Right-Wing Religious United Front Against Women, Gays and Freedom From Religion
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Glenn Beck’s efforts to transform himself from Fox News demagogue into a religious leader for Tea Party America has a lot of commentators discussing the feasibility of a Mormon convert leading a wary evangelical and Catholic right in a faith-driven cause. While there are significant roadblocks hindering Beck’s quest for leadership in the Christian Right, he wouldn’t be the first Mormon to advocate a right-wing alliance that stretches across faiths. Beck follows hundreds of Mormon “pro-family” activists who have united with conservative Catholics and evangelicals to form a common front in the culture wars.
Since 1997, when Beck was just a baby Mormon, a coalition of mostly US-based religious right groups, the World Congress of Families, has attempted to rally religious conservatives at international “pro-family” conferences to transcend theological differences to unite against common enemies: feminism, homosexuality, liberal attitudes towards sexuality and reproductive rights, and the separation of church and state.
The WCF followed the rise of a global conservative movement in response to international conferences in the 1990s, particularly concerning reproductive or women’s rights, which they feared could affect US law back home. At the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development, Pope John Paul II (an early bridge-builder who’d allied himself with Billy Graham and Campus Crusade for Christ in the 1970s) called for interfaith opposition to the conference’s draft program of action due to its support for abortion rights and what the Pope called a “Culture of Death.”
As a result, the Vatican formed a “pro-family” bloc with conservative Muslim states, and inspired a cross-cutting crowd of religious conservatives to begin attending other UN conferences, such as the following year’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, or its five-year review in 2000, where conservative activists ran amok.
Jennifer Butler, executive director of Faith in Public Life and author of Born Again: The Christian Right Globalized, served as UN representative of the Presbyterian Church (USA), where she witnessed the beginning of conservative activism at the UN, bullying its way into influence at the international level. She recalls the chills she felt in 2000, when right-wing Catholic activist and WCF member Austin Ruse, of the Catholic right-wing group C-FAM, “sent around a note asking the Abrahamic faiths to rise up together.”
Ruse, a convert to Catholicism, invited conservatives to the UN’s Beijing + 5 review, declaring, “You will work alongside Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, and Mormons… We are the children of Abraham arising to fight for faith and family.” He succeeded, Butler reports, in drawing 300 activists as part of the conference’s 3,000 total attendees.
As a result of this call—and elite support from “powerful international players in the Vatican, US business, and politic[s]” who encouraged Catholic, Mormon and evangelical leaders into partnership—UN conferences began to be transformed, from the normally subdued forum for conversation among NGOs to stages for right-wing theater where protesting monks would seat themselves in the formation of a cross, Mormon youth activists seized control of a youth caucus to deliver a right-wing statement “from the worlds’ youth,” and Muslim and Christian NGOs would partner to forward a conservative agenda.
It is, in action, what Christian Right luminary Francis Schaeffer described as “ co-belligerency,” an interfaith cooperation that transcends doctrinal differences. It was an early goal of the WCF too, as WCF secretary and co-founder Allan Carlson described in his book The New Agrarian Mind, when he declared a conservative imperative to “build an international movement of ‘religiously-grounded family morality systems’ that can influence and eventually shape social policy at the United Nations.”