Seventeen Years of Tracking the World Congress of Families

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:

VIDEO: An Unexpected Voice for Gender Justice at Kenyan WCF Meeting

Poster for the African Regional Conference on Families, which took place on September 23-25th.

Poster for the African Regional Conference on Families, which took place on September 23-25th.

Last week, about a hundred people gathered in Nairobi, Kenya, for the African Regional Conference of Families, a regional conference for the World Congress of Families (WCF). The WCF, a U.S.-based international coalition of Religious Right groups dedicated to a very limited notion of “the natural family,” uses its frequent international convenings to develop and disseminate right-wing strategy. WCF uses deceptive “pro-family” rhetoric to promote conservative ideologies, which are then codified into regressive laws and policies that criminalize LGBTQ people and abortion.

Anti-gay and anti-abortion activist Don Feder, WCF’s Coalitions Director and Coordinator of Regional Conferences, opened the gathering with a speech in which he acknowledged WCF as the official sponsor of the Nairobi conference. Aside from presenting the sexual rights movement as a new form of slavery, Feder called on participants to work together to defend the natural family, which he described as “the institution on which the fate of humanity hinges.” But he also denied climate change as a hoax of the sexual revolution—a claim Michael Hichborn of the U.S. anti-abortion Lepanto Institute made the center of his presentation. Sharon Slater of the U.S.-based Family Watch International called on participants to oppose Comprehensive Sexual Education, denouncing the use of condoms and calling for abstinence only sex ed instead.

Other speakers included Alfred Rotich, a Catholic bishop from the Kenyan Conference of Catholic Bishops, who linked abortion to “accompanying vices such as necrophilia, bestiality, pedophilia, same-sex relationships as well as calls for free sex and reproductive health services for children!” Various speakers followed Rotich’s lead in linking LGBTQ issues and calls for greater reproductive rights in Africa with foreign interests and funders.

All of this was a familiar WCF script, but this time things didn’t go as planned. Just after WCF African representative Theresa‎ Okafor repeated the Christian Right claim that trans people are mentally ill—and blamed their identity on contraceptives—Gathoni Muchomba, a renowned Kenyan radio host, took the stage. In addition to being a famous media personality, Muchomba is the director of Gamafrica, a Kenyan NGO that recently launched a new initiative dedicated to supporting children with intersex conditions and their families. Although she was not included on the original list of speakers announced a day before the conference, from the podium, Muchomba issued a surprising call for the inclusion of intersex people in the new National Family Promotion and Protection Policy that was recently proposed by Kenya’s Ministry of Labor, a co-sponsor of the WCF Nairobi meeting.

Muchomba is hardly a traditional LGBTQI ally: she conflates gender identity and sexual orientation; didn’t know the meaning of the LGBTQI acronym; and warned that if Kenya doesn’t address intersex and trans issues, it won’t be able to fight “lesbianism.” And yet she nonetheless used her platform at WCF to bring attention to the suffering of intersex children, and unwittingly advanced the cause of sexual minorities.

Among the people who have motivated Muchomba’s advocacy is James Karanja, an intersex man who was raised as a girl. After declaring his gender identity as an adult, Karanja was treated as an outcast, but he has persisted in fighting for legal recognition as a man so that he can pursue a college education.

During her speech, Muchomba invited Karanja to address the WCF audience directly. Karanja (who does not identify as gay or transgender), told the right-wing gathering about the shame he experienced at his all-girls school, where he woke up at 3am to shower before his classmates arose; how he was later suspended because he was attracted to other girls; and how his mother suffered a mental breakdown after he came out as a man and said he was changing his name.

“I don’t want to see another child go through what I went through,” Karanja told the crowd.

James Karanja tells his story at the World Congress of Families-sponsored African Regional Conference of Families. See video below. (Photo: Political Research Associates)

James Karanja tells his story at the World Congress of Families-sponsored African Regional Conference of Families. See video below. (Photo: Political Research Associates)

WCF delegates heard a number of alarming stories about sexual minorities who are forced to live as outcasts, including a child who was raised as a boy but later came out as a girl, and who, like James, was subsequently forced to leave school. The public sharing of these stories comes just weeks after Kenyan parliamentarian Isaac Mwaura ‎asked lawmakers to consider a bill recognizing and accepting intersex people—a proposal that resulted from Muchomba and Karanja’s activism.

Although Mwaura’s proposed bill and Muchomba’s advocacy suggest advances in intersex and gender rights activism, the WCF poses a dangerous threat to this fragile progress, casting gender and sexual minorities as mentally ill. But amid their forum, Karanja delivered a message they won’t soon forget: that Africa has sexual minorities, and they are not a curse.

Karanja’s speech shocked the audience and was the talk of the conference during lunch and tea breaks. In response to Muchomba’s and Karanja’s unexpected departure from WCF positions, the conference speakers who followed them worked hard to dismiss Karanja’s story. Some blamed his experiences on his failure to obtain hormonal therapy as a child. (Many United Nations human rights bodies have recognized that medically unnecessary, non-consensual surgeries and other interventions on intersex children amount to human rights violations.) In an interview with me, Joshua Nwachukwu, the Nigerian co-founder of the African Organization for Families, a WCF affiliate and co-host of the conference, indicated that Karanja chose to be male. Had he sought medical care, Nwachukwu argued, Karanja “would have remained a girl.”

But some attendees seemed moved to at least reconsider their previous positions. Bishop Rotich told me that Karanja’s story illustrated the need for pastoral resources for caring for intersex people. That suggests the possibility that while African conference-goers may forget the abstract speeches of U.S. culture warriors like Sharon Slater, Don Feder, and Michael Hichborn, Karanja’s strong testimony on the need for dignity, respect, and rights may have a more lasting impact.

On September 23, Kenyan media personality Gathoni Muchomba and James Karanja speak on intersex rights in Nairobi, Kenya, at the World Congress of Families-sponsored African Regional Conference of Families. Karanja’s speech begins at 9:30. (Video filmed by Political Research Associates).

World Congress of Families Descends on Africa

Poster for next week's African Regional Conference on Families.

Poster for the African Regional Conference on Families scheduled to take place in Nairobi next week.

Next week, the World Congress of Families (WCF) will host a regional conference in Nairobi, Kenya. For several years, PRA has tracked and reported on the WCF’s role in the U.S. Religious Right’s global export of homophobia and sexism, and the organization’s increasing focus on Africa is of grave concern.

WCF’s international convenings function as key sites of right-wing strategy development and dissemination. From its headquarters in Rockford, Illinois, WCF and its member organizations use deceptive “pro-family” rhetoric to promote conservative ideologies that dictate who counts as “family,” and who doesn’t (that is, any and all “nontraditional” families such as those constructed by single parents, same-sex couples, grandparents, non-biological guardians, etc.). These ideologies are then codified into regressive laws and policies that criminalize LGBTQ people and abortion, condoning and promoting the ongoing persecution, oppression, and violence experienced by women and LGBTQ people around the world.

WCF’s presence in Kenya has the potential to do real damage in a country that has been in the crosshairs of the U.S. Christian Right for many years. In 2010, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) opened an office in Nairobi, just as Kenya was debating a new constitution that included controversial addendums to its penal code regarding abortion. As Mother Jones reported, the ACLJ, founded by American televangelist Pat Robertson, “was among the most vocal opponents of the new constitution,” pledging to spend “tens of thousands of dollars” on the effort to defeat the constitution. Speaking to Christianity Today about the establishment of the “East African Center for Law and Justice” (ACLJ’s Nairobi branch), the group’s then-director of international operations, Jordan Sekulow, explained, “We’re looking long-term in Kenya because it’s such an influential country throughout Africa.”

Though abortion remains illegal, the new constitution—which was approved by a 67 percent majority—carved out exceptions if “in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.” Despite these allowances, quality maternal health care and safe and legal abortion services remain largely inaccessible in Kenya.

Reporting on the aftermath of Kenya’s constitutional referendum, the progressive group Catholics for Choice warned, “[E]xternal forces, predominantly US evangelists, maintain a disproportionate level of influence in Kenya, beyond the debate on abortion. Ample political and financial resources allowed U.S. fundamentalists and anti-reproductive rights groups to establish offices in Kenya and recruit local staff. This presence might yet prove to be a springboard for more aggressive action in other parts of Africa. The activities of these outside religious groups should be closely watched, as they are placed to continue advancing their agenda to deny access to sexual and reproductive health services needed by many.”

Indeed, the influence of the U.S. Christian Right continues to wreak havoc in Kenya. As PRA’s senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma notes, WCF’s upcoming African Regional Conference on Families “may be called African in name only.” As Kaoma argues, “It is a U.S. conservative conference on African soil.”

The African Regional Conference on Families is scheduled to take place at the Hotel Intercontinental in Naiborbi, Kenya on September 22-24, 2016. (Image: conference promotional video available at https://youtu.be/CCw4Z9KqDdo)

The African Regional Conference on Families is scheduled to take place in Nairobi, Kenya on September 22-24, 2016. (Image: Conference promotional video available at https://youtu.be/CCw4Z9KqDdo)

The headlining speakers at WCF events are typically high-profile leaders of the U.S. Christian Right who are uniformly pursuant of an international anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ agenda. In the case of the upcoming Nairobi conference, Sharon Slater, President of Arizona-based Family Watch International, and Don Feder, WCF’s Director of Coalitions, will both be speaking. Additionally, Michael Hichborn, President of the right-wing Lepanto Institute, will present on behalf of the Population Research Institute. Hichborn, a Catholic anti-abortion activist based in Virginia, has referred to homosexuality as a “disordered condition” comparable to kleptomania and alcoholism and warns, “Western civilisation is on the brink of a moral implosion.”

In his foreword to Kaoma’s 2012 exposé, “Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa,” PRA’s Executive Director Tarso Luis Ramos wrote:

In Black Skin, White Masks French-Algerian psychiatrist and anti-colonial activist Frantz Fanon famously wrote of the colonized African’s aspiration to imitate the culture and manners of White colonizers. Sixty years later, we find White Christian Right neocolonialists seeking legitimacy through a process of Africanizing the local leadership of their operations and leveling charges of neocolonialism against Western governments and international human rights groups when they advocate for the human rights of women and LGBTQ people. This tactical inversion of the colonial relationships described by Fanon might aptly be characterized as “White skin, Black masks.”

As Kaoma observes, “The upcoming WCF conference confirms PRA’s research on the Christian Right’s attempts to hide behind African faces. By whitewashing its activities with African masks, U.S. conservative organizations are transforming African sexual politics. ”

Ann Kioko is WCF’s newest mask-wearer, joining Theresa Okafor, WCF’s African regional director. Kioko, who describes homosexuality as a “learned behaviour” imported from the West, is president of the African Organization for Families and WCF’s lead conference organizer. She has worked for U.S. Christian Right groups such Culture of Life, Human Life International, and previously worked as the Program Manager for the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum, a partner organization of the East African Center for Law and Justice.

Another concerning speaker on the schedule is Stephen Langa, founder and executive director of Family Life Network Uganda. In March 2009, Langa hosted the infamous “Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals’ Agenda,” which featured several U.S. Christian Right speakers, including Massachusetts-based American pastor Scott Lively. Lively’s presentation provided the raw material for what would become Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill (commonly referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill due to death penalty clauses in the original draft).

When a draft of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB) initially came before Parliament in April 2009, Langa was among a handful of religious leaders singled out by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga to help advance the legislation. Langa was later indicted as one of four Ugandan co-conspirators in an ongoing U.S. federal lawsuit brought by Sexual Minorities Uganda, an LGBTQI advocacy group, against Scott Lively for “crimes against humanity.”

Langa, who hosted a service in 2013 to “celebrate the passing of the AHB into law and for preserving the sovereignty of our Nation,” sees his crusade against LGBTQI people as “a conflict between the kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God.” Now he’s helping to stoke the flames of that Western neocolonial crusade to Kenya.

Behind the Black masks of African fronts like Langa and Kioko, American activists like Slater, Feder, Hichborn, and other White, U.S. Christian Right stakeholders can gain access to politicians, religious authorities, and civic leaders. The organizers in Kenya have already indicated that Phyllis Kandie, Cabinet Secretary for Kenya’s Ministry of East African Community, Labour and Social Protection will be attending, and the agenda includes a closed door meeting exclusively for conference speakers, members of parliament, and dignitaries.

According to Kaoma, “Hiding behind African masks is the most effective route to Africa’s corridors of power.” WCF has observed this neocolonial dynamic, too, and is now positioning itself in Kenya to take full advantage of it, using a strategy that’s eerily similar to the formula documented by PRA in the lead up to Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill.

Russian Social Conservatism, the U.S.-based WCF, & the Global Culture Wars in Historical Context

 

Click here a printable PDF.

Click here a printable PDF.

A Right-Wing International?

This article appears in the Winter 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

As the poll observer listened sympathetically, the rural priest diagnosed the root of Russia’s social problems in “the decay of all the old supports: religion, family, morality, the traditional way of life.”1 An election of representatives to the Russian State Duma was underway, and the man the bearded priest was talking to—Professor Sergei Bulgakov, an Orthodox Christian intellectual and future theologian—was observing the vote in Crimea. While the priest’s lament sounds like a textbook complaint of contemporary social conservatives, the year was 1912.

Russian Students Day in Saint-Petersburg, 2014. Photo by Saint-Petersburg Theological Academy via Flickr.

Russian Students Day in Saint-Petersburg, 2014. Photo by Saint-Petersburg Theological Academy via Flickr.

Social conservatives have been focusing on the family for a long time, and Russians have frequently been at the forefront of the fight for “traditional” values. In more recent times, Russian conservatives were central to the founding and operations of the World Congress of Families (WCF), a Christian-dominated inter-confessional coalition of right-wing activists from around the world dedicated to defending what they call “the natural family,” that is, a nuclear family consisting of a married man and woman and their children. When the coalition met for its ninth global conference this October in Salt Lake City, Utah, several Russian activists numbered among the speakers, including Alexey Komov.

