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.

Georgian Homophobia Sets the Stage for the World Congress of Families

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

The scene at the restaurant was Monty Python-esque—sausage and meat skewer-wielding men attacking peaceful vegan diners.  Except this was Tbilisi, Georgia, and the attackers were allegedly neonazi skinheads intent on harassing patrons with non-conforming identities. Kiwi Café, a Tbilisi restaurant known for being friendly to foreigners and LGBTQ people, was the site of the fraught confrontation on May 29. LGBTQ people have long been under siege in Georgia, where intolerance against a range of progressive social issues runs deep. And recently, conservative activists from outside the country are starting to take note.

Just two weeks earlier, from May 15-18, Tbilisi was host to the U.S.-organized World Congress of Families (WCF), which held its 10th international conference in the capital’s massive glass and steel State Concert Hall. The WCF, a convening of right-wing activists, has, since its first congress in Prague, in 1997, tapped into the highest ranks of government, church, and civil society in order to reshape global norms on gender and reproductive rights. And they do so by promoting the idea of family values.

Family values, as envisioned by its defenders, describes a religiously-oriented family, headed by a father who is the primary breadwinner, and his stay-at-home wife and their children. Anything outside this norm is considered anti-family values, including abortion, divorce, single-parent households, same-sex marriage and adoption, and secularism. This family values frame is used by conservative activists, both religious and secular, and their allied politicians to not just censor or denigrate issues with which they disagree, but to take away legal rights.

Religious conservatives in Western countries like the U.S., and in Eastern European countries like Russia, all lay claim to the original family narrative. Yet it gets complicated for U.S. promoters—who claim that family values are Western values—when Russia and its neighbors aggressively assert that the West is exporting dangerous “anti-family” values that include abortion and “gay lifestyles.”

This argument has become a staple of the international “pro-family” coalition—a community that draws on significant leadership from the U.S., even as it lambasts the cultural influence of the United States in promoting liberal attitudes to reproductive and sexuality issues around the world. In May, East met West when this coalition came together for a family values huddle in Georgia.

The previous nine international meetings of the WCF have been scattered around the world—some in socially conservative countries like Poland, others in hedonistically liberal capitals like Amsterdam. This year’s meeting appeared to be an effort to knit the various global spheres of influence closer together. Wedged between Europe and Asia, Georgia suggests a middle ground of sorts. The former Soviet Republic has long sought to disentangle itself from Russian influence while pursuing engagement with the European Union. Yet its social and policy positions on abortion and LGBTQ people are squarely Hard Right.

The confluence of political and religious powerbrokers at May’s meeting in Tbilisi was striking. It included the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Russian oligarchs, ambassadors, and members of parliament from Europe and Central and Eastern Europe. Featured prominently was Natalia Yakunina1, a leading anti-abortion activist and the wife of Vladimir Yakunin—the former Russian Railways chief. Mr. Yakunin is on a U.S. sanctions2 list because of his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sending warm greetings was no less than President George W. Bush.3

The WCF network, which operates out of Rockford, Illinois, aims to create—they would argue revert to—a world where a man only marries a woman, solely for reasons of procreation, and where there is no abortion, no gay marriage, and no comprehensive sexuality education. They have little compunction about making common cause with marginal figures on the Far Right. This includes Scott Lively, a longtime anti-LGBTQ warrior. Lively is currently being sued in a U.S. court for human rights violations stemming from his involvement in Uganda’s so-called “Kill the Gays” bill. The WCF is sufficiently extreme—members have supported criminalizing abortion and homosexuality—that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the network an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

Many of the organizations participating in the WCF hold similar views. Several countries, especially Russia, which leads in this area, are successfully codifying so-called family values in dangerous laws restricting individual rights and freedoms. Russia has criminalized abortion and homosexual “propaganda,” and arrested individuals, journalists, and artists thought to pose a threat to family values. Most famously, in 2012, several members of the protest punk band Pussy Riot4 were jailed for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Some countries, including Russia and Lithuania, have imposed fines for contempt of family values, and others, like Georgia, the Slovak Republic, and Croatia, have proposed or passed laws restricting marriage to between a man and a woman.

In an effort to lure its former Soviet republics away from the European Union and the temptations of the indulgent West, Putin’s government is well known for tapping into rising nationalism and neo-conservativism and 5Russia is particularly influential in countries like Hungary, Bulgaria, Latvia, and Slovakia, where it is fostering connections with far-right organizations and political parties with pro-Russia platforms.

Which raises the question, in choosing Georgia, was the WCF knowingly responding to Russia’s bidding? Radio Free Europe reported that Levan Vasadze, WCF’s Georgian organizer, a well-known anti-gay activist and Russia apologist, used his opening WCF address to foster solidarity between Moscow and Georgia.6 Or perhaps the relationship is symbiotic. WCF leaders often speak of Russia taking the helm on family values; in 2013 WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs mused, “The Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world.7

This October Georgia holds national elections and they are predicted to be contentious.  Georgian Dream—Democratic Georgia, the governing coalition, supports closer ties to the West; yet both Russia and the Orthodox Church exert considerable influential in Georgia, particularly in the media. While the U.S.-organized WCF conference was a Western invasion of sorts, it actually suited Russia’s agenda in Georgia, and the region, to spread its anti-Western, anti-EU message.

But really, on the issue of family values, right-wing Georgians don’t need much urging from Russia or U.S. conservatives. The climate against gay and trans people is not just hostile, it’s downright violent. Three years ago, in May 2013, as the queer community gathered in  to commemorate the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, the Georgian Orthodox Church hierarchy called for counterdemonstrations. Right-wing activists, including armed priests and allegedly WCF’s Vasadze8, responded to the appeal by attacking peaceful LGBTQ marchers, and smashing shop windows, heads, and minivans9. Both the U.S. State Department and the European Union condemned the violence.

The WCF summit purposefully10 ended on May 17, three years to the day when the Orthodox Church led attacks against LGBTQ Georgians, a day which Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, WCF keynote speaker, has since renamed the “Day of the Family”.

The homophobic demagoguery at this year’s WCF, however, was quite unlike the muted rhetoric of WCF IX, which was held in Utah last year. Perhaps this was because the WCF was facing public criticism in the U.S. from human rights groups critical of the network’s stance against LGBTQ rights. WCF Utah was light on homophobia, which had the effect of reducing media attention, and perhaps emboldened them to speak more freely in Tbilisi. Certainly much of the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in Tbilisi came from the Georgian hosts, but equally troubling were comments made by Russian and American speakers repeatedly linking homosexuality to fascism.

