Global Economies, Immigration, and Precarious Places

I’m pleased to publish this essay by Matthew Petersen.

In response to somewhat shrill claims by some Christian intellectuals that Christians ought to support mass migration, and oppose Brexit, Stephen Wolfe recently published an article at Mere Orthodoxy arguing that Christians can (and perhaps should) oppose immigration. Stephen draws from an impressive array of natural law sources to argue that the differentiation between foreigner and citizen is good, and a natural part of human life. This differentiation is integral in protecting the particularities in and through which communities are formed and given their deep particular character.

This position regarding the deep particularity of places is also argued, persuasively, in a piece by Alastair Roberts published by Mere Orthodoxy on Brexit, and the necessity of making peace between the cosmopolitans who tended to oppose Brexit and the locals who favored it. Alastair lays out the competing anthropologies on which hopes for mass immigration, and opposition to it, are based. According to a liberal anthropology, we are all interchangeable individuals, whose connection to our land, our parents, and our people, is merely accidental; on the other hand, according to a more Biblical anthropology, our person is always deeply embedded in the particularities of a people and a land. Continue reading

The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence

It’s probably appropriate and wise to begin a review of Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros’ newly-released The Locust Effect by admitting my biases up front: I’ve been an unabashed supporter of International Justice Mission since the early 2000s, particularly after seeing IJM’s work highlighted on Dateline NBC in June 2003. I’ve applied to work for IJM, have attended the organization’s Global Prayer Gathering and Christmas Benefit gala, occasionally carpool with the CFO, and up until a recent re-allocation of our family’s charitable giving, have been a monthly supporter. So when you read me asserting that over the last fifteen years IJM has revolutionized how the evangelical community in the United States thinks about, talks about, and actually pursues, justice in the developing world, you should know that these are the words of a less-than-neutral observer.bookAngle-GalleryPage

The thesis of The Locust Effect is straightforward: without effectively addressing the “locusts” of “common, everyday, predatory violence” (50) and lawlessness that eat away at the politically and economically disenfranchised in the developing world, no amount of poverty-alleviation work is going to do any lasting good. (94-97) The world, argue Haugen and Boutros, has arrived at a “critical inflection point” where the total percentage of individuals living in dire economic conditions has dropped significantly from years past; however, due to a host of factors, there has been little change in absolute numbers (47-49).

The Locust Effect is meant to spotlight how in conjunction with continued poverty-alleviation programs aimed at well-known challenges of clean water, sanitation, public health, education (especially women’s education), and access to capital and seed money, there has to be concerted efforts at reforming public justice and law enforcement systems. “[P]eople,” the co-authors insist, “do not commonly see [violence] as intrinsic to the problem of poverty…poor people—by virtue of their poverty—are not only vulnerable to hunger, disease, homelessness, illiteracy and a lack of opportunity; they are also vulnerable to violence.” (50) In the developing world, the poor are decidedly more vulnerable to the predations of the strong and corrupt. The strong and corrupt must therefore be deterred, and the Locust Effect insists that deterrence arises out of functioning, non-corrupt law enforcement organs.

The book is structured in three distinct parts. First, in chapters one and two the authors provide a descriptive and typological analysis of the overall problem. The first chapter is not for the faint of heart; it is emotionally trying. The authors describe without apologies real-life cases including, among others, (a) an intentional police and local authority cover-up of a sexual assault/murder of an eight-year old girl in a Peruvian town; (b) the use of physical assault and rape in India to keep bonded laborers from fleeing a brick factory, followed by a litany of failures in the Indian court system. Chapter Two is a more systematic examination of sexual violence (including trafficking), forced/slave labor, “property grabbing” or land expropriation, and police abuse (particularly police predation, arbitrary detention and torture). Haugen and Boutros explain how physical and psychological coercion operate in each of these four categories, but they go into greater detail on how sex trafficking and forced/slave labor are business operations reliant upon deception (to lure economically-vulnerable victims away from the protection of their families and local communities with promises of better jobs or more pay) and violence (what they label the “coercive moment” that keeps victims from leaving and/or reporting).

