Monday, December 29, 2014

How Christian Right's Defense of Family Helps Hide Russia's Biggest Problems

by Nomad

The same political evangelicals who have wasted taxpayer's money in the US are taking the Christian Right's homophobic defense of family show to Russia.

And there's a good reason why Putin and the Russian government supports the extreme conservative propaganda.

Back in February, Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council (FRC), a far right Christian political organization, declared that the American Economy was doomed. It was only a matter of time.
The cause for the meltdown?  America's acceptance of gay rights, naturally.

Perkins' American Apocalypse 
In case you don't know, the Family Research Council- a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charity- lobbies in Washington against all things homosexual in the name of supporting family values. "Homosexual conduct is," according to the FRC, "harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed." 

Perkins' argument that acceptance of gay equality can actually cause the economy to tank is a new one. It works like this: Gay rights, Perkins predicts, will weaken the nation to such a point that Russia and China will feel emboldened to drop the dollar as an international currency standard. American money will be worthless.
Thereafter every time you open your purse or wallet all you will hear is a flushing sound.

Perkins says you only have yourself to blame when the US goes down the tubes. You allowed it.

In truth, acceptance of homosexuality in the US has undergone a dramatic shift in the last two decades.
One poll by one of the largest independent social research organizationsNORC in Chicago says:
The change toward acceptance of homosexuality began in the late 1980s after years of remaining relatively constant. In 1973, 70 percent of people felt same-sex relations are “always wrong,” and in 1987, 75 percent held that view. By 2000, however, that number dropped to 54 percent and by 2010 was down to 43.5 percent.
The survey also noted that public acceptance means the right to be openly gay.
Support for a gay person's right to speak before a public audience increased from 62 percent in 1972 to 86 percent in 2010; support for allowing gays and lesbians to teach at colleges or universities rose from 48 percent in 1973 to 84 percent in 2010; and approval for having a library keep a book that favors homosexuality rose from 54 percent in 1973 to 78 percent in 2010.
There are worse things to worry about, Americans seem to be saying. Serious problems. And whether somebody is a gay or a lesbian simply isn't one of them.

To back up his claim about the impending doom, Perkins made a few false claims to convince the extremely innocent that he knew what he was talking about. Then, not surprisingly, he pointed his accusing finger at the president and the "failings" of liberal society.
We don’t deal with the social issues. We let this president redefine the military through pushing the military, forcing the military to embrace open homosexuality, redefine the definition of marriage, we’ve weakened our military and he’s pushed his radical health care policy draining our government of the resources it needs to perform its constitutionally mandated duties, and so Russia makes a move."
Much to his credit, Perkins has managed to work in every conservative talking point without making much sense. Of course, it's hardly news that America's Christian Right has long used the defense of family to launch its offensive against gay rights. 

All in all, it's an agenda that has proved to be a colossal waste of time and taxpayer's money. At the same time, it has stirred up a lot of hate and discrimination against the gay minority.

(If you think that is a bit of an exaggeration then consider recent on-air remarks by Craig James — the former Fox Sports host who found work at the FRC-- refused to rule out executions for gay Americans. That shouldn't shock you.   Tony Perkins once defended a Ugandan law which made homosexuality a crime punishable by death in certain cases. With talk like that, it no wonder that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers FRC  a hate group.

Speaking of Mother Russia
At about the same time as Perkins was making his remarks, Mother Jones published an expose.
The writer, Hannah Levintova, noted:
Russians have increasingly adopted the kind of language the American religious right has long deployed to fight acceptance of homosexuality—terms like "natural family," "traditional values," and "protecting children," with rarely a mention of the word "gay."
In Russia, there are plenty of people who share similar anti-homosexual ideas like those espoused by the FRC and Perkins. Like the Christian Far Right, Russian Orthodox Church has an immense political influence and their stand on gay rights. 

Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, secular name: VladimirMikhailovich Gundyayev, has declared that recognition of same-sex unions by Western countries is a harbinger of impending of doom.  
A Catholic news source reports that the Patriarch is saying pretty much the same line as Perkins:
In July, Russia Today reported that after a liturgy in Red Square's Kazan Cathedral, Kirill said, “This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything in our powers to ensure that sin is never sanctioned in Russia by state law, because that would mean that the nation has embarked on a path of self-destruction.”
With the approval of the Church and the nod of the Putin government, anti-gay sentiment has at times devolved into real violence.
Last year, CBS reported how gay rights activists were attacked "by hundreds of Orthodox Christian activists and members of pro-Kremlin youth groups. The mostly burly young men with closely cropped hair pelted them with eggs while shouting obscenities and homophobic slurs.”

When the police finally moved in, only gay right activists were arrested. And those who were not detained, according to the article, were later beaten by masked men on a central street about a mile away.
For the police, it was something gays should expect when they "chose" to be open about their orientation.  Declaring your existence is, they have decided, a case of anti-social propaganda.
(The ironic part is that gays in Russia are being treated by local police in the same manner as the Communists were treated in the US in 1920.)

There are other disturbing historical parallels.
Like Jews under the Czars, the gay minority in Russia has become prey to vigilante gangs who use social media to lure gay people to fake dates, record videos of them being beaten or sexually humiliated. According to Human Rights Watch,  such material is later used as recruitment for more followers.  

World Congress of Families
If that Russian pro-family, anti-gay rights message sounds familiar, it's not a coincidence. US-based Christian right wing groups have been successful at promoting such propaganda around the world. According to the Mother Jones article, the World Congress of Families (WCF) a Rockford, Illinois-based organization, is one critical link between West and East.  

The WCF is an  umbrella organization with some 29 partner organizations. According to one source, WCF partner are some of the largest and most influential conservative groups in America or, for that matter, throughout the world. The partners include: Focus of Family, Alliance Defending Freedom, American Family Association, Concerned Women for America and yes, you guessed it, Perkins' own Family Research Council.

Its website describes its mission as  affirming and defending  "the natural family as the fundamental unit of civilizations, thus renewing a stable and free society."   
So? Sounds positive, uplifting, doesn't it? Who can be against the concept of "families?"
The problem comes in with the words "natural" families. 

In fact the innocuous-sounding mission statement holds a lot more than it seems. Defending? From whom, from what? Families are endangered, the organization leaders claim, by policies that “undermining” the family include efforts to make sexual orientation and gender identity protected statuses under international human rights law, providing comprehensive sex-ed to young people, and ensuring accessible and safe contraception and abortion options."
In other words, liberal policies. 

Indeed, it's not so much about bolstering families as it is about promoting the right wing agenda- in its most virulent forms- smack dab in the heart of Russia. The most astonishing part of all of it that Russians don't even realize it. 

They have adopted the same social platforms of the US political party that has long sought to destroy Russian influence. 

As American reporter, foreign correspondent and columnist James Kirchick points out, during the Soviet era, (of which Putin is very much a product) there existed a no more reliably anti-communist constituency than that of religious social conservatives."
The Soviet Union did not pose merely a national security threat to the United States, they argued, but “godless communism” endangered the very moral fabric underpinning of Western society.
So, the next logical question is: Why on God's name would Putin- champion of the Motherland- allow it?

Twenty Years of  Homophobic Propaganda
WCF has been active in Russia since its founding in 1995 and, according to that site, is proud of 
"the accomplishments of our Russian Partners, and applaud the moves of the Russian people, through their elected representatives, to protect life, the family and the innocence of children. At a time when Western governments are moving backward to a pagan worldview, Russia has taken a leadership role to advance the natural family."
The word "pagan" means "secular." and "backward" ironically means "progressive." Note that in official statements the word "gay" is not mentioned but well, it's not hard to read between the lines.
The Mother Jones piece noted:
Since 2010, WCF has helped host at least five major gatherings in Russia where American evangelicals put their views before Russian audiences. At a 2011 demographic summit in Moscow, the event's loaded two-day schedule of panels and speeches included just one 10-minute slot without an American presenter.

