Magazine article Church & State

World of Trouble: A U.S.-Based Movement Seeks to Forge a Global Alliance for Faith, Family and Fundamentalism

Magazine article Church & State

World of Trouble: A U.S.-Based Movement Seeks to Forge a Global Alliance for Faith, Family and Fundamentalism

Article excerpt

On its website, the northern Illinois city of Rockford boasts of its "affordable homes on tree-lined streets in friendly neighborhoods." Ninety miles from Chicago, it's too far away to be an exurb and has had to carve out its own identity. The city hosts Illinois' largest music festival and is home to a well-regarded natural history museum. The 1970s rock band Cheap Trick called Rockford home.

What's less well known is that Rockford is home to a movement that seeks to forge an international Religious Right bloc that aims to merge various strains of orthodoxy into a united phalanx to save the "traditional family."

Situated along North Main Street, not far from the Rock River, is an otherwise non-descript office building. There, a small band of true believers runs the World Congress of Families (WCF).

Founded in 1997, the organization has a small staff and modest budget. It typically receives little domestic media attention for its work. But despite its small size and relatively unknown profile, the WCF has emerged as a power player in the Religious Right due to its successful track record pushing socially conservative policies in countries like Russia, Poland and Uganda. Its efforts to reform the globe are most visible in its World Congresses, which it hosts on an irregular basis in various countries in order to promote socially conservative policies.

The WCF's activism isn't restricted to its Congresses. Under the banner of promoting what it calls "the natural family," it joined the United Nations' Family Rights Caucus in order to campaign for a variety of causes beloved by American fundamentalists on the world stage--primarily, the abolition of LGBT rights.

That activity has attracted a number of partners from fundamentalist Christian organizations more familiar to American observers; the WCF's website lists the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission among its supporters. In 2004, their Mexico City World Congress even received public accolades from President George W. Bush.

This high-profile support is at least partially due to the leadership of WCF founder and International Secretary Dr. Allan Carlson.

Carlson is no stranger to the Religious Right. Throughout his career he's mixed Christian fundamentalism with conservative politics and a dash of academia. And he's been successful: He's currently the Distinguished Visiting Professor of History and Politics at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Mich. The college describes itself as a "... trustee of modern man's intellectual and spiritual inheritance from the Judeo-Christian faith and Greco-Roman culture" and decries the "dehumanizing, discriminatory trend of so called 'social justice' and 'multicultural diversity.'"

Before founding the WCF and teaching at Hillsdale, Carlson served as the president of the Rockford Institute, a paleo-conservative think tank. Carlson left Rockford in 1997 to found the Howard Center for Religion, Family and Society. The Center is still considered a Rockford affiliate, and it spawned the WCF to conduct research on the "natural family" and to organize the World Congresses; all three organizations are currently based in Rockford.

During Carlson's tenure, the WCF has transformed itself into an umbrella organization uniting various ideological allies. A list of speakers provided on its website is a veritable who's who of the Religious Right: the former U.S. Ambassador to Gambia, George Willford Bryce; Dr. Paige Patterson of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute; and Michael Farris of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, a right-wing Christian outfit.

But what exactly does Carlson--and the WCF--want?

In "The Natural Family: A Manifesto," Carlson (with the assistance of the Sutherland Institute's former president Paul Mero) outlines the group's platform and political goals, beginning with a definition of the "natural family. …

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