Nothing seems more important right now than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While some extreme right wingers have praised Putin, most of the Western world has not. Even Switzerland gave up its fiercely-held neutrality. Putin is a bad dude. Full stop.
So if your church had spent the last 20+ years supporting–with time, money, personnel, and endorsement–an organization that has praised Putin, associated with pro-Putin imperialist Russian and fascist European leaders, and furthered Putin’s agenda of alienating Eastern European countries from the rest of Europe and deepening their ties to Russia instead, would you want to know about it?
If so, read on. If not, I’ll be back next week talking about Jesus (unless some other world event puts off that post, which was originally set for today!).
Either way, take some time to find and donate to a reputable Ukrainian relief agency.
Last week in discussing the LDS Church’s response to Russia invading Ukraine, Angela & I mentioned in the comments that the Church supports organizations, including at least one with deep ties to Russia, that are actively pursuing anti-LGBT policies in Eastern Europe. While these organizations work hard to hide their funding sources and political ties (and the Church is not transparent about how it spends its money, either), I did a deep dive this week to see what more I could learn about the organizations involved, their connection to Putin, European fascism, and anti-LGBT legislation, and the Church’s support of it all. It’s a lot of information, so I’m breaking it up into three parts.
Today in part 1 I’ll give background information on an organization called the World Congress of Families (WCF), its connection to Russia, and its anti-LGBT advocacy.
In part 2, I’ll go into more detail about the LDS Church’s ties with and support of the WCF.
Finally, in part 3, we’ll look at the connection between the WCF, homophobia, and Russian imperialism.
Background: The World Congress of Families
In 1995 Allan Carson, a U.S. researcher and founder of the conservative think-tank the Howard Center, was invited to Moscow by two Russian sociologists who admired his work about the negative impact he claimed LGBT rights and feminism had on the family. Carson’s Russian hosts were concerned about the impact of Westernization on Russia and declining birthrates after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Together, they formed the World Congress of Families (WCF), also known now as the International Organization for the Family (IOF), which launched with a global “Congress” in 1997. WCF’s objective is to promote the cishetero nuclear family, which it calls the “natural family”, and to defend it as “the only fundamental and sustainable unit of society.” It promotes its global Congresses as the largest gatherings of pro-family leaders and activists in the world.
WCF also pursues this advocacy through publications, training programs, and regional events that advocate anti-LGBT and anti-abortion policies. One of its motivating concerns is a “demographic winter”–the idea that declining birthrates will lead to the decline of Western civilization, so its ideology is heavily pro-natalist. “Western” is key here; WCF is specifically concerned not with “a general lack of babies, but the cultural shifts that come when some populations, particularly immigrant communities, are feared to be out-procreating others.” Because of its anti-LGBT policies and ideology, WCF has been classified as an extremist hate group by both the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Human Rights Commission (HRC).
While WCF works with numerous U.S. and international groups to oppose LGBT and women’s reproductive rights globally, it has focused heavily on Eastern Europe, often holding events in countries where tensions between pro-Western / EU and pro-Russian forces are high. At those events and in its other work in the region, the WCF urges Eastern European countries not to fall prey to the morally bankrupt human rights standards of Western Europe–aligning Eastern European countries to Russia rather than the west.
While I will address its involvement in more detail in part 2, the LDS Church has remained a close ally to WCF since its inception. It helped plan and fund at least the first several Congresses via BYU’s now-defunct World Family Policy Center (WFPC) and through direct donations from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Foundation and the LDS Europe Area. It hosted the 2015 Congress in Salt Lake City (the only North American conference location), and has sent representatives to every single global Congress since WCF’s inception. At least as of 2017, Dallin Oaks was an honorary board member.
WCF’s Anti-LGBT Advocacy
Prior to 2015, WCF was heavily involved in fighting gay marriage in the United States–including Prop 8 (which, as everyone knows, the LDS Church was likewise heavily involved in). But by 2015, the fight over gay marriage in the United States was effectively over after 37 of 50 U.S. states legalized gay marriage and the remaining 13 would have to based on the Supreme Court’s ruling that restricting same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. However, WCF’s anti-gay marriage efforts continued abroad in countries that did not have similar constitutional protections or were more hostile to LGBT folks. It also went far beyond gay marriage, supporting laws to suppress speech about homosexuality and (in Africa) criminalizing homosexuality.
Some its anti-LGBT advocacy in WCF has pursued in Eastern Europe includes (but is not limited to) the following. (I’ve tried to find primary sources where I could, but not all are available online. For those that were unavailable, I’m relying on the HRC and SPLC reports.)
- Promoted Russia’s 2014 “anti-gay propaganda law”, and here, which human rights groups have criticized as “intensif[ying] the hostility LGBT people in Russia have long suffered, and also stifl[ing] access to LGBT-inclusive education and support services.” While this post will not address abortion, it also worked with Russia to pass Russia’s first-ever laws restricting abortion, banning the most basic abortion protocols.
