Seventeen Years of Tracking the World Congress of Families

About Cole Parke

The World Congress of Families XI meeting in Budapest, Hungary is on May 25 -28.

PRA first reported on the World Congress of Families (WCF) in 2000, noting its role within the coalition of Christian Right groups that was beginning to emerge as a well-organized and influential force at the United Nations. Writing for The Public Eye, Jennifer Butler observed that the Christian Right had “discovered the power of organizing in the international arena,” and was working to “delay and where possible derail progressive change that might be obtained through UN conferences and treaties.”

In the years following the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing—the outcomes of which were hailed by progressive feminists as major victories for gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights—Butler reported that “Conservative Catholics, Mormons, Conservative Evangelicals and to a much smaller degree, Muslims and Jews, are developing institutional structures, political rhetoric and mobilized networks to bring their ‘family values’ message to the UN and the world.” She credited WCF with playing a key role in solidifying the group’s platform and collaboration.

Today, WCF is one of the major driving forces behind the U.S. Religious Right’s global export of homophobia and sexism. From its headquarters in Rockford, Illinois, WCF pursues an international anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ agenda, seeking to promote conservative ideologies that dictate who has rights as “family,” and who doesn’t. Through WCF’s advocacy and strategic support, these ideologies are increasingly being codified into regressive laws and policies all around the world, from the United Nations to the Kremlin.

In the lead up to WCF’s 2015 gathering in Salt Lake City, Utah, PRA co-produced an overview of the group and its key affiliates, along with a glossary of key terms used by the organization’s network of Religious Right accomplices to further thwart pro-LGBTQ and women’s rights initiatives. We explained:

Using deceptive “pro-family” rhetoric, WCF’s campaign for the “natural family” is being used to promote new laws justifying the criminalization of LGBTQ people and abortion, effectively unleashing a torrent of destructive anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ legislation, persecution, and violence around the world that ultimately damages—and seeks to dismantle—any and all “nontraditional” families (e.g. single parents, same-sex couples, grandparents, non-biological guardians, etc.).

WCF’s international conferences, or “Congresses,” function as key sites of right-wing strategy development and dissemination. These events typically attract thousands of participants, and build WCF’s international influence by bringing together sympathetic elected officials, religious leaders, scientists, scholars, and civil society from around the world. The headlining speakers are typically high profile leaders of the U.S. Christian Right, representing larger, better-resourced organizations that sign on as WCF partners.

From May 25-28, WCF will convene for its eleventh international conference in Budapest, Hungary, which WCF claims is “one of the most family-friendly countries in Europe,” pointing to the nation’s adoption of new constitutional provisions in 2011 that restricted the rights of LGBTQ people and people with disabilities, and severely undermined sexual and reproductive health and rights. This, according to WCF, made Hungary’s government “the hero of pro-family and pro-life leaders from all over the world.” The event will feature a slate of some of America’s most notorious Christian Right “culture warriors,” including Brian Brown, head of the National Organization for Marriage (and the new president of WCF’s parent organization, International Organization for the Family); Sharon Slater of Family Watch International; Austin Ruse of C-Fam, and Jim Garlow of Skyline Church. Additionally, multiple European representatives from the U.S.-based Alliance Defending Freedom will present.

To learn more about the history, agenda, and influence of the World Congress of Families, please see our extensive coverage collected from over a decade of focused research and analysis:

Cole Parke, research analyst at PRA, studied theology at Texas Lutheran University, earned their Master’s in Conflict Transformation at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, and has been working at the intersections of faith, gender, and sexuality as an activist, organizer, and scholar for more than a decade. Their research and writing examines the infrastructure, mechanisms, strategies, and effects of the Religious Right on LGBTQ people and reproductive rights, both domestically and internationally, always with an eye toward collective liberation.