Since the United Nations held the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in September 1995, women’s rights and human rights groups in the US and throughout the world have worked to “bring the Beijing platform home.” Adopted by consensus by 189 countries, the Platform for Action calls for reforms to address economic and social discrimination against women across the globe. It is the most comprehensive document on women’s rights ever agreed upon by governments, and represents the culmination of four global women’s conferences. Most significantly, the Beijing Conference signaled the realization of a global women’s movement that is seeking to address the diverse issues that affect women worldwide. In the US, the Beijing Conference and its platform have fed an ever-increasing awareness of the international struggle for women’s rights, and acted as a blueprint for activism across the country.
The Beijing Conference was divided into the official government conference, which met in Beijing, and the meeting of international Non-governmental Organizations (NGO’s), which met and held a Forum in Huairou, a suburb of Beijing. It drew 40,000 women from all parts of the world, breaking all records for NGO attendance at a UN meeting. Almost all progressive feminist and womanist activism occurred at the NGO meeting. A great many US women’s organizations attended the Beijing Conference, including lesbian rights organizations.
Christian Right groups attending the Conference protested abortion rights, lesbian rights and the concept of gender. Led by Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America, the Christian Right went to Beijing to discredit the US NGO community in the eyes of its rightwing base in the US and sympathetic right-wing women’s groups internationally. The enthusiasm and spirit of the liberal US women’s movement largely drowned out its efforts. Five years later, in June 2000, the United Nations sponsored a follow-up meeting, known as Beijing+5, convened in New York City to assess how much progress had been made in all the nations that had agreed to adopt and pursue the Beijing platform.
Prior to the Beijing+5 UN Special Session of the General Assembly (UNGASS), a Preparatory Committee (known as a “Prep-Com”) met from March 3 to 18 to work on an Outcome Document for the Special Session in June. This is the traditional pattern for UN Conferences. The activities at the PrepCom are crucial, as it is at these pre-conferences that the specifics of the larger conference are agreed upon. During the PrepCom, NGO observers were allowed in the “NGO gallery to observe the official proceedings. As feminist NGO observers greeted one another and took their seats in the NGO gallery, scores of lobbyists wearing red buttons emblazoned with the word “motherhood” swarmed the room where government delegates were gathering. The following week, conservative lobbyists wore buttons proclaiming “The Family.” Their physical presence was made more dramatic by a group of cassocked Catholic friars from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal using “prayer warfare” to attempt to defeat their feminist opponents. The US Christian Right was better prepared and able to exert a far more disruptive presence than at the Beijing conference. While conservative and pro-life groups have attended other United Nations events, their numbers at this meeting were far greater than ever before and their organizing efforts were well coordinated. Though still proportionally small in numbers, they were highly visible among the 1,700 NGO representatives.1
Over the past few years, a small group of leaders from the Christian Right has forged an unlikely but well-organized, inter-religious coalition of conservative NGOs in the United Nations arena. Through this new coalition, Conservative Catholics, Mormons, Conservative Evangelicals and to a much smaller degree, Muslims and Jews, are developing institutional structures, political rhetoric and mobilized networks to bring their “family values” message to the UN and the world. This new coalition is the result of several noteworthy trends in rightwing organizing. Earlier issues of The Public Eye observed that the Right Wing has taken much of its political activism to the state and local level as it finds itself blocked at the national level. This issue explores how some segments of the US Right Wing, very often focused on domestic issues, have discovered the power of organizing in the international arena.
At the international level the Vatican City/Holy See (VC/HS) has been the most proactive in mobilizing and organizing a coalition, and strategizing to further the right-wing pro-family agenda. In this effort it is uniquely positioned because of its exceptional status within the United Nations…No other religion in the world shares this status.
Three accelerating trends in Christian Right organizing in the US have made this strategic alliance possible. First, conservative agendas have increasingly found hospitable soil in Christian churches. Second, leaders of the Christian Right increasingly view themselves as having more in common on key questions with conservatives of other denominations and religions than with liberals of their own tradition, and are willing to overlook doctrinal and religious differences to form partnerships with one another.
Third, the Christian Right, of late seemingly absorbed with domestic matters, has demonstrated a renewed interest in proactively influencing foreign policy. Historically, the Christian Right has influenced the politics and culture of foreign nations indirectly through mission work. It has also concerned itself with Israel, the Cold War (in terms of virulent opposition to Communism), and international family planning. More recently, however, it has sought to influence the working of the United Nations by working within the UN system. Particularly, it works to delay and where possible derail progressive change that might be obtained through UN conferences and treaties.
The Actors Behind the Coalition
At the international level the Vatican City/Holy See (VC/HS) has been the most proactive in mobilizing and organizing a coalition, and strategizing to further the right-wing pro-family agenda. In this effort it is uniquely positioned because of its exceptional status within the United Nations. In part because of its membership in certain global organizations that predated the UN, and which were subsumed by it, and in part through negotiations with heads of various UN agencies including the Secretary-General, the VC/HS was accorded the status of “non-member state permanent observer” in 1964. While under this status the VC/HS cannot vote in the UN
General Assembly, it can and frequently does participate in the General Assembly unlike NGOs that have permanent observer status. Moreover, because rules of participation in UN conferences like Beijing+5 are often set by the individual agencies that are the primary organizers, the VC/HS is very often able to participate in them on the level of a full-fledged state member.2 No other religion in the world shares this status.