With respect to police abuse, the chapter touches on extortion and torture, but devotes most space to the injustices associated with lengthy and often-capricious pre-trial detention: lost files, sclerotic legal systems, lack of sanitation, jail overcrowding, and, the longer-lasting damage this does to one’s family, livelihood and psyche. Chapters three and four round out this first part, reiterating the overall argument that this unrestrained violence, the “de facto lawlessness” (111) bred from an ongoing absence of enforcement, impedes human flourishing and cries out not just for attacking “root causes,” but for good policing.

In the middle section, Haugen and Boutros offer an entire chapter (five) describing the chronic infirmities that typically beset law enforcement and public justice in the developing world, and then, over the course of four subsequent chapters, they attempt to locate the origins of the more common political and organizational maladies. I found the discussion in these middle five chapters some of the most engaging of the entire book, particularly Haugen and Boutros’ careful outline of how systemic dysfunction proliferates throughout the three public justice branches (investigational, prosecutorial and judicial), and their analysis of how 19th and early 20th century models of colonial policing combined with late 20th and early 21st century proclivities for privatized corporate security to bring about the current state.

Take, for instance, their discussion of present-day, developing world police forces. It isn’t as simple as the stereotypical coterie of corrupt officers who shakedown the vulnerable and unwary in order to make up for their paltry salaries, arrest those who can’t pay up, and take bribes from those who they should be arresting. There is that, of course, which the co-authors characterize as a “bidding war” over enforcement. (128) But Haugen and Boutros don’t just stop there. Instead, they carefully outline a host of interconnected problems: politicos who aim their country’s scarce policing resources away from ‘poor neighborhood’ problems to protection of state (and, truth be told, often their own personal) companies and assets; little to no training when it comes to interviewing techniques, non-physical interrogation, evidence collection and storage, processing of both criminals and victims; and a woeful lack of infrastructure (i.e. paper, copy equipment, computer hardware, database management; archive retrieval). (123-132)

Chapter seven and eight show that colonial legacies and privatized security are part and parcel of the same problem – that of the relationship between law enforcement and political economy. As Haugen and Boutros clearly bring out, law enforcement in colonial settings was not oriented, in the main, at punishing or deterring colonial subject-on-colonial subject crime or predation, but rather was aimed at guarding and protecting the economic—and typically extractive—interests of the colonial power from labor interruptions, internal dissension, riots and espionage (all of which are encapsulated in Charles Gwynn’s 1934 treatise, Imperial Policing, as enforcement duties rendered in “aid of the civil power”). Indeed, if one can get hold of a library copy of Martin Thomas’ recently-released Violence and Colonial Order (roundtable located here), it makes for an excellent tandem read with these two chapters of Locust Effect. In the developing world, imperial political economy drove the evolution of law enforcement and public justice—the languages used, the way resources were allocated, the overall goals of local enforcement (166-167). The incoherent, rapid, and unprepared way by which former colonial police, intelligence and justice systems were taken over by newly-decolonized states fostered the vacuum one sees today, which, in turn, precipitated the growth of the private security industry. The overwhelming use of privatized security is simply a late 20th and early 21st century manifestation of the same political economy driver.

The last part of the book examines possible avenues for improving or reforming law enforcement in the developing world. Haugen and Boutros insist that when it comes to international aid (whether governmental or non-governmental in character), the program flavor du jour is overly focused on broad, “rule-of-law” approaches that often don’t get down to the nuts-and-bolts of law enforcement infrastructure or training. Moreover, because governments like the United States are (understandably) more interested in protecting citizens from threats which directly impact domestic well-being—terrorism and drugs, for instance—the emphasis on US foreign police training has been almost exclusively centered on counterterrorism and counternarcotics, with comparatively smaller amounts aimed at human trafficking.

