TIME Religion

Pope Francis Goes to Korea: The Spiritual Meaning of Travel During Turmoil

The trip poses a new test for the Holy Father’s global spiritual leadership

Pope Francis is headed to South Korea on Wednesday, in the midst of what continues to be a particularly difficult month for the world.

Violence in Gaza and Israel continues to escalate. Religious minorities in Iraq are fleeing ISIS brutality. The Ebola virus is spreading through West Africa. Children are flooding the United States border to escape Central American violence. A civilian airliner was downed in Ukraine amid Russian separatist fighting.

It is safe to say that global spirits are down, and it is a heavy overall context surrounding Pope Francis’ third international trip, a five-day visit to the southern half of a divided Korean peninsula. In Seoul, he will join Asian Youth Day, where thousands of Catholic youth from some 30 countries are gathered. He will also beatify dozens of 18th-and 19th-century Korean martyrs, meet with families of the recent Sewol ferry wreck, and give 11 speeches as he travels through four cities: Seoul, Daejeon, Kkottongnae, and Haemi.

On its face, the trip is important for some obvious political and religious reasons. It has been almost 20 years since a pontiff visited the continent. Pope John Paul II visited South Korea twice, in 1984 and in 1989, then the Philippines in 1995, but Pope Benedict XVI never made the trip. Pope Francis is expected to stress reconciliation and the problems of division, as he will be honoring Christians who died during periods of persecution. He also symbolically comes to minister to the Christians to the North as well, as the archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, is also the apostolic vicar for Pyongyang, meaning that he is appointed to guide the North Korean church as well, even if they are inaccessible.

Political relations with North Korea are off to an expectedly rocky start, as the country already turned down the invitation to send a delegation to Seoul for the Pope’s visit. Holy See spokesman Frederico Lombardi has made it clear that Pope Francis is not planning a visit to the Demilitarized Zone, and it does not seem likely that Pope Francis will announce that he is inviting North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean president Park Geun-hye to pray together at the Vatican—an approach he tried during a visit to Bethlehem to promote Middle East peace.

Francis’ trip will also be the first time that a pope’s plane flies through Chinese airspace. The Vatican does not have formal relations with Beijing, and the Chinese government did not permit Pope John Paul II to fly over the country in 1989, several months after the Tiananmen Square protests. It is customary for the Pope to send a message to the leaders of the countries he flies over, and so any message to China carries historic weight.

Religiously, Francis’ trip signals his continued focus on new regions of Catholic Church growth. Christianity in South Korea has grown exponentially in recent decades. In 1910, only 1% of the region identified as Catholic, Protestant, or with another denomination of Christianity. By 2010, that share had risen 29%, according to the Pew Research Center. Protestant Christianity, especially its evangelical and Pentecostal strains, is the more common variety: for every five Catholics in the country, there are about eight Protestants. But Francis is no stranger to evangelical strains of Catholicism, or to ecumenical moves bringing the two genres of Christianity together. It is a trend familiar to Latin and South America for decades, and so the first trip of the first Latin American Pope—one who personally knows the ins and outs of these two communities—has special meaning for a region that is experiencing similar change.

But there is another reason that this trip is important right now, and it is harder to quantify: the trip poses a new test for the Holy Father’s global spiritual leadership. It is easy for a religious figure to symbolize a new era of hope and peace when everything is peachy. It is another hallmark of spiritual influence altogether to inspire hope when violence abounds. What can a peace-making trip mean in the midst of such all-encompassing violence? Can he point to a hope that goes beyond mere words, to a hope that is somehow real?

How Pope Francis represents the answers those questions matters, not just for pilgrims in the Korean peninsula, but also for seekers across the world.

TIME Religion

Behind British Minister of Faith Sayeeda Warsi’s Resignation Over Gaza

Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, British Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities in Islamabad, Pakistan on October 10, 2013.
Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, British Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities in Islamabad, Pakistan on October 10, 2013. T. Mughal—EPA

Her choice is bold and dramatic, and it sends a strong statement that political will requires moral courage.

Politicians don’t often quit out of principle. They especially do not quit out of moral principle. But, on the rare occasion that they do, it is dramatic.

