Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 6, 1955
NUMBER 22, PAGE 2,6a

Observations On Orphanages

Hoyt H. Houchen, San Antonio, Texas

In the September issue of the Woman's Home Companion is an interesting article by Pearl S. Buck entitled: "The Children Waiting." Her article deals with the shocking scandal of adoption. In the first place, our institutionally-minded brethren need to find the authority in the scriptures for brotherhood benevolent organizations. There is no divine authority for their existence and we challenge these brethren to find it. But Pearl Buck makes some observations on orphanages in general which are noteworthy. The facts which she states about these institutions in general are facts which definitely apply to the benevolent organizations which some of our brethren have attached to the church. These are facts which have been known by many of us for a long time.

Many social agencies claim that there are not enough children to be adopted by parents. We happen to already know that it is estimated by the department of Health and Welfare in Washington, D. C. that there are from 10 to 15 applicants for every homeless child who is legally released by parents. Since this is true, why the need for orphanages? Pearl Buck became interested in this question and here is her observation:

"I found out, first, that nobody knows truthfully how many children are in our orphanages but the largest number belong to religious groups. It was necessary, I do not doubt, for religious orders to care for orphans, but certainly that day is past. Parents are waiting to adopt them. True, it would be very difficult to close these orphanages, not because of the children but because of vested interests. Some orphanages are old and long established in their routines, existing on large sums of money left by generations of legacies and gifts. What would the trustees do with all that money if they closed the orphanages? And to close them would of course, put many people out of work, for what would the caretakers, the cooks and superintendents do, and the good sisters, nuns, deaconnesses and teachers who run schools in some of the orphanages? It would indeed be a troublesome business to set the children free and let them go into families. A job, even though small, can be as much a vested interest as a fortune."

It is reliably reported that a couple tried to adopt a child from one of "our" homes in northeastern Arkansas. The couple was refused the child even though the superintendent admitted that unfortunate children would be better off in foster homes. He said that they could not afford to place children in foster homes because if they did, he and others would be out of a job! Yes, to do benevolent work in a scriptural way might throw a few of our brethren out of jobs but the Lord's work will be done and he will be pleased. To please the Lord is more important than employment and financial enterprise.

When brethren determine to take care of those who qualify for aid, the work will be done by the local church and the matter of dissolving the present arrangement of brotherhood institutions will not be a great problem. If the digressives should decide to abandon the Missionary Society they may throw a few people out of jobs, but they will at least have abandoned one of their acts of digression. But when people seek to justify their practices for which there is no scriptural authority, all that remains for them is an appeal to sentiment. This was the tactic of J. B. Briney when he attempted to justify the Missionary Society in the Otey-Briney debate. Hear him:

Furthermore, these hundreds and thousands of men and women that have gone out in the name of the Master and are sustained by these societies and are doing a grand and glorious work, shall they be called in, shall they leave the firing line, shall they leave the fields of their labor, and leave those people there to perish for the lack of the bread of life? I cannot see how an affirmative answer could come to that question from any other source than on a perpendicular line from the lowest depths of perdition. (Otey-Briney Debate, p. 218).

This was the strongest defense that Briney could make for the Missionary Society, and yet it would be well to ask here, if the brotherhood can do its benevolent work through a human institution, then why can it not do its preaching work through a human organization such as the Missionary Society? We are still waiting for our institutional brethren to answer this question.

But Pearl Buck next observes:

I was told that the children are not `released' by their legal guardian. This is true. They cannot be placed in their loving adoptive families because somebody will not let them go. But who is that somebody? Well, it may one of many persons. It may be a relative or a judge or a social agency. It may be just the hold of a church. There are churches whose members get a warm feeling of doing good when they think of the orphans fed and clothed by their donations. They seldom see these children except at Christmas or Easter but it is nice to think they are there.

This fact is one well-known to many of us. Many of our sincere brethren, touched in their hearts by the keen need of helping an orphan child will set aside in the budget of the church a stipulated sum to send to an orphan home. Their hearts are salved and they can talk about how they are fulfilling their duty to the orphans. They do not realize that they are not helping orphan children.

Some of the children placed in these homes are there because the parents are too "sorry" to take care of them. A daughter of an elder in a certain church was about to divorce her husband. She went to a gospel preacher, who is a personal friend of this writer, and asked him if he would help her place her children in one of "our" homes. This is only one of many such instances. Very often the institutional home becomes a child-care agency for adult delinquents only to be encouraged by donations of the brethren.

As to the type of children in orphanages, Pearl Buck says:

And if there are some parents who should have their children kept for them until they can patch up their home again, there are many parents — and again statistics are lacking — who have no real wish to make a home for their children but who simply keep a dead hand on their children's lives.

Such parents cry out with false righteous indignations, `I'll never give up my child!' And yet they do give up their children daily, yearly and for life, by keeping them orphaned. A postcard once or twice a year, or a tawdry gift at Christmas, suffices to keep children within the letter of the law against abandonment. The orphanages are stuffed with the children of unwilling parents — orphaned because in reality they have no parents.

The author observes that even children who are temporarily abandoned do not have to be kept in institutions. On this point she says:

How many such children are there? Again there are no statistics. It is safe to say that the number is relatively small in comparison to the total number of children in orphanages. Certainly there are cases where it is justifiable to keep the children in some institution for a few weeks until the parents can get the home together again. Yet so heartily do I dislike that word institution, because it means a place where children cannot grow into human beings, that I think it would be better to place even such children in temporary foster homes rather than temporary institutions if they are under ten years of age.

The writer of the article, "Children Waiting," draws the conclusion that there is no need for an institution to take care of children. If they are orphans, they should be adopted; if they are not orphans but are destitute of a home if even for a temporary period of time, they can be placed in foster homes. Hear the author's conclusion:

Not only religious groups are guilty of orphanages. There are also clubs and societies who, in an endeavor to provide security for their members, keep orphanages for the children of those who die leaving children behind. But an orphanage is an orphanage, wherever it is, and while it may be a temporary necessity in poor and war-torn countries I refuse to believe it is a necessity here, where parents are waiting. Emphasis mine, H. H. H.)

Scores of social workers who are experts in the field of child-care are able to see what some of our brethren do not see. It is unfortunate that many of our gullible brethren are swayed more by sentiment than they are by reason that is based upon scripture. Sentiment is the easiest thing with which any promoter can put over his project.

When the admonition of Jas. 1:27 is put into practice by the individual Christians, and when the local church, God's only organization for preaching and benevolent work, does its work within its own framework, brotherhood benevolent institutions will no longer exist. The Lord's plan is best and it cannot be improved upon. The Bible nowhere authorizes the church support from its treasury of any human institution whether it be a lodge, civic club, P. T. A., college, missionary society, or benevolent society. When the institutional brethren find the scripture that so authorizes it, we shall be happy to examine it.