Komov is WCF’s Regional Representative for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States; the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society’s representative to the United Nations; and a member of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Patriarchal Commission on the Family and the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood. He was in Utah to speak about “The Family in Europe—Past, Present, Future,”2 and during his presentation, he touted Russia’s leading role in the global “pro-family” movement today, emphasizing that the nation’s Communist past has given Russia and other Eastern European countries a taste of the dangers supposedly inherent in secularism, which “more naïve” Westerners might miss. As a result, he maintained, “Eastern Europe can really help our brothers in the West” to resist the “new totalitarianism” associated with “political correctness” and the sexual revolution.3

In addition, Fr. Maxim Obukhov, the director of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of Family and Life, attended and received the 2015 Pro-Life Award for his longtime involvement in prominent Russian organizations that oppose abortion and promote the “natural family.”4

WCF IX represents an opportunity to consider the outsized role contemporary Russia plays in the global culture wars, with particular attention to two related questions. The first is whether Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent chill in U.S.-Russian relations represents any kind of turning point for the collaborative efforts between Russian and U.S. social conservatives, and particularly the impact of the removal of WCF’s official imprimatur from what would have been WCF VIII in Moscow, but instead became billed as an international forum called “Large Families: The Future of Humanity.” The second and more interesting question regarding the relationship between the U.S. and Russia with respect to the global culture wars was posed two years ago by Political Research Associates’ Cole Parke: “When it comes to the culture wars, who’s exporting and who’s importing?”5 As Komov’s words suggest, contemporary Russian conservatives certainly don’t see themselves as solely on the receiving end of this international movement.

It’s a mistake to think of U.S. and Russian social conservatives as having a one-way relationship, or to imagine Russian conservatism as confined to Russia itself.

Very important work has been done on the efforts of American social conservatives to export far right ideology in connection, for example, with Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” bill.6 It is also the case that U.S. social conservatives helped lay the foundations for resurgent social conservatism in post-Communist Eastern Europe and Russia. Russian Orthodox Christian journalist and commentator Xenia Loutchenko, who has researched some aspects of Russian-American collaborative culture warring efforts,7 assesses American influence in the early post-Soviet days as particularly important with respect to building the Russian anti-abortion movement (for which Fr. Maxim Obukhov was honored at WCF IX).

Nevertheless, as Loutchenko and I also discussed in an interview conducted in Moscow in May 2015,8 it would be a mistake to think of the relationship between U.S. and Russian social conservatives as something of one-way influence, or to look at Russian social conservatism as essentially confined to Russia itself.9 Seriously considering Russia’s influence on international social conservatism, both historically and in our own time, presents new ways of thinking about the global culture wars—as well as important insights for how progressive activists might strategically resist the international Right’s global encroachment on human rights.

Russian Religious Conservatism in Historical Context

It’s no coincidence that the idea to found WCF was hatched in Russia in 1995, as the result of discussions between Allan Carlson, then president of the Rockford, Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, and Anatoly Antonov and Viktor Medkov, two professors of sociology at Lomonosov Moscow State University.10 Nor is it coincidental that Carlson was heavily inspired in the first place by the Russian-born conservative sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, longtime head of the Sociology Department at Harvard, where Sorokin worked from 1930-1959.11 Throughout his years in the West, Sorokin consistently exhibited concern about the ostensible crisis of Western culture, which he linked to the “collapse of the family” in books such as his 1947 Society, Culture, and Personality: Their Structure and Dynamics, a System of General Sociology and his 1956 The American Sex Revolution.

Sorokin’s work represented a continuation of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European attempts to defend a role for the realization of spiritual values—in some cases explicitly for Christianity—in society and governance. This discourse was developed, with substantial Russian participation and influence, in response to revolution, secularization, and what I have described elsewhere as the “perceived cultural threat of nihilism.”12

Guiding this fear was the idea that, absent absolute values grounded in unchanging religious truth, human morality will decay and society will descend into chaos. Sexual “permissiveness” is of particular concern, because it supposedly indicates a reversion to an animalistic nature that only higher values are capable of countering. As the fin-de-siècle Russian Christian philosopher and apologist Prince Evgeny Nikolaevich Trubetskoi put it, “Faith in the ideal is that which makes man human.”13 Similar sentiments, including in the writings of Trubetskoi and Bulgakov, were often tied to the concern that in a society without prevailing spiritual values, the state will be elevated to the status of a god, an idol that would encroach utterly on human freedom. As the fictional revolutionary conspirator Shigalev put it in Dostoevsky’s 1872 novel Demons, “Beginning with absolute freedom I conclude with absolute despotism. And I would add that apart from my solution to the social question, there can be no other.”

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow. Photo by Marco Fieber via Flickr.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow. Photo by Marco Fieber via Flickr.

Christian critics of 20th-century totalitarianism advocated the realization of religious values in society and statecraft on precisely these grounds, arguing that godlessness would inevitably lead to tyranny by making the state into an idol. T. S. Eliot, for example, argued in a 1939 series of lectures that a critical secular liberalism was inherently unstable—it would have to be replaced by something with substantive content, and if that something were not religion, then it would be the “pagan” fascism of Germany or Italy, or the Communism of the Soviet Union.14 While Eliot referred to the French Neo-Thomist theologian and personalist philosopher Jacques Maritain as an influence, we know that Maritain was heavily involved in dialogue with Russian exiles in Paris,15 not least the Christian existentialist Nikolai Berdyaev, who had made a very similar argument to Eliot’s in his 1924 The New Middle Ages (translated into English in 1933 with the title The End of Our Time). Berdyaev would exert considerable influence on American understandings of Russian history and on religious anti-Communism.16 Meanwhile, the refrain about the state becoming an idol has become a staple of conservative defenses of “religious freedom.” As Tucker Carlson put it in April 2015, in defense of the supposed right of businesses not to hire atheists, “If there’s no God, then the highest authority is government.”17

But to return to Berdyaev and his relationship to the contemporary Russian Right, it is important to note that he was not only an advocate of a religious society, but also of a kind of Russian national messianism. That is, he (along with Bulgakov and others) believed in a particular Providential calling for Russia, and, while opposing the Bolsheviks, they looked forward to a future in which a spiritually renewed Russia would have an important role to play in reviving the Christian roots of European civilization.18 The key point here, even more than any specific understanding of family relations, is the idea of a special role for Russia in the world’s moral progress—an idea that, despite the intellectual contortions that thinkers like Berdyaev and Bulgakov went through in attempts to avoid charges of chauvinism and nationalism, all too easily play into a sense of Russian exceptionalism: a sense that Russia represents a morally superior civilization.

With or without claiming inherent moral superiority, in any case, there is a clear claim here that Russia has a spiritual mission to enlighten other nations. Historically, this claim is rooted in Slavophilism, a nineteenth-century Russian form of nationalist thinking that asserted that Russia had a special path of development and represented a more holistic, harmonious, moral civilization than that of the Latin West. Instead of the West’s calculation, capitalism, individual rights, contracts, and “rationalism,” Russia had “sobornost.” A nearly untranslatable term, sobornost was invoked by Aleksey Khomyakov and other Slavophiles to mean a kind of collective social harmony in which individuals realize themselves organically as a part of the community, a concept that was meant to contrast with the individualism that supposedly characterized the West.

The collapse of the Soviet Union brought with it an upsurge in interest in Russian religious and émigré thought, already known to Soviet dissidents in samizdat (the underground reproduction of censored publications across the Communist bloc). In the 1990s, there was a widespread sense that perhaps these thinkers had preserved a more authentic form of Russian thinking and culture. Russian nationalism was on the rise—its official suppression had been a source of tension in the USSR—and some Russians gravitated to the messianic conceptions of intellectuals like Bulgakov and Berdyaev, or the much more radically conservative monarchist Ivan Ilyin, for ways to conceptualize Russian greatness. And that greatness could not be conceptualized apart from a mission that was larger than Russia itself.

Along with post-Communist concerns about a “demographic winter”—the idea that the West is suffering a “birth dearth” of too few babies as a result of secular values and the embrace of progressive sexual mores19—the Russian discourse of moral mission and the superiority of Christian values to those of the “decadent” West has played a key role in the resurgence of social conservatism in post-Soviet Russian society. It should be noted that this discourse is essentially imperial; Russian concerns about public morality have never been only about Russia, but have always been bound up with considerations of the role that Russia should play in the wider world. One of the most influential exponents of this exceptionalist discourse today is the neo-Eurasianist Alexander Dugin.20

Perhaps feeling betrayed by the middle class his policies had helped create, Putin took a populist, nationalist turn, identifying himself more closely with the Orthodox Church and expecting its absolute loyalty in return.

These days, these sensibilities get a boost from Russian political leaders as well. Not only has Dugin had Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s ear,21 but Putin also sent the leadership of the currently-ruling United Russia Party books by the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian religious philosophers Vladimir Solovyov, Berdyaev, and Ilyin as New Year’s presents in 2014. These three intellectuals had varying approaches to theology and politics—the Christian socialist Berdyaev and the monarchist Ilyin hated each other—but all of them advocated the integration of religious values in society and governance.22 In his third term in office, Putin has worked very closely with the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, and Russian plutocrats to promote social conservatism at home and abroad. The latter include figures such as “God’s oligarch,” Konstantin Malofeev,23 the successful founder of Marshall Capital Partners who is known for investing his fortune into Orthodox Christian and social conservative initiatives, such as the Russian Society of Philanthropists for the Protection of Mothers and Children, the Safe Internet League, and the YouTube channel “Tsargrad TV,” which Loutchenko has described as an attempt to build a Russian FOX News.24 It also included former Russian Railways President Vladimir Yakunin. (Yakunin is on the U.S. sanctions list for his closeness to President Putin, while Malofeev has been sanctioned by the European Union in response to accusations from the Ukrainian government that he was financing the rebels in Donbas.) This elite backing lends considerable oomph to Russian social conservatives’ international efforts, making it all the more important for advocates of human rights to be aware of them.

Russia’s Hard Right Turn

Since the end of 2011, when tens of thousands of Russians participated in mass protests against election fraud, Russian social conservatism’s star has risen within Russian circles of power. The late-2011 protests continued into 2012, ahead of the election of Putin to a third term as president. Perhaps feeling betrayed by the middle class his policies had helped create, representatives of whom made up the bulk of the protesters, Putin took a populist, nationalist turn, identifying himself more closely with the Orthodox Church and expecting its absolute loyalty in return. This became abundantly clear that February, when members of the feminist punk collective Pussy Riot famously demonstrated in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, performing their “Punk Prayer” to condemn Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, for backing Putin’s candidacy. (Three members of the collective were sentenced to two years in penal colonies for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”—one was freed on probation—with the vocal support of some U.S. conservatives like Concerned Women for America’s Janice Shaw Crouse.25 Two would emerge to international celebrity.)

"Enough is enough - Open your mouth!" demonstration against homophobia in Russia. Photo by Marco Fieber via Flicker.

“Enough is enough – Open your mouth!” demonstration against homophobia in Russia. Photo by Marco Fieber via Flicker.

The “Punk Prayer” performance led to new legislation, enacted in June 2013, that made it a crime to insult religious believers’ feelings. But the law was just one expression of what Russian political commentator Alexander Morozov has called a “conservative revolution,” marked by populist rhetoric scapegoating political opponents and the LGBTQ community, which began with Putin’s third term.26 There was also the Dima Yakovlev Law, Russia’s ban on the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens, which passed the Russian State Duma and Federation Council in late December 2012 and took effect on January 1, 2013. The Russian president’s children’s rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, pushed hard for this law, promoting it not only on the grounds of individual cases of abuse and neglect involving Russian children adopted by Americans, but also on the basis of opposition to potential adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples.27 While this law could hardly have been well-liked by many American social conservatives—Russia was a popular country for American evangelicals seeking to adopt foreign children—National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown actually joined a delegation of French members of the National Front in Moscow, where he encouraged the passage of the law because it would keep Russian children from going to countries that allow same-sex couples to adopt.28

June 2013 then saw the passage of Russia’s federal law “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values,” popularly known as the “anti-gay propaganda law,” which bars vaguely defined “propaganda” of “non-traditional” sexual relations to minors, effectively making it illegal to provide LGBTQ teenagers with life-saving information.29 Members of the United Russia Party quickly fell in line with the changes originating at the top, and so opposition to such moves was eliminated from the political center amid increasing rhetoric about ‘national traitors’ and ‘fifth columnists.’ In Morozov’s view, the Russian political center is now “full of supporters of global ‘conservative revolution.’”30

Meanwhile, direct Russian government collaboration with the Orthodox Church has proceeded apace in matters of both domestic and foreign policy. Pavel Astakhov’s position on “children’s rights” is actually an essentially radical doctrine of state non-interference in family matters—that is, despite staggeringly high rates of domestic abuse in Russia, he is opposed to any legal enshrining of the term “domestic abuse” on the grounds that it is an affront to the sacrality of the (“natural”) family and paves the way for undue state interference in parents disciplining their children. In this respect, Astakhov’s official pronouncements parrot the ideas of the far right Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, head of the ROC’s Commission on Family Matters and the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood, who frequently has Astakhov’s ear.31

WCF moscow russia logoAs Sergei Chapnin  has astutely observed, the ROC has coordinated with government propagandists to promote patriotism and traditional values. Chapnin writes, “Beyond liturgy and piety, other traditions were revived: respect for the family, opposition to abortion,32 the banning of homosexual practice and propaganda. These measures are seen as asserting traditional Russian mores in opposition to the decadence of the West.”33

But Russian conservatism isn’t just defensive. As Chapnin explains, there’s an imperial element as well:

The Church has taken on a complex ideological significance over the last decade, not least because of the rise of the concept of Russkiy Mir, or “Russian World.” This way of speaking presumes a fraternal coexistence of the Slavic peoples—Russian, Ukrainian, Belarussian—in a single “Orthodox Civilization.” It is a powerful archetype. It is an image of unity that appeals to Russians, because it gives them a sense of a larger destiny and supports the imperial vision that increasingly characterizes Russian politics.