The American Orthodox priest Father Josiah Trenham’s comments were most extreme. When Trenham cited a Koran passage endorsing the death penalty for anyone committing a homosexual act, the mainly Orthodox and Christian crowd applauded. Closing out his presentation with a string of hyperbolic flourishes, Trenham pressed the audience to tell the “LBGT tolerance-tyrant, this lavender mafia, these homo-fascists, these rainbow radicals, that they are not welcome to promote their anti-religious and anti-civilizational propaganda in your nations.”11

The disconnect between U.S. claims of family values as Western values, and the repeated accusations by Eastern European countries that Western values will only lead to immorality and decadent behavior, may have been lost on the American WCF organizers who said they were looking to “establish a beachhead in the region12.” But this might just be a question of splitting hairs: East-West interpretations of family values are actually one and the same. And they continue being used by their defenders all over the world to violate basic human rights and intimidate and censor those deemed threats. The WCF’s ambition to set up a beachhead in the region is unnecessary; it’s already there.

Endnotes

1 “’Sanctity of Motherhood’ programme,”St. Andres Foundation.

2 “Treasury Sanctions Russian Officials, Members Of The Russian Leadership’s Inner Circle, And An Entity For Involvement In The Situation In Ukraine,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, March, 20, 2014.

3 http://worldcongress.org/pdf/Message-From-President-Bush-for-World-Congress-of-Families-in-Tbilisi-Georgia.pdf

4 Gillian Kane, “What does the ‘Traditional Family’ have to do with Pussy Riot,” Religion Dispatches, August 21, 2012.

5 Christopher Stoop, “Russian Social Conservatism, the U.S.-Based WFC, & The Global Culture Wars in Historical Context,” Political Research Associates, February. 16, 2016.

6 Robert Coalson, “’Family Values’ Congress Brings Pro-Mascow Message to Georgia,” Radio Free Europe, May 17, 2016.

7 Christopher Stroop, “Russian Social Conservatism, the U.S.-based WCF, & the Global Culture Wars in Historical Context,” Political Research Associates, February 16, 2016.

8 Giorgi Lomsadze, “Georgia: A “Family” Gathering Commemorates an Anti-Gay Riot,” Eurasiannet, May 12, 2016.

9 Natalia Antelava, “What was really behind Georgia’s Anti-Gay Rally?” The New Yorker, May 23, 2013.

10 “Georgia Chosen as Site for World Congress of Families X, May 16-18, 2016,” Christian New Wire, November 3, 2015.

11 Hatewatch Staff, “World Congress of Families gathering in Tbilisi showcases anti-LGBT rhetoric and conspiracy theories,” Southern Poverty Law Center, June, 1, 2016.

12 “World Congress of Families X and The Future of the Family in Europe,” World Congress of Families X:Tbilisi 2016.

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.

Natural Deception: Conned By the World Congress of Families

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From Russia to Nigeria to Australia, 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. Pushing this definition is the World Congress of Families, a network of conservative religious leaders from a variety of faiths—and their high-level government friends.

This report appears in PRA’s Winter 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine

In November 2014, the Christian Right group World Congress of Families (WCF) found itself in the unusual position of having to publicly defend itself. Unlike prominent advocacy groups such as the Family Research Council or Alliance Defending Freedom, the Illinois-based WCF has seldom sought the spotlight, preferring a behind-the-scenes role in its campaign to impose a narrow, Christian Right definition of family as the international norm.

Responding to criticism following the announcement that WCF will host its ninth international summit in Salt Lake City in October 2015, Stanford Swim (a WCF board member and major donor) asserted that WCF’s political agenda and ideology were being unfairly scrutinized by local activists and media.1

Children perform at the World Congress of Families conference in Madrid, Spain in 2012. Photo courtesy of HazteOir.org.

Children perform at the World Congress of Families conference in Madrid, Spain in 2012. Photo courtesy of HazteOir.org.

In fact, WCF’s activities and global influence have received relatively scant public scrutiny. This is of concern because, contrary to Swim’s claim that WCF “does not spread fear,” the organization is leading a global legislative and public relations campaign against LGBTQ and reproductive rights. WCF has become a power player on the Religious Right by building bridges between U.S. groups and their international counterparts and fostering a global interfaith coalition of conservative religious orthodoxies. While Political Research Associates 2 and other researchers have monitored WCF’s attempts to rewrite international law using a narrow, Religious Right definition of the family,3 until recently, only a handful of gender justice groups understood WCF’s project.

That changed abruptly in June 2013, when global events forced WCF into the U.S. activist spotlight.4 That month, Russia passed its now notorious Anti-Propaganda Law, which banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors” and prompted a surge in violent attacks on LGBTQ people throughout the country. (The law especially emboldened a right-wing vigilante group, “Occupy Pedophilia,” which uses social media to “ambush” gay people by luring them into meetings and then assaulting them on camera.5 Online footage of these horrific attacks quickly went viral.6)
News of the law, along with graphic evidence of its impact, spurred American and European LGBTQ activists to action. Outraged Westerners launched a hastily conceived media counteroffensive, in which gay bar owners and their patrons emptied bottles of Russian vodka in the streets; LGBTQ sports enthusiasts threatened to boycott the 2013 Sochi Olympics; and one of the U.S.’s largest LGBTQ advocacy groups, Human Rights Campaign, mass-produced t-shirts proclaiming “Love Conquers Hate” in Russian.

While the initial wave of outrage largely took aim at Russia and its leaders—LGBTQ magazine The Advocate named Putin its 2014 Person of the Year and described him as “the single greatest threat to LGBTs in the world”—it obscured the culpability of U.S. groups. Rather than being the brainchild of a few homophobic Kremlin insiders, Russia’s Anti-Propaganda Law emerged from a years-long, carefully crafted campaign to influence governments to adopt a Christian-Right legal framework, coordinated by an international network of right-wing leaders under the aegis of WCF.

Through large international convenings (its 2007 gathering in Warsaw attracted nearly 4,000 participants 7), smaller regional events, and closed-door meetings with government officials and religious leaders, WCF has woven a tight, powerful web of right-wing ideologues and activists and has provided them with the tools to grow their numbers and expand their influence. WCF’s success is especially evident in Russia,8 but its influence also reaches other countries including Nigeria, Australia, and Poland—and international institutions such as the United Nations.