From its exclusive position at the UN, the Vatican City/Holy See played a significant role at the September 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and then a year later at the September 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The VC/HS sought to influence the outcome of these conferences through multiple means—before, during, and after the events. In March 1995, for instance, the Vatican fought hard to bar the accreditation of pro-choice Catholics from the Beijing conference.3
In addition to influencing UN meetings, the Vatican uses its global presence to impact post-conference implementation in individual countries. Various national Catholic churches, following the Holy See’s lead drafted strong statements against many steps mandated by the Cairo and Beijing Platforms for Action, or worked within their countries to prevent implementation of aspects of the programs they considered objectionable.4 Additionally, in November 1996, the Vatican announced that it would not contribute to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1997 and asked Catholic institutions and individuals to do the same, because it alleged that UNICEF was involved in dispensing contraceptives and advocating abortion.5
In 1997, the principal leaders in the pro-family coalition at the United Nations each took significant steps to expand their advocacy to the international arena. In their effort to take their message to the international level, they entered into more active collaboration with other religious groups. Having failed to gain accreditation for consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council in the early nineties, Human Life International (HLI), in 1997 helped to establish the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-Fam).6 C-Fam, the only one of these organizations focusing solely on UN work, coordinates much of the pro-family coalition’s work and strategy at the UN.7 In the wake of scandals involving the misuse of funds, HLI reorganized its governing board and staff, equipping itself with leadership open to inter-religious cooperation and moderating the organization’s far-right tendencies.8 Meanwhile, the Utah-based Brigham Young University (BYU) established the World Family Policy Center (WFPC) and developed a relationship with C-Fam, contributing funds to C-Fam programs.9 Also in 1997, Dr. Allan Carlson, formerly President of the Rockford Institute, a conservative institution committed to spreading the values of Western Christendom, established the Howard Center as an independent agency of the Rockford Institute. The Howard Center adopted a broader vision than that of the Rockford Institute—one that would carry out Carlson’s vision for inter-religious cooperation.10 The Howard Center, though not highly involved in the coalition’s work at the UN, helps to shape its message through international gatherings organized with the WFPC.
In the months leading up to the convening of the PrepCom, Austin Ruse, Director of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), sent out a call to action. In his rallying cry, Ruse summoned hundreds of “pro-family and pro-life advocates” to come to the UN to fight against “the Beijing Platform for Action . . . one of the most radical and dangerous documents you can imagine.” His call took on biblical proportions as Ruse promised his people: “You will work alongside Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims and Mormons. . . . We are the children of Abraham arising to fight for faith and family.”11 This battle cry heralded the dramatic entry of conservative NGOs into an arena once dominated by human rights activists.
In 1997, the principal leaders in the pro-family coalition at the United Nations each took significant steps to expand their advocacy to the international arena. In their effort to take their message to the international level, they entered into more active collaboration with other religious groups.
The platform and collaboration of the pro-family coalition has in part been solidified through the two World Congress of Families meetings convened by the WFPC and Howard Center and co-convened by the evangelical Family Research Council and C-Fam. The first World Congress was held in 1997 in Prague, and the second was held in Geneva in the fall of 1999. Estimates put the second World Congress attendance at between 800 and 1,575 participants, twice that of the previous conference.12 The Howard Center and WFPC are planning a third Congress for 2002 (WCF III). Austin Ruse is on the 24-member Planning Committee.
Other organizations participating in the pro-family coalition come from –choice, anti-feminist and pro-family quarters. Anti-choice groups include: Couple to Couple League, American Life League (which recently started World Life League to expand its reach), National Right to Life Federation, International Right to Life Federation and Campaign Life Coalition. Anti-feminist groups include Concerned Women for America, Real Women of Canada and the World Movement of Mothers. Family based NGOs include the Mormon-based United Families International and, to a small degree, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.13
The pro-family coalition works closely with conservative Islamic governmental delegates at the UN, including delegates from Algeria, Libya, Iran, Pakistan and the Sudan, although its connections with Islamic NGOs are not as strong. Some conservative Muslim leaders spoke at the WCF meetings, such as Dr. A. Majid Katme, the coordinator for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. At least three Muslims sit on the twenty-four member planning committee for the WCF III, including Ambassador Moktar Lamani, the Permanent Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to the United Nations. While Ruse’s call to “protect” families was issued to all children of Abraham, Jewish leaders and organizations are not very visible in the coalition. Rabbi Michael Gold, who ministers to a large Conservative Jewish congregation in Florida, remarked in a 1999 interview that while he feels passionate about families, the term “family values” is seen by many Jews as belonging solely to the Christian Right. “Jews are distrustful of gatherings like this with a strong Christian bias.” Rabbi Gold also expressed discomfort with terms used by the coalition such as “natural family.” However, Rabbi Gold remains involved with the pro-family coalition and is the only Rabbi on the planning committee for the WCF III.
The Growing Strength of Christian Conservatives Globally
Socially conservative churches are growing rapidly not only within the US, but throughout the world. In addition, the center of gravity in many churches, such as the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal and Lutheran churches, is shifting from the West toward the Southern Hemisphere, where churches often tend to be more socially conservative. For instance, as the world’s Anglican bishops gathered in 1998 for their once-a-decade meeting, the Lambeth Conference, bishops from the Church of England, the Episcopal Church and Anglican Churches of Canada and Australia found themselves outnumbered for the first time by their counterparts in Africa and Asia. Bishops from Africa and Asia tend to have conservative social and theological positions (but liberal economic views). Liberal Episcopal church leaders, having won battles in the US on issues of sexuality, found themselves outnumbered and outmaneuvered at the Lambeth conference, while US conservatives found new allies among leaders from Africa and Asia. The Conference adopted a conservative, nonbinding statement on homosexuality, opposing the blessing of same-sex unions by priests and weakening a draft statement condemning homophobia to condemn “irrational fear of homosexuals.”
