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U.S. News Archive
September 28 - September 30, 2000





This page contains news for the period September 28, 2000 through September 30, 2000.


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Friday, September 29, 2000

Author and adoptive father says the time is now for open attitudes

A story published today in the Kansas City Star says that Adam Pertman, a reporter for The Boston Globe and author of the new book Adoption Nation (Basic Books, $25), says that just as divorce, single parenthood, stepfamilies, same-sex unions and interracial marriages are redefining our understanding of families in America, so, too, is adoption.

A father of two adopted children himself, Pertman was in Kansas City this week for a conference on families. He echoed one of the leading messages of his book: The time when adoptions were veiled in secrecy, lies and embarrassment is over; let the days of truth, honesty and openness begin.

Pertman talked about what he calls the "adoption revolution."  The following is an excerpt from his interview with the Star:

Q. You strongly support open adoption in which adoptees and their parents have some contact, through letters or even sustained personal contact, with their child's birth mother or parents. Why are you so adamant?

A. The healthiest adoptive relationships I see are those that are wide open. What we have learned as adoption comes out from underground is that psychologically these kids do far better when they have information about and sometimes contact with their biological parents than when they don't.

We would never deliberately create a new, wonderful and humane social institution and build it on a foundation of secrecy, embarrassment and lies. But this is an institution that for generations lived on that foundation. Adoptees were lied to. Adoptive parents lied to themselves. Birth mothers, denied information about their children, were kept in the dark. An institution built on that foundation cannot be healthy.

You and I always knew everything about ourselves, and what we didn't know, we could ask Mom and Dad. We all want to know who we are and where we come from. How come my eyes are brown and your eyes aren't brown? I promise you, and I have interviewed a gazillion adoptees, they all want to know.

Many adoptive parents are wary of such contact. When they adopt, they are looking for a child to be theirs. They are not looking to take on a relationship with the child's birth mother or parents. How do you ease those fears?

Our fears, our concerns, our insecurity are born of a lack of knowledge.

If you polled everyone in this room and asked, `How often do you think today's adoptees and adoptive parents meet and have a relationships with birth parents?' I would bet you any sum of money that upward of 90 percent would say it happens, but not very often. They would be wrong.

Upward of 90 percent of new adoptive parents have some contact with birth parents of their children, and a lot of them have sustained contact.


Thursday, September 28, 2000

Book says diversity is hallmark of Biblical families

A story published today in the Christian Science Monitor notes how the question "What is a family?" has divided Americans in recent years, pitting so-called traditionalists against progressives.

Gathering in one camp are those who, like theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, argue for the acceptance of diverse family forms resulting from divorce, remarriage, single parenthood, and gay and lesbian relationships.  Marshaling forces on the other side are traditionalists who claim that the true family consists of a married father and mother and their children. This family, they contend, is based in the Bible.

In her new book "Christianity and the Making of the Modern Family," Ruether challenges the biblical origins of that patriarchal family. There has never, she says, "been only one form of family."

Although many modern Christians think Christianity has always championed the family, Ruether demonstrates that during much of its history, Christianity took a negative or highly ambivalent view of marriage, sexual relations, and procreation. "The ideal Christian was unmarried, celibate, and childless" - a profile distinctly at odds, she says, with the Christian right's definition of family.

Even the New Testament, Ruether points out, appears at times to be "antifamily." She cites Jesus' insistence that any disciple of his must be willing to forsake father and mother and family.

Fifteen centuries later, the Protestant Reformation rejected the ideal of celibacy for leaders. Martin Luther maintained that God gave men and women marriage as "the basic unit of society for companionship and procreation."

By the late 18th century, as artisan guilds and later the Industrial Revolution separated the family home from the workplace, middle-class homes in the United States, England, and France became a refuge from work and business. A Victorian ideal of the modern family emerged, complete with a new religious ideology portraying the home as a "magic circle of pure womanhood and innocent childhood."

In the 1970s, the religious right gained power as a backlash against feminism and the civil rights, student left, antiwar, and gay rights movements. Under the banner of family values, Ruether claims, the Christian right sought to reestablish the Victorian model of working husband and full-time wife.

But Ruether, a professor of theology at the Garrett-Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Ill., says that "family values" a "misleading and partisan" term. "The patriarchal family is a human construct, not a divine mandate," she states.

Looking ahead, Ruether emphasizes the need to "reimagine" family relationships based on equality and partnership rather than on men's domination and women's submission. She envisions policies that reconfigure work-family relations, including shorter and more flexible hours, paid parental leave, and limits on a workaholic lifestyle.

"In the ancient Hebrew vision, work time must be balanced by sabbath time," she explains. "Working all the time is not a virtue but a sin, a grave violation of our relation to God and to one another in the life-sustaining rhythms of creation and re-creation."

Most controversial is Ruether's desire to create "covenant celebrations" in churches that can "hallow and heal" people in many types of relationships. Younger cohabiting couples could exchange temporary vows, while those in "permanently committed" relationships could choose long-term vows. Critics can argue persuasively that such church-based events, sanctioning and celebrating cohabitation, could further undermine marriage.

Ruether sometimes lapses into academic prose. She writes about "desacramentalizing" marriage, about "families living in mutuality," and about efforts to "relativize perceptions of fixed family roles." But that is a small complaint. Her impressive scholarship, interweaving social history with religious history, puts the family in a fascinating historical context. 


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