This imperial ethos was certainly on display in what would have been WCF’s eighth annual meeting in 2014, when the World Congress of Families had planned to head back to its birthplace in Russia. Those plans, however, took a different turn.

Global Social Conservatism in Putin’s Third Term – A Right-Wing International?

Prior to the annexation of Crimea, Putin had received a substantial amount of praise from representatives of the U.S. Religious Right, even if some mistrusted his KGB past. President and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Franklin Graham, for example, could not resist praising Putin for the passage of Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, declaring that Russia was acting more morally on this issue than the United States, despite his reservations about Putin’s Soviet background.34 American Christian culture warriors also sometimes took credit for Russia’s conservative legislative onslaught. For example, Scott Lively, a Christian Right author and activist who is currently being sued for crimes against humanity for his involvement with the Uganda “kill the gays” bill and who has traveled to Russia and Eastern Europe on more than one occasion, claiming credit for the passage of the anti-gay “propaganda” law.35

Despite examples of claims to have exported their initiatives to Russia, however, U.S. social conservatives also frequently recognized Russia’s agency and leadership in global social conservatism. WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs minced no words when he reiterated the Russian messianic trope described above, declaring on End Times Radio in June 2013, “The Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world.”36 Likewise, it was not an affect, or mere diplomacy, when American anti-LGBTQ crusader Paul Cameron proclaimed to the Russian State Duma that he had come “to thank the Russian people, the State Duma, and President Putin… in the name of the entire Christian world” for Russia’s active legal repression of LGBTQ rights.37

A few months after Cameron’s visit to Russia, however, it became more complicated for Russian and U.S. social conservatives to unite, making it momentarily possible to hope that international tensions might hamper the effectiveness of the global culture wars. In our interview in May 2015, Loutchenko and I speculated that 2014 might have represented a turning point in this regard. Although subsequent events have shown that many American social conservatives are more than willing to work with Russia, when Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, the world at large reacted with alarm, and the conservative “pro-family” world became divided. WCF had planned to go back to Russia that coming September for its eighth conference, but Putin’s brand had now become toxic to enough conservatives to make this difficult, even apart from any fear of the possible violation of U.S. sanctions against Russia. WCF withdrew its official sponsorship from the event, releasing a statement explaining that their withdrawal was made necessary by practical considerations, but which also went out of its way to praise Russian churches and individuals for their “leadership role in the fight to preserve life, marriage, and the natural family at home and as part of the international pro-family movement.” It added, “The World Congress of Families takes no position on foreign affairs, except as they affect the natural family.”38 Other social conservative groups were not so sympathetic. Concerned Women for America pulled out of the event altogether, with its CEO and president Penny Nance declaring that her organization did not “want to appear to be giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin.”39 (Subsequently, articles in the conservative journals First Things40 and American Conservative41 have warned against the religious nationalism of Putin’s “Corrupted Orthodoxy” or “Orthodox Terrorism.”)

WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs minced no words when he reiterated the Russian messianic trope, declaring, “The Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world.”

It wasn’t that CWA or other social conservatives who turned against Russia now objected to Russia’s hard anti-LGBTQ line, of course. It was that the annexation of territory in violation of international law revived Cold War era right-wing perceptions of Russia as a threatening state that is not to be trusted. (In this regard, it should not be forgotten that American Christians have missionary ties to Ukraine, which is also a popular country for U.S. adoptions.) Nevertheless, the American leaders of WCF stuck by their Russian partners. The meeting went forward, but not as an official WCF conference. Instead, the conference was titled “Large Families: The Future of Humanity.” U.S. WCF leaders remained intimately involved, with Communications Director Don Feder and Managing Director Jacobs on the organizing committee.42 The event depended for its financing primarily on Russian oligarchs Yakunin and Malofeev.

Larry Jacobs at a WCF presentation, 2012. Photo by HazteOir.org via Flickr.

Larry Jacobs at a WCF presentation, 2012. Photo by HazteOir.org via Flickr.

Meanwhile, the lack of international approval for the renamed WCF VIII most likely emboldened Russian social conservatives in their claim to global leadership in the fight against abortion and LGBTQ rights—a claim that WCF’s American leaders and their fellow conservative comrades, apparently untroubled by Russia’s increasing anti-Westernism, had already recognized. For example, some Russian speakers highlighted the changed circumstances of the conference as proof that Russia was a global leader in tackling problems other countries wouldn’t face. As one of the first speakers, Duma deputy Yelena Mizulina, who authored the anti-gay “propaganda law,” proudly announced, an event like this one, which took place in the Kremlin and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior (where the Pussy Riot protest took place), most likely could not take place in Europe or the U.S. in their current climates.

Last year’s WCF in Salt Lake City may belie Mizulina’s statement to some extent—WCF IX demonstrated a clear attempt to tone down Hard Right rhetoric43—but her claim matters. To Russian and U.S. social conservatives, a key takeaway from the forum was the impression that, while Russia is very happy to be working with foreigners in the fight for the so-called “natural family,” it is Russia that is at the helm. WCF’s Larry Jacobs admitted as much when he stated at the event, “I think Russia is the hope for the world right now.” Invoking Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Jacobs went on to explain that since Russia had defeated Marxism, it could help the West defeat “cultural Marxism” today—a nearly identical claim as that which Alexey Komov made this past fall at WCF’s meeting in Salt Lake City.44

And Russia is clearly pushing forward with this agenda on the international stage, with Komov in a leadership role. Take, for example, Russia’s role in securing the passage of a UN Human Rights Council resolution on “Protection of the Family,” which defined the family “as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children.”45 This resolution, sponsored in part by Russia—whose influence at the UN is bolstered by its permanent seat and veto on the UN Security Council—was clearly understood, by both supporters and opponents, as an attack on individual rights and a win for supporters of the “natural family”46 (which implicitly excludes families headed by same-sex couples). Komov has bragged of his part in delegations to the UN, which included Russian political leaders Mizulina and Astakhov, in which they pursued similar goals.47

Meanwhile, when I spoke with Russian commentator and researcher Xenia Loutchenko in May, she highlighted Russia’s success in attracting members of the European Right, mentioning that the French National Front recently took millions of dollars in loans from a Russian bank, in what many saw as a reward for the National Front’s support for the annexation.48 She also described Yakunin’s World Public Forum, which hosts an annual “Dialogue of Civilizations” in Greece, as a “right-wing international.” The phrasing might be hyperbolic, with its invocation of the Soviet-dominated Comintern, or Communist International, which was dedicated to spreading Communism around the world from the 1920s-40s. Nevertheless, drawing a comparison between the Comintern and the contemporary global culture wars, in which Russia is playing a leading role that is far from entirely derivative, makes a valid point. We will not be able to grasp Russia’s role in the global culture wars if we persist in treating Russia as essentially a recipient of America’s exported culture wars, and not an independent actor, and even exporter, in its own right.

The recent Cold War past makes it difficult for some, on both the Left and the Right, to imagine contemporary Russia as a conservative state vying for the role of international leader in global right-wing politics. Retired NYU Professor Stephen F. Cohen’s recent writings, for example, have desperately tried to salvage a vision of post-Soviet Russia as somehow left-wing. While Cohen is not wrong to perceive continuity between Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, it is important to note that the relevant ideological continuity extends further back, with its origins lying in the messianic discourse of moral superiority associated with twentieth- and twenty-first century Russian intellectuals and, before them, with Russian Slavophilism, which intellectual historian Andrzej Walicki once described, quite accurately, as “a conservative utopia.”49 During the Soviet Union’s seven decades of existence, the conservative version of this Russian messianism persisted in the Russian diaspora and among Soviet dissidents such as Solzhenitsyn. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, projected its own purported moral superiority as the ostensible vanguard of socialism, a system understood as far more just than Western capitalism. Just as the official Soviet, left-wing version of this ideology of moral superiority attracted its share of fellow travelers, so has, and does, the now resurgent right-wing brand.

After Putin annexed Crimea in 2014, U.S. paleo-conservative Pat Buchanan suggested that God is on Russia’s side now.

This right-wing iteration of moral exceptionalism entails a belief that Russia was given a Providential calling to revive the Christian roots of European, or more broadly Western, civilization. Despite (or perhaps because of) the sense of moral superiority of Russian civilization, it has proven irresistible to certain Western Russophiles—whether late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British religious conservatives, or, fast forwarding to the present, American “paleo-conservative” Pat Buchanan.50 Notably, it was after Putin annexed Crimea on March 18, 2014, that Buchanan strongly suggested that God is on Russia’s side now.51 Like Buchanan, the American leadership in WCF seems prepared to see Russia as doing the Lord’s work, and therefore to go on working closely with Russian social conservatives despite tense international relations and concerns about Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis.52 What’s more, Franklin Graham has lost all compunction about praising Putin, and, after a recent visit to Moscow during which he met with Patriarch Kirill, seems to be entirely on board with the idea that Russia is “protecting traditional Christianity.” In turn, Patriarch Kirill has declared American Protestants and Catholics who defend the “natural family” to be “confessors of the faith.” Such propagandistic statements, meant to impact U.S. public opinion, might be construed as Russia exporting its culture wars to us, as leaders of the “godless” West.53 In this regard, it is also worth noting that the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate is expanding its presence in Paris, with plans for the construction of a new cathedral that will include a cultural center, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year.54 It is also important, of course, that Russia is exporting its culture wars in what the Russian state considers its more immediate sphere of influence, with Astakhov turning up at regional WCF conferences in countries such as Georgia, and а Russian-model anti-LGBTQ “propaganda” initiative, withdrawn at least for the present, having been recently considered in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament55

The events of 2014 may have tempered enthusiasm for Russia among some on the U.S. Right, but for many of those dedicated to the pursuit of an anti-human rights, “pro-family” agenda at home and abroad, partnership with Russian social conservatives will continue. If we wish to understand the effect of such partnerships, however, we must stop looking at Russian social conservatism as a kind of American import. We should take steps not to underestimate the global significance of Russian culture warring in its own right. While there is a complex transnational intellectual history at play here, Russian actors are more than capable of damaging LGBTQ and women’s rights all on their own, independent of U.S. actors. If we consider Russian involvement in WCF as entirely derivative of U.S. leadership, we may well miss the full import of the new Russia-led “right-wing international,” which would hamper the ability of human rights advocates to counter its influence.


Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that Scott Lively is “on trial” for crimes against humanity. The legal proceedings against Mr. Lively have not yet reached the trial stage.


About the Author

Christopher Stroop (@C_Stroop) earned a Ph.D. in Russian history and Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities from Stanford University. Currently a Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar in the History Department at the University of South Florida, Christopher is also a senior research fellow in the School of Public Policy at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration in Moscow and editor of the academic journal State, Religion and Church.


Endnotes

1 Sergei Bulgakov, “Na vyborakh. Iz dnevnika” [Observing the Elections: From my Journal], Russkaia mysl’ [Russian Thought] 33:11 (1912), 185-92, esp. 189.

2 World Congress of Families IX, “The Family in Europe – Alexey Komov, Maria Hildingsson, Laszlo Marki, Dr. J. Szymcsak,” YouTube Video, 1:01:35, November 13, 2015, https://youtu.be/a9Rpyl2NofI.

3 I thank PRA researcher Cole Parke for providing me with a recording of Komov’s presentation, which he gave on October 27, 2015 to an apparently highly receptive audience (judging by the laughter, comments, and applause audible in the recording).

4 Benjamin May, “World Congress of Families IX Announces Four Recipients Who Will Receive Awards in Salt Lake City on October 27,” Christian Newswire, October 20, 2015, http://www.christiannewswire.com/news/7575776890.html.

5 Cole Parke, “U.S. Conservatives and Russian Anti-Gay Laws – The WCF.” Eyes Right Blog, October 17, 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/10/17/u-s-conservatives-and-russian-anti-gay-laws-the-wcf/.

6 Rev. Kapya Kaoma, “Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia,” Political Research Associates: 2009, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2009/12/01/globalizing-the-culture-wars-u-s-conservatives-african-churches-homophobia/.

7 For example, see Xenia Loutchenko, “Vera ili ideologiia? ‘Tsargrad-TV’, Radio ‘Vera,’ i Novye Dukhovnye Skrepy” (Faith or Ideology? Tsargrad-TV, Radio ‘Faith,’ and New Spiritual Supports), Colta, September 22, 2014, http://m.colta.ru/articles/media/4720.

8 My abridged translation of our interview has been published in a new independent U.S.-based journal of Orthodox Christian thought. “Religion and Politics in Russia: An Insider’s View. Xenia Loutchenko Interviewed by Christopher Stroop,” The Wheel 1:3 (2015), 30-35, Available online: http://static1.squarespace.com/static/54d0df1ee4b036ef1e44b144/t/564281e0e4b0a83ded1ed25e/1447199200469/Loutchenko.pdf.

9 Ibid.

10 Hannah Levintova, “How US Evangelicals Helped Create Russia’s Anti-Gay Movement,” Mother Jones, February 21, 2014. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/02/world-congress-families-russia-gay-rights.

11Cole Parke, “U.S. Conservatives and Russian Anti-Gay Laws – The WCF.” Eyes Right Blog, October 17, 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/10/17/u-s-conservatives-and-russian-anti-gay-laws-the-wcf/.

12 Christopher Stroop, “Nationalist War Commentary as Russia’s Religious Thought: The Religious Intelligentsia’s Politics of Providentialism.” Russian Review 72:1 (2013), 94-115, esp. 100-01.