WCF has lent its support to anti-gay politics elsewhere in Eastern Europe—Serbia, Lithuania, Romania—but it has had its biggest and most notable successes in Russia.
This year, the WCF was forced to cancel its formal participation a September 10-12  World Congress of Families VIII conference in Moscow. WFC for its part,  blamed the unrest in Ukraine for the suspension of the meeting. 
On the other hand, bad publicity could have been the reason, In addition to the Mother Jones article, an expose by Human Rights Campaign (see pdf below) was released in August which listed the worldwide WFC activity.

Right Wing Watch noted that the World Conference of Families went ahead without the WFC (not officially anyway) and ended with delegates issuing a proclamation that blasts liberal social policies in Western countries and calls for Russian-style “homosexual propaganda” bans to be passed throughout the world.
The Globalization of Hate
Tanya Cooper, Human Rights Watch's Russia researcher, commenting on the WCF's message, told the Mother Jones journalist, Levintova,
"This does not seem like native Russian policy. It's the rhetoric of homophobic activists in the States."
Perhaps but maybe with so many international connections, it's hard to call any policy native to a particular country. Under the cover of pro-family, the anti-gay rights movements has gone international and intermarried, so to speak. 
Just like antisemitism, today's homophobia doesn't recognize national borders and is not a product of one single nation any longer.

The message of WCF has been successfully absorbed into a nationalist movement. For example, the "Center of National Glory of Russia" the foundation which helped to fun the Moscow events was chaired by Putin ally- actually his datcha neighbor- Vladimir Yakunin.

Incidentally, as the president of the state-run Russian Railways company, Yakunin fell victim of US and European sanctions in March. The sanctions included a travel ban to the US, freezing of all assets of the 65-year-old Yakunin in the United States and a ban on business transactions between American citizens and corporations and Yakunin and businesses he owns.

(A different Mother Jones article by the same author asked whether the WFC might have broken the sanctions by its participation in the World Congress of Families events.)

It's easy to see why Yakunin (and so many others in government) would prefer to rallying the conservative majority in Russia with talk about defending families. 
It keeps them from asking more questions about more serious threats to the country.
The Moscow Times reports that Russian Railways, the country's largest employer, under Yakunin's nine years of management, has recently seen its profits tumble, and recorded a loss of 16 billion rubles ($463 million) in the first quarter of this year. Despite this poor record, his contract extended by another three years.

Alexei Navalny an anti-corruption campaigner (presently under house arrest) has accused Yakunin of "quietly putting away millions from Russian Railways, depositing them into his family’s offshore companies." 

How true this allegation remains to be seen. It would of course make sense.

The Final Resolution
The website of Yakunin's posted the Congress' final resolution, in which attendees vowed to "uphold the interests of children and to work for the adoption of legislative bans on all types propaganda concerning homosexual relationships in the environment of children and juveniles” and to support research on the negative social and psychological effects of raising children in same-gender couples.”    
The English translation of the resolution also reads:
The preservation of mankind is based on a system of family and kindred ties that are formed through the bonds of marriage between a male and a female and the children born to them. This and only this alone, is capable of ensuring the reproduction, stability and continuity of human civilization. All other kinds of sexual relationships or alliances intentionally that exclude the birth of children are meaningless for they are devoid of the notion set down in the very definition of the word “family.”  
Careful reading of that resolution is vitally important. In the past religious conservatives argued against same-sex marriage on the fatuous grounds that reproduction- or at least, the potential for having babies- was the only valid reason for the institution, as opposed to a loving and committed relationship. 

This declaration goes one dangerous step further. The last line states that "all of kinds of sexual relationships and alliances" are "meaningless" when it is not procreative.
Not merely same-sex marriage, but all same-sex relationships have been declared null and void.

