World Congress of Families

World Congress Of Families Timed To Commemorate Anti-Gay Riot In Georgia

A number of American Religious Right leaders will be headed to the former Soviet republic of Georgia next week for the annual World Congress of Families, which is organized by the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society. As Peter noted earlier this week, the event will coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church has designated the “Day of Family Strength and Respect for Parents.”

It’s not a coincidence that WCF will be in Georgia on that day, May 17, or that Georgian Orthodox leaders picked the anti-homophobia day to commemorate “family strength.” As Tbilisi-based journalist Giorgi Lomsadze noted in EurasiaNet.org yesterday, the renaming of the anti-homophobia day and the timing of WCF coincide with the anniversary a violent attack on LGBT-rights protesters three years ago:

The convention, timed to coincide with the day of a violent 2013 mob attack on an anti-homophobia rally in Tbilisi, will be hosted by a Levan Vasadze, a dagger-sporting homophobic knight dressed in Georgian national attire. Vasadze participated and is alleged to have helped organize the 2013 attack that relegated Georgia’s nascent LGBTQ-rights movement to the periphery of national discourse.

To counter the symbolism of the May 17 anniversary of the mob attack on LGBTQ supporters as a day for celebrating gender and sexual diversity, Georgia’s Orthodox Church pronounced that date as the Day of Family. The Illinois-based World Family Congress subsequently announced its tenth annual conference would also coincide with the anniversary.

The New Yorker’s Natalia Antelava described the violence that erupted after a group of clergymen led a “huge mob” against a small anti-homophobia demonstration in Tbilisi in 2013, ultimately injuring 17 people:

“Fuck your mothers,” a priest shouted.

Another priest came armed with a stool. Their followers carried rocks, sticks, and crucifixes. “Kill them! Don’t let them leave alive,” they screamed.

They smashed heads, windows of shops, and a minibus in which activists tried to escape. Twelve people, including three policemen, were seriously injured.

“Before the van arrived, about ten girls—gay rights activists—were being taunted by a growing, frothing mob. A stone was thrown and split a girl’s head open.… This mob was the creation of the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Georgian government has so far been gutless in standing up to the Church to protect the rights of its citizens. Shame on you, Georgia. Shame on you,” Paul Rimple, a Tbilisi-based journalist, posted on his Facebook page. He later wrote about it for the Moscow Times.

The BBC captured footage of anti-gay protesters attacking a van carrying the anti-homophobia protesters.

Lomsadze notes that WCF’s cheerleading of anti-LGBT sentiment in Georgia, “wittingly or not, might be helping a Russian foreign policy agenda in the region” since the Kremlin has used the issue of LGBT rights in an effort stir up anti-Western sentiment and solidify its influence in the region:

As it descends upon Georgia, the World Congress of Families, wittingly or not, might be helping a Russian foreign policy agenda in the region. Fanning the flames of homophobia has long been Moscow’s soft-power way to urge its former Soviet satellites, including Georgia, to distance themselves from the West. Before Georgia signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 2014, the Russian propaganda machine was put into gear, describing the landmark treaty as essentially Georgia’s gay marriage with Europe. Brussels had to issue public assurances that the treaty, meant for political and economic harmonization, does not contain any fine print requiring Georgia to allow same-sex marriages.

In reality, same-sex marriage is a non-issue in Georgia, where LGBTQ people cannot gather safely in public much less demand marriage rights. Nevertheless, some of the country’s own politicians run on an anti-gay marriage platform, pandering to widespread conservative attitudes and the position of the much-revered Georgian Church. A pending parliamentary vote seeks to amend the Georgian constitution to state that lawful marriage is limited to opposite sex partners.

“Would you want such marriage in your family, men in bridal veils, hairy, bearded men?” asked Tamaz Mechiauri, of the Georgian Dream Party, when asked to explain the reasoning for the bill.

Religious Right Leaders Head To Republic Of Georgia For 'Pro-Family' Attacks On West

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:

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:

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.

 

Updated: George W. Bush To Receive Award From Anti-LGBT World Congress Of Families

The World Congress of Families, a loose alliance of organizations that seeks to stop advances in LGBT equality and reproductive rights throughout the world, announced today that former President George W. Bush will recieve an award at its annual event in Tbisili, Georgia, later this month.

Update: A spokesperson for Bush tells Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder that while the former president is “flattered,” he had previously declined an invitation to participate in the event and was “not aware of the award in question.”

Update II: Although he will not be attending the conference, Bush has penned a welcome greeting for the event:

Around the world, families provide that beacon of freedom and the source of help, hope, and stability for individuals and nations. As one of the pillars of civilization and the bulwark of liberty, families must remain strong and we must defend them. To ensure that future generations are prepared to face new opportunities and challenges, as President, I took steps to promote strong families, preserve the sanctity of marriage and protect the well-being of children. Laura and I have always believed in encouraging adoption and supporting the crisis pregnancy center programs to help us continue to build a culture of life.

I commend your efforts to recognize the importance of families in building nations. Your work improves many lives and makes the world better.

WCF, which is run out of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, an Illinois-based think tank, has been holding conferences since 1997. But it attracted greater attention two years ago when it planned to hold its annual congress at the Kremlin in Moscow, hosted by prominent allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and advocates of the country’s recent crackdown on its LGBT citizens . WCF’s leadership had supported Russia’s spate of anti-LGBT laws, including signing a letter in support of a law banning gay “propaganda” to minors. One WCF official, Larry Jacobs, said that the law was a "great idea” and that the “Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world.”

WCF eventually withdrew its official support from that conference after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, although the event went ahead as planned , with the participation of officials from WCF and other U.S.-based Religious Right groups. Last year’s conference was held in Salt Lake City, where organizers attempted to deny the organization’s work promoting homophobia globally, even as Rafael Cruz, the father of then-presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, used the event to warn that the LGBT community will “try to legalize pedophilia.”

Bush is set to accept the award at an event whose speakers include Putin allies, anti-LGBT extremists and a 9/11 conspiracy theorist.

Along with Bush, this year’s WCF will feature prominent U.S. anti-gay activists including the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown, who coordinated with WCF to travel to Russia to support the country’s anti-gay policies in 2013. Also scheduled to speak is Natalia Yakunina, the wife of former Putin ally Vladimir Yakunin, who was instrumental in organizing and funding the Moscow event, and Vladimir Mischenko, a top official at a foundation run by Yakunin.

The Tbisili event will also feature several speakers from WCF’s global network, including the Howard Center and WCF’s founder Allan Carlson, who helped define the idea that the organization promotes of a “ natural family” based on traditional gender roles. Also speaking will be WCF spokesman Don Feder, who warned at a previous WCF event that the human race is financing “ its own extinction” through birth control and who sidelines as an extremist anti-immigrant columnist.

WCF’s Russian representative, Alexey Komov, will also be speaking. Komov, an enthusiastic supporter of Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, was a main organizer of the WCF Moscow event, and has reportedly helped to direct funding to a pro-Putin propaganda effort in the U.S. At a memorable press conference in Washington leading up to the Moscow conference, Komov lost his cool and started spouting conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks and the John F. Kennedy assassination.

Also on the docket is WCF’s regional director in Africa, Theresa Okafor, who at a previous WCF gathering said that “you wonder if there’s a conspiracy” between Western governments that support LGBT rights and the terrorist group Boko Haram to “silence Christians.” Okafor, who has promoted repressive anti-LGBT laws in a number of African countries, was honored with WCF’s “Woman of the Year” award at last year’s conference. Joining her will be WCF’s French representative, Fabrice Sorlin, a far-right politician who once compared Russia’s defense of “traditional values” to its repelling of “the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan.”

Bush’s receipt of an award from the World Congress of Families makes some sense: The social conservative movement in the U.S. has been appalled by the Obama administration’s stated commitment to promoting protections for LGBT people around the world and is nostalgic for the Bush administration’s support for the Mexico City Policy, which blocked overseas aid to family planning groups that provide abortions.

But does the former president really want to be elevating the profile of a group that promotes repressive anti-LGBT policies like the Russian propaganda law?

Sen. Lankford SOTU Guest Everett Piper Denounces Opponents As Haters Of God

Marriage-refusing county clerk Kim Davis and her lawyer Mat Staver aren’t the only Religious Right figures who will be attending tonight’s State of the Union address. Everett Piper, the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, will be attending as a guest of Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford, according to the Alliance Defense Fund, which represents the university’s legal challenge to the Obama administration’s accommodation for religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations that object to the contraception coverage mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

Piper has appeared on Glenn Beck’s show and David Barton’s radio show. And at a conference organized by anti-gay activist James Garlow last summer, Piper suggested that secularists and radical Islamists are working together, aided by President Barack Obama.

