SALT LAKE CITY — More than 2,700 attendees and 200 speakers are expected to flock to Salt Lake City for the World Congress of Families IX, which kicks off Tuesday.
The four-day conference, which will take place at the Grand America Hotel, is billed as the "largest gathering of pro-family advocates in the world." Scholars, religious leaders and motivational speakers are coming from around the globe to speak on topics as varied as homeschooling to sex trafficking.
The mission of the conference, which has been held annually since 1997, is to exchange ideas to strengthen the "natural family," defined by the organization as a family centered around the marriage of a man and woman.
Janice Shaw Crouse, the chair of the conference, said that organizers are also adding more panels to address the interests of millenials — those born in the 1980s and 90s — this year.
Registration fees range from $30 for a day pass to $280 for the full four-day program to $875 for VIP access.
Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will give the keynote address Tuesday morning. Later that night, Gov. Gary Herbert and Jeanette Herbert, Utah's first lady, will give a welcome speech.
Here's a look at some of the presenters:
Dr. Miriam Grossman, author of "You're Teaching My Child What?"
Miriam Grossman, a child and adult psychiatrist, describes herself on her website as "one hundred percent MD, zero percent PC."
On Tuesday, Grossman will present research on mother-baby bonding at a session called "The Distinctive Roles of Mothers and Fathers in Families."
"Marriage has been redefined and the family is being redefined," said Grossman. "We're being asked to believe that there's no benefit to the natural traditional family structure of biological mother and dad and children. As a physician and certainly as a child psychiatrist, I'm very troubled by that."
Grossman said recent research shows that bonding in the womb creates benefits to the mother and child that cannot be replicated by "sperm and egg donation and surrogacy and all these reproductive technology techniques that are being used to intentionally create children who will never know one or both of their biological parents."
Grossman drew on her experience as a psychiatrist at UCLA's Student Counseling Services to write her first book, "Unprotected," about how "radical social agendas have... taken over campus health and counseling centers." Her second book, "You're Teaching My Child What?," outlines what she says are the dangers of sex education programs that promote sexual exploration and experimentation.
Tim Ballard, founder and CEO of Operation Underground Railroad
If other people talk the talk, Tim Ballard walks the walk. With a 12-year career as a former agent for the Department of Homeland Security and CIA, Ballard captured terrorists and sex traffickers. Now, he runs Operation Underground Railroad, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit organization that helps law enforcement rescue children sold into the sex trafficking industry. In the year and a half since Ballard founded the organization, he said he and his operatives — many of them former Navy Seals or CIA agents like himself — have saved more than 300 victims.
"This is something that affects all of us," Ballard said. "We don't see it. It's a hidden crime. Yet it's the fastest-growing criminal enterprise on earth."
His work has gotten the attention of CNN, MSNBC and even the United Nations, where Ballard was called to brief political leaders on the issue.
At the conference, Ballard will speak on the topic of sexual exploitation along with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.
"My goal is to tell the story, tell the problem and let these world leaders know what's going on," he said.
Rabbi Avremi Zippel, co-director of the Chabad Lubavitch of Utah
Rabbi Avremi Zippel is the co-director of the Chabad Lubavitch of Utah — the local chapter of the largest organization of Jews worldwide.
He'll be speaking Friday on a panel called, "The Family: Consistent Across Faith Perspectives" along with Muslim and Christian presenters.
"The gift that God has given us of having a strong family and strong family values... transcends any sort of limitations or separations, regardless of color or religion or race," Zippel said.
Utah has a small Jewish population, and Zippell is Utah's first rabbi to be raised and trained in Salt Lake City.
Recent developments in his own family — he and his wife just welcomed their first child in July — have deepened his faith, Zippel said.
As the youth and family program director at the Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, Zippel founded and developed a Hebrew school and preschool as well as a local Jewish summer and winter camp. He continues to work with his father, Rabbi Benny Zippel, on supporting troubled Jewish children and teens.
W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia
W. Bradford Wilcox, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and the director of the National Marriage Project, is nationally recognized for his research on marriage and relationships.
On Thursday, Wilcox will speak alongside other economists and social scientists on a panel titled "Marriage, Economics, and Poverty."
Most of Wilcox's work focuses on the ways that society and culture impact the stability of family life. His research often points out the positive effects of religion, marriage and distinctive gender roles on children. He's also conducted research showing that marriage has positive effects on economic well-being.
Most recently, the New York Times wrote about his work showing that Republican families are more likely to be married and to report being satisfied with their marriages than Democratic families. Wilcox is also the co-editor of a book called "Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives," which maps out the biology and social science behind motherhood and fatherhood.
Wilcox earned his doctorate from Princeton University and previously held research fellowships at Yale University and the Brookings Institution.
Nick Vujicic, motivational speaker
Australian motivational speaker Nick Vujicic has a rare disorder that meant he was born, with no medical warning, without arms or legs.
At the conference, Vujicic will follow the welcome given by Gov. Herbert with a keynote address called "The Value of All Human Life."
Vujicic faced bullying from other children for his appearance. Despite being blessed with loving parents and siblings, Vujicic, at age 10, tried to drown himself.
At age 15, Vujicic became a Christian. Two years later, he started his own nonprofit organization called Life Without Limbs, which allowed him to travel the world and share his story.
Since he founded Life Without Limbs, Bujicic has traveled to 54 countries to talk about how his faith in Jesus Christ helped him overcome his physical limitations. Vujicic is now an author, musician, actor, fisher, painter and swimmer. In 2013, Vujicic also became a father of a healthy baby boy.
Lynn Wardle, BYU law professor
Lynn Wardle has taught at BYU's law school since the mid-1990s, specializing in family law, constitutional law and bioethics.
According to BYU Magazine, Wardle was instrumental in passing a 1995 law in Utah that allowed the state to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states — a measure soon copied by 16 other states. Wardle has also campaigned to strengthen laws that protect employees from being forced to do something against their religion or values, such as a nurse being forced to participate in an abortion.
He's also been a staunch opponent of legalizing same-sex marriage and has testified before congressional committees in support of Defense of Marriage Act.
On Wednesday, he'll speak at a forum about the role of ethical and moral values in education.
Theresa Okafor, Foundation for African Cultural Heritage
Theresa Okafor will be presented with the Woman of the Year Award on Tuesday.
In addition to her work at the Foundation for African Cultural Heritage, Okafor is a Ph.D researcher at the University of Nottingham in the U.K. and the CEO of Life League of Africa, a group of young professionals who teach abstinence-based sex education. She was also a panelist on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
Okafor will speak at a session on African perspectives on religious freedom and the breakdown of the family. On Thursday, she'll also take part in a panel titled "Pro-Family and Pro-Life Victories at the United Nations."
Okafor has been critical about what she said is the effort of Western countries and international organizations to impose their values on African countries. At the 2012 World Congress of Families, hosted in Madrid, Okafor gave a speech in which she speculated that Western gay rights activists may be conspiring with Boko Haram to "silence Christians." In that speech, which drew criticism from LGBT advocacy groups, Okafor also said that "attacks on the natural family" had driven Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda "to actually put in place a ban on homosexual unions."
Eric Teetsel, executive director of Manhattan Declaration
The Manhattan Declaration describes itself as a movement of Catholic, Evangelical and Eastern Orthodox Christians in support of the sanctity of life, marriage and religious freedom.
In 2013, Teetsel was featured in a New York Times article about young opponents of same-sex marriage. His traditional views on family and relationships aren't always popular among people his age, Teetsel said.
"We grew up at a time when family breakdown was fairly normal, and non-traditional forms of human sexuality have always been widely accepted," he said. "The questions addressed at the World Congress of Families are less about the experience of loss and more about hope for what might be gained in the years to come."
Teetsel will speak on Tuesday on a panel called "The Economic and Social Costs of Family Breakdown," where he'll focus on comparing the economic cost of social welfare programs to the benefits of two-parent families.
He's also been asked to speak on a "Millenial Panel."
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage
In 2013, Brian Brown was described by the New York Times as "the nation's leading opponent of same-sex marriage." He helped found the National Organization for Marriage, which was instrumental in passing Prop 8 in California. Before that, he completed a master's degree at Oxford University and served as the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut.
Brown will speak at a plenary session on "The Future After the SCOTUS Decision." He'll also share his expertise on entrepreneurial leadership in a training session for attendees who want to improve their own organizations.
His prominence in the same-sex marriage debate has made him an object of scrutiny for LGBT advocacy groups.
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