The superb seventh conference in Sydney, Australia, and the presentation of plans for an eighth in 2014 in Moscow, Russia, provide evidence of the way in which the World Congress of Families is coming of age as a mechanism for uniting pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-family groups from around the world, giving them a forum for interaction, and providing an international counter-weight to the increasing family-hostile United Nations. Over 700 delegates gathered in Sydney, where they were greeted by high-level Australian officials and heard from world-renowned speakers, were entertained by aboriginal singing ensembles and a Mormon Children’s Choir, and dined at the beautiful Bayside Gallery, with dramatic views of Darling Harbor. With the theme, “Happy Families, Healthy Economies,” the conference began with a “Welcome to Country” from indigenous leaders and concluded three days later with the Conference Declaration affirming the natural family’s significance read by General Secretary and Founder of the World Congress of Families, Allan Carlson of the Howard Center, Rockford, Illinois.
The seventh international event was the first to be hosted as a joint venture between two countries (Australia and New Zealand) and the first in an English-speaking country. Administered in co-operation between a local organizing committee, headed by Mary-Louise Fowler (Australia) and Bob McCoskrie (New Zealand) and Larry Jacobs, Vice President of the Howard Center and Managing Director of the World Congress of Families, the sessions convened at the Australian Technology Park. The three-day, top-quality program provided numerous opportunities for delegates to interact with and learn from activists, scholars, parliamentarians, lawmakers, and other leaders from around the world and to network with colleagues from allied organizations to exchange ideas and draw inspiration from each other, with a goal of “shifting key debates worldwide regarding the natural family.”
In plenary sessions, the Honorable John Anderson, former Australian deputy prime minister, spoke about “The Causes and Costs of Family Breakdown.” Theresa Okafor, a U.N. delegate from Africa, described the ways that Africa brings hope for the rest of the world, and Steve Mosher, an internationally recognized authority on China, human rights, and population trends, emphasized the role of the family in a diminishing economy. Paige Patterson, a Southern Baptist, and Rabbi Shimon Cowen from Australia discussed the role of faith in family and civilization. Movieguide founder Ted Baehr addressed the need for “blockbuster” stories with positive content in restoring family values in society. Ian Grant, a New Zealander with a great sense of humor, effectively portrayed the need for parenting that prepares children for life, and Byron and Francine Pirola from Australia demonstrated couples’ communication problems as they work together to build strong families. Professor Ian Harper, one of Australia’s best known economists and a leader in Australian financial market reform, talked about the family’s pivotal role in economic growth. Dr. Brad Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, presented significant data about the educational benefits accruing to children in mom-and-dad families. Dr. Pat Fagan, of the Family Research Council, showed trend graphs indicating the benefits of families in building strong economies.
Two special highlights of the program were panel discussions moderated by Karl Faase, a high profile media personality in Australia, and Bob McCoskrie, New Zealand media personality and lawyer-social worker who works with at-risk youth and their families. These two sessions featured the top plenary speakers of the day who were interviewed by the two moderators in a fast-paced, very informative, extemporaneous discussion of contemporary marriage and family issues.
Workshops and break-out sessions focused on ways to create a home as a place of love and security, how to reach the next generation with the pro-family message, sexual slavery and child sexual exploitation, promoting family values through the media, the family in health and economic crises, the human rights agenda and the family, balancing work and family life, defending life, family and freedom of religion, and the philosophical roots of the cultural revolution.
Special events included an opening reception highlighted by the Wong Sibling Quartet, a presentation about Australia Opals by Graeme Blaiklock, a screening of a new movie, “Return to the Hiding Place,” with producer/director Peter Spencer, and Rachel Spencer Hewitt, an actress in the movie, an introduction of a new documentary, “The Power of Mothers,” by Shelly Locke, a special Youth Culture Forum that explored issues facing youth today, and a hilarious live-theatre production spoofing the differences in male and female brains, and a special presentation by the hosting committee for the Russian Congress of 2014, including Alexey Komov, Konstantin Malofeev, and Natalia Yakunina. At the Congress Dinner overlooking Darling Harbor, famed Australian photographer Ken Duncan presented a slide show of his iconic Australian landscape images and told the stories behind the multi-award-winning photographs.
After the Australian local organizing committee passed the World Congress of Families’ banner along to the Russian organization team, Alexey Komov, chairman of the Russian group, presented seven Matryoshka wooden nesting Russian dolls to seven pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-family leaders from around the world. The 10-inch, blue-and-white, historic nesting dolls will be the symbol of World Congress of Families VIII in Moscow’s Kremlin event in 2014.
This watershed event marking Russia’s movement into a leading role in the promoting pro-family concerns was a dream that seemed against all odds in the late 1990s when the World Congress of Families movement was launched. It is a measure of the indispensible nature of the natural family and its universal relevance to all nations. Despite the unrelenting assaults of post-modern disparagement of marriage and family of the last century or more, the natural family’s resonance with and capacity to meet our human needs and longings is cause to hope for a brighter future than the dark one portended by the present birth dearth affecting most of the technologically advanced nations of the world.