That’s what happened Tuesday morning, when Sayeeda Warsi, the United Kingdom’s first Minister of Faith and the first Muslim to serve as a Cabinet minister, resigned in protest of her government’s approach to the crisis in Gaza. “For some weeks, in meetings and discussions, I have been open and honest about my views on the conflict in Gaza and our response to it,” she wrote in her resignation letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, which she posted on Twitter. “My view has been that our policy in relation to the Middle East Peace Process generally but more recently our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically.”

Cameron replied in a statement, thanking her for her work and regretting her decision. “Our policy has always been consistently clear–the situation in Gaza is intolerable and we’ve urged both sides to agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire,” he said.

At first glance, one might assume that this story is simply “Muslim minister resigns over U.K. support for Israel.” Warsi is, after all, the first Muslim to serve in so high a position, and soon after her resignation, she called for an immediate arms embargo against Israel in an interview with the Huffington Post UK.

But that’s almost certainly too simplistic an understanding of what happened. Warsi has built her professional career on a foundational principle that religious and historic divides do not necessitate irreconcilable divisions or violence. She made it her mission to help create a government that, as she often said, would “do God” and advocate for faith’s place in society. That meant working for people of all faiths. She spoke out against Islamophobia and worked to make sure British government was inclusive for Muslims. In 2012 she let the U.K.’s largest ministerial delegation to the Vatican. Last year she came to Washington, DC, to speak out against the global persecution of Christians. One of her main goals was to encourage the international community to develop a cross-faith, cross-continent commitment to protect Christian minorities. Religious persecution, she told me at the time, is the biggest challenge of the 21st century. “It is about working up the political will,” she said. “It is about getting some consensus, it is about politicians being prepared to take on these difficult challenges.”

Her personal faith story is also one that bridges divides often thought to be unbridgeable. She is the daughter of Pakistani immigrants and grew up in a Muslim family with a blended theological background that included both Shias and Sunnis. “We were taught to respect and love other faiths as much as we loved our own, and I suppose, you know, quite strong teachings that you can only truly be a Muslim if you also are Christian and Jewish before that, that actually Islam is just an extension of the other faiths and it has been a process where various books have been revealed at various times,” she told me. “I don’t see there is a collision course between people of faith, I actually do think it is instinctively based up on the same values.”

Her whole story is rooted in commitment to a higher calling. It makes her decision to resign is all the more dramatic, and it sends a strong statement that political will requires moral courage. “I always said that long after life in politics I must be able to live with myself for the decision I took or the decisions I supported,” she said in her resignation letter. “By staying in Government at this time I do not feel I can be sure of that.”

She may have resigned, but that does not mean her voice has been silenced: it may be louder as a result.

TIME Immigration

This Baptist Charity Is Being Paid Hundreds of Millions to Shelter Child Migrants

Contractors have taken on the huge task of sheltering thousands of unaccompanied child migrants

In the late afternoon of July 9, Air Force One touched down at Love Field in Dallas. President Barack Obama ducked into a private room at the airport for a discussion about the crisis of undocumented children crossing the southwest border. Assembled around a wooden table were top Texas officials, including Governor Rick Perry and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, as well as the leaders of several faith-based charities. One of them was a man so anonymous, the White House pool report misspelled his name.

Kevin Dinnin is the CEO of a faith-based, nonprofit organization called BCFS, formerly known as Baptist Child and Family Services. This obscure charity has emerged as one of the biggest players in the federal government’s response to the influx of more than 57,000 unaccompanied children who have trudged across the southern border so far this year. It runs two of the largest facilities for temporarily housing immigrant children, as well as six permanent shelters in California and Texas. Since December, BCFS has received more than $280 million in federal grants to operate these shelters, according to government records. On July 7, two days before Dinnin met Obama in Dallas, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded BCFS $190,707,505 in a single grant.

BCFS is just one part of a sprawling system of shelters for unaccompanied children across the country. As the numbers of children entering the country balloon, so do the dollars required to care for them. To shield vulnerable kids from angry opponents of immigration and the media spotlight, the government declines to disclose the locations and activities of many of the facilities operated by BCFS and similar organizations. That protectiveness comes at a political cost. Governors in states across the U.S. have assailed the federal government for sending kids to their states without notifying local officials, and congressional critics say that massive amounts of taxpayer money are being spent without proper oversight.

