The Guardian reports…
“During the course of any heated debate, one side will inevitably compare their opponents to Nazis. Under the popular maxim Godwin’s law, doing so automatically means you lose the argument. At the World Congress for Families, the Christian gathering held over the weekend, it took only 45 minutes before former Victorian MP David Perrin compared Holland’s euthanasia laws to Auschwitz.
Welcome to the world of Australia’s conservative Christians, where abortion causes breast cancer and bushfires, and 90% of poverty can be solved by affirming marriage between a man and a woman.
I was sitting in a stuffy hall in the leafy solitude of Hallam, a suburb in Melbourne’s southeast, squeezing an aborted foetus stress toy. I’d picked it up in the lobby from a pro-life political party before heading inside to listen to a talk on the importance of fathers, by Alison and Warwick Marsh, the founders of the Fatherhood Foundation.
Did you know that 85% of children with behavioural problems come from fatherless homes? So do 80% of rapists with “anger problems”. And 63% of teens who commit suicide. The solution? A return to traditional (read: heterosexual, married and Christian) families. The statistics were never-ending: Larry Jacobs, the American poster-boy for the congress, went so far as to say that “90% of poverty can be solved, simply through the affirmation of marriage”.
There were cries of “hear hear!” as these stats were rolled out, and plenty of clapping and muttering about the various ways that the world was going to hell in a hand basket. As I squeezed my foetus and the stats washed over me, I took a look at the audience. Some of the older attendees had managed some very creative solutions to the problem of male pattern baldness.
The congress was held in the HQ of pastor Danny Nalliah’s Catch the Fire ministries, after pressure from protestors resulted in a number of venue changes. Nalliah’s religious views are so toxic (he infamously blamed bushfire disasters on Victoria’s abortion laws) that federal social services minister Kevin Andrews refused to attend.
The rest of the lineup was as you’d imagine: Christian politicians, and a mix of functionaries from “natural” family groups. The standout talk was from Dr Angela Lanfranchi, the quintessential American junk scientist from central casting. Her research on the causal link between abortion and breast cancer landed senator Eric Abetz in hot water a couple of weeks ago when he referenced it in a TV interview with Mia Freedman.
Her theories have been derided by a host of peak medical bodies, including Cancer Australia and the World Health Organisation – and that’s no surprise. At one point she cited the apparent drop in breast cancer rates in Romania during Nicolae Ceaușescu’s murderous reign from 1965-1989. The reason? Caeucescu outlawed abortion. You know you’re really scraping the barrel, when you’re using dictators to prove your scientific theories.
As the talks went on, I started to squeeze the foetus every time the speakers said the word family or abortion. My arm grew tired pretty quickly.
Outside, an air raid siren droned and the 50-odd protestors barricading the front of the complex chanted. Two were arrested for unruly behaviour. The crowd was causing a ruckus long before the event began; playing loud music, throwing glitter and lightly jostling the festival attendees being ushered into the compound by police.
I ventured out into the compound courtyard and was pleased to see the party had well and truly started. A gaggle of lycra-clad dancers boogied to Kylie Minogue and David Bowie, while waiting for the more intrepid family enthusiasts to come outside the compound, so they could call them bigots.
Eventually a bus of burlesque dancers arrived, to the visible relief of the amassed media. Mrs Barb Wire, an older man in a floral swimsuit and impeccable makeup, took advantage of the unseasonably balmy weather by setting up a banana lounge on the road in front of the conference.
“Don’t forget that this country is descended from criminals, poofters and whores,” he shouted, calling the cameras over. As the shutters whirred, he relaxed further into the lounge, rolled his eyes and said, “God, I need an abortion”.
The protestors’ eternal souls were in good hands. At the beginning of the conference a lone pro-choice activist stormed the stage and proceeded to spill fake blood all over her cream suit. As she was led away by the security guards, the speaker at the podium, Theresa Martin, the state president of pro-life group Cherish Life Queensland, asked the audience to “say a prayer for the type of forces that create things like that … they don’t become screaming banshees unless something terrible has happened to their souls”.
This kind of gleeful piety was everywhere: congress patron Joe Santamaria congratulated the attendees for their “courage and fortitude to be here today”, while anti-euthanasia extraordinaire Dr David van Gen lamented the fact that conservative pollies, including Andrews and Victorian attorney general Robert Clark, were hounded into not attending the congress by those pesky protestors.
No conservative Christian conference would be complete without some input from the right honourable Fred “homosexuality should be classed as a mental disorder” Nile. Among the usual gripes about freedom of speech and the tyranny of the anti-Christian movement (as well as some classic homophobic zingers like “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”) there was plenty of trademark Nile bile.
Between instructing the LGBT community on correct nomenclature (apparently they should have “homosexual pride” not “gay pride”) he said that Satan was working through the liberal media, the Greens, and the protestors outside. “I believe there is a devil and he’s responsible for those people out there,” Nile pronounced.
By five in the afternoon, the protestors and police had left and Larry Jacobs returned to the stage for a triumphal victory lap. He began with a rhetorical question: “Is the WCF hateful?”
Then went on to answer it himself. He reiterated his group’s desire for a return to the “traditional family”. He stated that they “do not believe that homosexuality is innate or genetic” and lamented its declassification as a mental disorder back in 1973. He held up the Putin government’s controversial anti-LGBT laws as a template for other Christian countries to adopt.
“If we’re hateful, there are a lot of hateful people in this room,” he said. I gave the foetus another hard squeeze and headed home.”