“For 67 years, we’ve disparaged dead, white, European males in our college classrooms,” he said. “Are we surprised that we now have a president whose first action was to remove the bust of Winston Churchill from the White House and send it back to the British ambassador’s home? For 67 years, we’ve sent our kids off to sit under faculty who have panned a Judeo-Christian ethic and praised its antithesis. Are we surprised that we now have a White House that is seemingly more aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and the PLO than it is Benjamin Netanyahu and Franklin Graham?”

Piper made similar remarks in October as the closing speaker for the World Congress of Families, a gathering of Religious Right activists from around the globe. In that speech, Piper also slammed gay rights activists and other liberals for “ideological fascism” and decried a “war against Christians” within the academy and the broader culture. He closed with an ideological prayer asking God to forgive America for a long list of sins, including “worshiping government more than God.” He asked, “Please rescue us from the ugly hell of our own making and give us liberty within the bounds of your law and free us from the bondage of our licentiousness.”

A week after the World Congress of Families wrapped up, Piper used his blog to slam WCF’s critics as haters of God.

The bold-faced duplicity of those condemning those who love the family is indeed hateful. Intolerance in the name of tolerance. Bullying while decrying bullying. Exclusion in the name of inclusion. Dumbing down the human being while arguing for human rights. Pretending to be pro-woman while using women as pawns and products. Hate under the banner of anti-hate… These ideas do not come from love, but rather from disdain: Disdain for children, disdain for family, and disdain for truth. Such ideas come from a hateful people who hate anyone who dares stand in their way of hating God.

 

Religious Right's Russian 'Pro-Family' Ally May Be Helping Fund Pro-Putin Propaganda

A leading Russian operative with the U.S-based World Congress of Families may be helping fund an English-language website dedicated to providing positive coverage of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a report today by The Interpreter, a website run by a think tank critical of Putin.

The Interpreter’s Anton Shekhovtsov reports on a series of leaked emails between the editor of Russian Insider, a new pro-Putin publication, and Alexey Komov, the World Congress of Families’ Russian representative, in which the editor seeks funding from Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev for his website.

Shekhovtsov notes that both Malofeev and Komov have been involved in coordinating activities among European far-right groups, along with their “pro-family” activism:

The leaks reveal that Bausman, rather than relying on crowdfunding for Russia Insider, asks for money from Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev via his associate Alexey Komov.

There were several interesting articles devoted to Malofeev in the international and Russian media. In the context of this blog, Malofeev is known for providing financial assistance to the pro-Russian extremists in Eastern Ukraine (for this very reason Malofeev was sanctioned by the EU, Norway and Switzerland), organising homophobic conferences in Russia, assisting French far right politicians in getting Russian money, and building European far right alliances.

Komov is a no less interesting figure. He is an employee of several organisations founded and funded by Malofeev, as well as a representative of the homophobic World Congress of Families in Russia. He is also an honorary president of the Lombardy-Russia Cultural Association, Russia’s front organisation in Italy established by the far right Lega Nord party. Komov even gave speech at the party’s congress at the end of 2013 that elected Matteo Salvini as its leader.

Malofeev is the one who brought together the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown and a number of French far-right activists in 2013 at a “traditional values” roundtable in Moscow that just happened to coincide with the passage of a spate of anti-LGBT laws in Russia. Komov was the leading organizer of the planned World Congress of Families in Moscow last year (which ended up dropping the World Congress of Families name), and, as Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder reported, was found to be feeding information about the event to Malofeev.

As we have noted, the rush to embrace “traditional values” has been an important part of Putin’s propaganda efforts in Russia and the region.

Marco Rubio Hires Culture Warrior Eric Teetsel as Faith Outreach Director

Largely unnoticed in the media coverage of the Republican presidential primary this week was Marco Rubio’s hiring of a major millennial anti-gay, anti-choice culture warrior. Eric Teetsel, who has been executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, has been hired to be Rubio’s faith outreach director. One who took notice was right-wing activist and pundit Erick Erickson, who gushed over the “huge and impressive hire.”

Where other candidates are hiring folks from the dying “Moral Majority” coalitions of the past, Eric Teetsel is plugged into those power centers, but has transcended them. He’s of a more youthful generation of Christian evangelicals who respects past contributions, but is also focused on the future and not nursing past grievances.

Teetsel is, indeed, well plugged in if not as well known to the public as his more visible counterpart at the Heritage Foundation, Ryan Anderson. Like Anderson, Teetsel is part of the anti-equality crowd that orbits Robert George, a co-author of the Manhattan Declaration and a founder of the National Organization for Marriage. And like George and Anderson, Teetsel has written a book about (one man, one woman) marriage. The acknowledgments section of his book reads like a Who’s Who of the Religious Right, including George, Anderson, Brian Brown, Tony Perkins, Mark Tooley and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.

And, as Igor Babic noted at the Huffington Post this week, Teetsel has also been a vocal part of the Religious Right chorus denouncing the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, complaining that the court “has bestowed its imprimatur to homosexuality as both an identity and a way of life.” Teetsel wrote:

"A significant cultural impediment has been removed, and so sin will spread. This is regrettable because sin, of course, leads to suffering. As our LGBT neighbors continue to experience the ravages of their sin, will anyone be there to explain to them its cause?"

The Manhattan Declaration brings right-wing Catholics together with their evangelical counterparts to advance their shared strategic goal of portraying opposition to LGBT equality, abortion and contraception in religious liberty terms. Signers and promoters of the Manhattan Declaration compare themselves to martyrs and pledge civil disobedience:

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

Teetsel has appeared at numerous Religious Right political gatherings and shows up in Rick Santorum’s “documentary” about the “erosion” of religious liberty in America. More notably, he spoke at the recent World Congress of Families summit in Salt Lake City, which honored an activist who defends African laws that punish gays with long jail terms. In fact, Teetsel is listed in the WCF program as a member of the “SWAT Team” charged with “Strategic Planning for the Future” along with that activist, Theresa Okafor, and other anti-gay and anti-choice leaders from around the world.

Teetsel’s hiring is almost certainly a better reflection of Rubio’s commitment to anti-gay culture warriors than his much-ballyhooed endorsement by billionaire Paul Singer, who has backed gay causes but seems more interested in what Rubio can do for the profitability of his vulture capitalism.

Sandy Rios: Putin Is Promoting 'God's Way' While Obama Leads US On 'Horrifying' Path

In comments last week, the American Family Association’s Sandy Rios joined the many Religious Right figures who have heaped praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin as he has attempted to paint himself as a hero of the Russian Orthodox Church, including backing a series of harsh anti-LGBT laws.

On Thursday, Rios broadcast an interview that she had conducted at the recent World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City with Vladimir Mischenko who works at a prominent Russian “pro-family” group.

Rios told Mischenko how impressed she was by Putin’s embrace of “God’s way” and the “natural family,” even as President Obama is leading America “on a trajectory that many of us find extremely horrifying.”

“It’s interesting to me that your president, Vladimir Putin, of course was a high-ranking member of the KGB, thoroughly absorbed in the communist system,” Rios said. “And he, now, has emerged as one of the most strong proponents of this whole family movement, whether it’s that marriage is between one man and one woman, the sanctity of human life.”

“Well, whatever his motivation,” she later added, “I think on this stuff he’s got it right and he has been a good leader. These are strange times, that the American president would be leading America, I’ll just say to you, on a trajectory that many of us find extremely horrifying and that Vladimir Putin after Russia was officially, governmentally our enemy for so many years, and certainly on these issues, should now be leading his people to more of God’s way, the natural family. It really is one of the great ironies that I’ve lived to see in my lifetime.”

World Congress of Families Closer Everett Piper: WCF Critics Hate God

The closing keynote address at the recent World Congress of Families conference in Salt Lake City was given by Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University. As we noted in our overview of WCF, Piper did not abide by the standard suggested by the conference’s opening keynoter, Mormon Elder Russell Ballard, who said, “We demonstrate our discipleship when we refuse strident tones, when we refuse derisive labels, and when we enter the public square seeking fair outcomes through understanding and mutual respect.”

Piper, by contrast, enthusiastically embraced strident tones and derisive labels in his closing keynote. Piper may have been trying to interest conservative Christian parents in sending their kids to his school, which commits itself to honoring “the Primacy of Jesus Christ, the Priority of Scripture, the Pursuit of Truth, and the Practice of Wisdom.”

Piper spent much of his time denouncing a culture and approach to education that promote bad ideas and sexual promiscuity, and values clarification rather than moral absolutes. Early in his speech he set the tone:

Imagine that we live in a time and a place where the wise and learned in our courts, and in our classrooms, and, unfortunately, even in our churches, actually work to remove a man’s soul and expect him to stay out of hell.

Piper had harsh words for the educational establishment, which he said “is known not for pursuing truth, but rather for celebrating tolerance, and in the name of tolerance they then tell us that our intolerance is intolerable.” Citing a litany of examples of ideological intolerance against conservatives on campus, he declared it undeniable that there is a “war against Christians” in the academy and the broader culture.

Piper slammed gay rights advocates and other liberals for “ideological fascism,” declaring, “The result of this nonsense is that the rainbow banner of tolerance has become the dark flag of tyranny almost overnight.” And he went after President Obama harshly:

Where is our president in the midst of this? Where is the leader of the free world? Christians are losing their jobs, losing their businesses, losing their tenure, losing their education, and losing their freedom and he says nothing. He lectures us about the crusades rather than defend us in the courts. Christians are being enslaved and burned alive and beheaded across the Middle East and he is silent. Christians are being threatened and intimidated and sued and sequestered in the middle of America and mum’s the word.

For decades, Piper said, “we’ve sent our kids off to sit under the tutelage of faculty who have panned the Judeo-Christian ethic and praised its antithesis.”

“Why are we surprised now,” he asked, “that we have a White House that’s seemingly more aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood than Franklin Graham?”  The Muslim Brotherhood zinger was recycled from Piper’s appearance at the “Future Conference” organized by anti-gay activist Jim Garlow in June.

More from Piper’s WCF rant:

Our judges can’t find the word ‘marriage’ in the dictionary. Our State Department thinks the way to stop terrorists is to give them jobs. Our president says he appreciates the legitimate grievances of the terrorists who are crucifying children. Why are we surprised to see tens of millions of women buying the lie of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ when colleges have been promoting Sex Weeks on their campuses across the land, teaching these same women the virtue of bondage and dominance for the past several decades.

Piper concluded with a prayer, in which he asked God to forgive America for a long list of the kind of things he spent his speech blaming the liberal establishment for, among them “the foolishness of expecting cultural sanity while removing a culture’s soul” and “worshiping government more than God.”

“Please,” he asked, “rescue us from the ugly hell of our own making and give us liberty within the bounds of your law and free us from the bondage of our licentiousness.”

Piper repeated some of his gripes about education on Glenn Beck’s show, which was recorded the day before his WCF speech and broadcast a few days later. One of Piper’s talking points is that “opinions are dangerous; truth sets us free.” Among the dangerous people who had opinions, he notes, were Pol Pot, Mao, Robespierre, Chavez, Hitler and Mussolini. Piper has also appeared on David Barton’s radio show.

The week after the World Congress of Families wrapped up, Piper took to his blog to decry WCF’s critics, especially those who labeled the WCF a hate group.

The bold-faced duplicity of those condemning those who love the family is indeed hateful. Intolerance in the name of tolerance. Bullying while decrying bullying. Exclusion in the name of inclusion. Dumbing down the human being while arguing for human rights. Pretending to be pro-woman while using women as pawns and products. Hate under the banner of anti-hate… These ideas do not come from love, but rather from disdain: Disdain for children, disdain for family, and disdain for truth. Such ideas come from a hateful people who hate anyone who dares stand in their way of hating God.

If you like what Everett Piper has to offer, you’ll probably get plenty of opportunities to hear more of it. In the program book for the WCF gathering, he is listed as chair of the “SWAT Team” in charge of “Strategic Planning for the Future.”

 

What the World Congress of Families Tells Us About the Global ‘Pro-Family’ Movement

The World Congress of Families — an organization that hosts an annual global gathering of “pro-family” advocates —  brought together more than 3,300 people in Salt Lake City last week. The summit included authors and counselors focused on strengthening marriages as well as academics talking about the social and economic consequences of later marriages, declining birthrates and widespread divorce. It also included and anti-reproductive-choice activists from around the globe, as well as hundreds of “emerging leaders” expected to lead the movement into the future.

We’ve reported on individual speakers and will continue to do so as we dig through a week’s worth of notes and recordings — and a shopping bag full of books and other swag. But what’s the big picture? What does the WCF tell us about the state of the global Religious Right?

There were differences in priorities and approaches among the participants, but among the themes that emerged:

They See Themselves at War with the Enemies of God

Warfare imagery was common at WCF and the preceding gay-focused Stand4Truth event organized by people who needed just a little more anti-gay intensity than the WCF schedule promised. The “natural family” and “complementary” male-female gender roles were ordained by God, and therefore proponents of feminist or gender ideologies or notions of LGBT equality are not only political opponents but spiritual ones, out to destroy both the natural family and religious freedom.

Francisco Tatad, a former senate majority leader in the Philippines, said the threat to the family and human society is not simply those who deny God, but those who actually hate God:

The global attack on human dignity, on the integrity of the human person, and the family, is ultimately an attack on God. The war of religions is over, but the war on religion has hardly begun. And the target is no longer any individual religion in particular, but God himself. He has become the arch-enemy.

American Hispanic evangelical leader Samuel Rodriguez:

So I can share with you the fact that there is a spiritual battle, a spiritual battle, to annihilate the idea, the construct, God’s ordained institution of la familia. It is a battle. It even, before it’s a political battle or a legislative battle, it is, above all things, a spiritual battle.

And, engaging biblical allusions, it’s the spirit of Pharaoh, once again attempting to force and prompt families to make bricks without straw and to maintain families in the Egypt of bondage and fear. It is the spirit of Goliath, of intimidation. It is the spirit of Jezebel, an attempt to destroy the family via the conduit of sexual perversion and manipulation. It is the spirit of Herod, killing families through abortion, killing families through sex trafficking and violence against our children, disconnecting the child from mom and dad. These spirits are alive and well today, not only in America but across the world.

Rafael Cruz, father of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, declared, “What we see in America right now is an outright attack on Christianity.” Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and former head of the Southern Baptist Convention, decreed that “a few rogue lawyers claiming to be the Supreme Court of the United States of America has no right to act in such a way as to restrict our freedom of religion.” Patterson told the story of a missionary doctor killed by Chinese communists in the 1950s, and declared about religious freedom, “Today the blood of thousands of martyrs calls out to all of us, ‘Do not squander the greatest and most costly gift bequeathed to you by the founders of this nation.’”

They’re Intensely Committed to Enforcing Traditional Gender Roles

The catch-all term used by the global Religious Right for just about everything it doesn’t like is “gender ideology” — something that can encompass opposition to sex education, contraception, abortion, cohabitation, marriage equality and legal recognition for LGBT people.

At WCF, speaker after speaker talked about the “complementarity” between men and women as something that was divinely ordained — grounded biblically in the Genesis creation story in which God made humankind male and female. God’s creation of two genders was cited as a sacred rationale for opposing gay couples being allowed to marry or be parents — and for denying the very existence of transgender people, who were portrayed as sick and pathetic. One of the most reliable ways to try to get a laugh at WCF was to make a joke about Caitlyn Jenner. Rafael Cruz even pulled out the old chestnut that God had created “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

Glenn Stanton, director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, said new findings on gender differences support his basic premise: “that men and women are different, and that men and women need each other in those differences.” As a scientist, he said, he believes there is evidence across cultures of a universal male and female nature. And as a Christian, he said, the issue is a theological one, grounded in the creation story declares humans male and female, who together “uniquely, mysteriously image the nature of God in the world.” He displayed a William Blake painting, “Satan Gazing Upon the Caresses of Adam and Eve” and said:

Satan came to attack humanity, not just by approaching Eve or Adam but what William Blake is telling us here is to attack a couple. He sees that man, he sees that woman, he sees them loving one another, and he says, ‘I know who loved one another, the Trinity, God, and I hate them, so I must break this up.’ The original attack was not on two human beings, it was on a man and a woman. And that attack continues today, because Satan knows what male and female represent.

Theresa Okafor, a WCF representative from Nigeria who was honored at the conference, said the complementarity of the sexes “comes from God.” She complained that Western feminist ideas threaten the family by demonizing patriarchy, blurring lines of gender and making women feel that they are autonomous from men. (In contrast, she cited as one positive example of strong cultural support for the family in Africa the fact that a woman who went to the police to report being beaten by her husband would be told to go home and settle with him.)

Every WCF participant received a copy of the Mormon Church’s 1995 Proclamation of the Family, which portrays men’s roles as providers and women’s as nurturers to be essential to God’s plan. It declares, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

Miriam Grossman is a psychiatrist whose blog identifies her as “One Hundred Percent MD. Zero Percent PC.” She insisted, “A man cannot be transformed into a woman, or a woman into a man. It is simply impossible” and decried that popular culture’s focus on transgender issues was perpetuating a “lie” and a “delusion.”

They Don’t Want To Be Called Anti-Gay While Being Anti-Gay

Well, at least some of them, anyway. Before the conference started, WCF responded to its critics by claiming that being pro-family was not the same as being anti-gay, and declared that it would never support policies that harm individual people. But in fact the program was full of people who have a record of demonizing LGBT people, including those who have actively supported laws that not only criminalize gay sexual activity but even make it a crime for gays to meet with each other or advocate for their rights.

Portraying LGBT people as a threat to children has a decades-long pedigree, including the activism of Anita Bryant, California’s Prop 8 and succeeding state constitutional amendment campaigns, and this week’s vote in Houston, where an anti-discrimination ordinance was rejected after an ugly, dishonest campaign portraying it as an open door to child molesters. Gwen Landolt, a Canadian who has been active in WCF, called it intolerable that innocent children are being “used as tools of social engineering” by being fostered or adopted by gay couples. And she said that children’s character is being deformed because schools are teaching that homosexual relationships are the equal of heterosexual ones.

As BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder pointed out, there’s division within the movement about the usefulness of strident rhetoric that, for example, equates gays with pedophilia. That division was clear at WCF. The opening keynote address was given by Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Ballard explained that Mormon theology of the family is integral to the church’s defense of “traditional marriage,” but he also touted the church’s willingness to back the Utah compromise, an agreement reached earlier this year in which the church supported legal protections against housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in return for the inclusion of broad religious exemptions. Said Ballard,

We demonstrate our best humanity when we show love and kindness to all of God’s children. We demonstrate our discipleship when we refuse strident tones, when we refuse derisive labels, and when we enter the public square seeking fair outcomes through understanding and mutual respect.

Ballard’s standard was violated frequently at WCF, including during its closing keynote from Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma University, whose address was an angry rant against liberal “ideological fascism.” Piper angrily asserted that “the rainbow banner of tolerance has become the dark flag of tyranny almost overnight.” Some conference participants objected to the Utah compromise; Austin Ruse of C-Fam has called it “lunacy” for the Mormon Church to engage in a nonaggression pact with the LGBT movement.

Another voice heard on the opening day of the conference was that of Gov. Gary Herbert, who welcomed participants to Utah, declaring “We are a great state with wonderful people and wonderful families of different varieties in this state.” That was a nod toward the kind of inclusive definition of family that is being ferociously fought by WCF partner groups at the United Nations and other international bodies.  Activists like C-Fam’s Ruse and Family Watch International’s Sharon Slater bragged at WCF about their work to eliminate references to “various forms of the family” from international human rights documents.

They’re Not Going Anywhere: They’re Organized and Organizing and God is on their Side

There was some difference of opinion among WCF speakers, based on where they are from and whether they are more focused on abortion or LGBT issues, about the extent to which they are currently losing or winning the global culture war. But there was virtual unanimity that with God on their side and a commitment to collaborative organizing, they will ultimately be victorious in defeating the LGBT movement, resisting the advance of “gender ideology,” and resurrecting as a cultural norm, protected and promoted in law, the “natural family” — a mom and a dad and a whole lot of children.

Allan Carlson, retiring after years at the head of WCF’s sponsoring organization, the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, talked about his forthcoming book, which portrays the weakening and strengthening of family systems in America since 1630 as following 50 year swings.  According to Carlson, we could be “on the cusp of a great wave of new family morality,” poised for a generational upswing— a return to early marriage, appreciation for the complementarity between men and women, and higher fertility. Carlson said the sexual revolution “regime” is “crumbling even at the point where it seems to be winning.”

Warren Cole Smith, a vice president of the Colson Center and co-author of “Restoring All Things,” recounted the story of a friend who received a call from someone nearly in despair after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, saying “it’s over.” Smith recalled his response:

What is over? What exactly is over? Has God left his throne? He has not. Is He not still sovereign? He is. When the Obergefell decision came down from the Supreme Court, did God say, ‘Wow, I sure didn’t see that coming.’? Friends, He did not say that….

The story of the universe God is still writing, the arc of history is still unfolding. Unlike what our friend said, it is not over. And I’ve read the last chapter of the book, and guess what? God wins.

That’s not to say that between now and then we won’t have lots of battles to fight and lots of problems so solve. But I want to be clear, I think we should be happy warriors in this process, knowing that God is indeed building the house. God is indeed on our side. And we have the great joy of participating in what God is doing in the world, if only we will.

The World Congress of Families, with its dozens of partner organizations and more than 3,300 participants from 65 countries, is a dramatic demonstration of the institutional cultural, legal, and political infrastructure that has been built by conservative religious organizations not only in the U.S. but around the globe, with financial and strategic support flowing in all directions. 

Seasoned activists and the hundreds of “emerging leaders” had the opportunity to get training in starting a new organization and raising money online from Ignacio Arsuaga, whose HazteOir and CitizenGo platforms have put social-media organizing techniques developed in the U.S. into the hands of conservatives in Europe and elsewhere with campaigns in an expanding number of languages. Conference attendees could take a workshop on messaging from Frank Schubert, the mastermind of fearmongering strategies used by campaigns against marriage equality in the U.S. They could study networking and coalition building with Alexey Komov, the Russian activist who says that Russia and Eastern Europe, having been helped by Western countries to throw off communism, can now return the favor by helping the West defeat the new totalitarianism of the sexual revolution.

 

Religious Right Activist At World Congress Of Families: Anti-Gay, Anti-Choice Africans Will 'Save the World'

In our advance reporting on last week’s World Congress of Families conference — the first time this annual global gathering of social conservative activists was held in the U.S. — we contrasted the organizers’ public disavowal of homophobia with their well-documented anti-gay record, such as their decision to honor Theresa Okafor of Nigeria with the “Woman of the Year Award.”

Throughout last week’s conference, Okafor, who serves as WCF’s regional director in Africa, defended harsh anti-gay laws in her own country and others, including Uganda’s notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act. And she drew cheers for noting that in most African countries, doctors and nurses would go to jail for performing an abortion. “We in Africa see the family, as well as marriage, as something divine, and ordained towards life and love, and so we’re very protective over anything that seeks to undermine the family, religion, and culture,” she said. Okafor said repeatedly that family was so important to Africa that it justified “drastic measures” against threats to it from the “Trojan Horse” of the sexual revolution.

At a session devoted to Africa, Okafor was joined by Nigerian Bishop Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, who is a spokesman for Africa’s Catholic bishops, and Ann Mbugua, director of the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum (KCPF).

Okafor slammed efforts by the Obama administration and other western countries to promote LGBT rights internationally.

“My interest in all of this started when I got fed up with this phenomenon known as paternalism. And paternalism is that phenomenon whereby people in authority feel that they should limit the freedom and responsibility of people they consider to be subordinates in the interest of the subordinates…

“…some people in the West felt that Africa needed to legalize abortion, Africa needed to suppress its population, Africa needed to yield to sexual orientation and gender identity and what-have-you, and the interests of Africans weren’t being served by these things.”

Bishop Badejo has been a strident critic of the Obama administration’s promotion of LGBT human rights. This summer he panned the appointment of Randy Berry as the State Department’s special envoy on LGBT issues, saying it “just shows how little the current U.S. administration respects the democratic values it seems to preach, especially when they preach them abroad.” 

At the World Congress of Families, Badejo made a surprisingly direct call for American Christians to reject the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton. In response to a question about what people in the West can do to support social conservatives in Africa, Badejo said, “choose the right kind of government.” He recalled an interview in which he had said “there are only three types of people that I know — those who believe in God, those who don’t believe in God, and those who think they are gods.” He said he thinks Hillary Clinton is one of the latter. “I called on the people of the United States to pay good attention to the kind of people they are trying to elect to be their president and the kind of values they will be pushing in the whole world.”  Okafor seconded that idea, saying, “America is more powerful than you actually can imagine. This is why we are following American politics.” She told Americans that who they elect “changes everything.”

Of course, for all her talk about paternalism, Okafor and her allies have no problem limiting the freedom and responsibility of women and LGBT people. Okafor criticized the “anti-family” influence of western media as “almost like an infiltration.” And she bragged about getting the Nigerian government to ban the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” from being shown in the country.

Speaking of freedom, Mbugua spoke about resisting the “gay agenda,” which sat atop her list of threats to the family. Mbugua said that thanks to a strong anti-gay caucus in Kenya’s parliament, she’s not worried about legislation advancing LGBT rights. But she is concerned that the country’s 2010 constitution grants the constitutional court the power to declare new rights. In doing so, the court is to be guided by the values that underline an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom. She fears the court might use those values as a rationale for recognizing LGBT rights, especially since the constitution, while not mentioning sexual orientation, forbids discrimination on all grounds.

Mbugua’s group is not only supporting the sodomy law in a legal challenge, it is also defending the government’s refusal to allow a gay organization to even register as a lobbying group. A judge ruled earlier this year that it is not proper to limit minorities’ rights to free association based on public opinion or religious dogma, but the judge allowed KCPF to file an appeal. The Christian professionals’ group complained about the ruling, saying “this is one case that called for limitation to the exercise of certain freedoms.” A lawyer for the group said the ruling showed contempt for the constitution and people of Kenya and was a back-door way to legalize homosexuality.

American religious right leaders have, of course, expressed support for other laws that restrict LGBT advocacy, including Nigeria’s 2014 law, which includes a 10-year sentence for anyone who supports the sustenance of “gay societies,” and Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law

The WCF was a love-fest between African activists and their American allies. Okafor said she had invited Sharon Slater of Family Watch International to Nigeria four times and taken her to meet some of the country’s senators. Mbugua said her group’s member had their eyes opened by a visit from Slater and now they are strongly opposing comprehensive sex education.

Austin Ruse, who like Slater works to keep reproductive choice and LGBT rights out of international agreements through his leadership at C-Fam, gushed about Okafor and her colleagues. “We like to say that with regard to family, Africa is the First World, and we are the Third World,” he said. Recounting the ways African countries had withstood pro-choice and pro-LGBT pressure at the United Nations, and the way African bishops presented a conservative front at the recent Catholic bishops’ synod on the family, Ruse said, “I think the Africans are going to save the world.”

 

God Requires Gov’t To Resist Gay Marriage & Abortion, Mark Tooley Tells World Congress of Families

Among the speakers at the World Congress of Families on Thursday was Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), who declared that too many Christians are being influenced by secular ideology and are clueless that God himself has ordered government to fight same-sex marriage and access to abortion.

Tooley’s group supports conservatives within mainline Protestant churches (he is a United Methodist) by attacking liberal elements within those denominations that promote progressive theology and public policy. For example, IRD has criticized the U.S. State Department for promoting the human rights of LGBT people and spoken out against evangelicals backing immigration reform.

At the World Congress of Families, Tooley decried the embrace of LGBT equality and reproductive choice among “once great” mainline denominations, and warned that the “errors” of mainline Protestantism have spread to evangelical and Catholic communities.

The problems that had originated in America’s mainline Protestant world unfortunately have spread and metastasized throughout American religion, and even once great and strongly orthodox religious institutions in America are now affected by these issues and are compromised on core topics related to marriage and family and the sanctity of all human life.

He blamed the shift on the institutions’ “elites and bureaucracies,” which he said no longer believe in ancient Christian teachings but have “actively joined secularism to advocate deconstruction of marriage and family.” Those ideas have spread to other Christian institutions, he complained, including the “evangelical left” and Christian colleges, whose leaders don’t want to engage on these issues because they believe it would interfere with evangelization.

Tooley complained that there weren’t enough Christian leaders defending Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for six days after she refused to abide by a federal court order to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. Tooley predicted that more people will be intimidated into “virtual silence” as the government punishes other marriage resisters, but he hoped the opposite might also be true, and that the accumulating impact of those cases might inspire others to take a more public stand.

Tooley said that organized Christian political social justice advocacy aimed at young people has focused more on admirable but less controversial issues like fighting sex trafficking or carrying out humanitarian work. He complained that too many young Christians see marriage as passé as a public policy issue and religious liberty work as self-serving— and even think that work on abortion is too focused on therapeutic ministry rather than political advocacy to put abortion bans into law.

Tooley connected this to Christians’ lack of understanding that God himself has given the government a divine mandate to oppose marriage equality and abortion.

Indeed, all of the punitive aspects of the civil state, which are central to God’s vocation for government, have become unfashionable or at least uninteresting to much of Christian political witness in America today — except for possibly punishing perpetrators of discrimination against same-sex couples.

Yet historic Christian teaching says the state has a divinely ordained, ongoing permanent duty to uphold marriage, family, and to protect all human life, irrespective of fashion and fad.

There is a pervasive lack of awareness in current Christian discourse, not limited to the very young, about historic Christian understandings about the core responsibilities of government. Instead of providing for public order — jailing criminals and deterring or defeating external aggressors — government is now portrayed in Christian political witness as the all-powerful and maternal provider, who feeds, clothes, heals, educates and reaffirms, callings that Christianity typically had assigned to parents, families, churches, private philanthropy, civil society and therapists.

Even traditional Christians, he complained, often appear clueless about religious responses to these trends, resorting to libertarian arguments against big government “without describing the state’s core mandate assigned by no less than God himself. Addressing this collapse in Christian understanding about God’s purpose for the state is a wonderful, and important, but almost overwhelming challenge for groups like mine, but also all of us in this room and beyond.”

Tooley closed with a prayer for victory in the culture war:

We can hope and pray, in the fullness of Providence, that the Almighty will look back on these days that we’re living through and say to us who have tried to follow him, this was one of our finest hours, in a great social and cultural storm when his truths were most under assault. May he guide us to perseverance and victories ahead for the common good of all people.

WCF Founder: Obama 'Hostile To Russia' Because It's A 'Pro-Family Voice'

Allan Carlson, the founder of the World Congress of Families, spoke yesterday with the American Family Radio’s Sandy Rios, who was broadcasting live from the event, which is being held in Salt Lake City this year.

Carlson, who retired earlier this year from WCF’s parent organization, the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, was feeling reflective about his decades-long effort to fight the “sexual left” throughout the world.

“Family questions, family issues today, including same-sex marriage, abortion, the retreat from marriage more broadly, those have become international issues,” he told Rios. “It’s a situation, a set of problems found around the globe. And even in third-world countries, they’re facing an aggressive effort by the European Union and now the United States government to abandon their attachment to traditional marriage, to large families, and to embrace [what] we’ll call the Western sexual revolution.”

Rios recalled attending the United Nations Conference On Women in Beijing in 1996 and being shocked to find a “tent on lesbian love-making” and people who were saying that there are “five genders,” and being even more shocked that these things are now in “mainstream thought.”

“Well, you could see it coming,” Carlson said. “It plays on human weaknesses. It tells people that’ve made bad choices that they made good choices. It tells people that they may have hurt their children with bad choices but, no, it’s okay, you’re free, you’re open. So I always knew that there was some very diabolical message that preyed on the human heart here. So I’m not surprised it’s grown. What is an encouraging thing is that opposition has now risen up to it, to this false message of human liberation. And that’s what this event is about, and it’s just one example of hundreds, of thousands of events that are happening and I think are going to grow.”

Carlson also reflected with surprise that Russia — which under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin has been staging a crackdown on its LGBT citizens and has been a leader in opposing protection for LGBT people and reproductive rights at the UN — “has become a very strong pro-family voice at the United Nations.”

“That’s an astonishing development,” he said. “And one of the reasons the Obama administration is so hostile to Russia today, I’m quite sure, it’s not just the Crimea, it’s also the fact that Russia has become a proponent — at least at the official level — of pro-family sentiments.”

“It is amazing,” Rios agreed. “And one of the strongest supporters of Israel. The whole world, really, in our lifetime has turned upside down, don’t you think, Allan?”

From Salt Lake City, Many Eyes On Houston For HERO Vote

Early voting is already under way in Houston, where anti-gay activists forced a new nondiscrimination law onto the ballot next Tuesday. During a legal fight over the validity of signatures gathered for the effort, lawyers for the administration of Mayor Annise Parker issued broad subpoenas to five ministers asking for sermons and other communications about homosexuality and the law, which gave the ministers and their allies an opening to cry "religious persecution." Even though the subpoenas were quickly withdrawn in the face of criticism from across the political spectrum, the city’s anti-gay activists are running with it, vowing to overturn the law and run conservative Christians for every city office.

On Wednesday, Rafael Cruz, pastor and father of presidential candidate Ted Cruz, told a gathering at the World Congress of Families that if “the righteous” are not voting or running for office, what is left is “the wicked electing the wicked.” He then launched into a discussion of Parker and Houston’s nondiscrimination law, which he grossly mischaracterized as “the bathroom ordinance,” saying “the ordinance basically said, depending on how you feel on a particular day, you can walk into any bathroom.” If your daughter objected to a man entering her bathroom, he said, she could be sued. “The opportunity for sexual abuse, for sexual attacks, for rape, is incredible.” Later that day, Cruz alleged that the LGBT community’s goal is to “legalize pedophilia.”

The five pastors who faced subpoenas have not only mobilized churches for the referendum to overturn the nondiscrimination law, Cruz said, but they have also “recruited strong, committed Christian men and women to run for mayor, and for every position…”

In response to a questioner who accused the LGBT movement of partnering with pedophiles, Cruz urged people to be on the watch for nondiscrimination ordinances protecting sexual orientation and gender identity, which he said are being promoted “stealthily” to be part of school curricula. He urged conservative activists to run for city council and school board to prevent such policies from being put into place, saying, “We need to take control of city councils and school boards and reverse these laws.”

Houston Pastor Dave Welch, one of the five pastors subpoenaed, gave the evening keynote at the anti-gay Stand4Truth conference that took place the day before the World Congress of Families opened in Salt Lake City this week. Welch echoed the militaristic rhetoric of other speakers, saying it’s necessary to recognize that “we are in a war. War is very real. War has casualties…It’s a spiritual war…ultimately, eventually, a political war.”

Welch said the subpoenas have energized religious conservatives, saying, “As always, God takes what the enemy meant for evil and used for good.”

Welch portrayed Mayor Parker, a lesbian, in sinister terms:

The mayor, who lies about everything from the beginning. And she’s still lying about this. It’s just who she is. She literally is one of those who is caught in the snare, in the web of her darkness and her condition. I pray, we do pray for her, that God delivers her and sets her free from that. But we’re going to make sure…that she’s not mayor of Houston anymore.

And he blamed churches for being “asleep” and allowing a lesbian to get elected in the first place, comparing it to “the old ‘peace in our lifetime’ catastrophe” when “you didn’t stop the evil when it was cheap.”

“They didn’t understand the consequences of putting somebody in political power, with the authority of the sword, who has literally rejected every element of the created order of God and his word and his moral truths. Why would we expect somebody to act lawfully when they are living lawlessly?”

Welch portrayed LGBT people as pawns of Satan, part of a cosmic war between good and evil:

Here’s the bottom line for us today, I believe as we go forward in what we do next. We need to remember as we are facing the enemy, if you will, that the enemy that we are really up against we can’t see. Those that we can see are caught in the snares of deception and are being used as pawns for the real enemy. We must love them enough to speak truth to them, with clarity, with consistency, with boldness, and with love. That is the only hope they have to be free…

Also speaking at the event was Rev. Bill Owens of the Coalition of African American Pastors, who organized a press conference of pastors opposing the Houston subpoenas. Owens said he and Welch have worked together for 20 years and are “unsung heroes.” Owens has been a fierce critic of President Obama on marriage equality and has opposed protections for transgender people with the same kind of inaccurate and alarmist fearmongering about bathrooms that is now the focus of ugly ads by the opponents of Houston’s nondiscrimination law.

Owens’ group is associated with the National Organization for Marriage and has been supported by the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, and the American Principles Project — an organization founded by anti-gay Catholic leader Robert George and backed by right-wing funder Sean Fieler. Earlier this year, CAAP honored Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore for defying federal courts on marriage equality. Owens said on Monday that social conservatives will never get to the “promised land” on marriage and other issues until they build a movement that includes Black people.

Marriage & 'Natural Family' Day At World Congress of Families

The sun had barely risen in Salt Lake City yesterday when the first panel of “natural family” day at the World Congress of Families got started with a discussion about life after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.

Pastor Greg Johnson, an evangelical who was raised as a Mormon and now sponsors “convicted civility” dialogues between evangelicals and Mormons, recounted an experience with his daughter at the Creation Museum. Looking at the diorama of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, he was struck by the sacred nature of marriage. Johnson declared that the church needs to revive its commitment to the sacred and holy nature of marriage.

Cathy Ruse of the Family Research Council began her remarks with a declaration that, as a Catholic, there is nothing that could change her belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. Like many speakers, Ruse focused on the complementarity of men and women. “No man can be a mother,” she said. “As a mother, I know two fathers is not the same as a mother and a father.”

The fact that “men and women make babies, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident,” is the only reason government is involved in marriage, Ruse said. Government has to encourage men and women who become mothers and fathers to raise their children. The government has no interest in a person’s feelings, she said. “Who you love is not the government’s business, until now.” Of course, that claim ignores the historical fact that the U.S. government did, until quite recently, punish gay people for who they loved, denying them a livelihood and even taking away their children. And the fact is that many governments around the world, including in some countries represented at the World Congress, continue to do that and worse.

Ruse recounted all the states where voters banned marriage for same-sex couples, neglecting to mention the four more recent victories marriage equality advocates had at the ballot box in 2012. Ignoring those, and dismissing the huge and well-documented shifts in public opinion, Ruse portrayed marriage equality as something “a handful of liberal judges” forced “on the rest of us” and she called for continued resistance:

Above all, we must fight for the right to live and work according to our beliefs. Our enemy in this fight is not our neighbor, not even the 1.6 percent of our neighbors who identify themselves as gay. No. Our enemy are those who would be our masters — the judge who jails a clerk for failing to give her signature, the magistrate who takes the house of a baker for want of a cake. These are our enemies in the fight ahead. No government official can force us to bend the knee at the altar of a foreign god. If we cannot secure this freedom in law, then we must live it in civil disobedience of the law.

Brian Brown from the National Organization for Marriage followed Ruse and matched her tone of defiance against “our unelected masters.” The Supreme Court didn’t change the definition of marriage, he said, it “put a lie into the law” — just like slavery and the Dred Scott decision. Brown said that there’s no time for activists to be depressed. Citing the history of Christian martyrs, abolitionists and civil rights activists, he mocked people who don’t want to take a stand because some of their Facebook friends might say mean things about them. 

“Instead of being depressed, we should savor the fact that we live at a point in history, like those times before, in which we can stand for the truth, make a difference, and God has put us here for some reason. This fight is not over. It has just begun.”

Brown proposed four goals for the anti-marriage-equality movement:

  1. Affirm continually and publicly that marriage is by nature a union of a man and a woman
  2. Reject the Supreme Court’s decision as illegitimate
  3. Overturn the decision, perhaps through decades of struggle or perhaps with new Supreme Court justices appointed by a Republican president elected in 2016
  4. Contain the damage in the meanwhile by passing laws that allow public officials and businesspeople to refuse to have anything to do with gay couples’ marriages

Rafael Cruz, speaking in the second morning session, picked up the baton with the kind of David Barton-inspired speech he gives on the campaign trail for his son Ted Cruz. America was founded on the word of God, he said, but its foundations have been undermined by communists, humanists and Supreme Court decisions on organized prayer, Bible reading in the public schools, abortion and marriage equality.

Cruz railed against the church for having been silent in the face of “abominable” Supreme Court decisions on church-state separation and abortion. The church he said has been “duped” into believing in the separation of church and state, and too many preachers are hiding behind their pulpits, scared to death of losing their tax exemptions. “God is going to judge us for our silence,” he said.

Cruz declared, “What we see in America right now is an outright attack on Christianity.” The court’s marriage equality decision declared homosexuality a civil right, he said, asserting (falsely) that “under that basis, it will be possible for some homosexual to come to your church demanding to be hired, whether as pastor or janitor is immaterial.” Cruz told a BuzzFeed reporter that the next item on the LGBT agenda will be pushing to legalize pedophilia.

Tony Perkins: Criticism Of Pro-Censorship Group Is An Attempt To Silence Christians!

Yesterday on “Washington Watch,” Family Research Council officials Tony Perkins and Peter Sprigg chatted about the World Congress of Families, the international gathering of social conservative activists taking place this week in Salt Lake City, which Sprigg will be attending.

The two were upset that LGBT advocacy groups have criticized the World Congress of Families, with Perkins insisting that criticism of the event amounts to an attempt to “silence” conservative Christians and Sprigg laughably asserting that “the vast majority” of the discussions at the Utah conference “really don’t have anything to do with homosexuality.”

This is a tad ironic, since the World Congress of Families actually backed a Russian law censoring pro-LGBT speech.

The group, an offshoot of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, signed on to a statement [PDF] defending the notorious speech law, which bans “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors and has been used to criminalize speech in favor of LGBT rights:

We acknowledge that the Russian law protects the innocence of children and the basic rights of their parents recognized in the international legislation and treaties. With its new law Russia is protecting genuine and universally recognized human rights against artificial and fabricated "values" aggressively imposed in many modern societies. We also note that the concepts of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are not outlined in the existing binding international treaties and agreements.

We thus call for respect of the sovereignty of the Russian people and we invite all organizations and people who feel responsible for the protection of the innocence of children and their rights, the natural family and parental rights to stand up for Russia, as well as for Ukraine and Moldova suffering the same pressure due to similar laws.

World Congress of Families spokesman Larry Jacobs hailed the law as a “great idea,” and Alexey Komov, the organization’s representative in Russia, similarly boasted that “a huge number of people and human rights organizations around the world are supporting Russia in an effort to protect their children and their family values from aggressive immoral propaganda.”

So while Sprigg and Perkins are attacking groups for merely criticizing the World Congress of Families, it is the World Congress of Families that has actually supported efforts to censor speech.

Rafael Cruz: LGBT Community Will 'Try To Legalize Pedophilia'

Ted Cruz’s father and campaign surrogate Rafael Cruz addressed today’s convening of the anti-LGBT World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City, where he told one attendee following his remarks that one of the goals of the LGBT community is to legalize pedophilia.

The elder Cruz, who has previously claimed that gay members of the Boy Scots are “potential sexual predators” and criticized gay rights as a demonicdangerous and anti-American agenda, said in a video posted by Political Research Associates that “the thing that they’re going to push is to try to legalize pedophilia.” He made the comments while speaking to J. Lester Feder of BuzzFeed News, who asked him about similar statements he had made linking the gay rights movement to pedophilia earlier that day.

When the questioner asked if he thought “the LGBT community is going to push that,” Cruz replied, “Yes I believe so.”

PRA told us that the question initially posed to Cruz was: “During the panel, several speakers alluded to a connection between LGBT people and pedophilia. Do you think that’s true?”

At World Congress of Families, Anti-Choice Activists Celebrate Victories & Map Strategy To Overturn Roe v Wade

The first day of the World Congress of Families summit in Salt Lake City was focused on restricting access to abortion — the program described the day’s theme as “the value of life in all its stages and conditions.” 

During one anti-abortion panel, Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life — which Miranda once described as a sort of ALEC of the anti-choice movement —  celebrated the movement’s recent successes and mapped out a cultural and legal strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade, a strategy grounded in portraying abortion as harmful to women and the pro-life movement as pro-women.

Yoest told the audience to be encouraged, citing a graph from the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute showing that “more abortion restrictions have been enacted since the tidal wave election of 2010 than were enacted in the entire previous decade.” Said Yoest, “I’m really proud of this progress, because it comes from a deliberate strategy that we have enacted as a movement to concentrate on state legislatures.”

Yoest said after the 1983 failure to pass a constitutional amendment in Congress, activists convened their own congress and strategized.

“We came up with a strategy and emerged with a plan: focus on the statehouses and test the limits of Roe v. Wade. The story of the next several decades is one of trench warfare and gaining ground under the radar.”

This summer, she said, the Planned Parenthood videos have provided an “earthquake” which gives anti-abortion movement an opportunity to move forward strategically. [See PFAW’s report on the anti-Planned Parenthood attacks.] The legal strategy is aimed at Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s writing that overturning Roe would come with a “certain cost” to women who rely on it. “As pro-lifers, we need to understand that that’s the way he thinks, and his fellow justices on the court,” said Yoest. “But they are ignoring that there is a certain cost to the culture of death.”

Yoest said abortion brings women grief and dramatically increases a woman’s suicide risk. “What an Alice in Wonderland world that we live in where the defenders of so-called women’s health are the promoters of abortion. Let’s call them abortion harm deniers.”

Yoest cited Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing in dissent in Gonzales v. Carhart that “women cannot enjoy equal citizenship status” without access to abortion. And she quoted a feminist author telling women who have had abortion that she hopes they will begin to know their own power.

Ladies and gentlemen, our strategy for the next decade must engage this debate. Abortion for women is not power; it is poverty….

This is our way forward. We must engage a mother-child strategy. The mother-child strategy is rooted in a very careful study of the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence. The court has told us pretty clearly what they think about abortion. Going back again to Planned Parenthood v. Casey, they told us that the state has two areas of legitimate interest: one is protecting the health of the woman and two is protecting the life of the fetus that, according to them, may become a child. Anything that we bring before two courts – the court of public opinion and the Supreme Court — must engage both of these elements, both the mother and the child.

We must keep coming back to what we know to be the truth: pro-life is pro-woman.

Yoest paraphrased a saying by G. K. Chesterton —  seemingly the most quoted conservative at the conference — saying that fairy tales are “more than true,” not because they tell us dragons are true, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. “The culture of death,” she concluded,” is a dragon that must be beaten.” 

Meet The Anti-Gay Foundation Behind The Utah World Congress Of Families

The executive director of this year’s World Congress of Families (WCF), which meets this week in Salt Lake City, has said that despite organization’s efforts to oppose LGBT rights around the world, opposition to same-sex marriage “has never been an emphasis” of the gathering. But opposition to marriage equality is a major priority of one foundation that appears to be a major financial backer of the Utah conference.

Although the WCF is a project of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, this year’s event is being organized by the Utah-based Sutherland Institute, and a donation page for the event directs contributions to the institute. The institute has also apparently been soliciting funds specifically for the World Congress of Families event, with the Michigan-based Earhart Foundation giving it $20,000 last year earmarked for the conference.

While we won’t have further information on the funding of the event until this year’s tax forms are filed, the Sutherland Institute has at least until recently been supported largely by one Utah family’s charitable foundation.

The GFC Foundation (it stands for God, Family and Country) is run by Sutherland Institute’s chairman and interim president Stan Swim, whose father  the Sutherland Institute’s founder — and grandfather were also Utah-based philanthropists. Swim serves on the WCF’s board of directors and signed the deal to host the upcoming conference. Swim’s foundation has helped to fund previous World Congresses in Warsaw and Amsterdam. In the five years from 2009 through 2013, the most recent for which tax documents are available, GFC contributed $392,500 directly to the Howard Center.

GFC is a major funder of the Sutherland Institute, and the two organizations share some leadership. In addition to Swim’s dual roles, Sutherland Institute’s former president Paul Mero has long served on the foundation’s board. In 2011, the foundation provided almost half of the institute’s $1.3 million in revenue; in 2012, it provided over half of the $1.4 million that the institute brought in. In 2013, GFC nearly doubled its contribution to Sutherland, giving the organization $1.2 million, making up the bulk of the grants it distributed that year. The institute’s 2013 tax documents are not yet publicly available, so it’s unclear what portion of the organization’s budget GFC’s grant represented.

The Sutherland Institute has also been a top beneficiary of the Foundation for the American West, another charitable group established by the Swim family, which in turn receives substantial yearly contributions from the GFC Foundation. The GFC Foundation contributed about $1.2 million to the Foundation for the American West from 2009 through 2013; the Foundation for the American West contributed roughly the same amount to the Sutherland Institute during that time.

Along with funding the Sutherland Institute, the GFC Foundation appears to be directly involved in organizing this week's conference: A recent WCF newsletter instructed organizations wanting to exhibit at the Salt Lake City event to contact a GFC events staffer.

Although the Sutherland Institute is the primary beneficiary of the GFC Foundation’s largesse, the other social conservative causes that the foundation backs provide further hints about its ideology. Along with regular contributions to Mormon educational institutions and to Utah cultural programs, the GFC Foundation has been a major contributor to groups fighting marriage equality.

From 2011 through 2013, the foundation contributed $270,000 to the National Organization for Marriage as it attempted to fight back the gradual march toward marriage equality in the states. During that time, it also contributed $150,000 to the Ruth Institute, which was then a program affiliated with NOM. It also contributed $150,000 to the Marriage Law Foundation, which is run by a top Sutherland Institute staffer, making up about 60 percent of that organization’s budget.

Notably, the GFC Foundation has helped to fund some of the social science research that is being used to argue against marriage equality. In 2013, the foundation contributed $30,000 to the Institute for Family Studies, the think tank run by conservative family scholar Brad Wilcox and $7,500 to the Austin Institute, the think tank run by Mark Regnerus. Regnerus’ 2012 study of gay parenting, in which Wilcox played a key role, has been used by activists around the world to push back against gay rights, despite the fact that it has been exposed as severely flawed. GFC has also given five-figure grants to Wilcox’s Ridge Foundation and the Witherspoon Institute, which helped to fund Regnerus’ study. (Regnerus and Wilcox will both, incidentally, be speaking at this week’s event.)

The GFC Foundation has also been a major backer of the Utah Eagle Forum, the state affiliate of Phyllis Schlafly’s organization, led by the irrepressibly anti-gay Gayle Ruzicka. The foundation contributed $10,000 to Ruzicka’s group in 2013 and $20,000 each year in 2009 and 2010. In the intervening years, whether by coincidence or not, the Swim-affiliated Foundation for the American West filled the gap, giving Utah Eagle Forum $20,000 each in 2011 and 2012.

The GFC Foundation’s apparent work through the Sutherland Institute to host the World Congress of Families fits neatly into this pattern of funding the fight against advances in LGBT rights.

World Congress Of Families Swag: Skousen's '5000 Year Leap'

It’s not surprising that the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City would have a particularly Mormon flavor, given that the city is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  The conference's opening session on Tuesday morning included a keynote by Mormon Apostle Russell Ballard during which he played a video of children singing a song about Mormon theology and explained how the church’s commitment to “traditional family” is grounded in its religious beliefs about eternal marriage.

WCF registration bags included a copy of the Church’s 1995 “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” which argues marriage is essential to God’s eternal plan. It also promotes conservative ideas about the complementarity of the sexes, saying, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” The proclamation states,

By divine design fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

Also included in the registration bag was a copy of right-wing Mormon author W. Cleon Skousen’s “The 5000 Year Leap,” a 1981 book that zoomed to the top of best-seller-lists in 2009 when Glenn Beck discovered it and began gushing about it on his show. Alexander Zaitchik wrote about it for Salon:

What has Beck been pushing on his legions? “Leap,” first published in 1981, is a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology. As such, it is an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history. Fundamentalists want to define the United States as a Christian nation rather than a secular republic, and recast the Founding Fathers as devout Christians guided by the Bible rather than deists inspired by French and English philosophers. “Leap” argues that the U.S. Constitution is a godly document above all else, based on natural law, and owes more to the Old and New Testaments than to the secular and radical spirit of the Enlightenment. It lists 28 fundamental beliefs — based on the sayings and writings of Moses, Jesus, Cicero, John Locke, Montesquieu and Adam Smith — that Skousen says have resulted in more God-directed progress than was achieved in the previous 5,000 years of every other civilization combined. The book reads exactly like what it was until Glenn Beck dragged it out of Mormon obscurity: a textbook full of aggressively selective quotations intended for conservative religious schools like Utah’s George Wythe University, where it has been part of the core freshman curriculum for decades (and where Beck spoke at this year’s annual fundraiser).

But more interesting than the contents of “The 5,000 Year Leap,” and more revealing for what it says about 912ers and the Glenn Beck Nation, is the book’s author. W. Cleon Skousen was not a historian so much as a player in the history of the American far right; less a scholar of the republic than a threat to it. At least, that was the judgment of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which maintained a file on Skousen for years that eventually totaled some 2,000 pages. Before he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen’s own Mormon church publicly distanced itself from the foundation that Skousen founded and that has published previous editions of “The 5,000 Year Leap.”

As Beck knows, to focus solely on “The 5,000 Year Leap” is to sell the author short. When he died in 2006 at the age of 92, Skousen had authored more than a dozen books and pamphlets on the Red Menace, New World Order conspiracy, Christian child rearing, and Mormon end-times prophecy. It is a body of work that does much to explain Glenn Beck’s bizarre conspiratorial mash-up of recent months, which decries a new darkness at noon and finds strange symbols carefully coded in the retired lobby art of Rockefeller Center. It also suggests that the modern base of the Republican Party is headed to a very strange place.

Sarah Posner noted Skousen’s connections with Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch:

When the elder Skousen died in 2006, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), paid tribute to him on the Senate floor, and even included a poem he wrote about his friend. Hatch detailed how Skousen helped launch his political career, sending a letter to 8,000 "friends," urging them to support Hatch's 1976 Senate candidacy. According to a 1980 account in the New York Times by the inimitable Molly Ivins, Skousen's Freeman Institute was active in several other Republican campaigns as well, including one to unseat Sen. Frank Church, the Idaho Democrat who chaired the Church Commission that investigated intelligence abuses in the wake of Watergate.

"From that first campaign," Hatch went on in his tribute on the Senate floor, "to every day I have served in the U.S. Senate--Cleon has been there for me, through highs and lows--buoying me up, giving suggestions, discussing principles and issues, and above all else being a true, supportive friend. I can never overstate what his support has meant to me throughout my years of service." Hatch added that Skousen's writings, including The 5,000 Year Leap, "have been used by foundations, and in forums across America for many years. His writings and words leave an indelible legacy of knowledge and beliefs that have touched many people and will continue to inspire and educate generations to come."

The Hatch connection brings us full circle, as this morning’s session at the World Congress of Families ended with a, um, memorable rendition of a song written by Hatch

Anti-Gay Warm-Up Act To World Congress Of Families: 'This Is War'

On Monday, the day before the World Congress of Families conference opened in Salt Lake City, some of America’s most strident anti-gay voices convened for an all-day session they dubbed #Stand4Truth.

Turnout was small — about 50 during the day, a bit more in the evening — and the lunchtime press conference was delivered to a room devoid of press, but organizers filmed the speakers in hopes of turning the footage into a documentary or other resource for anti-gay activists.

The 11-hour-plus event (counting short breaks for lunch and dinner) was hosted by Sandy Rios of the American Family Association, one of the groups sponsoring the gathering. Also sponsoring the event was the Family Research Council, whose senior fellow Peter Sprigg delivered the morning keynote; Rev. Bill Owens of the National Organization for Marriage-affiliated Coalition of African American Pastors delivered the afternoon keynote.

Sprigg, who is also scheduled to speak at WCF on Wednesday, set the tone for the day by challenging the “gay identity paradigm” and urging social conservatives to avoid as much as possible using the words “gay” and “lesbian” because he said they refer to someone’s innate identity. Sprigg urged activists to separate sexual attraction, sexual behavior, and a person’s self-identification and instead to focus on gay relationships, which he called “objectively harmful to the people who engage in it and to society at large.”

He was also one of many speakers who insisted that advocacy for anti-gay policies is not motivated by hate but by love. For example, Sprigg said that while he mourns the gay men who died of AIDS, “the reason they died is because they chose to have sex with men, not because conservatives told them not to. We do no one a kindness by denying the truth.”

Sprigg, who argued against legal nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, was one of several speakers who spoke, directly or indirectly, in opposition to this year’s “Utah compromise,” in which the Mormon Church agreed to support passage of limited LGBT nondiscrimination protections in return for religious liberty exemptions. Sprigg warned that compromise with the LGBT rights movement is “unwise” and “unsustainable.”

Also arguing for an uncompromising stance and “zero affirmation of the gay rights paradigm” was Americans For Truth About Homosexuality’s Peter LaBarbera, who urged anti-gay activists to stop playing defense and go on the offense, reclaiming the moral high ground by always opposing homosexual behavior. One way to go on offense, he said, would be by proposing state bans on hormone therapy and surgery for transgender youth.

Other notable anti-gay activists who addressed the gathering included Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver (via video) and Brian Camenker of MassResistance. Camenker said he respectfully disagreed with those who called for always speaking the truth in love. “I think there is a place for being insulting and degrading, and I think I can back that up by scripture,” he said. “I think we have to look at this as a war, not as, you know, a church service.” Rios agreed, saying, “I do think that evangelicals have gotten a little bit soft and not understood warfare.”

Camenker said that in the Old Testament, “God has two sets of laws regarding how you treat your fellow man.” One is how you treat your neighbor, who you might work with and forgive. “There’s a whole different set of rules for people who want to tear down society, who want to push immorality, who want to tear down the moral structure of society.” That set of rules is “very brutal,” he said. “God says those people who want to do that must be destroyed.”

He said the LGBT movement is a “house of cards” that is “held together by force, intimidation, and propaganda” and can be destroyed by standing up to it, the way communism was. “We are in a war,” he repeated, saying of gay-rights advocates, “They would send us to concentration camps if they could.”

Among the other participants were North Carolina’s Michael Brown, Houston Pastor Dave Welch, ex-gay therapists Robert Vazzo and David Pickup, and former California lieutenant governor and anti-porn activist John Harmer.

One premise of the #Stand4Truth gathering is that the LGBT movement and their allies in the media suppress evidence about the causes of homosexuality, the medical and mental health harms associated with it, and the possibility of change through “authentic” ex-gay therapy. The evening session began with a panel seemingly designed to portray LGBT people as lost and miserable: a few “ex-gays,” a person who experienced “transgender regret” and Canadian activist Dawn Stefanowicz, an author whose book “Out From Under” recounts growing up with a gay father and his many sex partners and is portrayed as a cautionary tale against gay parenting.

More to come.

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