From its headquarters in Rockford, IL, the World Congress of Families (WCF) pursues a global antichoice, anti-LGBTQ agenda and seeks to promote conservative ideas regarding the traditional nuclear family. Its president, Allan Carlson, has defined “the natural family” as “the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centered around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage.”
Carlson founded WCF in 1997 as a project of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society. WCF describes itself as a “rallying center for the world’s family systems grounded in religious faith” and a “response to a militant secular individualism found in parts of the ‘post modern’ West.” The vast majority of its support comes from organizations that are part of the U.S. Christian Right, including Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and Family Watch International.
WCF’s international conferences, or “Congresses,” have steadily increased in size and funding, and they have helped build WCF’s international influence by bringing together elected officials, religious leaders, scientists, and scholars from around the world. Congresses have been held in Prague (1997), Geneva (1999), Mexico City (2004), Warsaw (2007), Amsterdam (2009), Madrid (2012), and Sydney (2013). The headlining speakers are typically leaders of the U.S. Christian Right, and the Howard Center’s board of directors is entirely American.
WCF has recently received media scrutiny for its work with Russian leaders to further the passage of anti-LGBTQ and antichoice legislation. WCF’s 2014 Congress was scheduled for Moscow, but concern over the situation in Ukraine and Crimea led WCF to suspend its plans.
In addition to large-scale international gatherings, WCF coordinates smaller, regional events. In 2009, it hosted its first African conference in Abuja, Nigeria. WCF’s work in Africa has been coordinated primarily by Theresa Okafor, CEO of Life League Nigeria, director of the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage, and a leading opponent of reproductive justice on the continent. At the WCF convening in Sydney, Okafor said that “the push for LGBT equality is a sign of cultural imperialism and moral decay in the West.”
Sharon Slater, president of Family Watch International, credits WCF with her politicization: “Before attending my first World Congress of Families in Geneva in 1999, I had never been involved in a cause,” she wrote. “That experience changed the direction of my life, as I learned about the assaults in almost every area of family life and was instilled with the hope that if we all worked together, we could effectively stop many of these attacks.” Slater co-founded Family Watch International later that year.
For more details, see American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism.