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In Memoriam: Richard Wilkins, a True Friend of the Family (1515)

COMMENTARY: Remembering a friend and colleague in the fight to preserve marriage.

12/11/2012 Comment

Richard Wilkins (1953-2012)

On a warm spring night in the year 1996, high in the mountains overlooking Provo, Utah, a man lay awake in his bed. He tossed and turned for hours. A voice was speaking to him.

And the voice said something like, “Arise from your bed and go to Istanbul. I and my people need you there.” In the words of the Psalmist, “deep called out to deep,” for it had to be the deep of God calling out to the depths of that man’s heart.

Richard Wilkins went to his boss, the dean of the Brigham Young University School of Law, and said, “There is a U.N. conference in Istanbul, and I think I am supposed be there.”

The dean asked him why he was supposed to go. Wilkins said, “I don’t really know.”

The dean asked him what he was supposed to do when he got there. Wilkins said, “I don’t know that either.” The dean said, “In that case, I think you ought to go right away.”

Because Wilkins was a professor connected to the Kennedy School for International Studies, those in U.N. leadership thought he was a reliable Harvard man, and they let him speak to the general session of the U.N. Habitat II Conference on Housing in Istanbul.

On that day in June of 1996, Richard Wilkins found himself speaking to delegates about the traditional family, about the idea of heterosexual men and women marrying, having children and raising them to fear and to serve God. He also told them that abortion was wrong.

The powerful contingent of radical feminists, who thought they had found another tame male, found they had an enemy in their midst instead. Oh, how they hooted and hollered. But Wilkins was not speaking to them. He did not know it himself at the time, but he was speaking to the secret hearts of foreign diplomats, mostly from the Middle East, particularly to the Saudis. He did not know this, either, but they heard him.

He was not the only one there from our side that day. There were others. For instance, there were ladies who went to the conference only to pray. You could see them simply walking around or sitting and looking off into space. You might see their lips moving slightly. They were praying mostly for one thing: to banish fear from the room. It is a fearful thing to stand up to the U.N.’s feminist internationale, one that is backed by the might, muscle and money of the U.S. and the European Union.

But that was what was needed from certain diplomats. So these ladies prayed for one thing: to banish fear from the room and from hearts of these delegates.

There were others there, too. There were lobbyists — Catholics and evangelicals — who spend these conferences bending over backs and whispering in the ears of diplomats. Two of them at Istanbul had managed to get themselves into a small but by far the most important room at the Istanbul conference. It was a windowless affair, where U.N. negotiators held something called the “informals,” which is where the fine points of the language that will go into the final conference documents are debated. It is the room where the battles are won and lost. These two men sat in that room all day and into the evening. And then the informals proceeded to go even later. Indeed, this meeting in this cramped room went long into the night. Our friends did not even leave for food or drink or even bathroom breaks, for fear they could not get back in.

In that little room, the debated raged, and terrible pressure was brought to bear on the Muslims. This is the game for the powerful nations. Make the little guy bend, then break.

Around midnight, a member of the Vatican delegation said to one of our friends, Peter Smith, “The pressure is too great; the Muslims will not hold on through the night.” Smith said to the priest, “They will hold. The Muslims will hold this night.”

The combined financial and political might of the U.S., Canada and the European Union came down on just a few lonely and brave Muslim delegates who were forced to debate in a language not their own about philosophical terms completely foreign to them. The West wanted dangerous feminist ideas in that document, and the Muslims fought them.

We do not know why the Muslims resisted the pressure from the West. But it’s possible that their own values were strengthened with the courage given by the praying ladies. Perhaps they were urged on by the whispered exhortations of our lobbyists; perhaps they remembered the words of Richard Wilkins from the main conference podium in Istanbul.

But as the sun rose and began to warm the streets of that ancient city, the pernicious idea of five genders was not in that final document; homosexual "marriage” was not in that document, and neither was abortion on demand in that document.

A man rose from his bed and went to Istanbul, and on a very dangerous night for the world, the Muslims held.

This was the beginning of Richard Wilkins’ long-but-still-too-short career fighting for unborn children and families at the U.N. and around the world.

Wilkins was an expert on getting the pro-life and pro-family perspective into the little rooms where the dangerous language was worked out. These “informals” are the most important part of those massive UN conferences because it is where countries that disagree work out the details, arrive at compromis, and determine the fate of unborn children and the family unit.

It happens that pro-life countries are always a minority in those little rooms, and it was there that Wilkins’ pre-eminent knowledge of international law and policy was most welcomed by the Vatican, Muslim countries, Latin American countries and all the rest who came under pressure from the U.N., the European Union and often the United States.

He became a towering presence at U.N. conferences, and delegates crowded around him for advice and succor.

His contributions helped prevent abortion from being declared a universal human right. His contributions helped prevent homosexual "marriage" from being a right. Richard Wilkins changed lives, and he saved lives.

We lost him to a heart attack a few days after Thanksgiving. He was 59. Way too young.

Austin Ruse is the president of C-FAM (The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute).

Filed under c-fam, family values, marriage, u.n. conference on women