“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19, NIV)
Christians have used that verse for both good and evil over the last two-thousand years.
Eight months after the close of the Winter Olympics in the seaside Russian town of Sochi, another international gathering will happen in Russia. The World Congress of Families, an umbrella organization supported by “pro-family” groups around the world, will hold their eighth international conference from September 10-12, 2014, in Moscow. Indeed, the event will be held right in the heart of the Kremlin. If past World Congress events are any indication, representatives from American Evangelical and Catholic organizations such as the Family Research Council, Concerned Women For America, National Organization for Marriage, and The International Healing Foundation (Richard Cohen’s “ex-gay” outfit), will join with like-minded people around the world to teach their definition of “family” and network to spread their anti-gay, anti-woman beliefs internationally. One need only to peruse the list of the WCF’s international partners to see that American religious organizations, both those which have been classified as hate groups and some that have not, are heavily involved. Past Congresses have been held most recently in Sydney, Madrid and Warsaw. The inception for the conferences, however, happened in Moscow in 1995, during a meeting between then World Congress president Allan Carlson and professor Anatoly Antonov of Moscow State Lomonosov University. Right Wing Watch has an excellent report on the World Congress’s activities in Russia, explaining that in 2012, they assisted in creating a pan-Russian “traditional values” coalition, FamilyPolicy.ru, which seeks “to consistently exert real influence on the family policy in Russia, at the U.N. and internationally.” They, too, will be taking center stage at the 2014 WCF summit.
Russia has been in the spotlight lately for what seems like a sudden, increased campaign against their LGBT population. Since the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s third term in office, the government has passed laws banning blasphemy against the Russian Orthodox Church, banning adoption of Russian children by Americans and by gay couples, and most notoriously, banning “propaganda” regarding “non-traditional” relationships toward minors. Now, a law is being discussed which would remove children from LGBT parents. The “propaganda” law is so broadly written that, in effect, it bans any public displays that allude to LGBT people in a supportive way, including Pride parades. The law was based on an earlier piece of legislation passed in the city of St. Petersburg in 2012, and was pushed most fervently in the Duma by Vitaly Milonov, the author of the St. Petersburg law. Milonov is both a legislator and an admitted activist for the Orthodox Church in Russia, and stated his reasoning for the St. Petersburg law last year:
“I don’t want children to get the wrong idea that traditional and non-traditional forms of partnerships are equal – they are not equal,” he says firmly. “Only a man and a woman can be a family – anything else is not a family.” … “Gay propaganda can influence children,” he insists. “Just look at Germany, where statistics indicate that 12 percent of the population is gay. Statistics also show that 40 percent of men in Berlin have tried homosexual sex. This can not be explained by biology.” “Of course, there were fewer homosexuals in the Soviet Union,” he says. Homosexuality was a criminal offense in the Soviet Union and was only decriminalized in modern Russia in 1993.
The passage of draconian anti-gay laws in Russia has been met with outrage by the Western world. The idea of Russia hosting the Olympic Games next year has drawn comparisons to 1936 in Berlin, just as Adolf Hitler was beginning to show his true face to the world. LGBT and LGBT-supportive people around the world have responded with boycotts and demands that the Olympics be moved out of Russia. American actor Wentworth Miller used the opportunity presented by the Russian situation to officially come out, while declining an invitation to be a guest of honor at the St. Petersburg International Film Festival, due to the nation’s harsh treatment of LGBT citizens. Meanwhile, openly gay American news anchor Thomas Roberts announced last week that he would be going to Russia to host the Miss Universe pageant, explaining that he’s going so that he can show LGBT people in Russia that there’s hope.
Meanwhile, the growing Neo-Nazi movement in Russia, which began proliferating as a response to ethnic Russians’ perceptions that foreigners and people of other races were trampling on the purity of the nation, as well as taking Russians’ economic opportunities away from them, has expanded its focus to include hunting and torturing LGBT people. The Russian government has mostly turned a blind eye. Russia’s population growth is stagnant, as is economic opportunity, which has created a situation ripe for exploitation by those who would wish to redirect Russians’ anger and hopelessness onto scapegoats such as ethnic minorities and LGBT people.
