Liberal magazines tie Rockford-based group to anti-gay movement in Russia
Separate articles in the liberal magazines The Nation and Mother Jones cite the World Congress of Families (WCF), an offshoot of the Rockford-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, as a moving force behind the rise of an anti-gay culture in Russia.
WCF will hold its next big international doings in Moscow in September.
Hannah Levintova of Mother Jones WRITES:
In November 2010, Russia’s Sanctity of Motherhood organization kicked off its first-ever national conference. The theme, according to its organizers, was urgent: solving “the crisis of traditional family values” in a modernizing Russia…
On the second morning of the conference, the only American in attendance, a tall, collected man, stepped up for his speech. Larry Jacobs, vice president of the Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families (WCF), an umbrella organization for the US religious right’s heavy hitters, told the audience that American evangelicals had a 40-year track record of “defending life and family” and they hoped to be “true allies” in Russia’s traditional values crusade.
The gathering marked the beginning of the family values fervor that has swept Russia in recent years. Warning that low birth rates are a threat to the long-term survival of the Russian people, politicians have been pushing to restrict abortion and encourage bigger families. Among the movement’s successes is a law that passed last summer and garnered global outrage in the run-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics, banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” a vague term that has been seen as effectively criminalizing any public expression of same-sex relationships.
Anti-gay groups have made tormenting the LGBT community a national and organized affair…This month, LGBT activists were arrested in Moscow and St. Petersburg hours before the Olympic opening ceremony and have been detained in Sochi itself.
Since Jacobs first traveled to Russia for the Sanctity of Motherhood conference, he and his WCF colleagues have returned regularly to bolster Russia’s nascent anti-gay movement—and to work with powerful Russian connections that they’ve acquired along the way. In 2014, the World Congress of Families will draw an international group of conservative activists together in Moscow, a celebratory convening that Jacobs foreshadowed on that first visit, when he ended his speech triumphantly: “Together, we can win!”
…Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, two sociology professors at Lomonosov Moscow State University, Anatoly Antonov and Victor Medkov, had been watching with mounting concern as marriage and birth rates fell precipitously—this was not how capitalism was supposed to play out. But they thought they knew who could help.
They turned to Allan Carlson, president of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, a historian who made his name studying family policy, earning an appointment to President Reagan’s National Commission on Children. His 1988 book, “Family Questions: Reflections on the American Social Crisis,” had set out to define and explain how a similar demographic decay—spurred by the postwar feminist and sexual revolutions—had played out in America. Medkov and Antonov read his work with enthusiasm, invited him to Moscow, and took him to meet Ivan Shevchenko—a Russian Orthodox mystic in whose Moscow apartment the WCF was hatched.
They envisioned the World Congress as a global gathering for social conservatives dedicated to protecting their vision of the family in a changing society. They soon launched plans to host their first conference in 1997 in Prague. It proved an unexpected success, drawing more than 700 participants. That year Carlson, who had raised most of the money to host the event, helped establish and became president of the Howard Center, which adopted the WCF as a core project.
WCF has since put on conferences in Europe, Mexico, and Australia that have been attended by thousands. The group has deep ties with the most powerful organizations in America’s religious right, including Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, and Americans United for Life. These groups and many others pay $2,500 annually to be WCF partners, and some give additional funds—Focus, the Alliance Defense Fund, and the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute each chipped in $20,000 to help put on the 2012 World Congress in Madrid. In Russia, they’ve tapped the support of the nation’s religious right and its billionaire sponsors.
Since 2010, WCF has helped host at least five major gatherings in Russia where American evangelicals put their views before Russian audiences. At a 2011 demographic summit in Moscow, the event’s loaded two-day schedule of panels and speeches included just one 10-minute slot without an American presenter.
Adam Federman of The Nation WRITES:
In 2011, the World Congress of Families held its first Demographic Summit in Moscow. Established in 1997 by Dr. Allan Carlson, the WCF is an interfaith, international movement whose mission is to “restore the natural family as the fundamental social unit.” Back in 1995, Carlson was invited to speak at Moscow State University by two professors of sociology who admired his book Family Questions: Reflections on the American Social Crisis. According to Jennifer Butler in Born Again: The Christian Right Globalized, “The professors and Carlson, joined by a lay leader in the Russian Orthodox Church, came to the conclusion that what they needed was to bring together scholars and leaders from ‘newly free Europe and Russia’ to meet with leaders from the West.” The first global conference was held in Prague in 1997 and drew more than 700 participants.
The 2011 summit was attended by leading US evangelicals like Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America and Larry Jacobs of the WCF. The meeting’s Russian attendees included not only church heavyweights but Natalia Yakunina, chair of the Sanctity of Motherhood Program and wife of Vladimir Yakunin, the head of the state-run Russian Railways and a member of Putin’s inner circle. In promotional material, the WCF claims that the 2011 summit “helped pass the first Russian laws restricting abortion in modern history.” The WCF held a follow-up Demographic Summit in Ulyanovsk in 2012.