13 E. N. Trubetskoi, “Vozvrashchenie k filosofii” (The Return to Philosophy) in Filosofskii sbornik L’vu Mikhailovichu Lopatinu k tridtsatiletiiu nauchno-pedagogicheskoi deiatel’nosti. Ot Moskovskago Psikhologicheskogo Obshchestva. 1881-1911.) (Philosophical Festschrift in Honor of Lev Mikhailovich Lopatin’s Thirty Years of Scientific-Pedagogical Work [1881-1911], from the Moscow Psychological Society). (Moscow: Kushnerev, 1912), 1-9, esp. 9.

14 T. S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society, NY: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1940.

15 Catherine Baird, “Religious Communism? Nicolai Berdyaev’s Contribution to Esprit’s “Interpretation of Communism,” Canadian Journal of History 30:1 (1995), 29-47.

16 Christopher Stroop, “The Russian Origins of the So-Called Post-Secular Moment: Some Preliminary Observations,” State, Religion and Church 1:1 (2014), 59-82, https://www.academia.edu/5949640/The_Russian_Origins_of_the_So-Called_Post-Secular_Moment_Some_Preliminary_Observations.

17 Scott Kaufman, “Fox Guest: Keep Discrimination Legal Because Bible Tells Businesses Not to Hire Atheists,” Alternet, April 7, 2015. http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/fox-guest-keep-discrimination-legal-because-bible-tells-businesses-not-hire.

18 Christopher Stroop, “The Russian Origins of the So-Called Post-Secular Moment: Some Preliminary Observations,” State, Religion and Church 1:1 (2014), 59-82, https://www.academia.edu/5949640/The_Russian_Origins_of_the_So-Called_Post-Secular_Moment_Some_Preliminary_Observations.

19 Kathryn Joyce, “Missing: The ‘Right’ Babies,” The Nation, February 14, 2008, http://www.thenation.com/article/missing-right-babies/.

20 Although it is a little too essentializing in its treatment of Russian national character, on Russian exceptionalism, including brief comments on Dugin, see Paul Coyer, “(Un)Holy Alliance: Vladimir Putin, the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Exceptionalism,” Forbes, May 21, 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/paulcoyer/2015/05/21/unholy-alliance-vladimir-putin-and-the-russian-orthodox-church/.

21 Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn, “Putin’s Brain: Alexander Dugin and the Philosophy Behind Putin’s Invasion of Crimea. Foreign Affairs, March 31, 2014, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russia-fsu/2014-03-31/putins-brain.

22 Paul Goble, “Window on Eurasia: The Kremlin’s Disturbing Reading List for Russia’s Political Elite,” Window on Eurasia—New Series, January 24, 2104, http://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.ru/2014/01/window-on-eurasia-kremlins-disturbing.html.

23 Joshua Keating, “God’s Oligarch,” Slate, October 20, 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/foreigners/2014/10/konstantin_malofeev
_one_of_vladimir_putin_s_favorite_businessmen_wants_to.html
.

24  Xenia Loutchenko, “Vera ili ideologiia? ‘Tsargrad-TV’, Radio ‘Vera,’ i Novye Dukhovnye Skrepy” (Faith or Ideology? Tsargrad-TV, Radio ‘Faith,’ and New Spiritual Supports), Colta, September 22, 2014, http://m.colta.ru/articles/media/4720.

25 Miranda Blue, “Pussy Riot’s American Detractors,” Right Wing Watch, February 18, 2014,  http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/pussy-riots-american-detractors.

26 Alexander Morozov, “Konservativnaia revoliutsiia: smysl Kryma” [A Conservative Revolution: The Meaning of Crimea], Colta, March 17, 2014, http://www.colta.ru/articles/society/2477.

27 Brody Levesque, “Russian children’s rights commissioner: only Italy can adopt Russian children,” LGBTQ Nation, December 3, 2013, http://www.lgbtqnation.com/2013/12/russian-childrens-rights-commissioner-only-italy-can-adopt-russian-children/.

28 See Miranda Blue, “Globalizing Homophobia, Part 2: ‘Today the Whole World is Looking at Russia,’” Right Wing Watch, October 3, 2013. http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/globalizing-homophobia-part-2-today-whole-world-looking-russia.

29 “Federal Law of the Russian Federation of July 29, 2013, No. 135-F3, Moscow. Amending Article 5 of the Federal Law ‘On the Defense of Children from Information Harmful for their Health and Development,’ and other legislative acts of the Russian Federation with the goal of protecting children from propaganda rejecting traditional family values.”: http://www.rg.ru/2013/06/30/deti-site-dok.html

30 Alexander Morozov, “Konservativnaia revoliutsiia: smysl Kryma” [A Conservative Revolution: The Meaning of Crimea], Colta, March 17, 2014. http://www.colta.ru/articles/society/2477.

31 Jennifer Monaghan, “Russian Orthodox Priest: Parental Violence Campaigns are Anti-Family,” The Moscow Times, March 24, 2015. http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/russian-orthodox-priest-parental-violence-campaigns-are-anti-family/517976.html. Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, “Vystuplenie protoiereia Dimitriia Smirnova na Obshchesetvennom sovete P. Astakhova” (Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov’s Presentation at the Community Forum of [the Ombudsman of the Office of the President of the Russian Federation for Children’s Rights] P. Astakhov). April 5, 2014.  http://www.dimitrysmirnov.ru/blog/cerkov-56880/.

32 With respect to abortion, as of November 21, 2011, according to Federal Law 323-F3, Russia banned abortions after 12 weeks except in the case of rape (up to 22 weeks) or medical necessity (at any time). Orthodox Christian leaders and their allies in the Duma continue to push for more severe restrictions, such as required ultrasounds.

33 Sergei Chapnin, “A Church of Empire: Why the Russian Church Chose to Bless Empire,” First Things, November 2015, http://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/11/a-church-of-empire. Chapnin served as managing editor of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, an official organ of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, from 2009 until December 16, 2015. Chapnin’s moderate, highly informed and frank assessments of Russian church life are impressive, and his presence in the patriarchate was a rare bright spot among its prominent predominantly far-right voices. On December 18, social media associated with the Russian intelligentsia and Orthodox Church exploded with the news that Chapnin had been fired from the patriarchate for his critical views of the church’s prevailing ideology and relationship to the Russian state, particularly for remarks he made in a talk given at the Carnegie Moscow Center on December 9. The media have now confirmed the firing. See, for example, “Moscow Patriarchate Fires Sergey Chapnin, Editor of its Journal.” AsiaNews.it, Dec. 19, 2015. http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Moscow-Patriarchate-fires-Sergey-Chapnin,-editor-of-its-journal-36205.html.

34 Franklin Graham, “Putin’s Olympic Controversy,” Decision Magazine, February 28, 2014, http://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/march-2014/putins-olympic-controversy/.

35 Hannah Levintova, “How US Evangelicals Helped Create Russia’s Anti-Gay Movement,” Mother Jones, February 21, 2014. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/02/world-congress-families-russia-gay-rights. Meredith Bennett-Smith, “Scott Lively, American Pastor, Takes Credit for Inspiring Russian Anti-Gay Laws,” Huffington Post, September 9, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/19/scott-lively-russian-anti-gay-laws_n_3952053.html.

36 Quoted in Jay Michaelson, “The ‘Natural Family’: The Latest Weapon in the Christian Right’s New Global War on Gays,” The Daily Beast, June 14, 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/06/14/the-natural-family-the-latest-weapon-in-the-christian-right-s-new-global-war-on-gays.html.

37 Christopher Stroop, “Russian Parliament Hosts U.S. Anti-Gay Activist Paul Cameron,” Religion Dispatches, December 12, 2013. http://religiondispatches.org/russian-parliament-hosts-u-s-anti-gay-activist-paul-cameron/.

38 World Congress of Families, “Planning for World Congress of Families VIII Suspended,” n.d., http://worldcongress.org/press-releases/planning-world-congress-families-viii-suspended.

39 Evan Hurst, “Russian ‘Pro-Family’ Conference Exposing Internal Dissension Among American Religious Right Leaders?” Two Care Center Against Religious Extremism, September 10, 2014, http://www.twocare.org/russian-pro-family-conference-exposing-internal-dissension-among-american-religious-right-leaders/.

40 Mykhailo Cherenkov, “Orthodox Terrorism,” First Things, May 2015, http://www.firstthings.com/article/2015/05/orthodox-terrorism.

41 Philip Jenkins, “Putin’s Corrupted Orthodoxy,” The American Conservative, March 24, 2015, http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/putins-corrupted-orthodoxy/.

42 Hannah Levintova, “Did Anti-Gay Evangelicals Skirt US Sanctions on Russia?” Mother Jones, September 8, 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/world-congress-families-russia-conference-sanctions.

43 Peter Montgomery, “World Congress of Families in Denial over Promoting Homophobia Globally,” Right Wing Watch, October 21, 2015, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/world-congress-families-denial-over-promoting-homophobia-globally.

44 “Final Plenary Session,” International Forum “Large Family [sic.] and the Future of Humanity,” http://www.familyforum2014.org/#!final-plenary-session/c1umu.

45 “Resolutions and Voting Results of 29th HRC Session,” UN Watch, July 2, 2015, http://www.unwatch.org/resolutions-and-voting-results-of-29th-hrc-session/.

46 Jay Michaelson, “At the United Nations, it’s Human Rights, Putin Style,” The Daily Beast, June 26, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/06/26/at-the-united-nations-it-s-human-rights-putin-style.html. Rebecca Oas, “Big Win for Traditional Family at UN Human Rights Council,” C-Fam, July 9, 2015, https://c-fam.org/friday_fax/big-win-for-traditional-family-at-un-human-rights-council/.

47 “Plod very. Posol vsemirnogo kongressa semei v OON Alexey Komov. Chast’ 2” (The Fruits of Faith. The Ambassador of the World Congress of Families to the UN, Alexey Komov. Part 2), http://tv-soyuz.ru/peredachi/plod-very-posol-vsemirnogo-kongressa-semey-v-oon-aleksey-komov-chast-2.

48 On the National Front’s relationship to Russia see Anne-Claude Martin, “National Fronts Russian Loans Cause Uproar in European Parliament,” EurActiv.com, December 5, 2014, http://www.euractiv.com/sections/europes-east/national-fronts-russian-loans-cause-uproar-european-parliament-310599. Also relevant: Sam Ball, “Sarkozy to Meet Putin as French Right Looks to Russia,” France 24, October 29, 2015, http://www.france24.com/en/20151028-sarkozy-meet-putin-french-right-looks-russia-syria-hollande-assad.

49 Andrzej Walicki, The Slavophile Controversy: History of a Conservative Utopia in Nineteenth-Century Russian Thought, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989.

50 Michael Hughes, “The English Slavophile: J. W. Birkbeck and Russia,” The Slavonic and East European Review, 82:3 (2004), 680-706.

51 Patrick J. Buchanan, “Whose Side is God on Now?” April 4, 2014. http://buchanan.org/blog/whose-side-god-now-6337.

52 For more evidence of this, note the effusive praise lavished on Russian actors by WCF IX Executive Director Janice Shaw Crouse: Fr. Mark Hodges, “Janice Shaw Crouse: Homosexual Activists Peddling ‘Falsehoods’ about World Congress of Families,” Life Site, September 29, 2015, https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/janice-shaw-crouse-homosexual-activists-peddling-falsehoods-about-world-con.

53 “Franklin Graham praises ‘Gay Propaganda’ Law, Criticizes US ‘Secularism,’ in Russia Visit,” Pravmir, November 3, 2015, http://www.pravmir.com/franklin-graham-praises-gay-propaganda-law-critizes-us-secularism-in-russia-visit/. Priest Mark Hodges, “Russian Orthodox Patriarch: Americans for natural marriage are ‘Confessors of the Faith,’” Pravmir, November 3, 2015, http://www.pravmir.com/russian-orthodox-patriarch-americans-for-natural-marriage-are-confessors-of-the-faith/.

54 “France: A New Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Paris,” Dici, February 14, 2014, http://www.dici.org/en/news/france-a-new-russian-orthodox-cathedral-in-paris/. “Frantsiia razreshila stroit’ pravoslavnyi dukhovno-kultur’nyi tsentr v parizhe” (France has Permitted the Construction of an Orthodox Cultural Center in Paris), Pravoslavie.ru, December 25, 2013, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/news/67006.htm. Since the days of Berdyaev and Bulgakov, both of whom lived out most of the rest of their lives in France after the Bolshevik victory in the Russian civil war, there has been a large Russian Christian presence in Paris with a complicated relationship to Moscow. While the details of this situation are beyond the scope of this article, it is important to note  that Moscow seems to be attempting to exert greater influence over the ethnic Russian Christian population that remains in France.

55 “Pavel Astakhov prinial uchastie v konferentsii Vsemirnogo kongressa semei v Tbilisi” (Pavel Astakhov Took Part in a Conference of the World Congress of Families in Tbilisi), Press Service of the President of the Russian Federation’s Ombudsman for Children’s Rights, May 18, 2015, http://www.rfdeti.ru/news/9835-pavel-astahov-prinimaet-uchastie-v-konferencii-vsemirnogo-kongressa-semey-v-tbilisi. “ V Kyrgyzstane iz parlamenta otozvan zakonoproekt o zaprete gei-propagandy” (In Kyrgyzstan the Parliamentary Bill Banning Gay Propaganda has been Withdrawn), Gay Russia, June 30, 2015, http://www.gayrussia.eu/world/11571/.

Everything you need to know about the anti-LGBTQ World Congress of Families (WCF)

The World Congress of Families (WCF) is one of the key 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—and codify these in regressive laws and policies—that dictate who has rights as “family,” and who doesn’t.