Similarly, African Lutherans have increased from 5.7 million to 9 million since 1991, surpassing the total membership of the Lutheran denominations in North America. The Roman Catholic population in Africa more than doubled between 1976 and 1995 and in Asia increased by 90 percent, while Europe’s Catholic population grew by less than 10 percent. To a degree, those changes have been reflected in the College of Cardinals, the body that chooses the Pope.14 The Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 to 1965, made the church more accessible to the faithful and identified social justice as an integral part of the church’s mission. The current Pope, John Paul II, however, while maintaining the church’s commitment to alleviate poverty,15 has rolled back innovations onsocial issues begun by Vatican II.16 As priests who first embraced Vatican II retire they are being replaced by a generation of priests that is more socially conservative.
In addition, US mainline Protestant churches are increasingly divided over issues of homosexuality, reproductive rights, the role of women and related, underlying issues of biblical interpretation and theology. This has caused some to fear that Conservatives and Liberals will split into separate churches. Meanwhile, a strong Christian Right has weakened the progressive social witness that mainline churches advanced during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. It is within this context that the growing conservative networks in the mainline churches—such as the Association of Anglican Congregations on Mission and Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship—are building new spiritual and political ties with conservatives in the developing world.
The strength of the Christian Right may also be part of a global phenomenon experienced in most of the world’s religions. In recent decades the world has witnessed a surge in fundamentalist religious movements whose agenda often results in the reversal of recent political, social and economic advances made by women. Such movements can be seen in many of the world’s religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. In 1998 the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance highlighted this concern in his report to the UN Commission on Human Rights.17 Describing cases of discrimination against women, the Rapporteur observed that there has been “an increase in the number of policies and practices of intolerance and discrimination against women as such deriving from interpretations and traditions attributed by men to religion. No religion or belief is safe from this trend, which is apparent in various forms throughout the world.”18 He called upon the international community to condemn discrimination against women prescribed by religion or tradition and to further explore this issue.
Societies unraveled by war, poverty, globalization and rapid change are fertile soil for extremist movements.19 Religion is also a medium by which societies create strong national identities as the forces of globalization threaten to undermine cultural identities and social structures. National religious and political leaders, either in an effort to protect cultural and national identity or for political reasons, galvanize followers around efforts to return to an imagined ideal, traditional society. Fundamentalist movements often use women’s bodies (both their sexuality and their behavior), as well as their roles in the family and society, as the battleground on which to construct a new social and political structure.
In fact, the gap separating liberals and conservatives now tends to be wider than that separating Protestants of different denominations or Protestants, Catholics and Jews.
Progressives in all faiths challenge fundamentalist interpretations of religious traditions. Even as extremism has become a powerful force in many of the world’s religions, progressive leaders struggle to transform religions dominated by patriarchal norms. Dr. Riffat Hassan, a Pakistani scholar, theologian and human rights activist states:
. . . there is nothing at all in normative Islam embodied in the Qur’an and the Prophet of Islam, the two highest sources of Islam, which authorizes or legitimizes the use of violence particularly toward disadvantaged human beings. . . . So central was gender-equality and gender justice to the world view of normative Islam that it gave girls and women not only the right to live and other fundamental rights given to all human beings, but also many special rights which were intended to safeguard them from any kind of abuse, oppression or injustice.20
Similarly, Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im, a Muslim Professor of Law from the Sudan notes that “[a]s even the most conservative or radical Muslims around the world know, most of the policies and practices of the Taliban government . . . have no Islamic justification whatsoever.”21 Speaking in a religious idiom, leaders like Dr. Hassan and Dr. An-Na`im enable religious communities to progress in their understanding of human rights. Even as fundamentalist movements draw attention to war-torn Afghanistan and the Hindu religious nationalists gain power in India, Iran’s religious conservatives are losing power in the face of pressure for greater freedoms.
The Roots of Inter-religious Cooperation
Three decades of growing cooperation among conservative religious groups in the United States has laid the groundwork for strong inter-religious cooperation among Christian Right leaders at the United Nations. Robert Wuthnow in his groundbreaking work The Restructuring of American Religion suggested that denominational and religious differences and prejudices declined steadily in the decades following World War II.22 In fact, the gap separating liberals and conservatives now tends to be wider than that separating Protestants of different denominations or Protestants, Catholics and Jews.23 Social and moral issues debated in the 1970s and 1980s, such as those raised by the feminist movement, deepened divisions between religious liberals and religious conservatives, dividing the theological world neatly into opposing camps. Divisions within denominations and religions are now greater than the divisions between them.24 Religious groups that once persecuted one another over theological differences, now find themselves united by social and political similarities.
The most surprising inter-religious partner in the coalition is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS); a church often shunned by other denominations as “not Christian.” Those studying the Christian Right often overlook the growing influence of the LDS church, more commonly known as the Mormon Church. Considering the Church’s current and future leadership, financial resources and growing membership, Mormon conservative social influence will have a marked impact on social policy nationally.