WCF maintains a regionally-based network of allies, who tailor WCF’s messages to resonate with local communities and package the “natural family” agenda in whatever way will most effectively hook their audience. All around the world, the “natural family” is a solution in search of a problem.

With its doctrine of preserving what it regards as the “natural family,” WCF is waging a campaign at local, national, and international levels to ensure that male dominance, heteronormativity (the belief that heterosexuality is the only acceptable sexual orientation), and religious hegemony are core tenets of civil society. “The WCF has created a cultural framework, under the banner of the family, that is inclusive enough to appeal to a broad base,” said Gillian Kane, senior policy advisor at Ipas, an international reproductive justice advocacy group. “But it is also so narrowly writ that most of their initiatives and arguments don’t hold up under international law.”

WCF, however, is gradually chipping away at international laws designed to protect human rights, posing a direct threat to LGBTQ people, women’s reproductive freedom, single parents, mixed families, and other family structures that do not fit into the parameters of WCF’s “natural family.” At best, those who are deemed “unnatural” by WCF standards could be excluded from the rights and privileges granted to “natural families.” At worst, they could be fined or otherwise punished by the state.

ORIGINS AND AGENDA

WCF is a project of the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, based in Rockford, Illinois, about a two-hour drive from Chicago. It was founded in 1997 by conservative scholar Allan Carlson, who currently serves as president of both organizations. Carlson has authored nearly a dozen books, including The Natural Family Where It Belongs: New Agrarian Essays, published in 2014 and dedicated to Pitirim Sorokin. (Sorokin is one of many WCF links to Russia: the Russian-born conservative sociologist inspired much of Carlson’s understanding of the family 9).

The Howard Center was birthed from the Rockford Institute, a conservative think tank devoted to “analyzing the damage done to America’s social institutions by the cultural upheaval of the 1960’s.”10 Carlson joined the Institute’s staff in 1981, serving as its president from 1986-1997. For many years, according to the Howard Center’s own website, the organization exclusively conducted research, disconnected from activism. But in 1995, that began to change.

That year, Carlson was invited to Moscow by Anatoly Antonov and Victor Medkov, sociologists at Lomonosov Moscow State University.11 His hosts were concerned about the demographic shifts they were witnessing in Russia’s post-Soviet era—popularly referred to as the “demographic winter.”12 As the country struggled to weather political turmoil and economic hardship, the national birthrate was plummeting, alcoholism was on the rise, and—correspondingly—so was the national death rate.

Carlson’s work on the ”demographic winter” has proven to be particularly effective in garnering favor with Russia’s conservative leadership. In Russia and other parts of Europe, a combination of population anxiety and growing anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment has offered WCF a favorable political context in which to advance its anti-abortion, “natural family” agenda.

While significant demographic shifts are underway in Russia and many other Western nations, ample research13 has repudiated nativists’ arguments that these changes will result in “global catastrophe” (as WCF communications director Don Feder has warned).14 What drives right-wing concerns over Russia’s demographics are xenophobia and Islamophobia; as Russia’s overall population has plummeted, its indigenous Muslim population has grown—now comprising 21-23 million, or about 15% of Russia’s total population.15 Russia has also become an increasingly popular destination for immigrants and refugees. As of 2013, according to the U.N. Population Division, Russia was second only to the United States in its immigrant population—the two nations have 46 million and 11 million immigrants, respectively.16

What Antonov and Medkov meant by a “demographic winter” was that the qualities and characteristics of what it means to be Russian were in danger of being redefined as something other than White and Orthodox.17 Anxious to reassert whiteness and Russian Orthodox religious practice as fundamental qualities of Russianness, Antonov, Medkov, and Carlson’s team at the Howard Center determined that they needed to “use [their] talents and resources to create new coalitions to promote the natural family worldwide.”18

They convened the first World Congress of Families in Prague in March 1997. More than 700 delegates from 200 organizations across 43 nations gathered to forge a new interfaith alliance of conservative religious orthodoxies, including Russian Orthodox, LDS (Mormon), conservative Catholic, and conservative evangelical participants, as well as a few Orthodox Jews and Muslims.19

The WCF I convening produced more fear. A declaration published at its conclusion warned, “[C]ultural revolutions, materialism and sexual permissiveness have resulted in a destruction and denigration of moral values … extra-marital relationships, adultery and divorce proliferate leading to widespread abortion, illegitimacy and single-parent children.”20

The declaration specifically named “the United Nations, its N.G.O.s and agents” as key adversaries, claiming that the U.N. and its allies had “pursued dangerous philosophies and policies that require population control, limitation of family size, abortion on demand, sterilization of men and women and have sought to persuade Third World countries to adopt such policies.” It condemned policies that subvert “the legal and religious status of traditional marriage,” as well as those that promote contraception and abortion, “state welfare systems,” comprehensive sexual education, non-marital cohabitation, “homosexual unions,” and single parenting.21

This declaration constituted WCF’s opening salvo in what has become an extended campaign to interrupt trends toward more expansive human rights at the U.N. by recruiting, influencing, and emboldening conservative delegates. WCF’s project at the U.N. is to form a consolidated and increasingly powerful voting bloc prepared to take direction from U.S.-based right-wing leadership.

In May 1998, at a planning session for WCF II (its second international convening), a group of 25 religious leaders including evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodox, Mormons, Muslims, and Jews came together to define their common cause: protection and promotion of the “natural family.” From WCF’s planning documents:

The natural family is the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centered around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage, for the purposes of:
▪ satisfying the longings of the human heart to give and receive love;
▪ welcoming and ensuring the full physical and emotional development of children;
▪ sharing a home that serves as the center for social, educational, economic, and spiritual life;
▪ building strong bonds among the generations to pass on a way of life that has transcendent meaning;
▪ extending a hand of compassion to individuals and households whose circumstances fall short of these ideals.22

With this collection of principles, designed to appeal to the broadest possible “traditional values” audience, WCF positioned itself as an umbrella organization for groups and individuals around the world (whether Christian or not) committed to codifying highly restrictive criteria for who counts as “family,” and who does not. The policy statement identifies underpopulation as “the demographic problem facing the 21st Century,” promotes “the large family as a special social gift,” and regards “religious orthodoxy as the source of humane values and cultural progress.”

