The World Congress of Families, a global network of organizations that oppose LGBT equality and legal access to abortion, will hold its annual summit in Tbilisi, capital of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, beginning on Sunday, May 15. Over the next several days, American Religious Right activists will meet with their counterparts from around the world to share and plan strategies for resisting and rolling back women’s and LGBT rights — often lumped together with opposition to sex education under the banner of fighting “gender ideology.”
This year’s summit is likely to feature a particular focus on siding with Putin’s Russia and the Orthodox Church as defenders of “Christian civilization” against a secular, decadent West. Georgia, which joined the Council of Europe in 1999, is front and center in what many of these activists see as a civilizational battle. Last October the EU and Council of Europe recommended policy changes to strengthen human rights protections in Georgia; the action plan to achieve them was launched this week. Back in 2014, with the encouragement of the EU, Georgia adopted a sweeping nondiscrimination law, which infuriated people like the WCF summit’s chair, businessman and philanthropist Levan Vasadze, who called the law part of “an international agenda” to “destroy the family.”
An anti-Western quote from Vasadze has been featured on the WCF home page this week:
The West is attacking our Christian culture with atheism, new forms of socialism and sexual radicalism — worse than what we saw during the last 25 years when we were part of the Soviet empire. This is why we need you to come to Tbilisi and work with us.
A WCF regional conference in Tbilisi in 2014 released a declaration criticizing Georgia’s adoption of the Law on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination, calling the law “an unnatural and an artificial imposition of pseudo-morality upon Georgian traditional society.” The declaration is a screed against such nondiscrimination laws, saying they “lead to serious discrimination of people respective traditional moral and family values, especially Christians, and to the massive human rights violations.” More from the declaration:
We believe that pseudo-values connected with promotion of “sexual diversity” and favoring different kinds of immoral and perverse sexual behaviors, are harmful for the society and have nothing to do with the real foundational values of humanity and with the genuine and universally recognized human rights. They are contradicting the values and teachings of major great religions of our planet. These pseudo-values are designed to destroy the institution of the family, moral and spiritual foundations of the society and to drive human beings into solitude and enslavement to vulgar materialism and lust. Family statistics in Western Europe as well as unprecedented levels of debt for western population, alarming rise of consumption of anti-depressants, addictive medicaments as well as narcotics, rampant child violence and rising suicide rates are a vivid proof of that. To our despair, Western Europe in particular and western culture in general, seem now to be on the path to self-destruction through family demise and moral degradation.
That theme was helpfully echoed this week by the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which ran a story titled, “Western Invasion: Inside Georgia’s Battle Against the Gay Agenda.” The story quotes Vasadze promoting “selective Westernization” and saying, “the opening must not happen at the expense of Georgia’s faith and family values.” Adds Vasadze:
“If you think indecent, radically sexual behavior is what you want to do — that's your choice. But if I think that this is an embarrassing sin, I want to remain a society which is allowed to say that …The frontline of that war is no longer found on the geographic map of this planet," he warned. "The frontline of this war is in every living room and in every bedroom where your wife and my wife and our children sleep.”
Pat Robertson, the televangelist and CBN founder, responded to the story by saying “the fact that the European Union and the U.S. is trying to impose this lifestyle on a little country like Georgia that wants to stay Orthodox is incredible.”
The CBN story aligns nicely with themes in anti-Western propaganda in Georgia, which is the focus of a report by The Media Development Foundation, a project of the United Nations Association of Georgia with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development. The report finds that “anti-Western rhetoric is often applied in xenophobic and homophobic contexts and it is associated with unjustified fears, which is an accompanying process of modernization.” Another theme portrays the West as “a fighter against Orthodox Christianity.”
Another recent report on Russian influence on Georgian media and NGOs examines groups such as the Young Political Scientists’ Club, an initiative of the Eurasian Institute, noting that the group uses nationalist anti-Europe and anti-gay statements by clergy to promote anti-Western sentiments. The group declared that violence following the 2013 IDAHOT celebration, in which gay-rights marchers were attacked by Orthodox priests and their supporters, was the result of “western provocation.” At the time, Patriarch Ilia, the leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, distanced himself from the violence but said of the IDAHOT event, “It’s something that should not be propagandized.” One of the pro-Russian media outlets examined in the report is Patriot TV, founded in 2015, which “is based on the authentic Georgian traditions, useful for the future generation of our country. A television which serves the purpose of Georgian, ethical ideas and not anti-Christian, sodomite propaganda which, unfortunately, floods our media space.”