Although Gordon Hinckley became president of LDS officially in 1995, he has long influenced the church, serving as its de facto president since 1981.25 During the 1970s Hinckley led the LDS crusade to stop the ERA. LDS leadership has, like the Southern Baptist Convention, taken steps in recent years to reassert patriarchal, traditional doctrine concerning the family. In 1995, the Hinckley First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles issued a “Proclamation to the World” on the family. The proclamation challenges the feminist assertion that gender is a social construct (i.e., male and female are categories that are rigidly assigned and are accompanied by socially-defined sex roles. As a result society mandates that males behave in ways defined as masculine and females in ways defined as feminine) and reinforces traditional gender roles and families. It states that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual pre-mortal, mortal and eternal identity and purpose.”26 Fathers are to “preside over their families in love and righteousness and are to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” One of the two most likely successors to Hinckley, Boyd Packer, is possibly the most doctrinaire of apostles and is suspected by most Mormon liberals to have orchestrated the 1990s crackdown on intellectuals and feminists in the LDS church.27
This church is now the richest religion in the United States per capita, with over 25 billion in estimated assets and 5 billion in estimated annual income.28 It is growing so rapidly that sociologist Rodney Stark projects that during the coming century it will become the most important world religion to emerge since the rise of Islam some 14 centuries ago.29 With over 10 million members, the LDS Church is poised to surpass the Church of God in Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and become the fifth-largest denomination behind Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, United Methodists and National Baptists.30
The family values agenda is a close fit with Mormon doctrine.31 The belief that families are eternal is a central tenet in Mormon doctrine. Exaltation, the process by which men become gods, is available only within family units. Women obtain spiritual reward in the hereafter only through marriage since the priesthood, available to all men, is not open to women. During the nineteenth-century, Utah church authorities were under pressure to produce large families (as well as practice polygamy), since elite status in heaven had much to do with family size. Today, a good Mormon’s spiritual duty includes having large families so that they can provide earthly tabernacles for souls-in-waiting. Not surprisingly, concludes one expert, “LDS authorities consider [family] among their most sacred trust to do everything in their power to protect it.”32
The LDS leadership views gays and lesbians, abortion, and feminism as major threats to Mormon beliefs about the family. In 1993, Boyd Packer, described as the LDS hierarchy’s chief theological watchdog and a contender for the church presidency after Hinckley, warned that three “dangers [of an] intensity and seriousness that we have not faced before [had made] major invasions into the membership of the church.”33 These were the gay and lesbian movement, the feminist movement, and “the ever present challenge from the so called scholars or intellectuals.”
Conservative religious groups first began working together as they sought to oppose the legalization of abortion, the ERA and gay rights in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.34 Mormons first found themselves in a partnership with conservative Catholics such as Phyllis Schlafly over the Equal Rights Amendment in the mid-1970s.35 After the ERA had been ratified by twenty-two states, the LDS church, led by Hinckley, swung into action, ensuring the amendment’s defeat in Utah and helping to rescind Idaho’s earlier vote to pass the amendment. Calling attention to LDS influence, a Boston Globe headline at the time read, “It’s Do or Die for the ERA: Mormon Power is the Key.”36 By 1982, the ERA had been defeated.
LDS leaders have also collaborated with conservative Evangelicals and conservative Catholics in opposing same-sex marriage, including a battle in Hawaii in 1993 and Alaska in 1999. In the latter case, the church contributed $500,000 to the campaign to ban same-sex marriages, quintupling the Alaska Family Coalition’s resources.
By the late 1980s, opposition to abortion had brought together Mormons, Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants in one of the most unlikely ecumenical alliances on the American religious scene. As Evangelicals partnered with more militant prolife Catholics in the anti-abortion movement, Catholic leaders who dominated its first decade by employing a secular, reformist strategy, were overtaken by more radical religious activists. Mormon leaders also played a key role. In 1981, Mormon Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah introduced a bill, supported by the Catholic National Right to Life Committee that would have permitted individual states to legislate restrictions on abortion.
Importantly, Conservative Jews also are increasingly willing to form alliances with Christians. In 1995, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, established by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, announced the formation of the Center for Jewish and Christian Values.
Another opportunity for conservative cooperation occurred during a 1998 U.S. House of Representatives vote on a constitutional amendment which stated that government shall not hamper “people’s right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage or traditions on public property, including schools.”37 The amendment, introduced by Oklahoma Representative Ernest Istook, a Republican Mormon, was backed by the Christian Coalition and Evangelical organizations including the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America. All eleven LDS members of the House of Representatives voted for the Amendment.
Importantly, Conservative Jews also are increasingly willing to form alliances with Christians. In 1995, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, established by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, announced the formation of the Center for Jewish and Christian Values.38 Its advisory board consists of Christian Right leaders Gary Bauer, William Bennett, Charles Colson and Ralph Reed.39 One of its co-founders and honorary chairman is Senator Joseph Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee. The Center works to “build a more moral society in America.” Central to the Center’s mission is the belief that, in the words of cofounder Senator Daniel Coats, “faith in God is essential to society.”40 It focuses on religious expression in public schools, support for Israel and an undivided Jerusalem, the persecution of religious minorities and family values. The Center defines marriage as between a male and a female, and the ideal family as having two parents. In the words of Rabbi Eckstein, president and founder, “There’s been a real transition in the Jewish view of working with conservative Christians, from real disdain to something more like ambivalence.”41 Eckstein was one of the prominent speakers at the Christian Coalition’s Road to Victory conference this September. While some conservative Jews are still cautious, they are entertaining the idea of such new alliances.
Taking Family Values to the International Arena
Frustrated with political defeats at the national level, the Christian Right is turning to the developing world as an innocent, unspoiled frontier, which might possibly be rescued from a morally bankrupt West. In contrast to early missionaries who propagated Western culture as they spread their religious message, these emissaries warn the developing world to avoid mistakes made by the Western World that led to the disintegration of the family and declining morality. Recognizing that they have arrived late on the scene, they lament the ground lost in the international arena while their attentions were focused on domestic concerns. Instead of seeking to undermine or abolish the UN, as do many conservatives, these groups now see the value of advocating their positions in the UN arena. They plan to do battle against those enemies that threaten the traditional family: feminism, sexual liberation, abortion, and gay and lesbian rights.