The following research was compiled in collaboration with Ipas, Political Research Associates, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

 PRA SPLC IPAS

Overview

A project of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, WCF was founded in 1997 by conservative Christian scholar Allan Carlson, who is retiring as president of both organizations. Carlson—a champion of what WCF dubs the “natural family”—argued that heterosexual, procreative marriage is the “bulwark of ordered liberty” and that its preservation and promotion is the only way to prevent a future marked by “catastrophic population decline, economic contraction, and human tragedy” (all symptoms of the “evils” of feminism, socialism, and secularism).


“We envision a culture—found both locally and universally—that upholds the marriage of a woman to a man, and a man to a woman, as the central aspiration for the young.”
-From The Natural Family: A Manifesto, by Allan Carlson and Paul Mero

 


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.

WCF international convenings:

  • 1997 – Prague
  • 1999 – Geneva
  • 2004 – Mexico City
  • 2007 – Warsaw
  • 2009 – Amsterdam
  • 2012 – Madrid
  • 2013 – Sydney
  • 2014 – Moscow*
  • 2015 – Salt Lake City

A substantial part of WCF’s modest budget comes from membership dues contributed by these partners. The list of official WCF partners includes many of the leading right-wing organizations in the U.S., including Alliance Defending Freedom, Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, Family Research Council, Family Watch International, Focus on the Family, and National Organization for Marriage. The combined annual budget for WCF’s partner network amounts to over $200 million.

Key Partners include:

  • Alliance Defending Freedom (Scottsdale, AZ)
  • Americans United for Life (DC)
  • The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (NYC & DC)
  • Concerned Women for America (DC)
  • The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (Nashville, TN & DC)
  • Family Research Council (DC)
  • Family Watch International (Gilbert, AZ)
  • Focus on the Family (Colorado Springs, CO)
  • Human Life International (Front Royal, VA)
  • National Organization for Marriage (DC)
  • Population Research Institute (Front Royal, VA)
  • Priests for Life (Staten Island, NY)

In addition to large-scale international gatherings, WCF seeks to promote its global war on women and LGBTQ people by influencing policy at the United Nations and through smaller, regional events. In 2009, WCF hosted its first African conference in Abuja, Nigeria, and with the help of partner organizations, WCF is eagerly expanding its influence throughout the Global South.

Several of WCF’s smaller conferences have also taken place in Russia, contributing to the increasingly anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ climate there. WCF’s 2014 Congress was scheduled to take place in Moscow, but the event was ostensibly cancelled due to concerns over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In fact, the meetings went ahead as scheduled, disguised under a different name: “Large Families and the Future of Humanity International Forum,” held the same dates that WCF VIII was originally scheduled, despite international concerns regarding Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Human Rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International have consistently observed that wherever they go, WCF and its network represent a grave threat to the human rights of LGBTQ people and women. This battle has historically taken place in conservative, international venues, offering speakers and participants an element of impunity—what’s said in the company of friends, outside the media spotlight and beyond the critical gaze of human rights defenders, often goes unchallenged. Now, for the first time since its formation, WCF is hosting one of its large-scale convenings here in the United States.

Among the featured speakers scheduled to present at WCF IX (October 27-30, 2015 in Salt Lake City, UT) are some of the U.S. Right’s leading opponents of LGBTQ and reproductive justice. They include Brian Brown, Austin Ruse, Samuel Rodriguez, and Sharon Slater—individuals who have made it their business to cultivate cultures of violence and persecution for LGBTQ people and women around the world.

Featured WCF IX Speakers include:

  • Gary Herbert, Governor of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT)
  • Glenn Stanton, Focus on the Family (Colorado Springs, CO)
  • Brian Brown, National Organization for Marriage (Washington, DC)
  • Samuel Rodriguez, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (Sacramento, CA)
  • Austin Ruse, C-Fam: The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (New York City, NY)
  • Stan Swim, Sutherland Institute (Salt Lake City, UT)
  • Sharon Slater, Family Watch International (Gilbert, AZ)
  • Charmaine Yoest, Americans United for Life (Washington, DC)
  • Rafael Cruz, father of Sen. Ted Cruz (Carrollton, TX)
  • Peter Sprigg, Family Research Council (Washington, DC)
  • Mark Regnerus, Austin Institute (Austin, TX)
  • Lila Rose, Live Action (Washington, DC)
  • Alveda King, Priests for Life (Staten Island, NY)
  • Eric Teesel, Manhattan Declaration (New York City, NY)
  • Mark Tooley, Institute on Religion & Democracy (Washington, DC)
  • Steve Mosher, Population Research Institute (Washington, DC)

 

Sponsoring and active groups in the World Congress of Families

Alliance Defending Freedom

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is a $40 million per year organization based in Scottsdale, AZ. It was founded in 1994 by a cohort of some 30 leaders in the Christian Right to defend religious freedom, including such luminaries as the late D. James Kennedy (of the former Coral Ridge Ministries; now D. James Kennedy Ministries), Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and American Family Association founder Don Wildmon. It has a staff of at least 40 in-house lawyers and a network of over 2,400 allied lawyers. Its board of directors is stacked with partners from powerful law firms and captains of industry.

When working inside the U.S., ADF paints itself as a bulwark against threats to “religious liberty” and is staunchly anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ. It has battled adoption rights and fostering of children for gay parents, fought against LGBTQ people serving openly in the U.S. military, and involved itself in litigation that would continue to criminalize sex between consenting gay or lesbian adults.

Having made significant inroads domestically, ADF moved into Europe, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and now this year into Latin America. ADF’s roster of over 2,400 affiliated lawyers claim to have been involved in over 500 cases in six continents and 41 countries.

In 2012, ADF opened their first international office in Vienna, Austria, which enabled them to easily toggle between the various European courts, including the European Court of Human Rights. They have also inserted themselves at the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna, the European Parliament in Brussels, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. When seeking to influence law or an election in these countries, as was the case in Slovakia recently when the group opposed a ballot question expanding human rights, ADF will contract a local political or religious leader to become the face of their initiative.

ADF has recently become active at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the judicial agency responsible for monitoring human rights accountability in Latin America, and the Organization of American States. In 2013, ADF successfully lobbied Latin American delegates at the OAS to kill a treaty that included provisions that could have stemmed the growing violence against LGBTQ people in those countries.

Additionally, The group has an office at the United Nations, where it holds consultative status.

Attorney Alan Sears is the current CEO and president; he served in numerous positions in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations as well as in the Department of Justice under Edwin Meese. In 2004, Sears co-wrote a book called The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Liberty, in which he and his co-author Craig Osten (ADF vice president) claim that homosexual behavior on campus “has taken a dangerous new turn” and promotes pedophilia. The two are, they claim, “intrinsically linked.”

ADF has been a partner of World Congress of Families through the years, most recently listed on the 2014 partners’ list. This year, as last year, ADF’s chief counsel and ADF International executive director Benjamin Bull, who in 2013 applauded India’s ban on consensual sex between gay adults, served on the WCF-IX planning committee.

Americans United for Life (AUL)

Founded in 1971, the self-proclaimed “legal architects of the prolife movement” AUL is a Washington, D.C.-based ultra conservative organization that supports a broad spectrum of initiatives against sexual and reproductive rights under the banner of “helping” women. This includes developing conservative model legislation, lawyer trainings, attempting to tear down Planned Parenthood through conspiracy theories, and supporting so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which attempt to counsel women out of abortions. Ultimately, AUL’s goal is to end all abortions in the United States—even in cases of rape or incest—under the claim that doing so is “beneficial” to women and their health.

Although AUL claims to work internationally, most of its legislative work is U.S.-focused, with particular success working against abortion rights at the state level. Each year since 2005, AUL has put together a workbook for legislators titled Defending Life, which includes a compendium of draft bills to guide conservative lawmakers as they develop their own anti-abortion proposals. In 2014, AUL claimed responsibility for contributing to more than one third of all the anti-abortion bills enacted since 2010. In 2014, the Guttmacher Institute, which supports sexual and reproductive health,reported that “more state level abortion restrictions were enacted in 2011-2013 than in the previous decade.”

Charmaine Yoest, daughter of well known antiabortion activist Janice Shaw Crouse (the executive director of this year’s World Congress of Families gathering) has led AUL for the last seven years. Yoest has a background in politics; she has worked for the Reagan administration and supported Mike Hukabee’s 2008 presidential campaign. Prior to her leadership of AUL, Yoest was the Family Research Council’s vice president for communications. The New York Times described her in 2012 as “sounding reasonable rather than extreme,” though she wants to make abortion illegal even in cases of rape or incest, opposes birth control, and claims that embryos have legal rights. Yoest will be speaking at WCF-9.

Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam)

C-Fam, as it’s known, was originally established in 1997 as the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (known initially under the acronym CAFHRI), and had ties to the extreme anti-abortion group Human Life International (HLI) and HLI-Canada. Now, as then, C-Fam’s mission is “to monitor and affect the social policy debate at the United Nations and other international institutions,” which they do, often engaging in disruptive tactics and strident language as well as spreading false claims in its battles against feminism, abortion, reproductive rights, and LGBT people.

C-Fam maintains offices in New York City and Washington, D.C., but it’s also extremely active around the world. Austin Ruse took over as C-Fam director in 1997, less than two months after its initial director Ann Noonan was fired. Ruse’s background is in journalism, prior to becoming, as he put it, “a professional Catholic” involved in religious and political activism.

Ruse — C-Fam’s most visible spokesman — has made many inflammatory statements over the years, including a claim that a priest from the Holy See delegation at the UN guaranteed him absolution if he “took [Hilary Clinton] out — and not on a date.” Last year, while hosting a show on American Family Radio, he said that “hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities” should “all be taken out and shot.” He has also publicly voiced support for Russia’s draconian anti-LGBT laws and called “‘the homosexual lifestyle’ harmful to public health and morals.”

Ruse, who has been on the WCF planning committee for fifteen years, is chairing a panel at the WCF conference this year. His wife, Cathy Ruse, who is senior counsel at the Family Research Council, is speaking on another panel.

Focus on the Family (FOTF)

Focus on the Family (FOTF) is one of the largest and most influential evangelical organizations in the United States, with a total revenue of over $88 million reported in 2013. It maintains a massive web presence and produces several programs that air on Christian radio stations around the world. In addition to its Colorado Springs, Colorado headquarters, FOTF has affiliate offices in South Africa, Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Egypt, Indonesia, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan.

Founded by anti-LGBTQ Christian author and psychologist James Dobson in 1977 and currently led by Jim Daly, Focus on the Family has fought against global LGBTQ equality and reproductive rights for decades. Glenn Stanton, the organization’s “director of global family formation studies” has described homosexuality as abhorrent: “It’s a particularly evil lie of Satan because he knows that it overthrows the very image of the Trinitarian God in creation, revealed in the union of male and female.” He’s alsosuggested that same-sex parenting turns children into “human guinea pigs.”

Tom Minnery, then FOTF’s senior vice president, was a member of the WCF III planning committee. That same year,In 2004 FOTF launched Focus on the Family Action—now known as CitizenLink—to further promote its Christian Right agenda. CitizenLink is the organization’s political arm, working to “advance Christian values in laws, elections and our culture.” Currently, there are 38 state-based Family Policy Councils formally associated with CitizenLink. With the support and guidance of CitizenLink, these affiliates’ campaign efforts include eliminating abortion access, enforcing abstinence-only sex ed, restricting marriage to heterosexual couples, and promoting creationism in schools.

FOTF continues to promote harmful and pseudoscientific “ex-gay” therapy. It partnered with (now-defunct) Exodus International in 1998 on a national advertising campaign arguing that gay and lesbian people could become heterosexual. From 1998 to 2010, FOTF collaborated with Exodus and “ex-gay” pseudoscience purveyors at the National Organization for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) on a series of “ex-gay” conferences called “Love Won Out.” FOTF also created Spanish-language versions of “Love Won Out” for Latin American audiences. After Exodus’ executive director, Alan Chambers, backed away from previous claims of a “cure” for homosexuality in 2012, FOTF shifted its support to Restored Hope Network, Exodus’ hardline successor.

FOTF first joined forces with WCF as a co-sponsor for WCF III in 2004. Glenn Stanton is a featured speaker at WCF IX.

Family Watch International (FWI)

Family Watch International’s director Sharon Slater attended WCF’s 1999 convening in Geneva, Switzerland, and the event launched this suburban Mormon mom into a life of Christian Right activism. She founded Family Watch International (FWI) in Gilbert, Arizona that same year, and currently claims the group has members and supporters in over 170 countries. FWI maintains a small budget and low domestic profile, but it is highly active internationally and at the United Nations (UN), where it operates under the name Global Helping to Advance Women and Children (Global HAWC).

Though she presents herself as a humanitarian and advocate for women, children, and families, Slater is an aggressive anti-LGBTQ anti-choice activist. “Policy briefs” available on the FWI website claim that children raised in same-sex households have “serious problems” and support discredited and often dangerous “ex-gay” therapy to try to make people heterosexual. While claiming that FWI does not condone violence against “homosexuals and transgenders,” Slater has compared homosexuality to “incest, sexual abuse, and rape . . . drug dealing, assaults, and other crimes.”

Through Slater’s work at the UN—which she uses to claim “expert” status on UN policy—and her networking across the African continent (facilitated in part by WCF), she exerts substantial international influence on issues such as family planning, HIV/AIDS, and LGBTQ rights. She also exploits FWI’s UN consultative status to limit the advancement of comprehensive sexuality education, reproductive health services including abortion, and basic rights and protections for LGBTQ people.

As the keynote speaker at a Nigerian Bar Association conference in 2011, Slater reportedly urged delegates to resist pressure from the UN to decriminalize homosexuality. She also said that they risked losing their religious and parental rights for endorsing “fictitious sexual rights,” such as the right to engage in same-sex relationships without facing imprisonment.

