Allan Carlson

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.


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?”

Utah Event Revives The Strange Case Of The Moscow World Congress Of Families

This is one in a series of posts about the upcoming World Congress of Families gathering in Salt Lake City, Utah. Read our introduction to the World Congress of Families here.

Social conservatives from around the world will gather next week in Salt Lake City at the World Congress of Families, an event being held in the U.S. for the first time this year. In the background of the event will be the specter of last year’s World Congress in Moscow, which sort of did and sort of didn’t happen.

In 2013, when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law prohibiting “propaganda” of homosexuality to minors, human rights groups were aghast but many in the Religious Right cheered. While Putin’s crackdown on LGBT people and free speech was widely regarded as a cynical effort to stir up nationalist sentiment at the expense of sexual minorities, his allies in the U.S. Religious Right did not see it that way.

Among the strongest supporters was the World Congress of Families. WCF, along with several other American groups participating in the Utah conference, signed a statement of support . WCF’s Larry Jacobs called the Russian law a “great idea” and said that the “Russians might be the Christian saviors to the world” for their leadership in “standing up for these traditional values of family and faith.” WCF’s representatives in Russia likewise hailed the law and worked with American activists including the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown to advocate for a law tightening the country’s ban on adoptions by foreign nationals who live in countries where gay marriage is legal.

The World Congress of Families was taken with Putin’s enthusiastic embrace of social conservatism that it planned to hold its 2014 congress at the Kremlin in Moscow, with the financial support of top Putin allies. The planning got off to a rocky start after we reported on WCF’s support of Putin’s anti-LGBT policies, and things got even rockier when Alexey Komov, the WCF’s Russian point-man waded into 9/11 trutherism at a press conference promoting the event.

Those plans began to fall apart when Russia invaded Ukraine, prompting U.S. sanctions against at least two of WCF’s key Russian allies. WCF formally “suspended” the event, but the Russian organizers went ahead and held the conference anyway. A number of the U.S. activists who were planning to go to the original conference, including the National Organization for Marriage's Brian Brown, went to the replacement. WCF’s Don Feder and Larry Jacobs, officially attending in their personal capacities, spoke at an opening press conference. At the end, conference-goers passed a resolution advocating the passage of “gay propaganda” bans modeled on Russia’s throughout the world.

Underlining the fact that the Moscow conference was never really cancelled, WCF’s point-man in Russia, Alexey Komov, was until recently scheduled to host a training session at the Utah event on “Hosting a WCF Conference”:

The training has since been removed from the event’s schedule.

Also speaking at the conference will be Vladimir Mischenko, a top official in a foundation run by Vladimir Yakunin, the Putin ally who helped to fund the Moscow conference. (Putin has since kicked Yakunin to the curb .) The World Congress of Families will also be presenting its “International Pro-Life Award” to Father Maxim Obukhov, who helped to bring the event to Moscow last year.

The World Congress of Families’ executive director, Janice Shaw Crouse, has gushed about the Moscow conference , calling it “a tremendous success, inspiring and excellent in every regard,” saying she “regretted the necessary decision to cancel our partnership with our Russian friends.”

She added:

We have many dear colleagues in Russia, and many of them are leading members of the Russian Orthodox Church. They saw their country devastated by Communism. After the fall of Communism, they recognized that if their nation was ever to rise to greatness again, it would be because of a strong family structure. These Russian friends have fought to re-establish the family as the foundation of Russia. We support their efforts, we encourage them, and we are proud of their efforts.

The Moscow event was supposed to be something of a homecoming for the World Congress of Families, which grew out of an alliance between the Howard Center on Family, Religion and Society's Allan Carlson and Russian activists concerned about a “demographic winter” of low birthrates in their country. Those ties have remained strong, especially since President Vladimir Putin has cozied up to the Orthodox Church and put new stock in social issues as part of his efforts to consolidate control in Russia and expand his power throughout the region.

What The World Congress Of Families' 'Natural Family' Means For Women

This is the third in a series of posts about the upcoming World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City, Utah. Read our introduction to the World Congress of Families here and an exploration of WCF’s anti-LGBT politics here.

While the World Congress of Families has become well known in the U.S. for its anti-LGBT activism, that is just one part of its larger vision of promoting what it calls the “natural family” throughout the world. In fact, in keeping with the vision that Allan Carlson and Paul Mero laid out in their "natural family" manifesto, this year’s conference will feature not just anti-LGBT activists, but opponents of abortion rights, contraception, sex education and liberalized divorce laws.

These issues are closely intertwined in this worldview. One scheduled WCF speaker, Evan Lenow of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, explained it clearly in a 2011 lecture on “The Challenge of Homosexuality For Gender Roles.” Lenow laid out the argument that the Bible prescribes separate but equal roles for men and women in marriage, with women required to “submit themselves to the leadership of their husbands, just as the church submits to Christ.” Same-sex marriages, where gender roles are by necessity “egalitarian,” he said, “subvert” this biblically ordained relationship.

For many of these activists, all manner of evils date back to the “sexual revolution” and, in particular, the widespread availability and use of contraception.

Allan Carlson, WCF’s founder and a speaker at the Utah event, has been a strong critic of the role of contraception in changing the roles of women and families in society, including speaking at a 2006 anti-contraception conference and appearing in the anti-contraception film “Birth Control: How Did We Get Here?

A panel on “Understanding the Sexual and Cultural Revolution” will feature the Family Research Council’s Pat Fagan, who has argued that the Supreme Court decision ending bans on contraception for unmarried people was wrong because “functioning societies” ought to “punish” and “shame” people who have sex out of wedlock. Fagan links the “contraceptive mindset” to any number of social ills. “Since the introduction of contraception, everything else has fallen,” he has said.