While neither Pope John Paul II nor LDS President Hinckley involves himself directly with the UN pro-family NGOs, conservative NGOs received inspiration from these men’s common vision for their churches. The Pope and Hinckley both have sought to build bridges to other faith groups. Pope John Paul II is well known for his groundbreaking efforts to reconcile Christians, Muslims and Jews, most recently demonstrated by his trip to the Middle East. The Pope has vigorously stressed the church’s position against contraception, raising it ever closer to a central point of Catholic belief. In the words of one Catholic scholar, “Some feel it has become a veritable test of orthodoxy.”42 As noted previously, during the UN International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994, the Vatican joined forces with representatives of Islamic nations on the issue of abortion, advocating that the ICPD agreement put forth the position that abortion should not be used as a method of family planning. Religious Right leaders were inspired by the Pope’s effective interfaith cooperation. Fearing the United Nations would make abortion an international right, and inspired by Pope John Paul II, they began to galvanize around a pro-family, pro-life agenda.
Since becoming President, seer, and “revelator” of the LDS church in 1995, Gordon Hinckley has strengthened the church’s public image, built bridges to other faith groups and expanded its global vision and influence. He is the Church’s most-traveled president ever and has built an unprecedented number of temples in places such as Hong Kong, Alaska, Mexico, Spain, England, Colombia, Canada, Hawaii and Bolivia. In 2002 the Winter Olympics will come to Salt Lake City, the national home of the Mormon Church, placing a once marginal church in the international spotlight.
Frustrated with political defeats at the national level, the Christian Right is turning to the developing world as an innocent, unspoiled frontier, which might possibly be rescued from a morally bankrupt West.
In addition to inspired leadership, two issues have recently attracted US conservative organizers to the international arena: religious freedom and abortion. In 1996 Conservative Catholic Nina Shea of Freedom House, Conservative Jew Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) convened a conference of Christian leaders to combat persecution of Christians. The cause captured the imagination of Christians across the country. Gary Bauer, then Executive Director of the Family Research Council, improbably became a human rights activist, taking on China, a decision that threatened to alienate him from private donors who owned large corporations. He admitted in one interview that the defense of persecuted Christians is a means to an end—the end being to overturn the established, that is liberal, order.43
In 1997, as an outcome of conservative organizing, Senator Arlen Specter and Representative Frank Wolf, both Republicans, sponsored the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, which sought to establish an office to monitor religious persecution and to sanction countries that systematically persecute any religious group. It became law in 1998. Richard Cizik of the NAE concluded, “Human Rights is now no longer the prerogative of only the left. Believe it or not, the Religious Right is making a distinctive contribution to American foreign policy.”44
“A Dozen States Can Stop Anything”: A Pro-Family Block
While a pro-family agenda would be difficult, even impossible, to advance at the United Nations, pro-family nations, supported by their conservative NGOs, can slow the work of nations and NGOs interested in advancing women’s human rights, particularly in the areas of reproductive rights and sexual orientation.45 At the Beijing+5 Review, conservative nations supported by pro-family NGOs were unable to take away gains made by the global women’s movement in Beijing. In fact, in June 2000, governments agreed to stronger stances on reproductive rights than they had in Beijing in 1995.46 Some of the earlier alliances built by the Vatican began to loosen. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), a 14-member organization led by South Africa adopted a very progressive stance during the Review.47 A group of Latin American countries, historically often part of a Holy See-led bloc, broke away calling themselves Some Latin American Countries (SLAC), and played a major part in supporting the Platform for Action. Towards the end, this group had to rename itself Most Latin American Countries (MLAC) as only 3 countries stayed with the Vatican.48 However, despite setbacks, conservatives maintained the historic resistance to abortion and gay and lesbian rights during the Beijing+5 Review, successfully arguing to remove references in the document to sexual orientation and explicit references to legalized abortion.
Conservative strategists focus largely on blocking international consensus on issues that they oppose. According to Austin Ruse, since the UN works primarily by consensus, “a dozen states can stop anything.” Delivering one of the closing speeches at the WCF II, Ruse proposed what has become the coalition’s main strategy:
…We are at the drawing stage. Concretely, this is what we must do. Although our main concern at the UN is the Group of 77, the negotiating block from the developing world, we need to concern ourselves with all 135 states. We don’t need them all, we need only a few. Therefore, I propose that we establish a permanent UN pro-family bloc of twelve states. And upon these we lavish all of our attention.49
Having experienced some frustrations in maintaining this block, Ruse has further developed this strategy. In a July 2000 interview, he stated that conservative nations often send delegations to UN conferences that are more “radical” because they don’t take UN agreements seriously and want to “throw a bone” to domestic feminists. They also feel pressured by other governments, in particular those in Europe and North America. Ruse plans to convince governments not to bend so easily. His hope is that his button-wearing NGO participants will be able to encourage conservative governments to resist pressures to conform to progressive agendas, and wants the governments to “feel like they have a home court advantage.”50
Ruse has indeed managed to gain support from UN delegates and other international religious and political leaders. In October 1999, just before the WCF II, the Permanent Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC)51 and the governments of Argentina and Nicaragua sponsored a conference with C-Fam, the Howard Center, WFPC, and the Catholic Archdiocese of New York.52 According to press accounts, about a dozen parliamentarians and senior government officials also met in a closed-door session during the WCF II to discuss building a pro-family block.53
Many diplomats, politicians and high church officials responded to invitations to attend WCF II. These included Max Padilla, Nicaragua’s Minister for Family Affairs; Aldo Omar Carreras, Argentina’s Undersecretary for Population, Interior Ministry; S. Shahid Husain, Senior Advisor to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Mission to the UN; Ambassador Mokhtar Lamani, the Permanent Observer of the OIC to the UN; Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon; Roman Catholic Archbishop Alfonso Cardinal Lopez, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on the Family; Bishop John Njue of Kenya, The Catholic Diocese of Embu; and Grand Imam Dr. Mohammad Sayed Tantawi of Egypt. At Beijing+5, the pro-family block was more successful in breaking down the negotiating process than in affecting the content of the Outcome Document.