In contrast, Haugen and Boutros talk in depth about IJM’s dual approach of “structural transformation” through “collaborative casework.” Over the years, IJM has honed its ability to identify jointly with local law enforcement concrete violations that can be investigated, brought to trial, and result in convictions. In the realm of sex trafficking, this can also include jointly-run surveillance, management and debriefing of confidential informants, undercover operations, and brothel raids. As the co-authors put it, by doing “collaborative casework,” one slowly identifies systemic and structural problems which can then be addressed— jointly—at the local, national or even international level. “Collaborative casework” builds trust and, just as importantly, empathy, between IJM personnel and national law enforcement and public justice officials on the ground. IJM’s Project Lantern—a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—funded initiative that successfully decreased the number of available children in the commercial sex industry in Cebu City, Philippines – gets top billing in this section (and I would recommend reading the project report in conjunction with Locust Effect).

Haugen and Boutros have no illusions about the existence of “magic bullets” or the possibility of overnight improvements to law enforcement in the developing world. One thing I appreciated as a historian about Locust Effect was the co-authors’ discussion about the time and effort it took to professionalize policing in the United States, and how such transformation was often undesired and only able to take hold in fits and starts.

This perspective is valuable because, I would argue, this effort is likely to inaugurate a new phase in IJM’s institutional evolution. In the conclusion, Haugen and Boutros call for both increased participation of law enforcement experts in development and human rights circles and for more local-level projects, and so I wonder if IJM’s organizational future in its role as a liaison broker and “standards protocol” or “best practices” provider. In this way, IJM and its field offices might act organizationally like the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs). Under the JTTF banner, the FBI leads, organizes, liaises with, deconflicts, strategizes, and trains up personnel from a myriad of government, state and local agencies, and as the number of actors—especially private actors—entering the law enforcement reform arena increases, IJM’s reputation, its institutional memory, its existing local footprint, and its methodologies will be at a premium.

This brings up a second, related point. The work and details involved with policing, prosecutorial, and judicial reform in the developing world may not be able to garner the same level of ‘movement cachet’ (or, for that matter, the theological comfort) for churches and individual evangelicals as has the organization’s rally cry for justice. If I could tweak the Gospel Coalition’s “theological famine relief” motif for a minute, I’d like to see churches or denominations adopt individual IJM field offices in order to stave off “law enforcement or justice famine.” I can also see where churches and denominations might be hesitant to do so given limits on resources and/or concerns about condominium with foreign government entities, negative impact on missionary efforts, and doubts about how such an effort directly connects to gospel outreach. I think it’s going to take greater effort to secure long-term evangelical interest in the subject matter of Locust Effort, and I’m curious if the “neo-Anabaptist turn” popular among the Relevant crowd could result in that “tribe’s” hesitancy about sustained, cooperative involvement with foreign law enforcement. One avenue of theological connection to that particular constituency might be found in some of the “just policing” literature, and I also wonder about a larger, positive role that might be played by Christian police associations and ministry groups (like Fellowship of Christian Police Officers, International Christian Police Fellowship, and Christian Police Association).

In conclusion, it is interesting and certainly understandable that Locust Effect was not directly written or marketed for just evangelicals. Haugen ‘s earlier books (Good News About Injustice, Just Courage, and Terrify No More) were directly aimed at the Christian market and were published by evangelical presses. In them, Haugen focused on imago dei as a justification for Christian involvement in the struggle for international justice and worked diligently (and I would say successfully) to overcome the common evangelism vs. social action dichotomy.

The Locust Effect is definitely more advocacy-oriented than other Oxford University Press books I’ve seen, but there is only one section that explicitly addresses IJM’s Christian character (226). And, honestly, I have zero qualms about this. It is exactly the type of book evangelicals need, and it ties nicely together with the current crop of intra-evangelical writing about vocation, “gospel at work” and ordinary vs. radical Christian lifestyles. What does it mean to involve oneself as a Christian in an arena where direct and explicit “workplace evangelism” may be impossible, but where substantial Kingdom dividends could accrue through longevity, steadfastness, and a commitment to what Richard Mouw has labeled “uncommon decency?” Police, crime analysts, detectives, prosecutors, paralegals — these are not the categories of Christian professionals that usually make the so-called “radical” lifestyle cutoff, but through the targeted application of their “ordinary” skill set (guided by organizations like IJM, hopefully in conjunction with a local church body), the Kingdom impact is immeasurable.

In the end, law enforcement and public justice reform in the developing world is going to require steady, disciplined, and trained expertise— Christians and non-Christians experts alike. It is going to require evangelicals who are just plain good at their jobs, and who are able to use their everyday skills for the common good, knowing that Christ is the Lord of all.

Brian J. Auten currently serves as an intelligence analyst with the United States government and is an adjunct professor in the Department of Government at Patrick Henry College. All non-attributed views, opinions and conclusions in the review are those of the author and not the US government, or any entity within the US intelligence community. This review is based on an advance reading copy provided to the author directly from Oxford University Press.

Seven Thoughts on Together for Adoption

I am an outsider to the evangelical adoption movement, and my time at Together for Adoption did not change that.  My wife and I are not considering adopting, nor am I by any means spending my time thinking through the challenges of orphan care and adoption.

Yet I am not a disinterested observer.  As someone fascinated by anything that sits in the nexus of theology, politics, and culture, it was only a matter of time before I found myself moving over to think through the issues surrounding adoption.  I have, as longtime readers know, written a considerable amount about sexuality and the family, and adoption has always lurked in the background.  As such, I was grateful for the opportunity to spend a weekend deliberating about it directly.

The below are my impressions and reflections from the conference.  They are generalizations, but I offer them as nothing more than my observations, which I would be very happy to amend if shown otherwise.

1)  The conference was deeply theological, which was a good thing.  Yet the main stage speakers focused almost exclusively on the motivations for adoption and orphan care, rather than the shape of adoption or orphan care.  While the breakouts were primarily practical, the divide gave off the implicit feeling that theology ends precisely where reflection about what adoption should actually look like in practice begins.

But the Gospel does not simply provide us the proper set of motivations to do what everyone else in the world does.  Instead, it provides us unique insight into the structure of morality (Christ is our wisdom), such that we can open up new possibilities for action rather than staying within the framework provided to us by the world around us.  The Gospel is not simply an internal reality that helps us to get our hearts in the “right place” with respect to adoption.  It is an external reality that should help us discern who we adopt and how we go about it.

In other words, I would have loved to have seen some theological ethics with respect to adoption being worked out.  A lot of people are very passionate about adoption, and that’s great.  But not all attempts at helping those in poverty actually succeed, and it is the task of theological ethics to help those who are considering adoption discern how their proper motivations should take shape in the world.  Some people will (rightly) say “no” to adoption,  and theological ethics will help those in the adoption movement counsel those couples and churches wrestling with the practical dimensions more effectively.

2)  It is a perennial temptation, I think, to frame the doctrine of adoption as a fundamentally individualistic doctrine (as opposed to a doctrine about individuals).  In adoption, God saves us as individual persons.  But he saves us within a web of relationships with others, with the world, and even with myself.  Like it or not, that web that simply does not go away at the moment of adoption (which is why, I think, in Romans 8 our adoption is framed as the final redemption of our bodies).  Consequently, the line between the “old man” and the “new man” is a lot more blurry than we might like.  We are never autonomous, never free-floating about the relationships that defined us (even when we deny them in order to follow Jesus).

In other words, orphans are not autonomous individuals, or atoms that have somehow achieved social isolation.  They still exist within a social network, even though their birth parents are no longer around.  In fact, the orphan is defined not by social isolation but by that absence, an absence that new parents simply will not fill in the same way.  A new spouse may stand in the same relationship as the first, but as long as the person is different than some absence will be noticeable.  In one sense, I worry that our language of adoption is too individualistic, that we are not attuned to the fact that adopting the person means bringing that web of relations into our home.  The closest someone got to acknowledging this on the main stage was Bryan Lorrits, whose excellent talk highlighted the fact that adoption doesn’t make a black child any less black.  And the unique set of social relations that come with that simply do not go away.

3)  Proclaiming adoption as a doctrine is insufficient without its corollary:  a theological account of the nature of childhood.  What is the life we are adopting people into?  What is the good news we have to show children?  Is it simply better material comforts, better educational possibilities, the safety of living in a stable society?  If it’s hearing the good news about Jesus, what difference does that make to children as children?  A deeper and more comprehensive understanding of what childhood is will also help us understand what is uniquely destructive about orphanhood.  I would love to see the adoption movement (and evangelicals generally) spend more of their time reflecting about this.

