An Introductory Report: Tilting at Windmills

Conservatives Slink into Amsterdam Telling Women to Stay in the Home

 7 August 2009

Next week in Amsterdam, the biannual World Congress of Families takes place (August 10-12). The theme for this year’s event is “Family: More Than Only the Sum of the Parts.” This event, organized by the ultraconservative Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, is in large part designed for conservatives to get together and convince themselves that their ideas are still relevant. They often announce grandiose plans for activities, the vast majority of which do not come about. In fact, the only obvious result from the last World Congress in Warsaw was the announcement to hold this one in Amsterdam.

At the last meeting, the main attractions were also the no-shows.  Both the late Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo and the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, pulled out at the last minute, sending surrogates in their stead to bore listeners by reading out the speeches. Those speakers who did not show up may have done themselves a favor as the content of the other speeches reflected what can only be described as intolerance, homophobia, sexism and a call to return to an oppressive era most are glad to see long gone.

Ms. Christine de Vollmer, a member of the Pontifical Pro-life Academy and the Pontifical Council for the Family who is speaking again this year, claimed that the suffragettes fought for fair wages for their husbands so that wives could “leave the factories and stay home to care for their children.”

Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, expressed concerns about the fact that a majority of university students are now female. “One can rejoice in this availability of education for members of the fairer sex without missing the obvious,” Patterson said. “In a few years men will increasingly be underrepresented among the intelligentsia and will gradually cede leadership in many areas to women.”

Fr. Thomas Euteneuer, president of Human Life International suggested, “When in any society, the natural family is denied its basic rights to care for its members or when it is deprived of its social and legal protections, it very soon becomes victim of the aggressive forces that promote killing on a massive scale and stands before these forces vulnerable to their depredations.”

Conference participants can be sure that every speaker at this year’s event will hold similar ultraconservative views as in years past. In fact, many of the speakers are the same, and their ideas have not moved at all in the interim. While promotional materials for the Congress describes it as the world’s largest gathering of pro-family leaders and grass-roots activists, past events have seen attendees bussed in for free from parishes and churches in the surrounding area. Despite this, conference photos on the web site show swathes of empty seats. The fact is that the conference organizers and speakers are very much out of touch with the world in which they live. And sadly for the organizers, they have so far failed to come up with any speakers who are likely to draw a crowd on their own behalf. Several invitations to members of the Dutch government to attend the event were ignored (but a welcome message from the Dutch government will be delivered via a video feed) and the Vatican is sending along an unnamed substitute to take the place of Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council on the Family.

That no significant political leader has accepted an invitation to speak is especially telling given the widespread electoral successes for conservative parties in recent European and local elections. This summer’s European Parliament election saw significant gains for right-centre/conservative parties. Despite this, conservative leaders such as Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and David Cameron of the United Kingdom are notably absent from the list of speakers. It shows how out of touch the conference organizers are—a ragtag army that represents the extreme fringes of the conservative movement.

We realize that the event itself will have little impact outside the walls of the conference center.  At the same time, however, we are aware that the political outlook of the organizers (anti-family-planning, antiabortion, antigay, pro-family, etc.) can have a detrimental impact on people’s lives. It’s disappointing therefore that the Dutch Minister for Youth and Families, André Rouvoet, has agreed to address the conference. However given that the views we will hear are so backward and out of the mainstream, following events at the conference may provide more belly laughs than outrage.

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