Experts observed that Beijing+5 was the most difficult UN negotiating session in recent years.54 One ambassador in the coalition of conservative governments admitted that some forces had been at work to hinder the production of the Beijing+5 Outcome Document.55 The standoff between conservatives and liberals over sexuality and reproductive health often overshadows the equally important issue of economic justice for women. Growing economic disparity between developed and developing nations and the disparate impact of globalization on the two-thirds of the world known as “developing nations” also create tensions that threaten to impede UN negotiations. The pro-family coalition exploits this tension between the Western developed nations and the developing world. Articles and flyers circulated during Beijing+5 from members of the coalition portray developing nations as being bullied by Western nations into accepting “anti-family” positions. A conference flyer circulated by pro-family groups reads:
What is going on? Why is the West obsessed with sex? The West is attacking: Sovereignty and Self-determination of developing countries; The Family; Efforts to curb prostitution. The West is promoting: Forcing the homosexual agenda and widespread abortion on other countries through ‘rights’ language. This won’t help women. It will only spread the cultural decay that is destroying Western families, thus feminizing poverty, increasing crime rates, degrading societies and causing catastrophic population declines in the West. DON’T LET THEM DO IT TO YOUR COUNTRY!
Concerned Women for America’s recent newsletter asserts, “Beijing+5 tried to denigrate the role of motherhood. But developing countries at the UN, whose cultures revolve around families—in partnership with pro-family activists—showed that valuing motherhood is essential to preserving civilization.”56
Ironically, while the pro-family coalition views the West as seeking to dominate others socially and culturally by promoting an “anti-family” agenda, some organizations in the coalition such as Concerned Women for America promote US economic dominance by advocating the imposition of US economic models on developing nations. CWA’s Trudy Chun writes:
The Platform for Action fails to understand that a healthy economy is not based on gender but on supply and demand. It is one where the family unit serves as a solid foundation. Men and women alike are rewarded (with the positive side of economic inequity) accordingly. Sustainable development is not the solution to the world’s economic ills; strong families and free markets are.”57
Members of the pro-family coalition and the Holy See are not always in agreement on global economic justice issues. Moreover, some of the states that are the strongest proponents of lesbian and gay rights and reproductive rights do not support the feminist economic agenda. During Beijing+5, women’s rights leaders, who first put the impact of the global economy on women’s lives on the international agenda, continually reminded NGOs to bear in mind the importance of economic justice issues, fearing these would be overshadowed by the hot button issues of sexuality and abortion.
Perhaps surprising to some, the Holy See’s position on global economic issues is more progressive than that of the United States. In its reservations to the Beijing+5 Outcome Document, the US dissociated itself from the paragraphs in the Outcome Document dealing with globalization and economic issues. It asserted:
“It is our view that national governments bear the primary responsibility for social and economic development, and for ensuring equality for women in all walks of life. Most aspects of equality for women have no direct link to international economic and financial issues.”58
This of course could not be farther from the truth. Contrast the US statement with the Vatican’s. The Holy See states:
“In this regard, the Delegation is pleased with many of the Document’s provisions, in particular those condemning all forms of violence against women, those upholding women’s rights to economic and political empowerment, those which outline measures to eliminate poverty and to provide all women with access to basic social services.”59
Within the US media, the US stance on globalization received much less attention than the Holy See’s stance on sexual rights and abortion. The pro-family coalition’s rhetoric about the divide between Western countries and the Group of 77 (G-77, the negotiating block of developing nations) overlooks the wide range of views among the G-77 countries. The rigidity of the pro-family block during Beijing+5 negotiations contributed to the splintering off from the G-77 of three negotiating blocks: SLAC (Some like-minded Latin American Countries), CARICOM (14 Caribbean countries) and SADC (Southern African Development Community). The breakdown of G-77 demonstrated the diversity of viewpoints among developing nations. These three blocks most often negotiated for stronger stances on women’s rights than the G-77 as a whole did. A delegate from one regional group said that they broke off to advocate a stronger political agenda for women in their countries than had been allowed in the G-77.60 In addition, the Holy See, often negotiating to weaken the Beijing+5 Outcome Document, received less support from Latin American and African countries than it did at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.
The fragmentation of the G-77 revealed more clearly that a small group of nations was hindering the negotiations of the Outcome Document. A block of Islamic nations—Pakistan, Egypt, Sudan, Iran, Syria, and Libya—along with the Holy See/Vatican spoke frequently against many sections of the document. Conservative NGOs spoke often with delegations from these countries, in particular the Holy See.
Ironically, while the pro-family coalition views the West as seeking to dominate others socially and culturally by promoting an “anti-family” agenda, some organizations in the coalition such as Concerned Women for America promote US economic dominance by advocating the imposition of US economic models on developing nations.