FWI and the UN Family Rights Caucus—also led by Slater—will co-host a “Family Rights Leadership Summit” in Salt Lake City, on Monday, October 26, the day before WCF IX begins. At previous closed-door events like this, FWI has brought together UN delegates from around the world to equip them with the language, tools, and strategies of the U.S. Christian Right’s agenda.

Human Life International (HLI)

Founded by Father Paul Marx in 1981, Human Life International (HLI) garnered a reputation for its extreme, hyperbolic pronouncements and conspiracy theories against abortion. Often opting for shock over substance, HLI has over the years mailed graphic medical images, displayed fetuses in jars to schoolchildren, appropriated the Holocaust to describe abortion and stem cell research, and claimed that Jews led the pro-choice movement. It is, however, one of the oldest and largest US clergy-led anti-abortion organizations working overseas.

Since 2011, HLI has been headed by Father Shenan J. Boquet. HLI is primarily focused on anti-abortion efforts, but its outreach has also included working against LGBT rights. HLI’s has built a cadre of committed anti-abortion priests overseas, by hosting large international conferences, providing trainings, creating and distributing educational materials, supporting so-called crisis pregnancy centers that counsel women against abortion, and opening global field missions. Their three main offices are in Front Royal, Virginia,; Miami, Florida (this office is focused on outreach in Latin America and the Caribbean); and Rome, Italy. HLI has regional programs and many affiliated organizations in Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia. It is currently most active in Africa.

HLI is also active at the regional level, especially in Latin America. They are increasing their work with the Organization of American States (OAS). In April 2015, it participated at the OAS Seventh Summit of the Americas weeks before the General Assembly in Washington (2015).

In past years, HLI has participated in World Congress of Family gatherings and signed on to anti-abortion public statements issued by WCF. This year, both HLI’s director of mission communications and its director of international coordination are speaking at WCF.

National Organization for Marriage (NOM)

The National Organization for Marriage was formed in 2007 specifically to pass California’s Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex marriage in that state. Since its founding, NOM has worked tirelessly against marriage equality, civil unions legislation, and adoption of children by same-sex parents.

The founding board of NOM included right-wing heavy hitters Luis Tellez (Opus Dei, Witherspoon Institute); Maggie Gallagher (longtime conservative pundit); and Robert George (chairman of the board emeritus). George is a law professor at Princeton and one of the drafters of the so-called Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto that calls for conservative Christians to engage in civil disobedience against laws if they disagree with them. Robert George, as head of the Witherspoon Institute, commissioned the widely-debunked Mark Regnerus study which used erroneous data to claim that children do not do well with same-sex parents. George also leveraged his position on the editorial board of the Mormon-owned Deseret News to have that paper be the first to cover the release of the study.

Since 2011, Brian Brown, former director of the Family Institute of Connecticut and a co-founder of NOM, has served as the group’s president. Since it was formed, NOM has involved itself in myriad state battles over marriage equality, while also refusing to release its donor lists, often in violation of state campaign laws. After a five-year battle with Maine, NOM finally released its list in August of 2015. Since 2012, the group’s funding has been precarious; barely making $5 million in 2013, when it also cut ties to its educational project, the Ruth Institute.

Over the past few years, as more states started to recognize marriage equality, Brown has shifted NOM’s focus overseas. He worked closely with the French anti-LGBTQ movement in 2013, and also addressed a committee of the Russian parliament regarding Russian adoption bans, in which he spoke about the dangers of allowing gay people to adopt children, saying that “every child should have normal parents.”

Brown was also on the WCF planning committee in 2014 in Moscow, Russia, and he will be speaking at WCF IX.

Sutherland Institute

The Sutherland Institute is a conservative public policy think tank based in Salt Lake City, Utah that opened in 1995 with the primary objective of influencing public policy in the state with its hardline conservative agenda. Named in honor of George Sutherland, one of four justices on the U.S. Supreme Court who tried to strike down Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, the Institute is a member of the ultra-conservative State Policy Network (SPN).

The Center for Media & Democracy (CMD) reported in 2013 that SPN and its affiliates push a right-wing agenda that aims to curtail things like marriage equality and healthcare reform. The Sutherland Institute’s website addresses several issues and includes long “fact sheets” that attempt to explain how granting LGBT people the right to not be fired or denied housing is granting them “special rights.”

Sutherland’s former president, Paul Mero, also served as vice president of WCF’s parent organization, the Howard Center, and is still active in WCF’s executive committee. Mero worked for former Congressman William Dannemeyer, for whom he “co-ghost wrote” a book warning of the dangers of gay rights in America. Dannemeyer once stated that those with AIDS shouldn’t work around newborns because they “emit a spore” that causes birth defects. Under Mero’s leadership, the Sutherland Institute was one of theleading opponents of the campaign to protect LGBTQ Utahns from discrimination, which also served to act as a trial balloon for the national Christian Right’s talking points surround religious exemptions from civil rights laws for individuals and business owners.

In 2013, Sutherland Institute partnered with a Focus on the Family affiliate, the local Eagle Forum, and United Families International (among others) to launch the Fair to Allcampaign, which claimed that laws banning businesses from hiring or firing people (gay or straight) because of their sexual orientation was akin to creating “special rights.” It also pushed the argument that a business owner’s religious beliefs should exempt them from being bound by civil rights laws.

Following Mero’s sudden departure from the Sutherland Institute in August 2014, Stanford Swim—son of the Institute’s founder—and a member of the Howard Center’s board since 2007—stepped in as interim president. Swim also serves as president of the GFC (God, Family, Country) Foundation, whose largest contributions go to the Sutherland Institute. Swim is chairman of the WCF IX organizing committee and will be a featured speaker.

United Families International (UFI)

Based in Gilbert, Arizona, United Families International has its roots in two separate organizations founded in 1978 by longtime activists Susan Roylance , (currently on the board of World Congress of Families) and Jan Clark. By 1983 the two organizations merged to become United Families of America. The name changed in 1995 as the organization expanded its focus outside the United States to combat perceived threats to the “natural family” (see glossary).

Those threats, according to UFI, include pornography, “explicit” sex education programs (UFI promotes “abstinence only”), and “homosexual activism.” UFI also opposes abortion and feminism (it fears feminism eliminates gender), and worked against the ratification of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2008. UFI is extremely active at the United Nations, where it holds consultative status with the Economic and Social Counsel. It has sent teams to major UN conferences and has represented itself around the world, where it claims it is “working to educate delegates from many countries on the issues affecting families.”

On its website, UFI provides “educational materials,” like its 35-page report on sexual orientation that claims differing sexual orientations are “developmental disorders” that can be “prevented or successfully treated.” The report provides a litany of damaging falsehoods about homosexuality, including such claims as “pedophilia is widespread among the homosexual community;” that gay people are a danger to children and should not be allowed to adopt; that gay people experience “high rates of promiscuity;” and that homosexuality is “destructive” to society.

United Families Utah director Laura Bunker became the president of UFI in 2013. She announced in January 2015 that UFI now has a South Korea chapter.

Over the years, UFI has worked with WCF, serving as co-convener for a 2002 WCF special session in New York City, where Janet Museveni, the first lady of Uganda, spoke. UFI was listed in 2014 as a WCF partner and was involved in the planning for WCF-IX.

Glossary of terms used by World Congress of Families

Words matter. The attachment of particular beliefs and ideologies to certain words, phrases, and images serves as a powerful form of communication, and an important part of most campaign strategies. Just as advertising seeks to link certain language to particular products, in politics, certain messages are forever associated with set ideological frameworks.

The World Congress of Families (WCF) functions to propagate certain associations to its various partners and participants in an effort to control its message. The language WCF uses is intended to define the terms of debate in such a way that it favors the agenda set forth by the Religious Right while disguising its anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice underpinnings with seemingly innocuous terms. The following glossary seeks to clarify the meaning and intention behind select words and phrases used by WCF and its partners.

NATURAL FAMILY

WCF defines the “natural family” as the “fundamental social unit of society,” and describes a family unit as one that is centered on “the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage.” According to WCF, one of the primary purposes of this union is to “welcom[e] and ensur[e] the full physical and emotional development of children.”

This definition is problematic because it excludes families created by gay and lesbian couples, single parents, grandparents, extended families, and countless other formations. In doing so, it attempts to write “nontraditional” families out of existence by denying them visibility, access to resources, and rights.

FAMILY RIGHTS

In Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), “family” is defined as “the natural and fundamental group unit of society … entitled to protection by society and the State.” WCF attempts to manipulate the UDHR’s language in order to validate and promote its “natural family” agenda.

The insertion of “family rights” into international policy is part of a long-term effort on the part of WCF and like-minded organizations to deny human rights protections to LGBTQ people, and others, who don’t fit their definition of “natural family.” By asserting and prioritizing the rights of a social institution (the family), conservative factions are effectively neglecting the human rights of individuals—particularly individuals subject to violence, abuse, and neglect within families.

COMPLEMENTARITY

The concept of complementarity is used to reinforce notions of gender essentialism—that men and women are fundamentally different and that distinctions between masculine and feminine characteristics are ordained by God as part of the created order. Thus, only men and women are intended for intimate partnership.

This rhetoric is used to discount LGBTQ partnerships, suggesting that same-sex relationships are contrary to nature, “ill-fitting”, and therefore wrong. The idea of gender essentialism is increasingly invoked by the Christian Right as they shift their attention toward trans and gender-nonconforming people—newly popularized scapegoats as marriage equality expands.

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

The Religious Right is increasingly using existing constitutional protections of freedom to (and from) religion to assert that one’s “deeply held religious convictions” are just cause for—among other things—denying services to LGBTQ people and refusing to provide reproductive healthcare that includes contraception and abortion.

While true religious freedom—as originally written into law by Thomas Jefferson—was designed to be a shield for all individuals’ beliefs and non-beliefs against both imposition against them by the government and imposition by them towards others, this new redefinition of religious freedom functions as a “right to discriminate,” allowing conservative Christian individuals and business owners to wield their beliefs like a sword against others. Laws that were originally intended to protect religious minorities are now manipulated, inverting who is the oppressor and who is the victim. Having lost a great deal of ground in the fight against LGBTQ rights in recent years, and without any prospects of overturning civil rights laws directly, the Christian Right is swiftly seeking to undermine or circumnavigate human rights by elevating one particular belief set over all others in the law.

DEMOGRAPHIC WINTER

The term “demographic winter” is used in reference to the notion that the human species is doomed to disaster because of an imminent and radical population decline. Demographic winter alarmists—led by WCF partners such as the Population Research Institute—suggest that abortion, birth control, homosexuality, feminism and other ”unnatural” deviations have led to this crisis for the ”natural family.”

Ample research has repudiated arguments that demographic shifts will result in “global catastrophe” (as WCF communications director Don Feder has warned). In many Western nations, where non-white immigrant population growth is outpacing white birthrates, demographic winter warnings are tied to nativist fears of cultural shifts that are ultimately rooted in white supremacy, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. The rhetoric often invokes right-wing Christian ideology, suggesting that the “sexual revolution,” feminism, and the widespread cultural decision of women to limit their fertility are the egregious sins to be blamed for the pending fall of civilization.

World Congress of Families to Feature Anti-LGBTQ Family Scholars

One of the leading exporters of U.S.-style culture wars—the World Congress of Families (WCF)—is hosting an international gathering of right-wing scholars and activists in Salt Lake City, Utah later this year. It will be WCF’s first major conference on U.S. soil, and the event’s agenda includes a who’s who list of U.S. conservatives. Among them are two individuals who have made it their business to provide academic sanction to some of the Right’s destructively erroneous claims about LGBTQ people: Mark Regnerus and Brad Wilcox.

Since its publication in July 2012, the infamous “Regnerus Study” (officially titled the “New Family Structures Study”) has become a favorite weapon in the Religious Right’s campaign against LGBTQ people. The study, funded by the right-wing Witherspoon Institute and conducted by University of Texas associate sociology professor Mark Regnerus, portrays LGB parents in a negative light, suggesting that children raised by a mother and father in biologically intact families fare better than children raised by LGBTQ people.

regnerus and wilcox

Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas (left) and Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia (right) will speak at World Congress of Families IX in October.

Regnerus’ work has received immense criticism from a vast assortment of academics arguing that the research is not only methodologically flawed,1 but also unethically motivated and formulated. After listening to testimony from Regnerus and examining the study, Judge Bernard Friedman included the following in his ruling striking down a same-sex marriage ban: “The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration.” Of particular concern is the role of Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project (NMP) at the University of Virginia.

By the time Wilcox took over as NMP’s top dog in 2009, he had established himself as a prominent sociologist in conservative academic circles, building a résumé featuring connections to some of the Right’s leading institutions, including the World Congress of Families and Witherspoon Institute.

Wilcox first signed on as a research fellow with Witherspoon in 2004. In 2010, he took charge of the think tank’s Program on Marriage, Family, and Democracy and, from that position, birthed the New Family Structures Study.2 As Philip Cohen outlined in a 2013 exposé, Wilcox conceived of the study during his first year as head of Witherspoon’s marriage project, established funding (almost entirely from the Witherspoon Institute itself), and recruited Regnerus to serve as the lead investigator (reportedly because he was too busy to do it himself). Records show that he was also paid $2,000 as an official consultant for the study, and ultimately suggested Social Science Review—where he sits on the Board of Advisors—for its publication. Neglecting the obvious conflict(s) of interest, evidence additionally indicates that Wilcox served as one of three peer reviewers for Regnerus’ submission before it went to press.

This combination of poor scholarship and unscrupulous practices was seemingly justified by the greater goal: preventing same-sex couples from marrying. In an email to Regnerus sent in the early stages of the project’s development, Witherspoon President Luis Tellez wrote, “It would be great to have this before major decisions of the Supreme Court.”

