When did the family issues go
global? What is the resulting challenge
to Christian churches? These are the
questions that I have been asked to address this morning.
Of course, at one level, the “family
issues” have always been global. God’s
creation of Adam and Eve, his intent that they become “one flesh,” that they be
“fruitful and multiply,” underscores the universal nature of marriage. Procreative marriage is an expression of
human nature; marriage and the family, as such, have been found in every known
human culture. Humankind’s fall into
sin also made divorce, fornication, adultery, and promiscuity aspects of every
known human culture, challenges for those who would build moral order in any
And, from their very origin, the far
flung Christian churches have struggled with marriage and family
questions. The earliest churches, let
us remember, emerged in a time of great moral and sexual disorder. The Roman Empire of the First Century, A.D.,
was awash in concubinage, prostitution, adultery, divorce, homosexuality, and
infanticide. Even within the early
churches, the heresy known as Gnosticism worked to subvert the family: a
struggle waged by the Church Fathers to which we pay too little attention. One group of Gnostics demanded total sexual
abstinence by all believers, a sort of collective death wish. Another group took the other extreme, demanding
complete sexual freedom, endless sexual experimentation. All Gnostics, though, rejected procreative
marriage. The Epistles are full of
warnings against Gnostic infiltration of the early churches in Ephesus, Rome,
Galatia, Corinth, and Alexandria. As
Paul warns in 1 Timothy 4: “some will depart from the faith by giving heed to
deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…who forbid marriage.” In short, the early international
Christian movement was deeply engaged in defending family standards within its
own ranks, while also fighting—and eventually winning—a culture war in the broader
Moreover, to choose another example, the
original Protestant movement of the 16th Century might also be
seen—from a social perspective—as another pro-family campaign, a movement in
favor of the natural family.
Martin Luther despaired over the decline of moral standards within the
Western church, the violation of vows of celibacy by many priests, monks, and
bishops, and rising sexual license in the broader culture. Luther called for a new affirmation of
marriage as the highest “office, estate, condition, [and] work” on earth; and
he deemed God’s command in Genesis 1: 28--“be fruitful and multiply”—to be a
“divine ordinance which it is not our prerogative to hinder or ignore.” Procreation, he wrote, was “a most
outstanding gift”…. “the greatest work of God.” As he affirmed in his tract, The Estate of Marriage: “For it is
not a matter of free choice, but a natural and necessary thing, that
whatever is a man must have a woman and whatever is a woman must have a man.”
I mention all this in order to put
recent books like this one in perspective.
Globalizing Family Values: The Christian Right in International
Politics from the University of Minnesota Press is a breathless account
of The World Congress of Families project by two law professors, who write with
open feminist and lesbian sympathies.
They are shocked and surprised as Christians over the last decade have
engaged family questions at the international level; something new and
disturbing, they say. My point so far
is that, at one level, this kind of engagement has been something that
Christians—since the time of Paul—have been doing; indeed, something that we
are supposed to do, as Christians.
Nothing really new, at all.
On the other hand, there is one new
development that has changed fundamentally the nature of this
engagement, a change which raises new challenges for Christian witness and
This new development is the
emergence of international structures such as The United Nations, the rudiments
of global governance. The curious,
albeit good, news is that during the early years of the United Nations, the
social policy work being done there was largely “pro family.” Consider, for example, key phrases to be
found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the Young UN in
“Everyone has the right to life…,” including by implication the child in
16(1): “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race,
nationality, or religion, have the right to marry and found a family.”
16(3): “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society
and is entitled to protection by society and the state.”
25: “Everyone who works has the right
to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an
existence worthy of human dignity,” which is simply the “family wage”
25(2): Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance,”
implying the right of mothers to be home with their children and the right of
children to a full-time mother.
26: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall
be given to their children,” marking a strong affirmation of parental rights.
Where did this language come
from? As the old saying in Washington
goes, personnel is policy. This
was never more true than in the drafting of The Universal Declaration. Two men were largely responsible for its
content. The first was Rene Cassin of
France, a specialist in international law.
While himself Jewish, Cassin was highly sympathetic to the Christian
Democracy movement that gained strength after the Second World War in France,
Germany, Italy and elsewhere. Christian
Democrats held beliefs in a God-created order that included “natural social
structures,” most especially “the family.”
Cassin also believed that the human rights idea derived from Holy
Scripture: not only from the Old Testament, but also from Jesus and Paul, who
taught “there is no more distinction between Jew and Gentile, between free men
and slaves. All form one large family,
one human family.” Cassin served as the
chief staff member of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and so controlled the
drafting process for the Declaration.
The second key actor here was Charles
Habib Malik, an Arab from Lebanon and also a devout, “intensely prayerful”
Greek Orthodox Christian. He held
several key posts at the UN in 1948, including Secretary of the Commission on
Human Rights and President of the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council. He, too, was heavily influenced by Christian
Democratic thought and crafted the key phrase, “the family is the natural and
fundamental group unit of society,” which—in his original version of the
phrase—was directly tied to a reference to “the Creator.” In defending this appeal to the natural
family, Malik stated: “The family is
the cradle of all human rights and liberties.
It is in the family that everyone learns to know his rights and duties
and it would be inexplicable if everything is mentioned except the family’s
right to existence.” I would go so far
as to say that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a product of
Christian and Jewish witness.
This “Judeo-Christian” influence at
the UN survived into the 1950’s, but was in full retreat by the 1960’s. Replacing this foundation of faith was a
different idea system: secular democratic socialism. This ideology took root through the
influence of the Norwegian socialist Trygve Lie and the Swedish civil servant,
Dag Hammarskjöld, who served as the first two Secretary Generals of the United
Nations. Both were men of the political
and intellectual left, and they peopled the UN Secretariat with staff
sympathetic to their worldview.