Joining Fagan on the “sexual and cultural revolution” panel will be the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Katie McCoy, who has argued strongly against efforts to allow women to serve as Southern Baptist pastors.

A forum on “The Beneficial and Harmful Influences of Feminism,” moderated by WCF’s Larry Jacobs, will feature declared anti-feminist activists Babette Francis of the Australian Endeavor Forum and Gayle Ruzicka, the head of the Utah chapter of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, who is also a radical anti-gay activist.

WCF has set aside time to showcase the latest round of attacks against Planned Parenthood, with a panel featuring Live Action’s Lila Rose, Americans United for Life’s Charmaine Yoest (who happens to be the daughter of WCF head Janice Shaw Crouse), and Priests for Life’s Alveda King. King has falsely claimed that hormonal birth control “exposes” women to breast cancer and insisted that this is part of an elaborate money-making scheme by Planned Parenthood. Moderating the panel will be a representative of Heartbeat International, a network of so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” that claims it can replace Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that it does not prescribe birth control.

A discussion on “International Pro-Life Initiatives” will feature Keith Mason who, through his group Personhood USA, advocates fetal “personhood” initiatives that would outlaw all abortion and could even threaten legal contraception. Mason’s group has become active in fighting reproductive rights advances at the United Nations and has begun pouring money into unspecified projects in Europe.

The fight against legal abortion, contraception and egalitarian gender roles is tied in with a founding principle of the World Congress of Families: the fear that demographic change is dooming European and American culture.

A panel on “demography,” moderated by Personhood USA’s Keith Mason and notably consisting entirely of men, will likely address some of these fears, and in particular the idea that contraception is the root cause of a perceived cultural decline. The panel will include Steve Mosher of the Population Research Institute, who has argued that “[i]n its own way, contraception is an even greater tragedy than abortion” because it “involves the deliberate rejection of God’s creative power.”

Also speaking on the panel will be WCF’s Don Feder, who told a WCF event in Belgrade earlier this year that contraception leads to “death” by “preventing life from happening,” and who warned at the Moscow conference last year that humanity is financing “ its own extinction” through birth control.

Joining them will be Igor Beloborodov, a Russian demographer who warned at a 2011 demographic forum featuring a number of American activists that birthrates were falling as a result of people who want to “push up sales of contraceptives, to increase the number of abortions, to make homosexuality more popular.” He presented this slide listing “global threats to family and life,” including “small families,” “homosexuality” and “feminism”:

The World Congress of Families will also include staunch opponents of comprehensive sex education in schools, including Dr. Miriam Grossman and the Eagle Forum’s Gayle Ruzicka, who have both supported instituting abstinence-only sex-ed in Utah. This is an especially interesting dynamic given that WCF extended an invitation to Elizabeth Smart, an abduction survivor turned anti-sex-trafficking advocate from Utah who has spoken about how the lessons she had learned in abstinence-only sex-ed contributed to her reluctance to flee her captor.

Also speaking at the event will be proponents of rolling back no-fault divorce laws, a little-noticed flip side to the conservative campaign against marriage equality for LGBT people. Repealing state no-fault divorce laws, which allow married couples to end their marriages without one party being found to be at fault, is a plank of Carlson and Mero’s “natural family” manifesto. A panel on divorce at the Utah summit will include Beverly Willett, the cofounder of the Coalition for Divorce Reform, which aims to make it more legally difficult for most couples to divorce and Michael McManus, who has also advocated against no-fault divorce laws.

Religious Right Activists Argue For Recriminalization Of Birth Control In 'The Birth Control Movie'

A couple of years ago, we heard about a new movie called “Birth Control: How Did We Get Here?” when its director, Kevin Peeples, appeared on the radio program of one of its stars, Kevin Swanson, and Swanson asserted that “wombs of women who have been on the birth control pill effectively have become graveyards for lots and lots of little babies.”

We stumbled on the movie again recently while researching the upcoming World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City, which will feature some of the activists who appeared in Peeples’ film, including WCF founder Allan Carlson and anti-abortion and anti-Planned Parenthood activist Lila Rose. This is hardly surprising, since one of the tenets of the “natural family” ideology promoted by WCF is resistance to contraception in order to create large families governed by traditional gender roles.

This time, in preparation for WCF, we decided to watch the whole movie. It is mostly taken up by historical arguments against Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, and hero worship of Anthony Comstock, the famous crusader against legal birth control whose laws were struck down after a campaign by Sanger. (The movie’s creators have also produced an animated account of Comstock’s life called “Fighter” aimed at painting Comstock as a role model for young boys.) The film makes the argument that Protestant churches that oppose legal abortion must also, by necessity, oppose birth control and laments the social movements and Supreme Court decisions that led to the decriminalization of birth control in the U.S.

Rose, an anti-abortion activist and mentor of anti-Planned Parenthood activist David Daleiden, makes the argument in the film that birth control has “led in many ways to abortion in our country” whereas “there was a time when birth control was unthinkable, when contraception was unthinkable because, people who got married, a beautiful part of marriage was the hope for children together.”

(No matter that abortion rates have been plummeting in recent years, thanks in part to widely available contraception.)

Rose also claims that Planned Parenthood is “encouraging sexual activity and experimentation at early ages” in order to increase the number of abortions it provides to “resolve the sexual activity that was started and encouraged by Planned Parenthood in the first place.”

As it happens, “Birth Control: How Did We Get Here?” premiered at the 2013 World Congress of Families in Sydney, accompanied by a panel discussion with Peeples, Carlson and Scott Matthew Dix, one of the film’s producers.