A dormitory at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio where unaccompanied migrant girls are being housed. Health and Human Services Administrations—The New York Times/Redux

Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on July 17, requesting information about BCFS contracts to ensure that taxpayer money wasn’t being misused. “Despite being almost completely dependent on the public, BCFS has faced heavy criticism for attempting to avoid public scrutiny,” the Iowa Republican wrote. “This aversion to basic transparency is extremely disturbing.”

BCFS began in 1944 as a home for orphaned children. In recent years, a sleepy San Antonio–based charity grew into a global nonprofit with regional offices around the U.S., as well as in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. On contract for the federal government, it has provided temporary shelter and emergency services in the wake of natural disasters ranging from Texas hurricanes to Haitian earthquakes. When the state needed to relocate the members of a Texas polygamous sect in 2008, it turned to BCFS, which provided emergency housing. The current crisis is the largest and longest response BCFS has ever faced. It has deployed some 1,400 personnel to manage the temporary shelters this year.

For BCFS executives, the work can be lucrative. According to federal tax records, Dinnin received nearly $450,000 in compensation in 2012. At least four other top officials earned more than $200,000. The median salary for the CEOs of nonprofit organizations like BCFS was about $285,000 in 2011, according to a 2013 survey by Charity Navigator.

The salaries, BCFS spokeswoman Krista Piferrer says, are determined by factors in the group’s contract with HHS. When disaster situations strike, a crisis pay scale replaces a regular one to account for extended 12-hour shifts in two-to-three-week stints. In 2012, an influx of children at the border required an emergency response, according to Piferrer. “It is similar to making an appointment to see a primary-care physician vs. going to the emergency room,” she says. “The emergency room is more expensive.”

The federal grant money for sheltering unaccompanied children, provided by HHS’s Administration for Children and Families, has so far totaled $671 million during the 2014 fiscal year. BCFS has received 40% of those funds, making it the largest recipient of money disbursed to contractors to temporarily house unaccompanied children until they can be reunited with family members or placed in foster care. Dozens of other organizations are involved in the effort, including Southwest Key Programs, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

BCFS is responsible for running two of the three temporary facilities recently set up to house large numbers of undocumented children apprehended by federal agents. One is at the Department of Defense’s Joint Base Lackland, in BCFS’s home city of San Antonio. Lackland is currently housing more than 700 children and has processed more than 3,600 overall since opening in May, says Kenneth Wolfe, an HHS spokesman. Another is Oklahoma’s Fort Sill, which is currently holding about 400 children and has discharged nearly 1,500 to date. Children stay at these facilities for an average of less than 35 days while the government works to find a family member with whom to place them. Because they are temporary shelters, some journalists, faith leaders, members of Congress and foreign dignitaries have been allowed into the facilities at Lackland and Fort Sill. Both facilities are expected to close by the end of August.

These facilities make up just a fraction of the extensive network in place to house child migrants. The Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Unaccompanied Alien Children program (UAC) has been given custody of more than 53,000 children over the past several months. The majority have been cycled through this network of about 100 smaller, permanent facilities, scattered across 14 U.S. states.

Unlike the temporary shelters, the permanent facilities are largely inaccessible to media and the taxpayers that fund them. Their locations are not officially disclosed, and they are “generally unnamed or unmarked,” according to Wolfe. Contractors are prohibited from speaking with the media without permission, BCFS says. As a result, it’s hard to gauge the conditions under which thousands of children are being held, or to assess whether taxpayer money is being well spent.

Wolfe, the HHS spokesman, says the secrecy stems from federal policy designed to protect the children’s privacy and ensure their safety. “We don’t identify the permanent facilities for the security of the children and the staff and the program,” he says. “Like any grant, we have federal staff assigned to oversight.”

A spokesperson for Southwest Key Programs, a Texas nonprofit that has been awarded more than $122 million in federal grants since December to shelter unaccompanied children, making it the second largest recipient after BCFS, said the organization was required to refer press inquiries to HHS. On a recent July afternoon, after multiple emails went unanswered, a TIME reporter drove to a Southwest Key facility in Phoenix. It was a colorful building ringed by tall metal bars and “No Trespassing” signs, situated off a freeway in a part of town where most signs are in Spanish. There was no guard out front to greet visitors, and entry required punching in a code at the locked gate.