Relative to the family, their most
notable appointment was the Swedish activist Alva Myrdal. Raised and trained in an aggressively
socialist, feminist, and atheist home, she became Deputy Assistant
Secretary-General for the U.N.’s Social Commission in December 1948 (the same
week, ironically, that the U.N. General Assembly approved the decidedly
“pro-family” Universal Declaration of Human Rights). As the highest ranking woman at the UN, she was given
responsibility for women’s issues, population questions, welfare, and human
rights. To these matters, she brought a
There are no moral
absolutes. Indeed, morality evolves to
meet new circumstances.
The traditional family
“is almost pathological,” “rootless,” “isolated” and doomed. So, too, with the institution of marriage.
The state is ready and
able to assume most family functions.
Gender equality demands
the leveling of all institutions, traditions, and cultural structures that get
in its way.
By the mid-1960’s, Christian Democracy was in massive
retreat at the United Nations; Democratic Socialism on the rise. A great shift in policy occurred:
(1) On women’s
issues, a shift from the original U.N. focus on gaining the vote for women
and suppressing prostitution, to the new concentration on equal employment, the
suppression of gender roles, the promotion of day-care, “sexual rights,” and
(2) On population
issues, a shift from the encouragement and protection of large families to
strict attention to overpopulation as the problem, to be combated
through the sex education of children and abortion;
(3) On family
issues, a shift from support of the family as “the fundamental and natural
group unit of society” to a portrayal of the family as antiquated and
(4) On human
rights, a change from a “Christian” focus on the innate dignity of each
human person and the necessary place of humans in natural communities to a
radical feminist individualism.
And there were real results. For example, the U.N.’s Convention on the Elimination of all
Forms of Discrimination Against Women” [CEDAW], approved in 1979, is
closely aligned with these new views.
Taken as a whole, CEDAW strips the family of all autonomy and
authority. It gives moral legitimacy
solely to the isolated, radical individual.
And it grants sweeping power to the state to regulate, restructure, and
even abolish the natural family. This
is the meaning, for example, of Article 5 which declares:
parties shall take all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural
patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination
of prejudices or customary and all other practices which are
based…on stereotyped roles for men and women.
which have signed the CEDAW treaty have been pressured by U.N. authorities to actions
such as abolishing the practice of Mothers Day and promoting androgyny—the
denial of male and female—in the schools.
In related fashion, the U.N.’s
“Convention on the Rights of the Child” of 1989 contains measures that subvert
the authority of parents over their children; strip away the authority of
religious faith and tradition in favor of a politicized and radical social
science; and prevent nations and peoples from sheltering their own unique
cultures. In Article 13, for example, we
child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include
the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information of all kinds, regardless
of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or
through any other medium of the child’s choice.
To protect this “right,” the state imposes itself
between parent and child. To put it
simply, this understanding of “rights” is the polar opposite of that
found in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration (which states “Parents have a
prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their
children.”); and it is evidence of the victory of one worldview over another.
round of this international campaign to subvert, to deconstruct
the natural family began in 1994.
Ironically, the occasion was celebration of The International Year of
the Family. The Bill Clinton
administration teamed up with the European Union to promote a series of
international conferences that would implement a post-family agenda: the first,
on “population,” convened in Cairo; the second, on “women’s rights,” convened
in Beijing; the third, on “housing,” gathered in Istanbul; and the fourth, on
“youth,” convened in Copenhagen. At
each session, the organizing voices called for population control through
so-called “reproductive rights,” especially abortion; the deconstruction of
marriage; the full recognition of all so-called “sexual preferences”; and
campaigns for androgyny.
militant secular alliance held religious faith in particular scorn: only a very
private and inward faith would be allowed; no public expression of one’s
faith should occur; no actual attempt actually to apply moral principles
derived from faith would be permitted.
Vital, active faith and the natural family must die together. Cynically, but cleverly, this militant
secular alliance relied on religious divisions to secure their victory:
distrust between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics; divisions between Trinitarian
Christians and Mormons; hostility between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. With the children of Abraham so divided, the
militant, secular, the anti-family coalition would surely win.
some would respond that Americans need not worry about all this: our
sovereignty will protect us. They would
note that despite the best efforts of the Clintons, the USA has not
ratified either CEDAW or the Children’s Rights conventions (indeed, the U.S.
remains to this day the only nation on earth which has not ratified the
latter). So long as we hold to that
position, the argument goes, the radical secularists at the U.N. can have no
simply put, this has not proved to be true.
Over the last decade, U.N. declarations and actions on “family issues,”
along with laws and regulations promulgated by the European Union, have evolved
into what legal scholars now call “international customary law.” And American judges, at both the state and
federal levels, have begun to appeal to this “international customary law” to
justify anti-family and anti-life decisions. Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court’s sweeping 2003
decision in the case Lawrence v. Texas—a decision which
created a right of sodomy and which opened the door to same-sex marriage—rested
on appeals to precedents set by U.N.-made and European Union-made law.
is true that since early 2001, the George W. Bush administration has done a
good job of slowing down, even stalling, the radical, anti-family social agenda
at the United Nations. Excellent people
such as Ellen Sauerbrey, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Committee on the Status of
Women, and Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for Children, Youth, and Families at
the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, have played important roles
here. All the same, the other side is
biding its time, waiting for the Bush team to lose interest or to go away. Moreover, little has been done to reverse
the losses of the 1990’s. All religious
faiths which affirm the natural family and a moral code based on revelation,
and which have international missionary aspirations and alliances, remain at
lunch, I will describe to you one broad reaction to this rise of a militant
anti-family, anti-faith ideology at the global level: namely, the World Congress
of Families. For now, though, I am
pleased to take your questions.