Ruse’s coalition building has not always gone smoothly. An election in Argentina, formerly a close partner, brought about a change in administration and a more progressive position on women’s rights, in particular on birth control. Max Padilla of Nicaragua was removed from his post, according to Ruse, for his pro-family activism.
In addition to building a pro-family block, pro-family coalition leaders are encouraging other conservative NGOs to apply for consultative status with the Economic and Social Council, a status that enables NGOs to observe certain UN proceedings. Ruse claims that many NGO applications are in the pipeline. He hopes to increase its number in the coming year from around fourteen to twenty-five or thirty.61
“For Faith and Family”
Speeches and mission statements from the WCF II reveal the pro-family coalition’s view of the family. The Conference was billed as a response to the “recent aggressive, anti-family acts by the United Nations, and to chart a positive path for family policy and family preservation.”62 A committee lead by the Family Research Council drafted the WCF II’s Geneva Declaration, a statement of purpose agreed upon by conference participants and currently circulated so that others might sign on in support. It affirms “that the natural human family is established by the Creator and [is] essential to good society.” The natural family is “the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature and centered on the voluntary union of a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage. The natural family is defined by marriage, procreation and, in some cultures, adoption.”63
While family and motherhood are concepts of equal concern to women’s rights and Religious Right activists, the two sides define family and motherhood differently. Women’s rights activists advocate that women have the right to choose motherhood, and that motherhood does not and should not confine women to the private sphere. In fact, women’s rights activists have observed that women in public leadership are often more sensitive to the needs of families and mothers. In contrast, pro-family leaders assert that women do not choose motherhood but are, by nature, mothers. God has created women primarily to produce children and raise families. While they may have careers, family and children should be a priority, which means mothers who are raising children ideally should not work. Efforts to increase numbers of women in the workforce therefore destroy the “natural family.”
The pro-family leader Kathryn Balmforth of the World Family Policy Center decried the “emphasis” in the PrepCom’s Outcome Document on “getting women into the paid workforce and out of their homes and families.”64 For Balmforth, families that depend on childcare undermine the family and society. Rather than condemn women for working outside the home, she portrays them as deluded by feminism or victimized by poverty. Women are forced by economic necessity or misled by feminists to work outside the home and neglect their families. Balmforth claims that women therefore need to be “liberated from their jobs and free to raise children.” Quotas and affirmative action programs, as Austin Ruse puts it, are undemocratic and “force women out of the home and into places they don’t necessarily want to be.”65 Underlying these concerns is an outrage at the feminist assertion that gender is a social construct that benefits men at the expense of women. According to one pro-family advocate, “the abolition of this sexual division of labor amounts to the abolition of motherhood.”66 Pro-family advocates refrain from openly claiming that women and men are unequal. They instead assert that men and women have “complementary” natures or roles that are “physically and psychologically self-evident.”67
In their use of the word “pro-life,” the members of this coalition assert more than a belief that abortion is wrong. The pro-family coalition views attempts to control fertility as undermining women’s procreative role in society. The Geneva Declaration and many WCF II speeches define one of the major threats to the family as being below replacement fertility and population control by Western governments. The Declaration states, “Human society depends on the renewal of the human population; the true population problem is depopulation, not overpopulation.”68
Outrage over the feminist definition of gender is intertwined in right-wing rhetoric with opposition to lesbian and gay rights. The pro-family coalition takes pains to delineate that the “natural family” is defined by marriage between one man and one woman. “Deviations from these created sexual norms lead to obsession, remorse, alienation, and disease.”69
Pro-family NGOs believe that the family is disintegrating because of feminism (with its concept of gender), abortion, and gay and lesbian rights. In their view, feminism has devalued “traditional” female roles. Pro-family advocates bill themselves as the true protectors of women and sometimes co-opt feminist language to describe their mission, even calling themselves feminists. While referring to themselves at times as feminists, they distinguish themselves from “radical” feminists who are prochoice and pro-gay rights and who view gender as a social construct. They portray mainstream feminists as a fringe group that does not speak for the majority of women. The very name of the Canadian based organization, “REAL Women,” states this view clearly.
The Progressive Feminist Response
The small number of strong progressive religious voices on cutting-edge issues in the international community is alarming. Without a strong coalition of religious-based NGOs ready to speak out on gender and sexuality issues in particular, the Christian Right and other religious conservatives will be able to define the debate for religious people—a large portion of the world’s population. This need not be the case, if progressives are willing to address this need to serve as a counterbalance to the conservative religious cacophony.
In their use of the word “pro-life,” the members of this coalition assert more than a belief that abortion is wrong. The pro-family coalition views attempts to control fertility as undermining women’s procreative role in society.
Progressive religious NGOs have been active at the UN since its inception. Most mainline Protestant churches and ecumenical agencies (such as Church Women United and the World Council of Churches) are registered as NGOs at the UN and have small offices that monitor UN activities and international issues. However, their ability to represent and project a progressive religious voice is hampered by several factors. Although these churches tend to take progressive social and political stances, their UN offices historically have focused more on educating constituencies than on advocating progressive positions at the UN. While they are progressive on issues such as poverty and disarmament, they often do not have progressive stances on sexuality. Some, but not all, mainline churches support a woman’s right to choose, making coalition building around this issue difficult. Those churches that have prochoice policies find their ability to carry out such policies hampered by right-wing groups in their respective denominations. This right-wing presence also threatens the churches’ historic commitment to UN world conferences on women. Most of these churches are still debating sexuality issues—a debate that threatens to divide some denominations.
Despite these challenges, a Protestant coalition, Ecumenical Women 2000+ had a strong presence at the Beijing+5 Review. This feminist religious coalition worked with other religious groups to critique the role of religious institutions in women’s lives and lobbied government delegates to address problems caused by religious extremism. Similarly, the Washington, DC-based Catholics for a Free Choice has been in the forefront of monitoring and challenging the Holy See’s global efforts at pushing its conservative anti-women agenda. There is also a growing international movement to raise substantive questions around the Vatican City/Holy See’s non-member state permanent observer status. This argument is based both on international legal grounds as well as on grounds of impartiality, since no other religion; including other major world religions has similar standing.70
Non-religious progressive organizations could benefit from building stronger alliances with progressive religious groups. Progressives, sometimes simplistically characterize religious communities as being conservative, failing to recognize the diversity within traditions and the value of justice work being done within them. The majority of the world’s population perceives the world on religious terms. To communicate to a larger constituency base, progressives need to be able to work alongside religious groups.
Progressive interfaith work, while much older than interfaith coalitions among conservatives, is still in its beginning stages. The World Conference on Religion and Peace, an interfaith organization with a growing international network and a strong advocacy record at UN meetings, has great potential, but again does not have consensus among its members on sexuality issues. It does not yet have a strong record on supporting women’s rights. Special purpose religious groups—religious organizations that focus on particular issues and are not accountable directly to a large church bureaucracy—can advocate more effectively on some issues since they have more freedom. While special purpose religious groups focusing on feminist and gay rights have been organized within most Christian denominations, none work in the UN arena, and few operate at the international level. Catholics for a Free Choice is one of the only religious organizations that advocates unfettered women’s rights, gay rights and reproductive rights. The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, based in Milwaukee, is an international network and think tank of progressive feminist religious scholars. Its members seek out “the positive, renewable moral energies of their faith traditions to direct them to the interrelated issues of population, reproductive health, consumption/ecology and the empowerment of women.”71 The Consultation has consultative status at the UN and has attended UN conferences. Organizations such as these, through their activism and theological and ethical contributions, help transform and democratize male-dominated and defined religious institutions.
International networks of religious women have been established in many regions and are trying to organize as progressive religious networks with few resources. The most well-known of these is the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians (CCAWT) founded by Dr.Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Director of the Institute of Women, Religion and Culture at Trinity Theological College in Ghana, West Africa. The CCAWT seeks to promote women’s studies in religion and culture in theological institutions in Africa, and gender sensitivity in religious bodies. Members of this organization are active at UN meetings on women and racism. Non-religious progressive organizations could benefit from building stronger alliances with progressive religious groups. Progressives, sometimes simplistically characterize religious communities as being conservative, failing to recognize the diversity within traditions and the value of justice work being done within them. The majority of the world’s population perceives the world on religious terms. To communicate to a larger constituency base, progressives need to be able to work alongside religious groups. It is quite clear that the Christian Right has expanded its activism in new ways within the international community. As the Christian Right expands into new arenas, progressive Christian leaders are sorely needed to present an alternative vision to conservative religious communities, particularly on gender and sexuality issues.
The Christian Right pro-family coalition is poised to continue and expand its coalition building with religious conservatives within other faiths and its pro-family work at the United Nations. Christian Right newsletters, websites and e-mail updates indicate that the pro-family coalition feels victorious about its work during the Beijing+5 PrepCom and Special Session. Recent FRC and CWA newsletters feature the work of the UN pro-family coalition, celebrating its accomplishments and teamwork. CWA excitedly refers to the coalition as “a modern-day Gideon’s army.”72 Ruse proclaimed in his weekly fax to his constituency, “Radical Feminists Suffer Unexpected and Stinging Defeat at Beijing+5.”73 The coalition has made concrete plans to build on its perceived successes. The World Family Policy Center and the Howard Center have begun organizing a third World Congress of Families for 2002. Several conservative organizations are waiting in the pipeline for UN NGO status. While the coalition remains largely Christian, it is taking significant steps to build interfaith bridges. The planning committee for the World Congress of Families III, while predominantly Christian, has Jewish and Islamic members.
Coalitions are by nature fragile, and several areas of contention could divide the pro family coalition at the UN. Austin Ruse states that C-Fam has chosen for now not to fight the battle over contraception, recognizing that it is not a winnable issue.74 This issue has divided interfaith anti-abortion movements in the past. Groups that espouse conservative social values do not always agree on economic issues. Gary Bauer, former FRC president, has been willing to alienate multi-national corporations with his stance on religious freedom in countries like China. Also, overcoming age-old bigotry may be difficult. The Howard Center, for example, recently published an article which states: “…two European Jews, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, played a major role in the secularization of culture, launching major assaults on the God of the Bible and leading countless Jews and Gentiles into skepticism and unbelief.” Faithless actions such as these, the report implies, led to the Holocaust, “a clear sign of God’s wrath at broken covenants.”75 The same article goes on to assert that a “second six million” Germans were cruelly murdered at the Allies’ hands after the war. It then draws parallels between abortion and the Holocaust. Such views will undoubtedly make alliances with Jews difficult if not impossible.
CWA poster, Family Voice, July/August 2000.
Although radically conservative NGOs and governments are still a small minority within the UN and thus most likely will not drastically change international agreements on social issues, the presence of this pro-family coalition may stall future UN negotiating processes. The Christian Right coalition’s presence will change NGO gatherings as well, since a right-wing conservative voice will be increasingly influential in a setting that used to be more liberal, and where progressive women have struggled to increase consciousness about women’s issues. Equally important, the Christian Right’s presence at the UN may represent a new phase in Christian Right organizing—one in which the Christian Right may become a more broad-based, even international, Religious Right.