The Gay Rights Boogeyman 
 Besides the human rights issues, there's another equally serious problems with making homosexuals the scapegoat for society's ills. In doing so, it prevents the authorities from taking responsibility for actually dealing in a constructive way with the real problems. 

Although homosexuality has been legal in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Empire, Russian president Putin has used this issue to solidify the conservative population. Condemning gay rights as an example of Western decadence is a crowd-pleaser there and his strategy has been remarkably successful. Far more successful in Russia than in the USA.

One reason for the Russian government- meaning Vladimir Putin - to use this political tactic is that the social problems in Russia are simply too deeply entrenched and difficult for the monolithic state to deal with.

Instead trying to deal with widespread alcohol and drug abuse problem, or looking into the causes for the high level of babies born out of wedlock, instead of developing programs to deal with the enormous HIV problem in Russia, scapegoats provide Putin with an easy answers.
Blame the gays.

The decline in the population has a lot of causes, and none of them are related to gay rights. Banning gay "propaganda" will not improve, for example, Russia’s overall health situation which is, as one source puts it, "truly woeful."
This is especially true of its reproductive health. Here's a small sample:
  • A consortium headed by the World Health Organization estimated that for 2005 a woman’s risk of death in childbirth in Russia was over six times higher than in Germany or Switzerland. Moreover, mortality levels for women in their twenties (the decade in which childbearing is concentrated in contemporary Russia) have been rising, not falling, in recent decades.
  • In 1980, fewer than one Russian newborn in nine was reportedly born out of wedlock. By 2005, the country’s illegitimacy ratio was approaching 30 percent—almost a tripling in just twenty years.
  •  Russia’s low fertility patterns are not due to any extraordinary inability of Russian women to conceive, but rather to the strong and growing tendency among childbearing women to have no more than two children—and perhaps increasingly not more than one.
Outside of that there are other problems that Russia officials simply don't want to deal with.  Here's one of the more shocking examples:
  • Experts say that 21 percent of the world’s HIV-positive injecting-drug users live in the country. Because the government has refused to fund approaches that have worked elsewhere, says Michel Kazatchkine, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Sadly, Russia’s surging epidemic runs counter to the global trend.
All of these problems are begging for real solutions. Unfortunately for Russians, gay rights is an effective boogeyman for religious conservatives watching helplessly  as the nation slides into decline.   

And most humiliating of all, Christian political groups from the USA are driving Russia in exactly the wrong direction. The Russian people, locked behind government controlled media, still seem entirely unaware. 

Fallacies of the Conservative Cassandra
This brings us back to where we started, with Tony Perkins who like a conservative Cassandra dutifully warned earlier this year about America's impending economic doom.

All because too-tolerant Americans, led by lavender liberals, coddled gays and embraced same-sex marriage. Russia will feel empowered by America's queer-loving ways. They will, Perkins tells us, see our weaknesses and decide (for no other reason) to throw our dollars back at us. And America will be toppled.
All because Americans decided that gays were acceptable and should be treated with the same kind of respect as any other person.  All because Americans followed the Golden Rule.

Interestingly that's not how it is really playing out in the real world. After an astonishing series of events last week, Perkins' silly American apocalypse suddenly went "poof."
What we saw instead was a Russia - which has adopted laws against exactly like the ones Perkins rallied for- on the verge of economic collapse. Instead of dropping the dollar, we saw Russians racing to buy as many dollars as possible before their own currency lost more of its value. 

There was never any logical basis for anything Perkins said. Economics is far more complicated that he suggests. Few sane people would dare to suggest that allowing minorities equal rights, would somehow make a nation more vulnerable to economic meltdowns. There are plenty of reasons why it might happen tomorrow, but  gay rights wouldn't be one of them.

In fact, it could be argued that the last week's events proved perhaps that a nation that respects all of its citizens, (not just the majority population) is stronger and able to actually deal with the serious problems facing it, instead of searching scapegoats to blame.

Or maybe, just maybe God just loves nations that love all of their people, even their gays.