The level of secrecy surrounding the facilities is unusual, says Neil Gordon, an investigator for the Washington-based Project on Government Oversight. But observers say it may be warranted. From Arizona to Michigan, clusters of citizens have held armed protests to oppose the relocation of undocumented children to facilities in their communities. “This situation is pretty unique in that they don’t want the mobs to come out and cause problems,” Gordon says. “That might be the reason they’re being so tight-lipped.”

A temporary shelter for unaccompanied minors who have entered the country illegally is seen at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio on June 23, 2014. Eric Gay—AP

A string of scams have also highlighted the importance of shielding the residents’ privacy. Grifters have been preying on the relatives of unaccompanied children, promising to help reunite them with their family members for fees ranging from $300 to $6,000, according to the Associated Press. The FBI is investigating the scams, which have targeted the families of children staying at BCFS facilities like Lackland, the AP reports.

Critics in Congress say the federal government is skirting transparency obligations. On July 1, Oklahoma Representative Jim Bridenstine, a Republican, was denied access to the BCFS facility at Fort Sill. “There is no excuse for denying a federal representative from Oklahoma access to a federal facility in Oklahoma where unaccompanied children are being held,” he said. “What are they trying to hide?” Soon after, the conservative media erupted over reports that BCFS planned to purchase a Texas hotel and turn it into a 600-bed facility for housing unaccompanied minors. (BCFS scuttled the idea, citing a backlash fed by inaccurate reporting.)

The UAC grant applications provide a glimpse of the extensive requirements to which organizations like BCFS must adhere. In addition to meeting all state and federal statutes, shelters must provide two hours per weekday of outdoor activity, offer classroom instruction on subjects like reading and science, supply counseling and personalized medical care, and grant phone calls to family members and access to visitors. The documents dictate that providers “utilize a positive, strength-based behavior-management approach, and shall never subject [residents] to corporal punishment, humiliation, mental abuse or punitive interference with the daily functions of living, such as eating or sleeping.”

Immigrant advocates say unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In January, the National Immigrant Justice Center issued a policy brief based on interviews with hundreds of unaccompanied children in the Chicago area. The minors reported grim conditions in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security, before transfer to shelters run by contractors. According to the policy paper, 56% said they had been placed in three-point shackles, which restrain individuals at the wrists, waist and ankles. More than 70% reported being placed in unheated cells during the winter. Some said they were barely fed.

The lack of public or congressional oversight of the facilities sheltering unaccompanied children should not be construed as concealing anything untoward, say groups that have visited them and worked with BCFS. The care at BCFS sites is extensive, Piferrer says, with the chief of the respiratory-disease branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention embedded at the site to track every illness the children faced, from broken ankles to fevers to GI-tract infections. “You don’t find another organization like this,” Gary Ledbetter of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention says of BCFS. “It’s basically a turnkey operation.”

“There’s not one bit of care that those kids were receiving that wasn’t first class,” says Chris Liebrum of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, a Baptist network with which BCFS is affiliated. “The federal government has come to Kevin. When the government says, ‘We need thousands of kids taken care of, can you do it?’ He’s done it.”

TIME LGBT

Obama Urged to Address LGBT Rights in Africa

Advocates issue report on the dreadful state of LGBT rights in Africa, as world leaders and leading figures from the continent prepare for the US-Africa Leaders Summit

Updated at 4:38 p.m. ET Tuesday

The White House will host more than 40 African heads of state for a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit next week, the first event of its kind and the largest such event any U.S. president has held with African governments. Some 200 African and U.S. CEOs are invited, and numerous faith leaders will gather to discuss their role in advancing development. To mark the historic event, LGBT advocates have issued a report on the state of LGBT rights in Africa. Their conclusion? It ain’t good.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Human Rights First report contains some stark numbers. A total of 37 African nations currently criminalize same-sex relationships. Four countries—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—allow for the death penalty against LGBT people in parts or in all of the country. Cameroon arrests more people based on their sexual orientation than any other country in the world. Ghana treats same-sex relationships as a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison. In Kenya, the sentence is up to 14 years. Only one country, South Africa, grants full marriage equality to LGBT citizens.