This request for addition, I’d point out, is similar to the first one that I raised.  It is one thing to say that the Gospel grounds our adoption, while it is another thing to say what those Gospel-shaped adoptions actually look like.  Similarly, it is one thing to say that our adoption makes outsiders our own children, but another to say what the life of the child that they have now received looks like.  While there was a strong emphasis on parenting, we should also reflect about what sorts of things parents are raising.

4)  Adoption is one (important) strand of orphan care, but is not the whole of it.  And the emphasis on adoption as a means of caring for the child should not preclude our concern for children in impoverished areas and our efforts to correct the causes of poverty and adoption.  It was surprising to me that amidst all the sessions there was not (that I saw) a single economist at the conference talking about how orphan care fits with economic development.

Obviously, the conference primarily draws people interested in adoption (though the theme was care for orphans this year).  But even there, the economic aspects of adoption should play into our decisions about who to adopt and where we adopt from.  It may be better, for instance, in some emerging economies to not adopt children out of them, but to find better indigenous solutions to the problem.  Taking into account the economic dimension of adoption is incumbent on those who want to do all we can to ensure our helping doesn’t hurt.

5)  Related to that, I think while it is more difficult to think through the systemic causes of where orphans come from, the adoption movement doesn’t help foster such thought.  Most of the banners for the organizations represented, for instance, had faces of individual children or pairs of children.  We don’t see the system:  we see the face, and as such it is easier to think of adopting a child as a solution than addressing the problems in the social network that caused that child to be orphaned.

Which is why we should make sure our presentation on adoption is accurate:  it’s not a solution per se to orphanhood, even if it is a means of caring for a child and bearing witness to the reality of the Gospel.  We can still bear witness to the Gospel in working with orphans, but such care may not take the shape of international adoption.  Amanda Cox of Faith to Action gave a challenging and helpful breakout session that got into some of these issues, and when the audio is available, you should buy it.

6)  If you’re interested in thinking more about those structural issues, I cannot recommend this lecture highly enough.  It’s by an interesting project that (as I understand it) aims to overcome the balkanization of those working to support family care by bringing together adoption agencies, politicians, economists, etc.  I may do a separate post just highlighting this talk, as it deserves more attention.

7)  My co-bloggers did a ridiculously amazing job live-blogging the conference.  Check out Lindsey Nobles and Aaron Armstrong, in particular.

In all, I couldn’t have asked for a better conference.  It was challenging and edifying, and personally enormously fruitful (as I hope the above reflections indicate).

And I want to reiterate that I offer the above reflections as an outside observer.  If you work in the movement or see things otherwise, feel free to let me know in the comments.

Grief in Infertility: Together for Adoption National Conference

In a world where every aspect of the procreative process is shaped by the omnipotence and omnipresent arm of technology, it can be easy to forget the fundamental miracle that human life is.

In Romans 4, the proof of the power of God to make and remake the world is the opening of Sarah’s womb.  In fact, infertility pervades the Old Testament narratives.  Hannah, Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah–it’s not terribly surprising, of course, given the high infant mortality rates and the value placed on childbearing.

But a lower infant mortality rate doesn’t minimize the grief that those who are infertile still struggle with.  If anything, it potentially heightens it, as technology shifts our expectations such that we forget that some people cannot bear children.  Infertility is a silent struggle, a challenge that many couples face only within the cloistered walls of the doctors and therapists office.

In a sense, those couples who are infertile bear witness to the unique value of human life, the preciousness of children and the miracle that they are.  It is easy to be pro-choice when infertility isn’t a challenge.  But while undeniably multi-faceted, the grief that accompanies the inability confronts us with the strangeness of a world with life, the mystery of our own existence and the possibilities of the world before us.

Some will turn to adoption, remembering their adoption into the people of God and forming a family anew on that foundation.  Others will grieve.  Whichever route people take, they carry the difficult cross of grieving over a life that they desired which will not be, a future which was theirs which they will not have.

It is fitting to be sad in such moments.  It is, in fact, better.  “But for the weeping in it, [our] world would never have become worth saving,” wrote George MacDonald, for the weeping reminds us of the goodness which has been lost and which will someday be restored.