Well-known and well-funded American organizations such as Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Alliance Defense Fund (now called Alliance Defending Freedom), Americans United for Life, and the National Organization for Marriage signed on as dues-paying partners, expanding WCF’s reach. (For all its influence, WCF remains small, with only five full-time employees and a modest budget—the Howard Center’s 2012 IRS filings reported total revenue of just $523,870.23)

WCF also has a regionally-based network of allies to spread its agenda: Theresa Okafor, director of the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage; in Mexico, Latino leaders such as Enrique Gomez Serrano, board president of Red Familia (Spanish for “Family Network”); and in Russia, Russian leaders such as Alexey Komov, director of external affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church. These allies tailor WCF’s messages to resonate with local communities, packaging the “natural family” agenda in whatever way will most effectively hook their audience.

In Russia, for example, WCF manipulates deep-seated racial prejudices to mobilize demographic winter anxieties. In Africa, WCF exploits neocolonial concerns, arguing that racist Westerners are trying to abort Africa’s Black babies. All around the world, the “natural family” is a solution in search of a problem.

USING THE U.N.

The WCF considers the United Nations an adversary and has chosen to fight for its “natural family” agenda inside that institution. In a 1999 address to the World Family Policy Forum—an event organized by the now-closed World Family Policy Center and hosted at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah—Allan Carlson outlined his plans:

It is time to bring to the United Nations and to other international settings the shared truth of history … It is time to move this view of the family as the fundamental social unit to the very heart of international deliberations, so that it might guide the creation of laws and public policies in our respective nations.

This focus on the U.N. was evident at the WCF II, convened in Geneva, Switzerland, in November 1999. During its opening plenary, Carlson noted that 51 years earlier, delegates to the newly formed U.N., meeting in the same hall, had approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Carlson emphasized the language used in Article 16, which declares, “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”24

Carlson and WCF sought to co-opt the UDHR’s language into a public relations push for a restrictive U.N. definition of family that could then be used to assail women and LGBTQ people through the U.N. and other international organizations.25

U.S. conservatives have long held suspicious, if not openly hostile, attitudes toward the United Nations. The “signature campaign” of the Far Right, anti-communist John Birch Society—launched in 1958—seeks to get the U.S. out of the United Nations. The JBS describes the institution as a “socialistic global government” controlled by “global power elites.”26

Historically, hostility toward the U.N. often went hand-in-hand with Cold War-era opposition to Russia. Since the mid-90s, though, WCF and other elements of the U.S. Right have taken a different approach. Following advances made in the fight for abortion rights and other reproductive justice issues at the U.N.’s International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (1994) and in Beijing (1995), right-wing strategists began to see the U.N. as a key battleground. Writing in 2006, researcher Pam Chamberlain described a “flocking to the U.N.” in which “12 NGOs opposed to abortion or comprehensive sexuality education … gained consultative status since the Cairo and Beijing U.N. conferences in 1994. All of them are associated with the U.S. Christian Right.”

At the same time, WCF developed an affinity for post-Soviet Russia, a country its leaders increasingly depict as a model of moral purity. Larry Jacobs, a strident opponent of abortion and LGBTQ rights, had joined WCF in 2003 as managing director.27 At a WCF gathering in Melbourne in September 2014, Jacobs said, “The Russians might be the Christian saviors to the world; at the U.N. they really are the ones standing up for these traditional values of family and faith.”28

Jacobs was referring to the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC)’s June 2014 convening in Geneva. The council adopted the “Protection of the Family” resolution, a resolution requiring the Council to host a panel and produce a report on protecting families.29 While the resolution itself (co-sponsored by WCF’s “natural family” friends from Russia) has no immediate policy implications, its potential precedent-setting language fails to acknowledge that—in the words of many progressive NGOs and delegates, “various forms of the family exist.” The UNHRC’s Russian-led conservative voting bloc saw to it that the more inclusive phrasing never made it into the resolution.30

Ultimately, that same conservative voting bloc—including every African delegate on the Council (representing 12 of the 26 affirming voices)—passed the resolution.

Human rights advocates have expressed fear that the resulting panel and report will be used to further marginalize diverse family structures, such as those led by single parents, grandparents, or LGBTQ people. Commenting on the resolution, Geneva Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch Julie de Rivero said, “[I]t is a travesty for the U.N. to ignore [the] reality” that “families come in all shapes and forms. Insinuating that different types of families don’t exist can do nothing but harm the children and adults around the world who live in those families.”31

One of the primary leaders behind the “Protection of the Family” resolution was Sharon Slater, president of Family Watch International (FWI), chair of the U.N. Family Rights Caucus, and longtime member of WCF. Slater traces the beginning of her political activism to WCF II, held in Geneva, Switzerland in 1999. Slater writes that WCF “changed the direction of my life, as I learned about the assaults in almost every area of family life and was instilled with the hope that if we all worked together, we could effectively stop many of these attacks.”32

The so-called “attacks” Slater refers to include comprehensive sex education curricula and policies to support condom distribution, access to abortion, and LGBTQ families.

Later that year, Slater co-founded FWI. Officially registered at the U.N. as Global Helping to Advance Women and Children (Global HAWC), FWI enjoys Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) consultative status and is thus able to participate in meetings on economic and social issues. Over the last 15 years, Slater has taken on increasingly prominent roles as a campaigner as a foil to human rights advocates—in the U.S. and internationally, including at the U.N., where she often collaborates with Carlson and other WCF affiliates.

FEAR OF A DARKER PLANET: FROM NATIVISM TO NATALISM

WCF’s influence at the U.N. relies heavily on its longstanding ties with Russia, one of the five permanent members on the U.N. Security Council. Carlson’s work on the ”demographic winter”—the idea that abortion, birth control, homosexuality, feminism and other ”unnatural” deviations have led to dangerous population decline and a crisis for the ”natural family”—has proven to be particularly effective in garnering favor with Russia’s conservative leadership.

Carlson argues that declining birth rates threaten the decline of civilization—Western civilization. As researcher and journalist Kathryn Joyce puts it, “The concern is not a general lack of babies, but the cultural shifts that come when some populations, particularly immigrant communities, are feared to be out-procreating others.”33 Put another way, the demographic winter thesis cultivates racism and xenophobia in support of exclusionary “natural family” policies. A main objective of the WCF’s demographic scare tactics is to convert nationalism into natalism, and thereby mobilize a larger anti-abortion, “natural family” base. (Natalism prioritizes human procreation, including public policies that reward birthing children.)