The U.S.—Africa summit, these advocates argue, is the perfect time for the White House to stand up for LGBT rights on the continent. Voices for equality on the ground deserve U.S. support, they say, and the U.S. should help create the political environment to ensure human rights are respected.

“The United States should demonstrate its firm commitment to upholding the fundamental principle that LGBT rights are human rights,” Ty Cobb, director of global engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, says. “This includes making clear that the United States will be a champion of LGBT rights abroad, and that we will not tolerate efforts to enact state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people in any country.”

The authors of the report aren’t alone. Representatives from the Council for Global Equality, Advocates for Youth, Amnesty International, GLAAD, and a dozen other organizations wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on July 25 urging “particular attention” at the summit to the rights of the next generation of LGBT Africans.

“We are confident that with your support, and the robust contribution of civil society, the summit will provide a unique opportunity to emphasize that LGBT and other marginalized communities suffer disproportionately from governance deficits, and that too many governments scapegoat LGBT individuals to distract public attention away from those structural failures,” they wrote. “The economic themes of the conference also provide an opportunity to emphasize that homophobia, transphobia and related forms of intolerance have economic costs, including to the trade and investment environments in emerging markets.”

Activists also note that the moment has particular importance as some African countries are taking more steps toward equality. “There are reports that Malawi will stop arresting LGBT people and review its laws,” Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel for Human Rights First, explains. “A move to pass new anti-gay legislation (and hold a massive anti-gay rally) was stalled in Ethiopia this year. Two young men were just acquitted in Cameroon. It’s too early to say if this is part of a larger trend or just a few independent rays of hope but it’s a trend we should watch and support.”

The Obama administration has already reacted to anti-LGBT legislation in Africa. Last month, the White House increased sanctions against Uganda for its anti-gay law signed in February, which made certain homosexual acts punishable by life imprisonment. The summit will give the president an opportunity to make the case in person, if he chooses. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni is slated to attend, as is Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who also signed an anti-homosexuality law this year.

“This summit is a unique opportunity to tell the story of how our nation and every nation grows stronger and more prosperous when all citizens—including LGBT people—are accepted by society and provided equal treatment under the law,” Cobb says. “Every citizen must be empowered to reach their maximum potential, and we should urge these nations to reject laws, policies, and practices that discriminate against LGBT people.”

National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price tells TIME that LGBT equality in Africa will be on the table at the summit. “The Obama Administration has long spoken out—including with our African partners—in support of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals,” he says. “We expect the Summit will provide an opportunity to continue these conversations.”

– Zeke J. Miller contributed to this report

TIME Religion

Obama Nominates Rabbi to Religious Freedom Post

US Secretary of State John Kerry stands with Rabbi David Saperstein, the nominee for ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job, while delivering remarks regarding the 2013 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on July 28, 2014 in Washington, DC.
US Secretary of State John Kerry stands with Rabbi David Saperstein, the nominee for ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job, while delivering remarks regarding the 2013 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on July 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Paul J. Richards—AFP/Getty Images

As State Department issues troubling edition of annual report on religious freedom across the world

The Obama administration said Monday it would nominate Rabbi David Saperstein as the next Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, as the state department issued its annual analysis of the state of religious freedom across the globe.

President Obama said he would nominate Saperstein to a position that has been vacant since October, when Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook resigned. The current director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism would, if confirmed, be the first non-Christian to hold the job.

One of Saperstein’s projects as head of the State Department’s Office for International Religious Freedom would be to help compile the International Religious Freedom Report — the 2013 edition of which was also published on Monday.

The diagnosis from this year’s report, which analyzes religious freedom across the globe, is weighty: “In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory.”

The report goes country by country to examine how governments are repressing religious groups and ways that religious minorities face discrimination. In much of the Middle East, Christian presence is becoming “a shadow of its former self,” the report states. In Syria, some 160,000 Christians lived in Homs before the conflict began. Now only some 1,000 Christians do. In Burma’s western Rakhine state, violence against Muslims has displaced some 140,000 people since 2012. Shia Muslims face discrimination in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt. In Sri Lanka, violent Buddhist groups destroyed mosques and churches. In some European countries, anti-Semitism led as much as 48% of the Jewish population to consider emigrating.

