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.”
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.