Meet The World Congress Of Families, The International Conservative Network Meeting In Utah Next Week

by Miranda Blue, Isabel Carter-Kahn and Peter Montgomery

This is the first in a series of posts about the upcoming World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City, Utah. In this post, we provide an introduction to the event’s hosts and recipients of its awards for international activism. Subsequent posts will explore the World Congress of Families’ organizing against LGBT equality and women’s rights and its role in growing international social conservative networks.

Next week, hundreds of activists from around the world will gather in Salt Lake City for the ninth World Congress of Families, a gathering of individuals and organizations promoting what organizers call the “natural family.”

The World Congress of Families is a project of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, founded in 1997 by conservative historian Allan Carlson. The Howard Center has a relatively small budget — less than half a million dollars in 2013 — but works with organizers and funders in host countries to throw what it calls the “Olympics” of social conservatism. This is the first time the Congress has been held in the U.S. and will count as guests the governor of Utah as well as Rafael Cruz, father of Texas senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. The event is set to honor activists who advocated for laws criminalizing homosexuality and even meetings between gay people, free speech in favor of gay rights and abortion.

The vision of the “natural family” promoted by WCF is one that excludes LGBT people and precludes reproductive rights. In 2005, Carlson and the Sutherland Institute’s Paul Mero released “The Natural Family: A Manifesto,” a call to arms against the societal changes that resulted from the twin developments of “industrialism and the assault of new, family-denying ideas.”

They offered instead a vision of a return to an economy run by large families operating as independent economic units — a potentially appealing thought until you realize what the economy they envision means for women. In Carlson’s and Mero’s “natural family” dream, they “envision young women growing into wives, homemakers, and mothers; and we see young men growing into husbands, homebuilders, and fathers.” For women, this involves rejecting what they call the “contraceptive mentality” and opening their homes to “a full quiver of children” — a nod to the “Quiverfull” ideology promoted by the self-proclaimed “Christian patriarchy” movement. They insist that “culture, law, and policy” should take into account that “women and men are equal in dignity and innate human rights, but different in function” — a separate-but-equal ideology that drives women out of public and economic life and rejects the rights of those who do not fit into this narrow view of gender roles.

It is this vision that WCF aims to promote around the world, through government policies aiding the “natural family” and in resisting international efforts to protect the rights of women and LGBT people.

The U.S. event offers WCF an opportunity to reestablish itself after the debacle of the last Congress, which was meant to be held in Moscow — home of a spate of new anti-LGBT laws — but was abruptly “suspended” after Russia invaded Ukraine and some of the conference’s organizers were hit with U.S. sanctions. The conference went ahead, but without the official World Congress of Families label. Instead, WCF leaders attended in their personal capacities. The executive director of the Utah event is Janice Shaw Crouse, a former Concerned Women for America official who appears to have parted ways with her former employer over the wisdom of participating in the Moscow summit.

Hosting the World Congress of Families gathering in Salt Lake City is the Sutherland Institute, which describes itself as “a conservative public policy think tank” whose mission is “to shape Utah law and policy based on a core set of governing principles.” The Sutherland Institute, whose budget is about $1.5 million, is affiliated with the State Policy Network, a group of right-wing think tanks. While the Institute is not formally affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church), it promotes conservative views influenced by LDS theology, sometimes staking out policy positions to the right of the Church itself. The Institute is named for George Sutherland, a U.S. Supreme Court justice from Utah who joined other conservative justices to overturn progressive legislation in the 1920s and led a group known as “The Four Horsemen” who struck down FDR’s New Deal for several years.

Sutherland describes seven principles of “authentic conservatism” – personal responsibility as the basis of self-government; family as the fundamental unit of society; religion as the moral compass of human progress; private property as the cornerstone of economic freedom; free markets as the engine of economic prosperity; charity as the wellspring of a caring community; limited government as the essence of good government. The Institute brags about its work to weaken unions and calls for the abolition of the state income tax on corporations.

In other words, the Institute promotes both the Tea Party’s hostility to government regulation and the Religious Right’s desire to use government to promote “traditional” views of family, parenting, and marriage.Sutherland helped pay for the legal counsel hired by the state to defend its anti-gay-marriage amendment.

The Institute called the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling an “abdication” of the rule of law. Then-President Paul Mero, argued that freedom is incompatible with gay rights, because “bad behavior is the enemy of freedom.” Sutherland supports Sen. Mike Lee’s First Amendment Defense Act, which would allow broad anti-gay discrimination in the name of religious liberty. It also wants to do away with no-fault divorce laws.

In 2014 the Institute produced a 10-page defense of a Utah law requiring restaurants to erect a “Zion Curtain” or “Zion Wall” to prevent restaurant-goers from being able to witness the preparation of alcoholic beverages. Although Sutherland was criticized for supporting what many considered “nanny-state” legislation, former President Paul Mero said the law “disrupts a culture of drinking” and promotes a “culture of sobriety.”

The Sutherland Institute has strong ties with WCF’s sponsor, the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society. Mero, the founding executive vice president of the Howard Center, reportedly helped attract the WCF to Salt Lake City. After 14 years as Sutherland’s CEO he was asked to step down by the Institute’s board last August, for what were described as operational rather than philosophical differences. Mero reportedly agreed to continue to serve on executive committee for the WCF. Sutherland board chair and interim president Stanford Swim serves on the boards of the Howard Center and the State Policy Network.

This year, the World Congress of Families will present its Woman of the Year Award to Theresa Okafor, Familia Et Veritas awards to Luca Giuseppe Volonte and Andrea Williams and an International Pro-Life Award to Father Maxim Obukhov. The backgrounds of these four activists provide insight into the values that the World Congress of Families seeks to promote around the world.

Theresa Okafor

Okafor, from Nigeria, is the World Congress of Families Regional Director in Africa. In 2009, she was successful in bringing a World Congress of Families event to Nigeria. She is the CEO of Life League Nigeria and the director of the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage.

The Foundation for African Cultural Heritage is a coalition organization that encompasses 20 “family values” organizations such as Association of Concerned Mothers, Nigerian Association for Family Development, Doctors Health Initiative, Life League Nigeria, the Christian Association of Bishops Conference of Nigeria and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Nigeria. Her groups have supported and lauded Nigeria’s Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which banned all same-sex relationships and gay people gathering in groups of two or more. The act led to the arrest of dozens of people.

The Foundation for African Cultural Heritage releasedvideos of a press conference it organized to support the bill, during which speakers called homosexuality “abhorrent” and compared it to alcoholism. At a World Congress of Families annual gathering in Madrid in 2012, Okafor speculated in a speech that Western countries advocating for gay rights in Africa were involved in a “conspiracy” to “silence Christians” with the terrorist group Boko Haram:

Unfortunately, in Nigeria where I come from, we have these fundamentalists, the Boko Haram – I’m sure you’ve heard about them in the news – bombing churches. They seem to be helping some people in Western countries who are out to silence Christians. The Boko Haram are targeting Christians in Nigeria, so you wonder if there’s a conspiracy between the two worlds.

In the speech she also speculated that efforts to promote LGBT rights in Africa are “another ploy to depopulate Africa,” a sentiment she expresses repeatedly.

Okafor also has ties to the American group Family Watch International, which works to stop advances in LGBT equality and reproductive rights at the UN, cosponsoring the group’s Global Family Policy Forum in Gilbert, Arizona.

Luca Giuseppe Volonte

Luca Volonte is an Italian politician and the president of the Novae Terrae Foundation, which states on its website that it is committed to “promot[ing] human rights from the religious point of view.” The “Goals” section of the group’s mission page emphasizes its focus on contrasting Christianity with “Islamic culture.”

Volonte serves along with the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown on the board of trustees of CitizenGo, an international organization that promotes petitions backing conservative positions, including opposition tosame-sex marriage and abortion rights. In response to Target’s decision to stop segregating its toy aisles by gender, CitizenGo released a petition saying the new policy was a result of “sexual radicals ” who “want to erase distinctions between male and female, and promote transgenderism among children.”

In 2010, Volonte won the chair of the European People’s Party in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. As chair, Volonte led the successful effort to withdraw a report on "discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Volonte was appointed chairman of the anti-LGBT Institute for Human Dignity, a Catholic NGO based in Rome, in 2013. The institute released a declaration defining human dignity as:

That man is made in the image and likeness of God; that this image and likeness proceeds in every single human being without exception from conception until natural death; and that the most effective means of safeguarding this recognition is through the active participation of the Christian faith in the public square.

This declaration was adopted by the European Parliament's Working Group on Human Dignity , a coalition that promotes Europe’s “Judeo-Christian” heritage, as their foundational document.

In 2015, Novae Terrae announced a partnership with the European Large Families Confederation.

Andrea Williams

Andrea Williams is the CEO of Christian Concern, a United Kingdom based group that promotes a “Christian voice” in government. In the “About” sections of Christian Concern’s website, the organization states that it pursues these goals because “ the last few decades the nation has largely turned her back on Jesus and embraced alternative ideas such as secular liberal humanism, moral relativism and sexual licence. The fruit of this is rotten, and can be seen in widespread family breakdown, immorality and social disintegration.” The organization attempts to move policy on “abortion, adoption and fostering, bioethics, marriage, education, employment, end of life, equality, family, free speech, Islamism, religious freedom, the sex trade, social issues and issues relating to sexual orientation.” Christian Concern has campaigned against numerous pieces of LGBT anti-discrimination legislation, citing that they would create discrimination against Christians.

Williams encouraged Jamaica to keep same-sex intimacy (still referred to in the country’s legal code as “buggery”) illegal at a conference organized by the Jamaican Coalition for a Healthy Society and the Christian Lawyers’ Association in Kingston that she attended with extreme American anti-LGBT activist Peter LaBarbera. At the conference, she suggested Olympic diver Tom Daley is gay because his father died, and that “sometimes a level of abuse” is responsible for one becoming gay.

Williams is the director of the Christian Concern offshoot Christian Legal Centre, whose website says it “defend[s] many Christians who have suffered for their beliefs,” in a similar fashion to the American Alliance Defending Freedom. The Christian Legal Centre has provided legal support to a woman who sued an art gallery for displaying an image of Jesus with an erection and to a man who was relieved of his position as a police officer after sending homophobic emails.

In concert with Alliance Defending Freedom, Christian Concern also runs the Wilberforce Academy, which says its aim is to “train and equip the invited students on what it means to proclaim Christ in public life.” Williams has said this on the Alliance Defense Fund:

The ADF are a fantastic organization. We have been inspired by their work and that of the Blackstone programme, which seeks to raise a new generation of lawyers to defend Christianity in the public sphere. They've got some of the best attorneys in this field and we have the great privilege of hosting them, but they don't pay anything towards the academy.

In 2010, Williams was elected to a five year term as a member of the Church of England General Synod.

Maxim Obukhov

Father Maxim Obukhov is credited by Religious Right leaders as the founder of the pro-life movement in Russia and led the effort to bring the World Congress of Families to Moscow last year. He was instrumental in convening a World Congress of Families “demographic summit” in Russia, which resulted in a statement addressed to world leaders. Part of the statement read:

We call on the governments of all nations and on international institutions to develop immediately a pro-family demographic policy and to adopt a special international pro-family strategy and action plan aimed at consolidating family and marriage, protecting human life from conception to natural death, increasing birth rates, and averting the menace of depopulation.

In 2009, Obukhov drafted an official proposal for WCF to come to Moscow, and the plan was solidified. However, the conferencewas cancelled in response to backlash over President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Crimea. An “International Family Forum” sprang up in its place, and many of the same pro-family leaders from the United States and around the world were in attendance.

Obhukhov created the Zhizn Center, an organization connected with the Russian Orthodox Church that dedicates itself to the “dissemination of Christian views on questions of family and marriage” and against abortion rights . He is also secretary of the Church’s bioethics committee and an expert on bioethical issues for the Moscow Patriarchate. World Congress of Families claims the Zhizn Center runs more than 30 crisis-pregnancy centers.

Obhukvhov was part of a group established by the Duma’s committee on family, women and children in 2010 for the purpose of drafting anti-choice legislation. Parts of the legislation drafted by the group, which included no medical professionals, were used in a health reform bill signed by President Dmitry Medvedev in 2011. Proposals that did not make it into legislation attempted to end federal support of all abortion services, require that women receive the approval of their spouses before having an abortion, and require prescriptions for the morning-after pill. Obukhov opposes hormonal birth control.

Obukhov has told LifeSiteNews that he believes the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russian lawmaker Yelena Mizulina, author of the infamous “gay propaganda” ban, following the Ukraine conflict were evidence of Christian persecution. Obuhkov said, "President Obama is using the economic sanctions against Yelena Mizulina to send a very clear message to Russian Christians. There is much talk about a cold war, but President Obama has openly declared war upon Christians who oppose the culture of death both at home and abroad."

Rafael Cruz Joining Anti-Gay World Congress of Families At Utah Conference

Rafael Cruz, the father and presidential campaign surrogate of Sen. Ted Cruz, will be speaking at this month’s World Congress of Families (WCF) event in Salt Lake City, according to what appears to be a recent addition to the event’s schedule. Cruz will be speaking alongside WCF founder Allan Carlson and Mark Regnerus, a sociologist whose discredited research on gay parents has been used to fight LGBT rights throughout the world: 

The WCF has caused controversy in recent years for its support of anti-gay and anti-reproductive-rights policies throughout the world, particularly its cheerleading for Russia’s crackdown on its LGBT citizens. The last WCF was scheduled to take place at the Kremlin in Moscow last year, with the financial support of a number of top allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. WCF cancelled its participation in the event amid U.S. sanctions, but the event went ahead as planned, featuring a number of prominent Religious Right activists and with WCF officials attending in their personal capacities.

Anti-LGBT activism is only part of WCF’s mission to promote the “natural family,” a concept laid out in a manifesto by the event’s founder, Allan Carlson of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society. As we explained last month, Carlson’s concept of the “natural family” is one that excludes not only LGBT people but also full rights for women:

The World Congress of Families exists to promote what Carlson calls the “ natural family” — something that does not include LGBT people, reproductive rights or, often, women working outside the home.

In their “Natural Family: A Manifesto,” Carlson and Paul Mero, then the president of the Sutherland Institute, which is hosting next month’s event in Utah, laid out their vision of a world full of homes “open to a quiver of children,” with “young women growing into wives, homemakers, and mothers” and “young men growing into husbands, homebuilders, and fathers.” They call for “more babies and larger families” to counter the “war on human fertility”; gay marriage bans and tight divorce restrictions to “end the war of the sexual hedonists on marriage”; and the abolition of “state programs that indoctrinate children … youth, and adults into the contraceptive mentality.”

“We will craft schooling that gives positive images of chastity, marriage, fidelity, motherhood, fatherhood, husbandry, and housewifery. We will end the corruption of children through state ‘sex education’ programs,” they add.

Utah Gov To Speak At Anti-Gay, Anti-Contraception Group's Event

The World Congress of Families sent out a press release today announcing that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Attorney General Sean Reyes will both address the group’s upcoming convention in Salt Lake City.

The presence of two of Utah’s top elected officials lends legitimacy to the gathering of opponents of reproductive rights and LGBT equality from around the world. Among the speakers are the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown, Peter Sprigg and Pat Fagan of the Family Research Council, Sharon Slater of Family Watch International and Mark Regnerus, whose faulty research on gay parents has been used to justify anti-LGBT discrimination around the world.

Also speaking will be Ignacio Arsuaga of Spain and Luca Volante of Italy, activists who have been working with Brown to build global opposition to advances in LGBT rights.

But most troubling is the World Congress of Families itself, which is a project of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society. The Howard Center and the World Congress of Families were founded by Allan Carlson, an adherent of the anti-contraception, anti-women’s-rights “Quiverfull” ideology.

The World Congress of Families exists to promote what Carlson calls the “natural family” — something that does not include LGBT people, reproductive rights or, often, women working outside the home.

In their “Natural Family: A Manifesto,” Carlson and Paul Mero, then the president of the Sutherland Institute, which is hosting next month’s event in Utah, laid out their vision of a world full of homes “open to a quiver of children,” with “young women growing into wives, homemakers, and mothers” and “young men growing into husbands, homebuilders, and fathers.” They call for “more babies and larger families” to counter the “war on human fertility”; gay marriage bans and tight divorce restrictions to “end the war of the sexual hedonists on marriage”; and the abolition of “state programs that indoctrinate children … youth, and adults into the contraceptive mentality.”

“We will craft schooling that gives positive images of chastity, marriage, fidelity, motherhood, fatherhood, husbandry, and housewifery. We will end the corruption of children through state ‘sex education’ programs,” they add.

The World Congress of Families exists to unite activists who are pushing this “natural family” ideology throughout the world. Notably, the group has served as a cheerleader for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crackdown on LGBT people, with one WCF official calling Russia “ the Christian saviors of the world.” The group planned to hold its last World Congress at the Kremlin, funded by top Putin allies. It formally cancelled the event after Russia invaded Ukraine, but the Congress went ahead with WCF leaders in attendance. The main organizer of the conference, WCF’s Russian representative Alexey Komov, will be offering a workshop on “Hosting a WCF Conference” at the Salt Lake City event.

Despite the debacle in Russia, WCF has hardly turned down its activism. At a recent event in Belgrade, World Congress of Families official Don Feder, who will also be speaking at the Salt Lake City conference, explains that contraception leads to “death” by “preventing life from happening" and will ultimately cause to the "extinction" of humanity:

A '9/11 Every Day': The Radical Anti-Contraception Ideology That Links The Duggars And The Anti-Choice Right

The sex abuse scandal engulfing the Duggar family has put yet another unwanted spotlight on Quiverfull, the radical self-proclaimed Christian “patriarchy” movement of which the Duggars are the most prominent spokespeople. But what is too often missed in the fascination over Quiverfull beliefs and the lives of its reality-star adherents is how closely this radical anti-feminist ideology is tied to the policy priorities of the anti-choice Right and its increasingly vocal opposition to contraception access.

The Quiverfull ideology, as Kathryn Joyce explained in her fascinating book “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement,” is shared by a loose coalition of families living out a theology of “male headship and female submissiveness” in which a woman is expected to submit fully to her husband’s leadership while giving birth to, raising and homeschooling as many children as possible in order to repopulate the Earth with what one proponent called “warriors for God.”

Joyce published her book in 2009, well before the Supreme Court decided in the Hobby Lobby case that for-profit corporations could find “religious objections” to allowing their female employees insurance coverage for birth control. But she presciently linked the “mainstream” Right’s attacks on birth control to the “patriarchy” movement’s belief that stopping any child from being conceived, much less born, is an affront to God — and that it is a woman’s duty to bear and raise as many children as she can possibly produce.

Joyce writes that “most prospective Quiverfull parents actually learn about the Quiverfull conviction through the movement’s literature…And most of these people find these books after hearing the theory…that birth control pills are an abortifacient. That is, that hormonal contraception such as the pill can cause the ‘chemical abortion’ of accidentally fertilized eggs.”

This belief, that certain contraceptives cause abortion, was at the core of the Hobby Lobby decision. It is also wrong. But, as Joyce writes, Quiverfull and its allies aren’t just concerned about stopping the destruction of fertilized eggs — they view pregnancies that are prevented at all as murder.

As one speaker at the Pro-Life Action League’s 2006 “Contraception Is Not the Answer” event put it, potential lives “lost” through contraception amount to a “9/11 every day.”

Joyce writes:

…This is one of the strongest ties between the Quiverfull conviction and the larger Christian right, connecting a radically expanded prolife agenda that has broadened its political interests from abortion to birth control and sexual abstinence to international pronatalist movements.

As the political power of the antiabortion movement has grown, emboldened activists have moved toward a purer ideological line, making birth control the next target of the prolife movement. Employing the same “chipping away” political strategy they successfully used to diminish abortion rights, anticontraception activists have moved from defending individual “conscientiously objecting” pharmacists seeking to refuse contraceptives on moral grounds, to extending the same “right of refusal” to corporate entities such as insurers, to an out-and-out offensive against birth control as the murder-through-prevention of three thousand lives a day and the future of undoing Western civilization.

The latter two points were made in Illinois in September 2006 by British demographer Andrew Pollard, a speaker at the “Contraception Is Not the Answer” conference. Calling contraception “societal suicide,” Pollard calculated the reduced number of births due to contraception equivalent to a “9/11 every day for thirty-five years.” Pollard argued that “this year, about 1.6 million will be lost because of contraception and sterilization in [the United states]… [F]or every child lost through abortion, another is lost through contraception and sterilization. Countries cannot survive in the long run if they kill, or restrict, so many of their young shoots.”

Also speaking at that 2006 anti-contraception conference was Allan Carlson, a Quiverfull proponent whose World Congress of Families links anti-gay, anti-choice groups throughout the world, and Father Tom Euteneur, then the head of Human Life International, a Catholic group that opposes reproductive rights at the UN and in US foreign aid.

The Hobby Lobby case was an important milestone in the Religious Right’s campaign to weaponize religious liberty protections. But it was also a very public victory for the movement that is seeking to move beyond abortion restrictions to restrict contraception as well. By taking this ideology to the extreme, the Quiverfull movement shows just what’s at stake for women.

UPDATE: We should also note that the connections between Quiverfull and the Hobby Lobby case aren’t just ideological — the owners of Hobby Lobby have been major funders of the work of prominent Christian patriarchy writer Bill Gothard, who resigned from his post at the organization he founded last year following accusations of sexual harassment and covering up child abuse.

Theme Of 2015 World Congress Of Families Conference Will Be 'Religious Liberty'

The Associated Press reports that the theme of the next World Congress of Families, which will be held in Salt Lake City next year, is “religious liberty.”

“Religious liberty” is the hot topic for the Religious Right these days, but it doesn’t mean the same thing to the World Congress of Families and its allies that it means to the rest of us.

WCF has defended oppressive laws throughout the world, including a pair of recent Russian laws that were so extreme that they were condemned by even U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom chairman Robert George —  a prominent opponent of marriage equality in the U.S. — as "part of the Putin government’s assault on freedom of religion and expression."

The group applauded Putin’s crackdown on LGBT people, saying, “The Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world” and helped to bring in American validators like the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown to encourage a spate of anti-gay laws. WCF and its allied activists in Russia promoted and defended the most notorious of these laws, a gag order on pro-gay-rights speech — or “propaganda” — to minors, and worked with the law’s author to plan the Kremlin conference.

WCF, nonetheless, had to cancel its conference at the Kremlin this year — which was to be funded by major Vladimir Putin allies — after participants started to back out fearing a foreign policy headache.

WCF board member Janice Shaw Crouse, who is also a senior fellow at Concerned Women for America, has defended Putin’s prosecution of the members of the band Pussy Riot, which led to the passage of a ban on religious blasphemy.

Earlier this year, WCF presented an award to its Africa regional director, who backed a ban on free association among gay people in Nigeria.

The Salt Lake City conference’s website says the event will be organized by the Sutherland Institute, a Utah-based group whose president, Paul Mero, used to be an executive at the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, which runs the World Congress of Families. Mero was the coauthor of WCF founder Allan Carlson’s book, “The Natural Family: A Manifesto.”

Last year, after the Supreme Court heard arguments in two marriage equality cases, Mero presented his view that freedom is incompatable with gay rights. Society cannot truly be free, he wrote, if our laws “codify bad behavior” like homosexuality, because “bad behavior is the enemy of freedom.”

However these two cases are ultimately decided, I have to wonder aloud if the average American today even understands the requirements of a free society. I’ll remind you of what I have stated repeatedly: A free society requires us to become our better selves. In other words, a free society cannot long endure an aggregate of bad behavior. If the people decide one day that stealing is actually fine, we would eventually lose our freedom. If the people decide one day that lying is okay, we would eventually lose our freedom. Or, if the people decide one day that infidelity in our most personal relationships is normal, we would eventually lose our freedom.

Bad behavior is the enemy of freedom. Yes, a free society is very patient and very forgiving. Individually, each of us has great liberties to work out our lives for the better. We stumble and we fail, but as long as we keep trying to better ourselves, in character and virtue, freedom remains undisturbed. It’s only when we give up on becoming our better selves, only when a majority of people argue that character and virtue don’t matter, only when a nation decides to redefine the best within us to mean anything we need it to mean in justifying bad behavior that our freedom is in jeopardy.

There’s a lot we could talk about there but the idea itself raises another question regarding “gay rights”: How does homosexuality help us to become our better selves? What benefit to society is derived from two men being able to marry?

Again, a free society is very tolerant by nature. Everyone has wide latitude in working out their personal lives – and every one of us behaves badly to one degree or another. That’s a given. It’s part of life. But what a free society can ill afford is when the people decide to codify bad behavior in the law. Our laws increasingly reflect our dysfunctional selves, not our better selves. The argument over “gay rights” and same-sex marriage is ultimately an argument over whether or not we enshrine bad behavior in our laws. Being “gay” might be about personal feelings and sexual attractions for some. But our laws only know human behavior – and a free society requires that our laws sustain and encourage the best within us, not our selfish worst.

Religious Right Piles On To Defend Proponent Of Russia Anti-Gay Laws

A couple of weeks ago, the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society -- an Illinois-based group that through its World Congress of Families helped promote Russia’s new anti-gay laws -- was forced to relocate a Capitol Hill symposium on “family policy lessons from foreign lands” when Sen. Mark Kirk learned what it was up to and pulled the plug on its meeting room.

The group got a last-minute helping hand from House Speaker John Boehner , but the symposium’s speakers – World Congress of Families (WCF) founder Allan Carlson, Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute president Austin Ruse, and Concerned Women For America senior fellow/WCF board member Janice Shaw Crouse – still spent much of the event bashing Kirk over the scheduling snafu .

Now, Religious Right groups including the National Organization for Marriage, the Family Research Council, and the American Family Association are coming to WCF’s defense.

The National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown – who WCF arranged to testify before the Russian parliament in favor of its broad ban on adoption by gay people – told the American Family Association’s One News Now that Kirk decided to “discriminate against a group that stands for traditional marriage” and that by doing so he was “undermining the party platform” because “it’s part of the Republican Party platform to stand up for traditional marriage.”

The Family Research Council piled on with a press release accusing the senator of “true discrimination” and “silencing anyone who doesn’t adhere to a politically correct view of sexuality.”

"Holding a different view of marriage and sexuality is not discriminatory - especially when all the social science research demonstrates the benefits of the natural family,” added FRC’s Tony Perkins.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Family Institute, the state affiliate of the American Family Association, published an article accusing Sen. Kirk of wanting to “normalize sexual deviance while trampling the conscience rights of untold numbers of people” and followed it up with an email urging its members to call Kirk’s office and express their displeasure.

Despite what all three groups said, the Howard Center and the World Congress of Families don’t merely hold “a different view of marriage and sexuality.” WCF actively works to push oppressive anti-gay laws throughout the world, including actively working toward Russia’s ban on pro-gay-rights speech. Indeed, the speakers at the Capitol Hill symposium enthusiastically defended Russia's anti-gay laws and denyied that the laws actually harm gay people.

It maybe shouldn’t come as a surprise that three of the largest anti-gay groups in the US have jumped to the defense of WCF: Brown has close ties with WCF and has signed fundraising emails for the group, and FRC and AFA are both official “partners” of the organization.

Religious Right Leaders Defend Russia's Anti-Gay Law

As Miranda reported earlier, House Speaker John Boehner’s office stepped in to provide space to the anti-gay Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society for its symposium on what Americans should learn from other countries when it comes to “family policy.” Sen. Mark Kirk, who had originally sponsored the group for a room, withdrew his support last night saying he doesn’t affiliate with groups that discriminate.

The Howard Center’s Allan Carlson, who described himself as a historian by training, saw fascism at work: “The parallel I see here is what happened in Italy, Germany, other lands in the 1920s and 1930s as fascism began to impose its fear-driven grip on debate, on conversation, and on policy-making.”

[UPDATE: Concerned Women of America has posted videos of the event]

Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America boasted about having been a speaker at all but one of the World Congress of Families summits – annual events organized by the Howard Center and attended by conservative religious activists from around the world. Crouse acknowledged that “things don’t look so good” to activists watching the advance of same-sex marriage in Europe and the U.S., and public opinion in many countries shifting to “quote LGBT rights.”  But, she said that’s not the whole story, and praised countries that have outlawed gay marriage and other groups of citizens who are “with the help of God” changing the world.

Crouse is particularly excited about what is happening among opponents of marriage equality in France, which she portrays as a “David v. Goliath” battle of plucky pro-family activists fighting the French government and media. She mentioned activists in Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, and Nigeria. She encouraged the small number of attendees to “take heart” and count on the power of truth and faithfulness.

Austin Ruse, the enthusiastically anti-gay head of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, devoted much of his remarks to supporting Russia’s new anti-free-speech and anti-gay propaganda law.  He read from a statement of support from “pro-family groups” defending Russia’s new law. The letter claims that “the Russian law protects the innocence of children and the basic rights of their parents recognized in the international legislation and treaties.”  More from the letter:

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 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.

Ruse, who has been spending time in Russia to prepare for the World Congress of Families 2014 summit, being held in Moscow, said western LGBT rights advocates were guilty of overheated rhetoric and “propaganda” about the status of gays in Russia. He saw gays everywhere in Moscow! They can enjoy themselves “hassle-free” at clubs.  Russians, he said, accept that homosexuality exists, but they believe the political movement to celebrate and regularize it is harmful to children.

Speakers actually seemed envious of Russia in some ways.  Ruse said that with the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church, “Christians over there are truly dominant.” In the U.S., though, there is “an increasingly hostile atmosphere toward people with traditional values” and a “vicious totalitarianism that is loose in the land.” And “there’s more trouble coming” with the Employment Non Discrimination Act.  Crouse said American gay-rights activists are “turning into thugs who are destroying freedom of speech, destroying religious liberty.” It’s very “refreshing,” she said, to see that’s not the case in other countries.

Ruse acknowledged that anti-gay violence and thuggery is a problem in Russia. He denounced such violence and said he has urged Russian officials to do more to stop it. But when he was asked whether the conversation about the anti-gay propaganda law and protecting children from gay people might encourage such violence, he said anti-gay violence in Russia has been going on for a long time and didn’t think the new law was to blame. And he said blaming religious conservatives for creating a climate of hate is a tactic of gay-rights groups, a “maneuver to silence people.” 

Carlson said he cuts Russia a lot of slack because the country is “trying to put decent moral society back together” after both Communism and some of the “bad things” – like a “libertine approach to sexuality” – that poured into Russia from the west after the fall of Communism.

Anti-Gay Groups Shunned By Mark Kirk Get Last-Minute Help From Speaker Boehner

A Capitol Hill event featuring groups that push anti-gay laws abroad, which was scheduled to take place in a Senate office building today, developed a layer of unexpected intrigue last night when the event’s organizers sent out an email announcing that the meeting would be moved to a House building after the unnamed “senator who was sponsoring our room” canceled the room “due to media pressure.”

It turned out that the senator in question was Illinois’ Mark Kirk (home-state senator of the event’s organizer the World Congress of Families), and that the “media pressure” was Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder simply calling up his office to ask about it. Kirk’s office immediately dropped the event and announce that “Sen. Kirk doesn’t affiliate with groups that discriminate.”

WCF responded by announcing that “obviously Senator Kirk doesn’t care about families and children and freedom and has chosen to side with the policies of decline, death and disease promoted by the Sexual Radicals.”

To the rescue came none other than Speaker Boehner, whom World Congress of Families president Allan Carlson thanked for providing the group with its new Capitol Hill digs. Boehner’s spokesman nevertheless distanced his boss from the group in a statement to Feder: “This administrative task obviously does not imply endorsement of any particular point of view.”

All of this drama then became a central focus of the event, which was billed as a discussion on what the U.S. can learn from “family policy lessons from other lands.”

Carlson kicked off the event by announcing, “A great fear seems to be descending on what was once called the world’s greatest deliberative body” and saying that Kirk’s pulling the plug on the event’s room reminded him of the early days of fascism in Europe.

[UPDATE: Concerned Women of America has posted videos of the event]

Another speaker, Concerned Women for America’s Janice Shaw Crouse, who is also on WCF’s board of directors, blamed the change of plans on “a group of radicals” – an odd accusation since there had been no organized effort to prevent the event from taking place.

Finally, Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute’s Austin Ruse declared that Sen. Kirk’s action made him less friendly to free speech than Russia – whose law criminalizing pro-gay-rights speech has the vocal support of C-FAM and WCF .

UPDATE: Peter has a post on the summit speakers' defense of Russia's anti-gay laws.

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