The findings offer a global perspective on the contemporary fight for religious freedom, which in the U.S. has become almost synonymous with the fight against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, often led by conservative evangelical and Catholic groups. The religious oppression that faces millions of believers across the globe, however, represents an altogether more serious challenge to the free practice of faith.

So Saperstein, if confirmed, would have his work cut out for him. The Obama administration has faced criticism for leaving the ambassador-at-large post vacant for 10 months, particularly amid the increasing global threats to religious freedom outlined in the report. Secretary of State John Kerry underscored on Monday that religious freedom is an integral part of the U.S.’s global diplomatic engagement.

“One thing is for sure: Rabbi Saperstein is joining an important effort at a very important time,” Kerry said. “I want to emphasize this effort is not about naming countries to lists in order to make us feel somehow that we have spoken the truth. I want our [countries of particular concern] designations to be grounded in plans, action, that help to change the reality on the ground and actually help people.”

TIME Religion

Report: Pope Francis to Visit U.S. in 2015

Pope Francis Visits Molise
Pope Francis attends a meeting with young people at the Sanctuary of Castelpetroso in Campobasso, Italy on July 5, 2014. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

Set to visit Philadelphia in September 2015

Updated 12:16pm ET.

Pope Francis has long been rumored to attend the World Meeting of Families in the U.S. next September, and now Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput says Pope Francis has accepted his invitation to join the gathering, according to a report by Catholic News Service.

The report also quotes Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi saying Friday that the Holy Father has expressed “his willingness to participate in the World Meeting of Families.” The Archdiocese of Philadelphia clarified later Friday that the Vatican itself has not officially confirmed Pope Francis’ visit. “We still expect that any official confirmation will come approximately six months prior to the event,” stated a press release. “Archbishop Chaput has frequently shared his confidence in Pope Francis’ attendance at the World Meeting and his personal conversations with the Holy Father are the foundation for that confidence.”

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family sponsors the World Meeting of Families every three years in a different city. The upcoming gathering is still more than a year away, and Pope Francis is likely to push for more activity on the issues of family and marriage before then — at least if his workrate continues at its current pace.

In October, Pope Francis will host an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome to discuss the topic, “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” It is only the third such Extraordinary Synod since Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops in 1965, and it signals that issues of marriage and family—especially in changing modern times—are of special importance to Pope Francis.

TIME Religion

Border Crisis: Central American Churches Try to Keep Children Home

Members of a Catholic church in a small town along the Guatemala and Mexico border hold a special mass celebrating the Virgin of Shelter.
Members of a Catholic church in El Pedregal, a small town along the Guatemala and Mexico border, hold a special Mass celebrating the Virgin of Shelter for undocumented migrants passing through their town, July 4, 2014. Meridith Kohut—The New York Times/Redux

Pastors in the United States and across Central America and Mexico have a new message: do not send kids to the border.

Thousands of children continue to cross the US-Mexico border without parents, and a growing group of Hispanic Christian pastors is urging churches across Central America to keep their children from making the trip. Their goal is ambitious: zero unaccompanied minors at the border by the end of the year.

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference/CONELA, a Hispanic Christian network that serves more than 40,000 churches in the US and 500,000 worldwide, is spearheading the campaign along with three other US-based faith organizations, Buckner International, Convoy of Hope, and Somebody Cares International. Together they hope to mobilize their member churches and partners in Central and South America to stop the children’s migration. “I believe it is wrong for parents to send children to the US border when the primary protective firewall for these children lies in a loving Christ-filled home where faith, family and education stand prevalent,” Samuel Rodriguez, president of NHCLC/CONELA, explains. “Correspondingly, as a nation and as people of faith, we must serve, heal and minister to those that have arrived in our nation because theirs, according to Jesus, is the kingdom of heaven.”