This perspective is commonplace among WCF and its affiliates. Following WCF’s 1997 congress in Prague, Cathy Ramey, associate director of the U.S. anti-abortion organization Advocates for Life Ministries, explained what she’d learned: “As native citizens reject marriage and child-bearing, other non-native groups will simply move in and replace the historic population.”34 Speaking at WCF V, John Mueller, a researcher at the Ethics and Public Policy Center—a neoconservative think tank in Washington, DC, argued that “fertility would rise and remain above the replacement rate, not only in the United States but also most other countries, by ending legal abortion.”35

In Russia and other parts of Europe, a combination of population anxiety and growing anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant sentiment has offered WCF a favorable political context in which to advance its anti-abortion, “natural family” agenda. Carlson and his network have fanned the flames of “demographic winter” anxieties throughout the region.

In June 2011, WCF hosted the Moscow Demographic Summit, describing it as the “world’s first summit to address the international crisis of rapidly declining birthrates.”36 More than 500 people attended, including Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church; Russian First Lady Svetlana Medvedeva; members of the Russian Duma; and a host of right-wing American scholars and activists.

Within two weeks of the event, President Medvedev—whose wife, Medvedeva, had recently teamed up with the Russian Orthodox Church on a new anti-abortion campaign—signed a law requiring abortion providers to devote 10 percent of any advertising to describing the dangers of abortion to a woman’s health, and making it illegal to describe abortion as a safe medical procedure.37 This was the first new legislative restriction placed on abortions in the country since the fall of Communism.38

Four months later, in October 2011, the Russian Duma passed a law further restricting abortions to within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for cases up to 22 weeks in instances of rape or medical necessity. The new law also tacked on a mandatory waiting period of two to seven days before an abortion can be performed, a common tactic used by anti-abortion activists in the U.S.

Russian leaders are by no means mere pawns in the Right’s “natural family” campaign. Referencing a book on family genealogy authored by Aleksandr Putin (a distant cousin of President Vladimir Putin) Russian journalist Vladimir Shvedov notes that extended families “are gradually returning to the consciousness of our much-suffering people,” because in Russia as in any country, “the greatness of the nation … is built upon the ancient foundation of the old families.”39 The country’s post-Soviet identity crisis has thus provided fertile ground for the vigorous promotion of the “Russian family.”

Nonetheless, the U.S. Right’s influence on these Russian debates is unmistakable. In 2011, the New York Times noted that “contention over abortion [in Russia] has begun to sound like the debate in the United States.”40 And when President Putin signed a law in December 2013 completely banning abortion advertising, Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute and a regularly featured speaker at WCF events, was not the least bit shy about claiming credit: “PRI has played a role in helping to turn Russia back to life. I participated in the first [WCF] Demographic Summit at the Russian State Social University in Moscow in May, 2011. We talked with senior Russian leaders about the need to protect life. Not long thereafter, a law was passed banning abortion of unborn babies older than 12 weeks.”41

Alexey Komov, WCF’s representative to Russia, agreed, calling the WCF’s Demographic Summit a “catalyst” for Russia’s anti-abortion movement. Komov, who organized the 2011 Moscow Demographic Summit, was subsequently appointed to a position with the Department for External Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, further strengthening WCF’s ties to Russian Orthodox leadership.42

THE AFRICAN CAMPAIGN

In recent years, WCF has expanded its influence not only in Russia but also in Africa, where it works closely with public intellectuals and conservative leaders who act as spokespeople for WCF’s “natural family” campaign. Perhaps most prominent is Theresa Okafor, a leading anti-choice advocate in Nigeria and the recipient of WCF’s 2014 Natural Family Woman of the Year award.

In Africa, debates over sexual health and rights are frequently tied to issues related to population. Development economists generally agree that for economic growth in Africa to continue in such a way that poverty rates decrease, birthrates must drop significantly.43 U.N. reports indicate that population growth in Africa is so high that the continent’s population is expected to more than triple by 2100, rising from 1.2 billion to 4.2 billion 44—a daunting forecast for a continent that also has the highest poverty rate in the world. (In Okafor’s native Nigeria, more than 60 percent of the population lives in absolute poverty—up from 54.7 percent in 2004.45) Okafor, however, denies the need for comprehensive sex education, contraception, and access to safe abortions. She instead argues that Africa needs to rid itself of the “negative cultures” being imposed on it from the West.

Speaking at the World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations in 2012 (described by a local news outlet as “the first pro-family conference in Africa.”), Okafor explained her view—that poverty in Africa is the result of corrupt governments, poor resource management and distribution, and “the sinister agenda to downsize and control Africa.” According to Okafor, as Europeans face falling birthrates, they feel “threatened” by Africa’s growing population and economy and thus seek to promote contraception and abortion among Africans.46

Okafor’s statements contrast sharply with demographic winter ideas that Carlson and WCF promote in Europe, Australia, the U.S., and elsewhere. This highlights WCF’s cynical manipulation of racial resentments within different political contexts. In Russia, WCF points to declining White birthrates and growing numbers of immigrants, Muslims, and people of color to stoke White fears of decreasing dominance over non-White and non-Christian minorities. In Nigeria, WCF plays to neocolonial resentments, suggesting that Western nations are seeking to restrict the growth and prosperity of African nations by “downsizing” Black African populations through increased access to abortion and contraception and the “promotion” of homosexuality. Whether rhetorically aligned with European racism or African nationalism, WCF’s solution remains constant: it offers its “natural family” campaign, knowing full well that what follows may include restricted reproductive rights and criminalization or persecution of LGBTQ people.

As Political Research Associates’ Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma has documented, the U.S. Religious Right has a long history of promoting anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ “pro-family” ideologies in Africa (at the expense of African women and LGBTQ people).47 But WCF was one of the first to package its agenda in a UN-ready, policy-friendly format. The expansion of this campaign from local and regional levels to the international realm represents a grave threat to LGBTQ and reproductive justice globally.

Speaking at WCF IV in Madrid in 2012, Okafor noted that many of the recent anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ gains made in Nigeria are thanks to networking coordinated by WCF. She specifically named Sharon Slater’s FWI as being “instrumental to many of the victories we celebrate.”48 (Such “victories” include the repeal of a 2012 reproductive rights law in Nigeria’s Imo State, the enactment of a requirement that all condom packages include warnings indicating that they are not “100% safe,” and the passage of a bill criminalizing same-sex marriage.)