Though most people in the West who learn of the current state of Russia are horrified and outraged, there is a significant minority in the United States which explicitly supports the pogrom against LGBT Russians. Consider the following quotes from American Religious Right figures and organizations, reacting to the anti-gay and blasphemy laws which have passed in Russia:
“While we should and do deplore laws that allow violence against homosexuals, the bottom line for Russia and elsewhere is that there is no human right to teach school children about sexual practices, neither is there a human right to parade your sexual preferences and practices down public streets. All else is legal.” — Austin Ruse, President of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute
“You admire some of the things they’re doing in Russia against propaganda. On the other hand, you know it would be impossible to do that here.” — Austin Ruse
“Russians do not want to follow America’s reckless and decadent promotion of gender confusion, sexual perversion, and anti-biblical ideologies to youth….Folks, I’m afraid that the lessons that the United States of America has to teach the world on homosexuality these days are mostly negative: Avoid our mistakes. Don’t become like us. Don’t foster the promotion of radical sexual and gender agendas to your young people. Don’t allow your government schools to become ‘pro-homosexuality zones’ for impressionable students. Don’t treat unhealthly [sic] sexual perversions and gender confusion as a ‘civil right’ or ‘human right,’ etc. Who can blame Russians for looking at the U.S. Homosexual Lobby’s ‘Overhauling of Straight America’ (to quote the article and book by homosexual marketing strategists Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen) and saying, ‘No thanks!’” — Peter LaBarbera, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, designated a certified hate group by the SPLC
“I can’t point to any country of the world today that is a model for the rest of the world, except perhaps for Russia, which has just taken the very important and frankly necessary step of criminalizing homosexual propaganda to protect the society from being ‘homosexualzed.’ [sic] This was one of my recommendation [sic] to Russian leaders in my 50-city tour of the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007. … How can this be stopped? Only by resolute and unapologetic discrimination against the ‘sexual freedom’ agenda. It is not enough to oppose homosexuality or individual elements of the ‘gay’ agenda such as ‘gay marriage’ because the deeper problem is corruption of sexual morality. The ‘gays’ and their allies always start by corrupting heterosexual morality, so by the time the homosexuals come ‘out of the closet’ most of the work of destroying marriage-based culture is already done. To fully protect your country from the moral destruction that is raging in the United States and Europe it is necessary to affirm and protect authentic marriage as the only proper context for sexual relationships, and to actively discourage sex outside of marriage through your public policy, reserving limited tolerance for people who choose to live discretely outside the mainstream. I strongly advise that you adopt an anti-propaganda law similar to what Russia has recently passed, to stop the ‘gay’ agenda from advancing any further that it may already have done.” – Scott Lively, Defend the Family, designated a certified hate group by the SPLC, writing to the Hungarian people
“Russia is not being homophobic, it’s homorealistic – the Russian government is trying to take the issue into consideration and establish public policy to contribute to public health, as this lifestyle is not be promoted, endorsed or granted special legal protection. …
“I think the Russian government is right to be concerned with propaganda on teenagers who are at the age of struggling through sexual identity issues and we should help to channel these urges in productive behavior. Heterosexuality is God’s design. Policies that encourage young people to think this are good ideas.” - Bryan Fischer, The American Family Association, designated a certified hate group by the SPLC
“With the battle for the family waging across this nation, instead of condemning a sovereign nation for its laws we need to be changing ours. The family unit is under attack and we must stand against those who want to redefine and destroy it. The family is the foundation of a society and the glue that holds it together. I applaud the Russians for taking a stand for children!
“And though I cannot honestly speak to the morality of Russia or its leaders, I can say that it appears that the leaders of Russia are attempting to stem the tide of moral decline in ‘their’ country. And I do acknowledge that things are not ideal there, but it seems to me that we need to take the beam out of our own eye before we are in a position to take the beam out of theirs! America is not in a position to judge or impose our so-called ‘morality’ on anyone, let alone a sovereign nation!” – Bill Owens, National Organization For Marriage spokesperson
All of the above organizations have either been featured in World Congress of Families events, have appeared as sponsors of the umbrella organization, or have taken an activist role in conforming Russia’s culture to their own worldviews. There are many more quotes like that from American Religious Right activists.
Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America has been a featured speaker at World Congress events, and exuberantly described Russia’s role in the future of “pro-family” causes:
“The Sydney event [World Congress of Families VII] was a watershed that marked Russia’s movement into a leading role in promoting pro-family concerns. The World Congress of Families will be hosted at the Kremlin in 2014. The involvement of strong leaders from Russia was a dream that seemed against all odds in the late 1990s when the movement was launched. It is a measure of the indispensable nature of the natural family and its universal relevance to all nations.”
In no way is the current Russian religious situation wholly a product of American conservative Evangelicals and Catholics. There is already more than enough anti-gay animus in that nation to go around. However, clearly, the Religious Right has seen an opportunity in Russia, and have seized upon it. As far back as 1998, Focus on the Family, another World Congress affiliate, boasted that the Russian Federation had become one of its largest broadcast audiences. They were simply planting seeds in a garden that was already being cultivated by the Russian Orthodox Church, and her allies in the Kremlin. Grasping the roots of homophobia in Russia is an article all its own, but for a greater understanding of why the ground is so fertile for anti-gay sentiments and action in that country, start here.
