The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Opening Address


Allan C. Carlson


The idea for a World Congress of Families was conceived in Moscow, Russia, in January 1995. The initial purpose was to compare and contrast family trends in the East and the West. Specifically, to what degree were negative family developments in the Eastern nations recently freed from communism—plummeting marriage and fertility rates, rising out-of-wedlock births and divorce, and a seeming disregard for children—a consequence of the Marxist system? Or were such trends more directly tied to similar developments in the Western nations adhering to liberal capitalism?

This week, we gather for the 12th major World Congress of Families session here in the beautiful city of Chisinau, Moldova, to continue, update, and advance that vitally important dialogue between East and West. I am honored and delighted to be here, and I bring greetings from over 50 active pro-family and pro-life groups in North America.

I also want to remind this gathering of an important legacy from the early years of the WCF. It quickly became clear that this project required a grounding in clear definitions of certain key phrases. The most important of these was “The Natural Family.” Specifically, the making of family and population policies can be effective only if policymakers have a clear objective: an ideal family model, toward which law, regulations, and custom strive.

In May 1998, we gathered 30 persons in a second century, B.C. room in the ancient city of Rome. Our hosts were Ambassador Alberto and Christine Vollmer, of Venezuela. The group represented all the scattered children of Abraham: Roman Catholics, Russian and Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans and other Evangelical Protestants, Mormons, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and Orthodox Jews. It also included important research scholars from the fields of demography, law, history, sociology, and psychology. After a long conversation and debate, this group agreed on the following definition.

The Natural Family is the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centered around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage for the purposes of:

  • Satisfying the longings of the human heart to give and receive love;
  • Welcoming and ensuring the full physical and emotional development of children;
  • Sharing a home that serves as the center for social, educational, economic, and spiritual life;
  • Building strong bonds among the generations to pass on a way of life that has transcendent meaning; and
  • Extending a hand of compassion to individuals and households whose circumstances fall short of these ideals.

This definition, the group agreed, was wholly consistent with Article 16:3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was affirmed as well by the findings of contemporary social science. Where alternate phrases—such as “traditional family” or “nuclear family”—look backward or confuse, the Natural Family is positive, self-evident, and authentically progressive. It continues to be fundamental to the work of the World Congress of Families.