According to Okafor, the Global Family Policy Forum for U.N. delegates hosted by WCF-affiliate FWI in Gilbert, Arizona, in 2011 was of particular importance, noting that it was there that the African voting bloc—which unanimously voted against adding more inclusive language to the definition of “family” used in the UN’s newly adopted “Protection of the Family” resolution—successfully “consolidated their positions.”

Where WCF has been successful in persuading national governments to adopt its “natural family” model, there has followed increased persecution of LGBTQ people and decreased access to abortion and reproductive healthcare. In African countries that accept Okafor’s WCF-endorsed narrative and political agenda, we may see growing levels of poverty and—thanks to further restrictions on comprehensive sex education and healthcare options—increased risk for transmission of HIV/AIDS and other STIs.

BRINGING THE FIGHT BACK HOME

Although it is based in the U.S. and has an entirely White, American board of directors, WCF has held its previous global convenings outside the U.S. But WCF IX is scheduled for October 27-30, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Sutherland Institute, a right-wing think tank based in Salt Lake City (whose acting CEO and prominent right-wing philanthropist, Stanford Swim, sits on WCF’s board of directors) will host the event, which is expected to draw about 3,000 people.

The theme of WCF IX is expected to be “religious liberty,” which the U.S. Religious Right has been endeavoring to redefine as a sanction to discriminate in the public sphere (particularly against women and LGBTQ people).49 U.S. Christian Right groups have been testing similar “religious freedom” strategies overseas. WCF, as an umbrella organization for right-wing groups, is seeking to orchestrate the coordinated proliferation of this strategy internationally. Many of its member organizations, including the Alliance Defending Freedom and FWI will be in attendance. ADF announced in October 2014 that it is “in the process of transitioning into an international religious liberties organization.” The announcement added that ADF will soon be establishing advocacy offices in: Strasbourg, France, focusing on the European Commission on Human Rights; Geneva, focusing on the United Nations Human Rights Commission; and Brussels, focusing on the European Union.50

If WCF IX goes forward as planned, those who support LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice may see a surge of new legislative assaults, at home and around the world. Yet the event also provides a unique opportunity to challenge WCF’s “natural family” campaign right where it started, in the U.S.

Depending on the audience, WCF’s strategy for promoting the “natural family” varies, but the impact of its campaign is the same across the globe: increased persecution of LGBTQ people, further restrictions on access to abortion, and an increasingly exclusionary definition of what kind of families deserve recognition and rights. With its far-reaching influence, streamlined structure, and ability to alter its message quickly, WCF is establishing itself as a vanguard for the Right’s global anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ agendas.

WCF IX provides a venue for WCF and other Christian Right leaders to continue expanding their international influence. If WCF IX goes forward as planned in Salt Lake City, those who support LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice may see a surge of new legislative assaults, at home and around the world.

However, the event also provides a unique opportunity for activists to challenge the expanding influence of WCF’s “natural family” campaign right where it started, here in the U.S. “Keep in mind that the work of WCF is in response to positive legal gains made by the sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTQ communities,” said Kane. “There is ample room for human rights defenders to challenge the WCF’s regressive agenda.” Activists who support reproductive justice and LGBTQ rights should use this opportunity to draw the public’s attention to the real policy agenda that this supposedly “pro-family” network is pushing.