At last year’s WCF in Salt Lake City, the Mormon Church had a visible role, with an opening keynote featuring Russell Ballard, a high-ranking elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The WCF summit in Georgia, the first in a predominantly Orthodox country, will include a similar address from Patriarch Ilia II, the country’s popular Orthodox Church leader. Ilia has designated May 17 — which will be celebrated around the world as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia — as “A Day to Strengthen Families and Honor Parents.”
In Utah, the Sutherland Institute served as WCF’s local organizing partner; this year that role is being played by the Georgian Demographic Society XXI, founded and chaired by Vasadze, who appears to play a role in Georgia somewhat similar to the one played in Russia by Konstantin Malofeev, the Putin ally who funds Russian Orthodox Church ventures. The Vasadze bio posted on the summit’s website touts his role in defending “traditional society,” saying he is “the author of an October petition signed by 36 prominent Georgian intellectuals protesting a report by the EU’s Special Advisor on Human Rights, which criticized the nation’s treatment of so-called sexual minorities.”
The speakers’ list for this year’s World Congress of Families is, as usual, a who’s who of global anti-choice and anti-LGBT culture warriors, including many of the same people who spoke at the last WCF summit.
American speakers include, in addition to the WCF’s Doug Clark, Allan Carson, Don Feder and Larry Jacobs:
- Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage and a supporter of anti-gay legislation in Russia and elsewhere, who will be speaking on “the Emerging International Conservative Movement”;
- Everett Piper of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, who gave the harsh closing keynote in Salt Lake City in which he slammed “ideological intolerance” by LGBT-equality advocates and dismissed WCF critics as haters of God;
- Alveda King, the anti-choice and anti-equality niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., who said weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision that it is “impossible” for two people of the same sex to marry;
- Helen Alvaré, a law professor and internationally active conservative Catholic activist who has advised the Church hierarchy and who has been called “birth control’s worst enemy” by the conservative National Catholic Register;
- Janice Shaw Crouse, executive director of the Salt Lake summit who tried to downplay the WCF’s anti-gay record, and Stanford Swim of the Sutherland Institute, who chaired the Salt Lake event;
- Steve Mosher of the Population Research Institute, an anti-choice and anti-contraception group that praised Russia’s ban on pro-gay “propaganda”;
- Senan Boquet and Stephan Phelan from Human Life International;
- and Douglas Napier, executive director of the anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom’s international arm.
Other Americans speaking include Justin Murff of the Christian Broadcasting Network; Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute; Fr. Josiah Trenham, member of the secretariat of the U.S. Assembly of Orthodox Bishops; Gregory Johnson, a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals; and Christopher Carmouche from GrasstopsUSA.
Prominent Europeans include:
- Marion Maréchal Le Pen, granddaughter of far-right French politician and National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen and niece of the party’s current president Marine Le Pen;
- Ignacio Arsuaga of Spain, founder of CitizenGo and HazteOir, groups meant to help European cultural conservatives deploy online organizing techniques in Europe’s current culture wars;
- Luca Volonte, chairman of Italy’s Novae Terrae Foundation and an anti-gay and anti-choice activist, who was honored at last year’s World Congress of Families gathering;
- Gabriele Kuby, a German sociologist engaged in battling “gender ideology” and author of The Global Sexual Revolution: The Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom”;
- Katalin Novak, Hungary’s Minister of State for Family and Youth Affairs;
- and Antoni Szymański, member of the Polish Senate.
Russians scheduled to speak include:
- Alexey Komov, WCF’s man in Russia and a close associate of Konstantin Malofeev, who brought NOM’s Brian Brown to Russia in 2013 and organized the WCF-summit-by-another-name that took place in Moscow in 2014;
- Fr. Dmitri Smirnov, head of the Patriarchal Commission on the Family, who has called campaigns against domestic violence “anti-family propaganda.”
- Natalia Yakunina of the Sanctity of Motherhood Foundation, the wife of former top Putin ally Vladimir Yakunin, who was involved in the Moscow gathering and who called WCF’s Larry Jacobs “our old friend and ally in pro-family movement.”
Also speaking will be Theresa Okafor, WCF’s Nigeria-based African representative, who supports repressive anti-LGBT legislation in Africa and suggested that gay-rights activists are involved in a conspiracy with terrorist group Boko Haram to “silence Christians” and who was honored at last year’s summit.