RELATED: Read our full research report on the World Congress of Families

RELATED: Read PRA’s full research report on the World Congress of Families

And sure enough, Regnerus pulled through. His study was first reported on by the Mormon Church-owned Deseret News, where Witherspoon co-founder Robert P. George sits on the editorial board. It was instantly popular amongst conservative circles, including legal scholars. Regnerus’ research was cited as evidence in several amicus briefs submitted to the Supreme Court ,as it weighed in on the constitutionality of California’s anti-marriage equality Proposition 8, and has subsequently been cited in legal battles against marriage equality and adoption rights all across the country. It’s also been referenced in legislative debates over numerous anti-LGBTQ bills and ballot initiatives, and has even found an international fan-base. According to a Right Wing Watch investigation, Regnerus’ study influenced the authors of Russia’s “Anti-Gay Propaganda” law, and was also cited extensively in a proposed law that sought to strip LGBTQ people of their parental rights (the legislation classified homosexuality in the same category as drug abuse and child abuse as offenses meriting the loss of custody).

Who can we credit with translating and distributing the New Family Structures Study to a Russian audience? One of the responsible parties is Brian Brown, head of the National Organization for Marriage.

In its early days, NOM (also co-founded by Robert P. George) shared an office with Witherspoon Institute, and Luis Tellez has been a member of the NOM board of directors since it began in 2007. The organization was explicitly formed for the purpose of passing California’s Proposition 8 marriage amendment, and in the years since, NOM has established itself as one of the leading antagonizers of LGBTQ people in the U.S. and around the world. In June 2013, Brown testified in Russia at a joint Duma committee hearing on “traditional values.” Right Wing Watch reported that Regnerus’ study played a central role in that discussion.

During this same time period, leaders from the World Congress of Families (WCF) were also in Moscow, preparing for what was intended to be their 8th international convening (subsequently “canceled,” purportedly due to concerns over Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine3). NOM has been a member of WCF since 2011, and Brown is a big fan. In WCF promotional material, he’s quoted as saying, “The World Congress of Families is THE group standing up for the family around the world. They have done amazing work in uniting all of those who stand for the truth about marriage and family.”4

Wilcox, too, is a long-time WCF supporter. He’s been on the editorial board for The Family in America—a publication of WCF’s parent organization, the Howard Center, since 2009—and this will be his second time to take the stage at one of WCF’s international gatherings. Though it will be Regnerus’ first official appearance, his work will make him a familiar—and popular—face.

Speakers at the event will likely do their best to moderate both their tone and rhetoric while in front of U.S. press, but the destructive impact of WCF affiliates on LGBTQ people and reproductive justice—both locally and globally—cannot be overstated. Just as Wilcox and Regnerus have learned to cloak the Right’s vitriolic rhetoric in academic terms, WCF and its myriad supporters have become increasingly deceptive in their anti-LGBTQ, anti-reproductive justice agenda.

But be not deceived: promotion of the “natural family”—no matter how glossy the brochure or eloquent the speech—is intended as an attack on LGBTQ people and women, and WCF IX presents a unique and important opportunity to confront and hold accountable some of the key leaders behind this deception. Students and colleagues of Brad Wilcox and Mark Regnerus who are opposed to their manipulation of academia for the purpose of furthering anti-LGBTQ, anti-reproductive goals need to speak out. Their work has severe implications for social justice efforts across the country and around the world, but if we can confront these culture warriors in their places of origin—before they board that plane to Salt Lake City (or Russia, or Uganda)—we can begin to contain this toxic spill.


Footnotes:

[1] In a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court in 2012, a report by the 14,000-member American Sociological Association argued, “If any conclusion can be reached from Regnerus’s study, it is that family stability is predictive of child well-being.” (The report observed that more than half the subjects who were described as children of “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers” were the offspring of failed opposite-sex marriages in which a parent later engaged in “same-sex behavior,” and that many others never lived with same-sex parents.)

[2] Incidentally, Wilcox’s tenure at the conservative (and controversial) Witherspoon Institute has been omitted from his official CV. His connections to WCF are also curiously missing.

[3] The event actually went ahead as scheduled, only slightly disguised by the use of a different name: “Large Families and the Future of Humanity International Forum” (held on the exact dates and in the exact same venues that WCF VIII was originally scheduled).

[4] Brown spoke at WCF VI in 2012, and is also scheduled to speak at WCF IX in October.

Coming Soon to Utah: An International Festival of Bigotry

An international network of some of the world’s most vitriolic Religious Right activists and self-proclaimed orthodox religious leaders is holding its ninth global conference in Salt Lake City, Utah in October 2015. The World Congress of Families’ (WCF) conferences tend to attract thousands of participants and prominent religious and political leaders from all over the world.  If past conferences are any indication, many Americans may be shocked, but not entirely surprised, by the proceedings.

“From Russia to Nigeria to Australia,” as my colleague at Political Research Associates Cole Parke recently explained regarding the WCF IX agenda, “a seemingly innocuous definition of the ‘natural family’ is quietly being used as the basis of new laws to justify the criminalization of abortion and LGBTQ people.” Indeed. It has unleashed a rolling thunder of horrific anti-LGBTQ political activism, legislation, and violence.

Unsurprisingly, the theme of the Salt Lake City conclave will be religious liberty, and the groups involved in the planning of the event are among the best known organizations of the American Christian Right. They include the Alliance Defending Freedom, Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Americans United for Life, National Organization for Marriage, Eagle Forum, and the Manhattan Declaration. And while the schedule and speakers have yet to be announced, it is worth noting that past participants include top Vatican officials, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the top leadership group of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), and American evangelical and Christian Right leaders.

The Congress will be convening in the wake of the recent dark history of draconian anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive health laws in some countries, notably Uganda, Russia, and Nigeria. While WCF and some of its affiliates have cheered and sometimes participated in the development of such legislation, LGBTQ people in those countries have suffered waves of backlash including ongoing harassment, discrimination, prosecution, violence, and murder.

These laws are partly an American cultural export, brought to the world via our own Christian Right.  One of this movement’s cultural ambassadors, Scott Lively, has traveled widely in Eastern Europe, Russia and Africa promoting his views and suggesting legislative solutions. Among his claims are that LGBTQ people are responsible for a range of modern horrors from the Holocaust to the Rwandan genocide.  The virulence of his views have disturbed many of his audiences in different countries. Lively and fellow U.S. culture warriors like Rick Warren and Lou Engle are widely credited, for example, with inspiring the legislation once known as the “kill the gays” bill in Uganda.  While the death penalty provision was eventually taken out, the bill that passed further criminalizes homosexuality and includes potential life imprisonment for some charges.

Russian laws now criminalize blasphemy and “propaganda” (speech) that takes anything other than a negative view of homosexuality and transgender identity.  This situation was considered so oppressive that it was even denounced by one of the America’s leading anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion political theorists—Robert P. George—who in 2014, served as chairman of the official U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.  George, (the founder of the National Organization for Marriage and the principal author of the Manhattan Declaration) was concerned that the two Russian laws “limit the freedoms of religion and expression and which clearly violate international standards.”

One of the laws penalizes blasphemy with heavy fines and the other prohibits the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.”

These laws, George claimed, reflect a growing alliance between the Kremlin and elements in the Russian Orthodox Church that want to restrain both religious and secular dissident voices in public life.

“Besides punishing those who are deemed to have offended the feelings of others, this vaguely worded but sweeping law,” George complained, “gives Moscow’s stamp of approval to certain religious beliefs while criminalizing the expression of others.”

One could certainly say the same thing about the Uganda legislation and other proposed laws that will be praised and recognized as models for the preservation of Christian civilization when WCF IX convenes in Salt Lake City in October.

It should be noted that these international movements are bringing their message to America at the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign season and thus however they are received by conference attendees, they are also likely to inform our national political conversation.

Whose Family? Religious Right’s “Family Values” Agenda Advances Internationally

The U.S. Religious Right has a long history of employing the frame of “traditional family values” to scapegoat a revolving cast of marginalized characters for all of society’s problems. (Consider Anita Bryant’s anti-LGBTQ crusades in the 1970s and Scott Lively’s more recent efforts to eradicate homosexuality in order to “save the children.”) But while they may rail against straw man stereotypes like “welfare queens” and “homosexual pedophiles” in their efforts to “defend the family,” the truth is that the arguments of religious conservatives have absolutely nothing to do with abortion or sex. The Right’s allusion to—and veneration of—some mythological one man + one woman utopian era of the past (where everyone was content with their assigned gender roles and every pregnancy was carefully planned) ultimately serves to pave the way for ongoing colonization and exploitation of the Global South.

United Nations. image via GRU.edu

United Nations. image via GRU.edu

Recently, we’ve seen a new round of right-wing “family values” efforts at the international level, focused particularly on the United Nations.  In May, Family Watch International president Sharon Slater launched a “Protect the Family” petition on CitizenGO. CitizenGO is a right-wing digital platform for online activism based in Spain that includes National Organization for Marriage head Brian Brown on its board of directors. Slater’s petition calls on all UN ambassadors to “fulfill their international obligation to protect the family by including the family in the UN’s post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” She urges supporters to “Help [UN member states] feel the power that comes when the families of the world arise and demand that policies that undermine this vital institution never advance.” 100,000 supporters have already signed on, and the number is steadily rising.

Protecting families certainly seems like a fine goal. After all, is anybody actually “pro” family destruction? The issue here is that Slater’s petition has an extremely limited definition of what counts as a family, and her list of threats to this “fundamental unit of society” conveniently coincides with many of the same policies the U.S. Right opposes in seeking to maintain male supremacy and white supremacy: According to Slater, the policies that are “undermining” the family include efforts to make sexual orientation and gender identity protected statuses under international human rights law, providing comprehensive sex ed to young people, and ensuring accessible and safe contraception and abortion options.

And while Slater claims to speak on behalf of the “families of the world,” she conveniently excludes those that are led by grandparents, single parents, same-sex parents, and countless other amalgamations of people caring for people.

In Slater’s view, extending human rights protections to LGBTQ people, respecting the bodily autonomy of all, and expanding our definition of “family” to reflect the diversity that is evident throughout the world is just too dangerous.

This growing movement to advance a restrictive definition of “family” gained ground last month when the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on “Protection of the Family.” While the resolution itself doesn’t have immediate policy implications for “non-traditional” families, it is part of a broader agenda led by the U.S. Religious Right aimed at cementing a patriarchal and heteronormative family structure as the fundamental unit of society, and then using that as a tool to advance conservative, right-wing social policies through the UN and other international organizations.

Other conservative organizations have also jumped into the “family” fray.  Following failed efforts led by Chile, Uruguay, Ireland, and France to include language in the resolution acknowledging that “various forms of the family exist,” Austin Ruse—head of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM)—said the vote reflected widespread opposition to efforts to protect LGBTQ rights in diplomatic agreements—efforts that right-wing leaders insist are Western-imposed initiatives (ignoring the fact that they, themselves, are Westerners actively imposing a particular worldview on families and communities in the Global South).

C-FAM has joined with Slater’s Family Watch International (FWI), National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH), and others in establishing the UN Family Rights Caucus. Collectively, these groups lobby against efforts to promote LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice at the UN.

In this coordinated, global campaign, the U.S. Religious Right has also been supported by an increasingly powerful program developed by the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society—the World Congress of Families (WCF). Allan Carlson, founder of the WCF, observed in 2007, “You might say we’re the United Nations of the pro-family movement.”

Indeed, the WCF functions very much like the UN, with elected officials, religious leaders, scientists, and scholars representing countries from all over the world convening at regular international conferences, or “Congresses,” to  discuss and determine strategies for advancing their anti-LGBTQ, anti-SRHR agenda internationally.

At WCF II, hosted in Geneva in 1999, Ruse defined the focus of the campaign that is finally taking hold:

“We have arrived at a perilous moment in the life of the family. Long under attack by her enemies, the family seems now to be disintegrating all around us. In every country of the developed world, families are breaking up under a plethora of pernicious pathologies. The roots of the attack, and their result are easily enumerated by most of the current social science data. But I will focus on one institution with which I am most familiar, the United Nations, an institution that is increasingly at the forefront of the attack on the family.”

The UN functions as the world’s primary decision-making body, working to maintain international peace and security, promote and protect human rights, foster social and economic development, protect the environment, and provide humanitarian aid in cases of famine, natural disaster, and armed conflict. As part of these efforts, in 2000, it established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight goals aimed to be achieved by 2015, including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, a reduction in child mortality, and the advancement of gender equality.

Slater’s “Protect the Family” petition calls for the establishment of an additional, standalone goal focused on the family, and she’s systematically putting the necessary pieces into place to ensure her vision’s success. One of those necessary pieces is the establishment of a conservative voting bloc at the UN, which Slater and other members of the UN Family Rights Caucus have developed by aggressively lobbying African delegates, winning them over with a sort of “reverse colonizer” argument—suggesting that they only endeavor to save poor, helpless Africans from those family-hating Western liberals who are out to destroy the developing world for their own gain.

In a speech delivered at WCF III in 2004, Gwendolyn Landolt, vice president of REAL Women of Canada, outlines the Right’s narrative:

“The west was concerned that the large population of the developing world would precipitate both increased migration to the west and increased civil unrest, which could lead to a loss of access to natural resources in the developing world by the west.

“The western nations, therefore, began to use the UN as a tool by which to attempt to curtail Third World population.  This was carried out by way of anti-family policies, such as reproductive rights (abortion), contraceptive and sterilization programs, adolescent access to these services without parental knowledge or consent (WHO defines an adolescent as anyone from 10 to 19 years), and homosexual rights.”

To put it mildly, the arguments of Slater and her crew are flawed and retrogressive.  To put it more accurately, they are neocolonial, white supremacist, patriarchal—and of grave concern to all those committed to an authentic vision of human rights and social justice.  And unfortunately, Slater and her crew seem to be succeeding—every country in the African Group voted for the “Protection of the Family” resolution without hesitation.