The most interesting, and perhaps most significant, American Religious Right figures working with Russia today are Scott Lively and Brian Brown, of the National Organization for Marriage, two men whose work in the United States seems separated — Lively is an Evangelical so extreme that his own movement considers him fringe, whereas Brown is a Catholic whose organization, the National Organization for Marriage, has been as “mainstream” as the anti-gay movement has been, working at the forefront in denying marriage equality to the states — but who have come together for the sake of fighting a battle in Russia against LGBT people, a battle that they have all but lost in the United States.
Scott Lively’s International War On Homosexuals
Scott Lively is currently on trial for crimes against humanity for his actions in Uganda, where he was at least partially responsible for inciting much of that nation’s anti-gay pogrom, meeting with Ugandan legislators and helping to craft what became known as the “Kill The Gays” bill. He spoke to religious leaders and activists, telling them that super-human gays were responsible for the Holocaust, and that they were “probably” involved in the Rwandan genocide, which happened quite literally next door to Uganda. He is not remorseful about his involvement in Uganda. He has also been traveling to Russia and Latvia for many years now, spreading the same messages of hate against LGBT people. In 2006 and 2007, he embarked on a fifty city tour of Russia and explicitly recommended that they pass anti-”propaganda” laws to avoid society becoming “homosexualized.” Responding to the passage of the law, Scott Lively has taken credit, asserting that it is “one of the proudest achievements” of his career.
Russia and Eastern Europe have long been on Lively’s radar, and he has found purchase for his discredited Holocaust revisionism in Russian-speaking circles in the United States, and all over the former Soviet Union. His ties to Slavic Evangelicals in the United States are frightening, as the SPLC has described this particular religious group as “just as crude and even more physically abusive than Fred Phelps‘ infamous Westboro Baptist Church, and … rooted in gay-bashing theology that’s even more hardcore than the late Jerry Falwell’s.”
While it’s important not to overstate one American’s role in Russia’s institutionalized homophobia, it’s important not to understate it either. In an interview with NBC, Lively called himself the “father” of Uganda’s anti-gay movement, and a Russian LGBT activist suggests that Lively has a similar platform in Russia:
“Yes, I think I influenced the Russian law,” Lively said. While some gay rights activists still think he’s just a laughingstock, Boris Dittrich, the director of LGBT advocacy for Human Rights Watch, tends to confirm Lively’s claims. Russia was plenty homophobic before Lively’s arrival but the American pastor appears to have given shape to that free-floating hatred, Dittrich said. As he passed through Russia’s regions, Lively met with politicians and bans on homosexual propaganda followed, spreading to more than a half-dozen areas before Putin swept them into a national standard.
Lively was also candid about his long involvement with the Russian and Eastern European anti-gay movement:
In 2006, Lively served as California state director of the American Family Association in Sacramento and fought the “homosexualization” of public schools. He befriended Alexey Ledyaev, charismatic pastor of New Generation, a Latvian megachurch with more than 200 branches worldwide. Together they founded Watchmen on the Walls, a network of activists who pledged to guard the Kingdom of Christ against the siege of homosexuality — and by fall of that year Lively was on a Watchmen trip to Russia.
By February 2007 he was back in the States in high spirits, bearing a 45-minute highlight reel that he screened at an OCA reunion in Portland. It repeatedly referred to gays as “terrorists,” showed members of the Watchmen interrupting a pride parade in Riga (with bags of feces, according media reports), and included a cross-national howl from a Latvian member of the Watchmen. “Your generation beat the Nazis, and our country beat the Communists,” the activist said. “Together we will defeat the homosexuals!”
A month or so later, Lively was back on the circuit, speaking at the World Congress of Families conference in Warsaw before hopping to Riga, his base for the next several months. He preached in churches, lectured in universities, took the podium at conferences. He sat down with pro-family leaders, pastors and a few members of parliament.
Old videos from the now-defunct Watchmen website reveal some highlights. A stop in Riga in May 2007, where Lively called gay rights “the most dangerous political movement in the world.” A three-day conference in Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia, in August. There Lively addressed an auditorium filled with 1,000 Christians, six ushers on hand to help with security and seating, the stage kitted out to look like a medieval wall.
“There is a war that is going on in the world,” Lively said through a translator. “There is a war that is waging across the entire face of the globe. It’s been waging in the United States for decades, and it’s been waging in Europe for decades. It’s a war between Christians and homosexuals.”