Together for Adoption National Conference

I’m hanging out this weekend at Together for Adoption, which is ground zero for the evangelical adoption movement.  If you’re in the Phoenix area or attending the conference, please do make sure to say “hi.”  I’m on Twitter, too.

If you haven’t followed the explosion of adoption ministries within evangelicalism, well, it’s kind of a big deal.

The Nation offered a critical evaluation of the movement this past spring, an evaluation that highlights some of the pitfalls the movement is earnestly trying to avoid.  Jedd Medefind’s response in Christianity Today is also worth reading.

My interest in the movement has grown over the past year, as once you really start thinking about the body you start realizing the extent to which family life shapes bodies, and how bodily differences between children and adults should play into our understanding of embodiment.

At any rate, I hope to post a few reflections throughout the next 24 hours from the conference, bringing my mildly idiosyncratic perspective to bear on the questions that arise.  For other bloggers writing about the conference, check out Brent Thomas and Steve McCoy, both of whom are good guys and avid live-bloggers.

Marathons, Uganda, and World Vision

My friend Bradley Hofbauer runs marathons.

Now, runners are a bit of a strange breed to begin with, but marathoners take the crazy to new levels.  I say that lovingly, I’ll have you know.  I spent a year running cross country in high school, married a cross country girl, and thought for 2.8 seconds about training for a marathon before realizing that it would be an investment of time that I did not have. (A convenient excuse, you might wonder.  Yes, yes it is.)

But Bradley doesn’t just run marathons for fun.  He and a team from World Vision are taking their foot turnover talents to Uganda and hitting the pavement (or the dirt–not sure how things are like over there) on behalf of some Ugandan children who need support and care.

And I’m asking you, the reader of Mere-O, to prayerfully consider sponsoring one of the children that they are running for.

Sacrificing on behalf of such children doesn’t need a reason or a rationale.  It’s a good, the sort of good that is its own justification.  But there were a few reasons that I felt particularly impelled to say “yes” to supporting this one here at Mere-O:

1)  The UN has warned recently that the famine which is currently afflicting Somalia could move to Uganda.

2)  The World Vision team is running a marathon in order to raise funds for people who have to walk to get their water (this is the view from Kenya, but the situation in Uganda is not all that different).   The entanglement here with bodies is hard to unwind, what with the healthy taking their own bodies to the maximum limits on behalf of the poor.  That’s not a sharing in their sufferings, but it’s closer to it than what I’ll be doing.  And in matters of practice, better sometimes to try things out than do nothing.

3)   The work of development is messy and complex, but one thing that I know is that sustainable economies are difficult to build if children cannot stay in school because they have to carry water.  Which is precisely what’s happening here.

There was, of course, one other reason.  Bradley and his team will be meeting the two children below and shooting a video greeting, which means you will get to see and hear them if you decide to sponsor them.  The first two people to email me directly with a commitment to sponsor them will be selected.  


Rossette turned 9 on August 5th. She lives with her parents, 7 brothers, and 3 sisters. Her parents are struggling to provide for their family.

Rossette is not in school at this time, partly because she is needed at home to carry water each day. She likes to jump rope.




Viola just turned 9 on June 28th. She lives with her parents and siblings (1 brother and 2 sisters). Her parents struggle to provide for their family.

She is in primary school and enjoys mathematics. She helps at home by carrying water.



I know, like Matthew Paul Turner aptly wrote, that everyone is exhausted with appeals of this sort.  And if you have been reading Mere-O for any length of time, you know that this isn’t in our normal purview.  We’re a bit more intellectually minded, not because social justice doesn’t matter but because the intellect does, and it gets decidedly less air time.

But mere orthodoxy is not so far from mere praxis, and the early church expanded because they combined works of mercy with rigorous apologetics.  While the primary locus of such practice should be within our local communities, the opportunity to do good to our neighbor extends well beyond the boundaries of our country.  And that is an opportunity worth considering.

To sponsor one of the above children, email me here.

To sponsor another child, visit this page and use Bradley Hofbauer’s name.