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Footnotes

1. Stan Swim, “World Congress of Families does not spread fear,” Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 9. 2014, http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/1793725-155/family-wcf-families-congress-law-munson
2. Jennifer Butler, “For Faith and Family: Christian Right Advocacy at the United Nations,” The Public Eye, Summer 2000, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2000/09/01/for-faith-and-family-christian-right-advocacy-at-the-united-nations/#.
3. Kathryn Joyce, “Missing: The ‘Right’ Children,” Nation, Feb. 14, 2008, http://www.thenation.com/article/missing-right-babies.
4. In August 2014, the Human Rights Campaign—America’s largest LGBTQ political advocacy group—published a report describing WCF as “one of the most influential American organizations in the export of hate.” See: “New HRC Report Exposes The World Congress of Families,” Aug. 25, 2014, http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/exposed-the-world-congress-of-families.
5. “Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia,” http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/hunted-the-war-against-gays-in-russia#/.
6. Benjamin Bidder, “Viral Vigilantism: Russian Neo-Nazis Take Gay Bashing Online,” Spiegel Online International, Nov. 14, 2013, http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/russian-skinheads-abuse-gays-and-post-video-to-social-networks-a-933549.html.
7. Austin Ruse, “World Congress of Families Pledges Solidarity with Europe,” Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, http://t.c-fam.org/en/issues/marriage-and-family/553-world-congress-of-families-pledges-solidarity-with-europe.
8. In 2014, plans were well underway for WCF’s next major convening—WCF VIII—to be held in Moscow, September 10-12. In March, however, WCF announced that it was canceling the event purportedly due to concerns over Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. But 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 that WCF VIII was originally scheduled).
9. John Ballyntyne, “A third way? Allan Carlson’s vision of a family-centered economy,” News Weekly, Nov. 8, 2005, http://newsweekly.com.au/article.php?id=3576.
10. “John A. Howard Ph.D.,” http://profam.org/people/xthc_jah.htm.
11. Allan Carlson, “On the World Congress of Families: Presentation to the Charismatic Leaders Fellowship Jacksonville, Florida,” Jan. 12, 2005, http://profam.org/docs/acc/thc.acc.020112.wcf.htm.
12. According to Devin Burghart, vice president of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, “Demographic winter is a relatively new phrase that describes the old alarmist ‘birth dearth’ concept–the idea that we’re facing declining birthrates which is supposed to portend all sorts of cataclysmic events.” See Bill Berkowitz, “Right-Wing Groups Use Decline of White Birthrates to Stoke Fear of Homosexuality, Feminism and Abortion,” AlterNet, June 29, 2010, http://www.alternet.org/story/147352/right-wing_groups_use_decline_of_white_birthrates_to_stoke_fear_of_homosexuality,_feminism_and_abortion.
13. Nancy Folbre, “The Underpopulation Bomb,” New York Times, Feb. 11, 2013, http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/11/the-underpopulation-bomb.
14. Don Feder, “The Cultural Roots of Demographic Winter,” Rhodes Forum, http://rhodesforum.org/popular/4082-the-cultural-roots-of-demographic-winter.
15. “Russia’s Growing Muslim Population,” Stratfor, Aug. 8, 2013, http://www.stratfor.com/image/russias-growing-muslim-population.
16. See: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/publications/wallchart/index.shtml.
17. Katheryn Joyce, “Review: Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family,” The Harvard Divinity Bulletin (Spring 2008), http://kathrynjoyce.com/articles/review-demographic-winter-the-decline-of-the-human-family/.
18. “Frequently Asked Questions,” The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, Jan. 9, 2007, http://profam.org/THC/xthc_faq.htm.
19. Jennifer Butler, “For Faith and Family.”
20. “A Declaration From The World Congress of Families To The Governments of the Globe,” The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, Mar. 22, 1997, http://worldcongress.org/WCF1/wcf1_declaration.htm.
21. “A Declaration From The World Congress of Families.”
22. Allan Carlson, “On the World Congress of Families.”
23. U.S. Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Form 990, (Washington, DC: 2012), http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2013/541/788/2013-541788267-0a1444bd-9.pdf.
24. “World Congress of Families,” The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, http://profam.org/docs/acc/thc_acc_frc.christian.democracy.htm.
25. In contrast to WCF’s anti-LGBTQ definition of family, Amnesty International argues that Article 16 of the UDHR—which also states, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.”—can be interpreted as a prohibition against discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. See: “Marriage Equality,” Amnesty International, http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/lgbt-rights/marriage-equality.
26. “United Nations,” John Birch Society, http://www.jbs.org/issues-pages/united-nations.
27. Prior to joining the WCF staff, Jacobs served as president of Healthy Beginnings, a conservative Christian pregnancy center with an explicit anti-choice agenda targeting “disadvantaged young women … experiencing unplanned pregnancies.” During his tenure there, Jacobs told a local newspaper that his dream was to spread the Healthy Beginnings model nationally, using faith-based grants made available under President Bush’s administration. Instead, WCF has given Jacobs the opportunity to spread his anti-choice agenda globally. See: Peter Bronson, “Angels in Lab Coats,” Enquirer, Aug. 19, 2001, http://enquirer.com/editions/2001/08/19/loc_bronson_angels_in.html.
28. Brian Tashman, “World Congress of Families Praises Russian Laws ‘Preventing’ Gays from ‘Corrupting Children,’” Right Wing Watch, June 3, 2013, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/world-congress-families-praises-russian-laws-preventing-gays-corrupting-children.
29. J.Lester Feder, “U.N. Human Rights Council Adopts Resolution On ‘Protection Of The Family,’” BuzzFeed, June 26, 2014, http://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/un-human-rights-council-adopts-resolution-on-protection-of-t#.vqye5d3N9.
30. Jay Michaelson, “At the United Nations, It’s Human Rights, Putin-Style,” Daily Beast, June 26, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/06/26/at-the-united-nations-it-s-human-rights-putin-style.html.
31. J.Lester Feder, “U.N. Human Rights Council.”
32. Sharon Slater, “The Family Watch,” Apr. 2, 2012, http://www.familywatchinternational.org/fwi/newsletter/0573.cfm.
33. Kathryn Joyce, “Missing: The ‘Right’ Children.”
34. Cathy Ramey, “A World Views Conference: Prague’s international Congress of the Family focuses on cultural disaster,” Life Advocate, May/June 1997, http://www.lifeadvocate.org/5_97/cover_s.htm.
35. John D. Mueller, “How do nations choose ‘demographic winter’? Is America doing so?” Remarks to The World Congress of Families V, Panel on “Family and Demography”, Amsterdam, Netherlands, Aug. 11, 2009, accessible via http://worldcongress.org/wcf5.spkrs/wcf5.mueller.htm.
36. World Congress of Families News, Jan./Feb. 2012, Vol. 6 No. 1, http://worldcongress.org/wcfnl/wcfnl.cur.pdf.
37. Sophia Kishkovsky, “Russia Enacts Law Opposing Abortion,” New York Times, July 16, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/15/world/europe/15iht-russia15.html.
38. “Russia Passes First Anti-abortion Law,” SIECUS, July 2011, http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&featureid=2018&pageid=483&parentid=478.
39. Paul Goble, “Putin Family Values,” The Interpreter, Apr. 17, 2014, http://www.interpretermag.com/putin-family-values/.
40. Sophia Kishkovsky, “Russia Enacts Law Opposing Abortion.”
41. Steven Mosher, “Russia Considers Banning Abortions as Abortion Decimates Its Population,” Life News, Dec. 23, 2013, http://www.lifenews.com/2013/12/23/russia-considers-banning-abortions-as-abortion-decimates-its-population/.
42. World Congress of Families News, Jan./Feb. 2012.
43. See, for example: Steven W. Sinding, “Population, Poverty and Economic Development,” Jan. 2008, http://www.cgdev.org/doc/events/04.07.09/Population_Poverty_and_Econ_Dev_Sinding.pdf.
44. “World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision,” United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/index.htm.
45. “Nigerians living in poverty rise to nearly 61%,” BBC, Feb. 13, 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-17015873. According to UNESCO, “Absolute poverty measures poverty in relation to the amount of money needed to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter.” See: “Poverty,” UNESCO, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/international-migration/glossary/poverty/.
46. “Theresa Okafor: Looking to the Future: Overpopulation or Global Depopulation,” YouTube, Dec. 19, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Lp7-D2u6qk.
47. Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism (Cambridge: Harvard Bookstore, 2014).
48. “WCF VI-Madrid 2012-Conquistas del movimiento provida y profamilia en el mundo. Theresa Okafor,” YouTube, July 10, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGS12eVZq1Y.
49. Jay Michaelson, Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights, Political Research Associates, Mar. 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/03/21/redefining-religious-liberty-the-covert-campaign-against-civil-rights/.
50. World Congress of Families News, Nov. 2014, Vol. 8 No. 7, http://worldcongress.org/files/9414/1582/4595/WCF_News_November_2014.pdf.

 

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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Demographic Winter: Right-Wing Prophecies of White Supremacy’s Decline

 And What They Mean for Reproductive Justice

This post is the first in a series examining the Right’s efforts to alter demographic trends by re-popularizing arguments and ideologies rooted in eugenics (read part two and three). Today, I discuss the ideas of white supremacy underpinning claims that the continuity of hinges on spurring population growth (and thus the cessation of contraceptive use).