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East vs. West? Russia, Ukraine, and the Anti-Gay Wedge

Pro-European Union activists gather next to Ukrainian riot police guarding the Ukrainian Government buildings in Kiev, Ukraine, Dec. 9, 2013. Hundreds of police in full riot gear flooded into the center of Kiev on Monday as mass anti-government protests gripped the Ukrainian capital for yet another week, raising fears of an imminent crackdown. (Sergei Grits/AP Photo)

Pro-European Union activists gather next to Ukrainian riot police guarding the Ukrainian Government buildings in Kiev, Ukraine, Dec. 9, 2013. Hundreds of police in full riot gear flooded into the center of Kiev on Monday as mass anti-government protests gripped the Ukrainian capital for yet another week, raising fears of an imminent crackdown. (Sergei Grits/AP Photo)

Braving freezing temperatures and violent police brutality, protesters continue to stand their ground at Independence Square in Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev. Demonstrations have been growing in size and intensity over the last month, after Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union (EU), indicating a shift in favor of Russia’s own integrationist project, the Eurasian Union.

In the debates leading up to this current political moment, the LGBTQ community became a useful scapegoat for pro-Russia factions. Ukraine was the first post-Soviet country to decriminalize homosexuality following independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but violence and intolerance have grown steadily, mirroring the rising wave of homophobia in neighboring Russia.

Seeking to capitalize on the stigmatization of Ukraine’s LGBTQ community (a 2012 Gorshenin Institute study showed 72 percent of those polled had negative attitudes toward sexual minorities), Viktor Medvedchuk, a wealthy businessman, former parliamentarian, and close friend to Vladimir Putin, launched his own propaganda campaign.

Medvedchuk is the founder and major financial backer of Ukrainian Choice, an organization dedicated to lobbying against forming ties between Ukraine and the EU (despite advocating the opposite in 2002). One of their primary strategies for mobilizing pro-Russia support has been a targeted campaign against LGBTQ people, that equates association with the EU to same-sex marriage. Russia, on the other hand, is presented as the bastion of traditional morality.

The issue, however, has less to do with any sort of alleged risk presented by LGBTQ equality, and more to do with the political and financial aspirations of Medvedchuk. In August, the EU news website Euractiv reported on a leaked Russian document that said the Kremlin would do everything in its power to assure the defeat of President Yanukovych in the 2015 election and install Medvedchuk in his place.

Scapegoating the LGBTQ community is far easier than confronting political scandal and economic crisis, so in October 2012, Ukraine’s parliament approved a law that would punish anyone convicted of importing, producing, or spreading “works that promote homosexuality” with jail terms of up to five years. (The proposed law was similar to laws passed in several Russian cities earlier that year, as well as Russia’s federal “anti-gay propaganda” law that went into effect this past August.) Ukraine’s law was subsequently shelved after much outcry from EU officials, but it was reintroduced this past July by a pro-Russia parliamentarian, Vadim Kolesnichenko, who explained to Buzzfeed’s J. Lester Feder, “This is an issue of protecting our society from corruption and from an attack on the foundations of our society’s spirituality and an issue for health–our country’s population is dying out.”

Kolesnichenko’s sentiment is eerily similar to the expressed concerns of the World Congress of Families (WCF), which–not surprisingly–sent a delegation to Kiev last October for a meeting organized by Alexandar Skvortsov, co-chairman of the All Ukrainian Parents’ Committee.

The WCF functions as an umbrella organization for groups and individuals who fight against LGBTQ equality and women’s bodily autonomy in defense of what they call the “natural family.” According to a WCF press release following the Kiev meeting, “The Ukrainian leaders expressed concern about the pressure brought to bear on their nation to accede to the homosexual agenda (including ‘gay marriage’) as a condition for membership in the European Union.”

Echoing this fear in a statement on his organization’s website last month, Skovortsov said, “We oppose the signing of the association agreement with the EU, because it will lead to the inevitable homosexualizing of Ukraine,”

To be clear, the relationship proposed between Ukraine and the EU would not require Ukraine to legalize same-sex marriage. The EU’s only explicit requirement is an eventual ban on employment discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Unfortunately, exploiting LGBTQ people for political gain under the guise of religious morality is a well-practiced strategy, perfected here in the U.S. and exported all around the world. Just as we’ve seen in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, and elsewhere, the fingerprints of right-wing evangelicals from the U.S. are all over the current crisis for LGBTQ people in Ukraine. Here’s a small sampling:

  • The Trinity Broadcasting Network has been in the region since 1999.
  • The Christian Broadcasting Network launched a Ukrainian version of The 700 Club in 2010.
  • In 2004, Peter Wagner, one of the leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation, assembled a gathering of evangelical leaders in Kiev where he prayed for the day when “the government of the Church and the political governments will enter into a harmony.”
  • In 2008, former Exodus International board member, Don Schmierer, conducted a seminar in Donetsk, Ukraine, promoting his anti-LGBTQ, ex-gay theories.
  • Earlier that same year, Kay Warren, Rick Warren’s wife and co-pastor of Saddleback Church, visited Kiev, Ukraine to preach at a women’s conference.
  • Mike Bickle of the International House of Prayer spoke to an evangelical revival in Kiev in 2010.
  • And the infamous Scott Lively traveled through Ukraine just last October.

Despite being charged with “crimes against humanity” for his role in promoting violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people in Uganda, Scott Lively continues to do damage all around the world. May those in Springfield, Massachusetts who seek to bring him to justice be emboldened by the protesters in Kiev who refuse to be silenced.

ISSUE BRIEF: This Month In LGBTQ Justice

Every Friday, PRA brings you a monthly update on a different social justice issue. This week, we are recapping the last month in LGBTQ Justice.

Ecuador’s “Gay Addiction” Clinics Continue Torturous Practices
On November 7th, the Union and Hope Clinic in Pisuli, Ecuador was raided by police. The clinic is one of many in Ecuador that deals with “gay addiction,” and uses rape and torture as clinical tools to “cure” people of homosexuality. Seven people were arrested after the police found patients in “inhumane conditions.” The seventeen people rescued from the clinic adds to the approximately 500 people who have been freed from such clinics this past year. Carina Vance Mafla, Ecuador’s openly lesbian health minister, has vowed to work with LGBTQ organizations to shut down these clinics. The Health Ministry has already ordered the closure of 30 clinics, although many have already re-opened under different names. An article published recently in the Sunday Times focuses on the practice of kidnapping people, with parental consent, to be sent to these clinics to be “cured” of homosexuality.

Suggestive Pants Amount to Homophobic Act In Lithuania
A recent survey shows that Lithuanians have become less tolerant of homosexuals, and more tolerant of their homophobic neighbors in Russia. Recently, Petras Grazulis, a member of the Law and Order Party in Lithuania who is known for his anti-gay views, personally delivered a pair of pants with a zipper on the rear to the Lithuania Gay League (LGL). LGL members had been taking part in a European Union conference on hate crimes in Vilnius, and it appears that Grazulis’s actions were in response to this. Back in May 2012, Gazulis crashed an LGBTQ rights event and declared that all gays should leave the country, asking, “How are homosexuals better than necrophiliacs or pedophiles?” Grazulis’s actions can be seen as part of a greater trend towards homophobia and transphobia in Lithuanian politics. In December the Lithuanina parliament is slated to consider five separate anti-gay and anti-trans bills, including a ban on gender reassignment and a legislation legalizing hate crimes against LGBTQ people.

ENDA Loses Momentum in the U.S. House

John Boehner currently sees “no need or no basis” for ENDA.

While the Senate passed the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) on November 7, progress on the legislation has hit a wall in the House.   LGBTQ rights advocates have been pushing for an executive order to prohibit federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The White House has been withholding with the order, citing the need for Congress to act. While an executive order would not be be as comprehensive as ENDA, it would protect as many as 16 million workers while the legislation stalls in the House. Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said he sees “no need or basis” for ENDA, and is refusing to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote. In response to Boehner’s dismissal of ENDA’s necessity, LGBTQ advocates cite the plurality of states in the U.S. where there is no law in place prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Currently, 22 states have statutes that explicitly prohibit sexual orientation-based employment discrimination. Eighteen states have gender identity and anti-discrimination laws in place. A recent study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows that there are relatively few discrimination complaints in states with such laws.

Fenway Institute to Host Webinar on Transgender Health
The National LGBT Health Education Center at the Fenway Institute will host a webinar entitled “Transgender Medical Care: Advanced Case Discussion” on December 10 from 3-4 pm EST. Their website was launched in 2012 as part of LGBT Awareness Month, and provides educational programs, resources, and consultation to health care organizations with the goal of optimizing quality, cost-effective health care for LGBT people. All webinars are available on-demand.

NOM’s 990 Reveals They Finished 2012 $2.7M In the Red
A recently released 990 tax form reveals the the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) finished 2012 $2.7 million in the red (although Maggie Gallagher is still somehow pulling $160K from them). Some people have seen the 990 as an indicator that NOM can no longer profit from their anti-LGBT agenda. NOM and the Far Right may be losing the battle to define marriage in this country, but there are other wells for them to draw from in the LGBT community, and NOM seems to be aware of this. The Supreme Court struck down a key section of DOMA and invalidated California’s Prop 8, but NOM has recently joined the fight against a bill signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown that allows students to define their gender for themselves, choose which restroom they want to use, and decide whether they wish to play on male- or female-gendered sports teams. NOM may have had a rough year in 2012, but if the fight for transgender rights turns out to be NOM’s newest cash cow, 2014 could see their anti-LGBT agenda become lucrative again.

World Congress of Families Hosts Discussion on Family Policy Abroad
The anti-gay World Congress of Families (WCF) hosted a discussion in Washington, D.C. on “What America Should Learn” from family policy abroad. The meeting was originally intended to be held in a Senate meeting room, but Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) withdrew his sponsorship after an outcry from LGBT activists. House Speaker John Boehner then provided the group with a meeting space. During the discussion, the WCF touched on the subject of encouraging the growth of grassroots conservative movements in France, Spain, and Nigeria. Much of the discussion, however, centered on how the U.S. media has “distorted” the Russian anti-propaganda law. “They are trying to build a pro-family movement in Russia, and we’re working with them,” said Allen Carlson, founder and international secretary of WCF. The World Family of Congress is an organization that has become infamous for both exporting conservative ideologies from the U.S. as well as brining conservative ideals and strategies back into the country. The group will be holding their 2014 summit in Moscow.

Scott Lively Has A “Theory” About the Anti-Gay Violence In Russia
While on “Mission America”, Linda Harvey’s radio show, Scott Lively espoused his theory on the true nature of the anti-gay violence in Russia. Lively is claiming that the widely seen (thanks to YouTube) violence against LGBT people in Russia is actually to “gay-on-gay crime”. Lively alleged, “The guys that are beating up gays in Russia—and it’s not any more prevalent than it ever has been really and it isn’t all that prevalent at all—but the ones that are doing it are butch homosexuals who are beating up effeminate homosexuals.” Lively, known for his work exporting homophobia to Uganda, has recently turned his attention to Russia (perhaps because he is on trial for crimes against humanity in Uganda). In October, he participated in a planning meeting for WCF’s 2014 conference in Moscow.

Harry Reid Says Mormon Views On LGBT Rights “Evolving”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that members of his faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church), are evolving their views on LGBT rights, citing recent support of church members for ENDA.  While it may be true that members of the church are evolving their views, recent news of the Church itself, the body that governs LDS members, shows little sign of change. The Church has continually told its members that it is their duty to oppose gay marriage, saying that “unlike other organizations that can change their policies and even their doctrines, our policies are determined by the truths God has declared told to be unchangeable.” One of the Church’s highest leaders, Russell M. Nelson, recently said, “Marriage between a man and a woman is God’s pattern for a fullness of life on Earth and in heaven. God’s marriage pattern cannot be abused, misunderstood or misconstrued.” While it is encouraging that members of the church may be changing their views on LGBT rights, the Church itself, which yields a great deal of financial and ideological influence in U.S. government, continues to oppose marriage equality. In Hawaii, before marriage equality was passed earlier this month, the Mormon Church lobbied extensively against the law.

Being Gay Now Grounds For Asylum in European Union
The EU’s top court, the European Court of Justice, ruled this month that being gay is now grounds for asylum. LGBT people fearing imprisonment in their home countries will now have grounds for seeking asylum in any of the 28 EU member states. The case in question centered on three gay men from Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Senegal who had unsuccessfully fought to be given refugee status in the Netherlands. The Dutch Council of State asked whether homosexuals could be considered a “particular social group”, since under international law a particular social group with a well-founded fear of persecution can claim refugee status if the persecution amounts to a severe violation of human rights. The Court ruled existence of laws imprisoning gay people “may constitute an act of persecution”, although the mere existence of a ban on homosexuality is not grounds in itself for seeking an asylum request.

This Past Month Has Been Big For Marriage Equality

http://www.freedomtomarry.org/states/

In slightly less than a month, three states have passed marriage equality. On October 21, LGBT New Jerseyans began to marry at midnight. Just hours later, Gov. Chris Christie announced his plans to drop his appeal of the law. On November 13, in Hawaii, Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a marriage equality law after a Special Session during which legislators discussed why marriage equality matters to same-sex couples and their families. LGBT people in Hawaii will begin to marry on December 2. Finally, on November 20, in Illinois, Gov. Pat McQuin signed the freedom to marry law after it was approved earlier this year by the State House and Senate. LGBT couples will begin marrying there in June, 2014. As of right now, 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marriage equality, with over 38% of the U.S. population living in these states. It also seems possible that the high court in New Mexico may rule in favor of marriage equality by the end of the year, although some state Republicans are already creating a plan to strike back by pursuing a statewide constitutional referendum to ban the unions.