and it is not some heady or detached treatment of the issues of adoption and orphan care. Instead, it is the personal story of Carr’s journey into the world of orphan care with stops along the way to highlight the lessons he has learned. Carr’s experience in adopting and his work for orphan care are here framed as a challenge for the church to see this as a central task of her mission.
What is it about?
In his attempt to develop a wholistic model for orphan care, Carr does the much needed work of clarifying the landscape of orphan care. Orphan Justice is more than a mere two-dimensional call to end fatherlessness. The book’s fresh realism demonstrates the complexity of the issues that surround orphan care. Carr exposes this web of complexity chapter-by-chapter, and in this context he calls the church to thoughtful action.
Carr says it this way:
“Developing a model for orphan care forces us to dive into every aspect of an orphan’s struggle, even when it’s uncomfortable… nearly all of these children are faced with the nightmare of poverty, human trafficking, HIV/AIDS, deplorable orphanages, abusive foster care situations, racism, and a host of social evils.”
Carr makes several bold points that support his call to action.
Not every orphan should be adopted.
In defining the term orphan, Carr shows the wide scope of that term. He distinguishes between single orphans (those who have lost one parent) and double orphans (those who have lost both), pointing to the greatly differing needs between the two. Even within these groups, the needs are not always the same for every orphan. Furthermore, “An unregulated ‘get every kid adopted’ approach is likely to encourage child kidnapping and trafficking,” states Carr.
By laying out these distinctions, Carr helps the reader see the dilemma with better eyes, allowing them to understand the task is not simply getting every orphan adopted into some middle class home in America. With this fresh perspective, the ways in which the church can tackle orphan care are greatly expanded past adoption. This frees the church to seek wholistic solutions.
But orphanages are not the solution.
However, Carr also warns against the temptation to see orphanages as the solution. Every orphan may not need to be adopted, but orphanages are not the answer.
“Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children,” begins Carr’s argument against the widespread institutional approach to orphan care. Large institutions that house children in this manner are notorious for poor living conditions, health issues, and even human rights violations. Furthermore, becoming acclimated to this type of lifestyle virtually assures the child emotional or mental health problems.
While he does admit that orphanages are, in certain circumstances, better than nothing for a child, we must not settle at that level of care. Instead, we must seek a solution that does not institutionalize these children.
Community-based care is best.
If man made orphanages, Carr points out that God made the family. And it is in this setting that children will thrive.
While that sounds obvious, a quick inventory of our most common approaches to orphan care show that community-based solutions are desperately lacking. Carr raises significant alternatives to institutional care. For instance, the same amount of money that goes into adopting one international child and bringing them to the states could fund a local family to provide for that child in his home culture for a long time.
In addition, Carr draws together various aspects of the churches mission and shows how they coincide when he claims that church planting in unreached, poverty-stricken areas is a solution to the orphan dilemma. “As a church is cultivated and grows, believers have the opportunity to care for and open homes to local orphaned and vulnerable children,” claims Carr.
By partnering with local churches, outposts of gospel community, in these places, our churches here can help support them in caring for the orphans in their own community.
Conclusion: Read it.
At times, his words are gut-wrenching, sometimes they are comical, and mostly they are convicting, yet the book is consistently helpful for individuals or churches serious about understanding the issues that surround orphan care.
Remember, it is a call to action, and Carr does not leave his readers wondering how they can walk in obedience to God’s commands concerning orphans. Each chapter ends with practical ways to engage in the gospel-centered care of the “least of these.”