Reproductive justice, as opposed to reproductive rights, is often defined as the ability to parent, not to parent, and—if one is a parent—to raise children in a safe and healthy environment. While reproductive rights have often been narrowly understood as the legal right to terminate an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy, an understanding of reproductive justice broadens our analysis in critical ways. It raises up the structural inequalities that render reproductive choice and care disproportionately unattainable for people of color, poor people, undocumented immigrants, trans* people, and other marginalized groups, and it reminds us that reproductive justice is inextricable from housing justice, from food justice, from transit justice. Indeed, the creation of a safe and healthy environment for all parents and all children requires the broad realization of social justice.

Unfortunately, full reproductive justice remains a distant prospect, and it was dealt a significant blow in this week’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have religious rights—rights that were hampered by the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraception mandate. In addition to its manifold and ominous implications for civil rights, this decision poses a severe threat to low-income workers’ reproductive health care access. The decision reminds us—those of us with the privilege to be sheltered from a constant barrage of reminders—that attacks on reproductive justice are not confined to standard anti-abortion efforts.

The plaintiffs argued that because certain contraceptives take effect subsequent to fertilization, they are in fact abortifacients: “If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions,” wrote Justice Alito (2).

This argument is not merely a new stratagem to undermine the ACA. For years, initiatives such as the American Life League’s “The Pill Kills” campaign have sought to inflame conservative religious sentiment against contraceptives. Significantly, the Right has also undertaken much more subtle and insidious attempts to limit birth control access. Perhaps surprisingly, these attempts often are not explicitly rooted in religious conviction.

Many anti-contraceptive arguments couched in secular rhetoric are designed to incite fear, even panic, concerning not the deaths of “preborn children,” but rather the demise of entire populations. In her review of a documentary titled Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family (2008), Kathryn Joyce discusses how the film tacitly invokes right-wing Christian morality and ideology to undergird claims posited as “research-driven” and “based on social science alone.” The never-quite-stated thesis Joyce extracts from the documentary is that “birth control and the sexual revolution, and the widespread cultural decision of women to limit their fertility” are the egregious “sin” that will precipitate the fall of civilization. Political prospects such as marriage equality are, of course, easily subsumed into this nebulous menace.

The U.S. Right’s demographic agenda is highly racialized; in recent years, however, the doomsday argument for traditional family values has gained global currency. Its momentum is largely attributable to organizations such as the World Congress of Families (WCF), which has scant visible presence in Demographic Winter but enormous behind-the-scenes influence. Theresa Okafor, a Nigerian right-wing activist who has worked closely with WCF and Family Watch International, espouses anti-LGBTI and anti-reproductive health measures based substantially on tenuous correlations between demographic trends and development in sub-Saharan Africa. In a 2012 interview, Okafor decried contraceptives as superfluous before saying, “It is instructive that Nigeria and Ethiopia which have high fertility rates feature among the fastest growing economies in the IMF 2011 economic survey. The UN data is evidence that population growth does lead to economic prosperity.” Okafor has gone so far as to allege that the provision of reproductive health care in Africa is part of an imperialist Western “conspiracy,” a claim reproduced in the WCF newsletter. (Much of Demographic Winter was filmed at the 2007 WCF conference. On Tuesday, on the heels of the Hobby Lobby decision, WCF announced that their 2015 conference theme will be “religious liberty.”  The regional conference is to be held in Salt Lake City.)

That Okafor’s politics appear to be lockstep with the U.S. Religious Right is indicative of the latter’s success in imposing their agenda in the Global South. Furthermore, that Okafor cries imperialism while promoting the U.S. Right’s imperial agenda illustrates the Right’s facility with shaping narratives to obfuscate the presence of their own aims. However, it would be inaccurate to assume that Okafor’s work is entirely congruent with, let alone identical to, that of her U.S.-based collaborators. Her stance on demographic winter differs from that of the U.S. Right in one critical respect: for Okafor, augmenting population growth in the Global South is a priority; for the U.S. Right, it is a threat.

Because, as Joyce pointedly shows, nativism and racism constitute another hidden cornerstone of Demographic Winter and the reactionary movement it represents. She observes, “The concern is not a general lack of babies, but the cultural shifts that come when some populations, particularly immigrant communities, are feared to be out-procreating others,” a fear that “permeates nearly all of the current debate on demographic worries.” Joyce names a bevy of books published since 2001 that gravely forecast non-white immigrants supplanting white populations in the Global North. Joyce also cites an assertion made at the 2007 WCF conference by a U.S. anti-contraception activist, who pronounced that the children of immigrants are “too many, and too culturally different from their new countries’ populations to assimilate quickly … They are contributing to the cultural suicide of these nations as they commit demographic suicide.”

The white supremacy underlying demographic winter prophecies is also visible in the work produced by the Population Research Institute (PRI), a right-wing organization run by Steven W. Mosher. Mosher, a Catholic social scientist, specializes in Chinese demography, and PRI aims to dismantle “population control” efforts across the globe. Ostensibly, PRI is a natural ally to activists like Okafor. However, articles such as “How to debunk the myth of overpopulation in three easy steps,” written by Mosher and Anne Roback Morse and published on LifeSiteNews.com, deploy demographic winter rhetoric exclusively with respect to Europe in contrast to Africa, implicitly conjuring up the specter of white supremacy’s collapse. “Africa’s growth,” the authors assure, “is not something to worry about. Europe’s decline, however, is something to worry about.” Eventually, they warn, “the French, German, Italians and British will virtually cease to exist.”

The scare tactics employed by PRI, WCF, and other organizations on the Right exemplify the urgency of reproductive justice work. Right-wing efforts to chisel away reproductive freedoms are not random attacks on uteruses. They are carefully crafted elements of powerful Americans’ long-standing attempts to determine and regulate who ought to procreate and who ought not to.

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Works Cited

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Supreme Court of the United States. 30 June 2014. SupremeCourt.gov. Web. 1 July 2014.

Joyce, Kathryn. “Review: Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family.” Kathryn Joyce. Web. 01 July 2014.

Mosher, Steven W., and Anne Roback Morse. “How to Debunk the Myth of Overpopulation in Three Easy Steps.” LifeSite. LifeSiteNews, 1 Oct. 2013. Web. 01 July 2014.

Ramos-Ascensão, José. “The African Situation with Regard to ‘sexual and Reproductive Health'” Europeinfos: Christian Perspectives on the EU. Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU and the Jesuit European Office, July-Aug. 2012. Web. 1 July

“WCF Newsletter.” WCF Newsletter. World Congress of Families, Apr.-May 2010. Web. 01July 2014.