Just this past week, it was reported that Scott Lively was again in Russia, assisting with pre-planning for the Moscow World Congress of Families event. Also in attendance for those meetings last week was Brian Brown, of the National Organization For Marriage.
Brian Brown and NOM — Expanding The Fight Beyond Marriage And Beyond The United States
While Scott Lively’s international activities have been widely documented, Brian Brown’s role in Russia’s anti-gay pogrom has just recently started to come to light. Right Wing Watch reported that, after assisting anti-gay factions in France, Brian Brown traveled to Russia this summer with French anti-gay activists, to advise lawmakers on the threats of allowing gays to adopt children, which preceded announcements that the next phase in Russia’s campaign against LGBT people would involve taking kids away from LGBT parents. The bill has recently been pulled in order to be modified, but there is speculation that timing was a consideration, in that this bill was scheduled to be debated during the Sochi Olympics.
While in Russia, Brian Brown was busy:
According to Russian news reports, the French activists and Brown attended two events in Moscow. One was a joint meeting on changes in international adoption laws with the Duma’s committee on foreign affairs and its committee on family, women and children – whose chair, Yelena Mizulina, authored the ban on gay “propaganda” and the adoption bill.
The other event was a roundtable discussion on “Traditional Values: The Future of the European Peoples,” hosted by the St. Basil the Great Foundation – a Russian Orthodox group run by Konstantin Malofeev, the head of a private equity group and spirited anti-gay activist – and also sponsored by the Duma’s family committee, the right-wing Center for Social-Conservative Policy, and a new multi-party group of Russian MPs formed, with approval of the Russian Orthodox Church, to “protect traditional Christian values” and fight “aggressive liberalism” in reaction to Pussy Riot’s protests. Among the measures pushed by the group was the new law imposing jail time for “insulting religious feelings.”
Brown is an enthusiastic supporter of the group, which pushes anti-gay and anti-choice measures abroad and has been a strong cheerleader for Russia’s recent anti-gay crackdown.
The World Congress’ “hosting committee” includes the group’s “representative in Russia” Alexey Komov and philanthropist Konstantin Malofeev, who hosted a meeting that Brown attended with members of the Duma in June.
Now, Brown has no obligation to announce to the world every time he takes a trip overseas, but we find it curious that he’s been so quiet about his work in Russia. After all, NOM tries to portray itself as a kinder, gentler anti-gay group that’s just about preserving “traditional marriage” in the United States. Hanging out with people like Scott Lively and egging on the Russian parliament as they pass a spate of vicious anti-gay bills doesn’t exactly bolster that image.
Even though they share the same essential ideology, for many years it would have been reasonable to call Scott Lively and Brian Brown strange bedfellows. Brown is leading an organization that used to be media-savvy, used to explicitly work to send a message that they were not motivated by animus, but simply wanted to “protect families.” That was never exactly true, but Religious Right activists are well-known for shoving their most extreme voices — Mike Heath in Maine, Peter LaBarbera in Illinois — into the attic when the cameras start rolling. But as the movement to destroy LGBT people in the United States has begun to die, it seems that the extremists in the attic are the only ones left.
It’s not clear whether Brown and Lively have been quietly working together the entire time, but it is clear that they have found a moment now, where they can pick up the pieces of their dying American movement and take them to a nation rife with resentment, class struggles, racism and economic stagnation, a nation literally dying for scapegoats to blame for what they see when they look around them.
It will become clear in coming months just how extensive — beyond figures as divisive and well-known as Lively and Brown — American involvement in Russia is. On the World Congress of Families’ website, there is a letter expressing support for Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, signed by organizations around the world. American signatories include the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, the Christian Film and Television Commission, the Family First Foundation, GrassTopsUSA, His Servants, Mission America (Linda Harvey), and the Population Research Institute. Organizations currently partnered with the World Congress of Families include the American Family Association, Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and many, many others.
Brown’s and Lively’s specific activities in Russia are just the tip of the iceberg. Russia is not simply something that a few American anti-gay activists are involved in — this is what the American Religious Right is doing right now. They have obviously read the writing on the wall and know that their days in the United States and the rest of the West are very numbered, and they have determined that the only way for them to stay afloat is to “go and make disciples of all nations” — disciples who they can teach to hate LGBT people just as much as they do, people who are in circumstances precarious enough that they can be convinced that the biggest problems facing their nations are people who fall in love with people of the same sex. It’s doubtful that this is really what Jesus had in mind when he said that, but as I said at the beginning, Christians have been using that line for purposes both good and evil for the past two-thousand years.
This time around, it’s particularly evil.