- Inflamed concerns in Ukraine that joining the European Union would force the country to accept marriage equality. (More on this later.)
- Supported legislation in Poland that would have banned discussion of homosexuality in Polish public schools.
- Lobbied against marriage equality legislation in Albania and Romania and submitted amicus briefs arguing against the recognition of gay marriage in Slovakia.
- Successfully lobbied Serbian leaders not to permit a gay pride parade while they held a march in support of the “natural family”.
- Condemned participation by U.S. Embassador to Latvia and U.S. Embassador to the Czech Republic in those countries’ gay rights parade.
While this post focuses on Eastern Europe, WCF has promoted even harsher measures in Africa where it has found a more willing audience. It backed a “kill the gays” bill in Uganda and more recently a proposed Ghanian law that “would make identifying as gay or even an ally to the LGBTQ community a second-degree felony punishable by five years in prison–with advocating for LGBTQ rights punishable by up to 10 years.” (LDS woman Sharon Slater has been particularly active in African anti-gay efforts.) It appears that WCF will go as far as its target countries will allow to fight against human rights for, and the very existence of, LGBT folks.
WCF contends that it is not “anti” anything but instead simply promotes the “natural family” and a positive message. While I’ve tried to avoid editorializing too much here–you can draw your own conclusions about WCF, and I’ve pointed to their own sources wherever possible–I’ll editorialize here: I agree with the SPLC that WCF is a hate group. This is not your watered down “fairness for all” approach the Church shills to the public. This is a group that harbors intense animus towards queer folks, that does not want them to speak or exist, that characterizes them as pedophiles and disease-spreaders, and that views them as an existential threat. I’m not going to give them much air time, but some quotes from the group about LBGT folks include:
“There is no comparison between [same-sex marriage] and natural marriage. Most homosexual liaisons are of short duration. Even those that are called ‘committed relationships’ are rarely monogamous.”
—Don Feder, WCF director of international coalitions and coordinator of regional events, Barbwire.com, July 22, 2017
“Governments and transnational entities should cease all propaganda in favor of ‘gender theory’ and ‘sexual orientation,’ which have no basis in biological reality.”
—WCF Tbilisi Declaration, 2016
“Tell the LGBT tolerance tyrants, this lavender mafia, these homofascists, these rainbow radicals, that they are not welcome to promote their anti-religious and anti-civilizational propaganda in your nations.”
—Fr. Josiah Trenholm speaking at the World Congress of Families gathering in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 2016
“I think that when people realize that these activists are trying to impose on their children an awareness of unnatural behavior that does lead to the whole AIDS problem, people are going to get very angry. If you teach kids in a barrio that these [homosexual] acts, that they feel good, we’re going to have people dying of AIDS like flies…. What they call ‘gay marriage’ is a piece of paper that says we get to have a nice ceremony, we each get to have a nice bunch of flowers, and we get to have these partnership benefits — that’s not going to stop them from being promiscuous.”
—Christine Vollmer, recipient of the 2014 WCF lifetime achievement award and WCF Ambassador, quoted in Buzzfeed, May 2014
“And the homosexual propaganda — the law in the Russian Duma it passed on first reading, it would ban propaganda to minors, preventing them [LGBT people] from corrupting children. What a great idea and the rest of Europe is going the other way, legalizing LGBT propaganda.”
—Larry Jacobs, WCF managing director, speaking to End Times radio host Rick Wiles about Russia’s passage of anti-LGBT laws, June 2013
“We cannot imagine a worse form of cultural imperialism than Washington trying to force approval of the ‘gay’ agenda on societies with traditional values.”
—WCF “Letter by Pro-Family Leaders Worldwide Protesting Participation of the U.S. Embassy in Prague ‘Gay Pride’ Parade,” 2012
“The complementary natures of men and women, both physically and psychologically, are evident throughout the course of human history and in every society. Deviations from natural sexual behavior cannot truly satisfy the human spirit.”
—WCF founder Allan Carlson and former WCF executive vice president Paul Mero, The Natural Family: A Manifesto, 2007
WCF and its affiliates will go as far as possible to make queer lives miserable–even endangering those lives. It is particularly repugnant that the group chooses countries where queer people already face intense discrimination and adds to that burden. This is not God’s work. It bears no fruits of the spirit.
And, as I’ll describe in part 2, the LDS Church has supported them the whole way.
And if that weren’t enough, WCF’s work supports Russian imperialism, the fruition of which we are seeing now, which I’ll address in part 3.
Stay tuned and let me know in the comments what you think!
- Did you know about WCF’s work, its ties to Russia, or its ties to the LDS Church?
- Do you know anything about this I haven’t written about? If so, tell us know! This is a quite the rabbit hole when you get started.
- Any guesses as to how this relates to Russian imperialism?
- Did anyone click on every single hyperlink?