For now, the coalition is spreading the message primarily from pulpits and via a media campaign. The group launched a new website, ForHisChildren.net, on Wednesday, and is also beginning a radio ad campaign targeting some 500 radio stations, both secular and Christian, in Central and South America. Their message is direct: “How can we best protect our children? By making Christ the center of our homes, for a family filled with faith, hope and love stands as the primary deterrent against gangs, drugs and violence,” one of the Spanish ads says. “Keep your children home. Do not send them to the US border rather declare like Joshua, ‘As for me and my house, we shall serve The Lord.’”

NHCLC/CONELA leaders took this message to a gathering of 2,000 church leaders from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, in Guadalajara, Mexico, on July 10. The risk and likelihood of physical and psychological hardship, sexual abuse, and gang involvement, Rodriguez explained to the pastors there, outweighs the perceived benefits of letting children try to enter the United States. He asked pastors to share this message from their own pulpits: “Con Fe en Cristo y la familia junta; nuestros ninos tienen un future,” which translates as, “With faith in Christ and the family together, our children have a future.”

Beyond the humanitarian crisis at the border, the US faith leaders have political incentive to advise constituents to keep kids at home—vast numbers of migrating children continue to complicate the political challenge of passing immigration reform, which the leaders support. From October through the end of June, nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended crossing the US border, and nearly all were from Central American and Mexico. The number of children under age 12 who have been caught at the border has more than doubled this fiscal year over last year, according to data obtained by the Pew Research Center. Earlier this week, NHCLC members met with White House officials and, separately, with Senator Ted Cruz to share their recent efforts to prevent children from illegally coming to the US.

Fermín García, pastor of the 7,000-member strong church Grupo Unidad Cristiana de México (Christian Unity Group of Mexico) in Tijuana, leads the NHCLC Mexico chapter, which includes thousands of Church of God, Assemblies of God, Foursquare and Methodist churches. He is working to spread the message across Mexico pastor to pastor, and this week he met with leaders of the Foursquare denomination at their national convention in Baja California to give them copies of the media spots to share with their local churches. Biblical principles, he explains, are what ultimately change kids lives, and that’s one of the reasons it is so important for pastors to spread the keep-kids-home message. “Parents don’t want children to fall into gangs or with poverty, unfortunately it seems they are finding the same thing, only now away from their family,” Garcia says. “Changes come with hearts being changed, not with money.”

Costa Rican pastor Ricardo Castillo Medina, who serves as president of the Hispanic Federation of the Assemblies of God, was initially surprised to learn of the campaign, but he quickly joined and helped to coordinate awareness and humanitarian aid for children. His network in the most vulnerable immigration zones is large—2,300 churches in El Salvador, 1,750 in Honduras, 2,600 in Guatemala, 5,000 in Mexico. The churches in his network, he says, now have instructions to share messages to keep kids home with their communities. Families need to know, he explains via email, that the risks involved for children seeking the American dream could turn it into a nightmare. “We can avoid children suffering abuse and exposure to inhumane conditions, and besides that it is a social-political problem,” he says.

Whether the overall campaign works on the broad scale remains to be seen. The motivating forces behind the children’s migration, like violence and poverty, have far from an easy fix. “Everything is still new and you can’t yet measure the impact,” Castillo says, “but I think we’re going to raise awareness so that children are not used.”

TIME faith

Obama’s Executive Order to Protect Gay Workers Will Have No Religious Exemption

US-POLITICS-OBAMA
US President Barack Obama disembarks from Air Force One at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on July 17, 2014. Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images

Not all faith leaders are upset

President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order Monday that will ban job discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation among federal employees and contractors–and it will not include an exemption for religious organizations.

The order ensures that federal employees and contractors, who are already protected on the basis of sexual orientation, will formally be protected from discrimination based on gender identity. It will affect some 24,000 companies with 28 million workers total, or about a fifth of the country’s work force, according to the Associated Press.

“At a critical time for our nation’s economy, we need all of our workers to be focused on making the most of their talent, skill, and ingenuity, rather than worrying about losing their job due to discrimination,” said a White House official. “Discrimination is not just wrong, it also can keep qualified workers from maximizing their potential to contribute to the strengthening of our economy.”

When the upcoming order was first announced on June 30–the last day of LGBT Pride month and shortly after the Supreme Court handed down the Hobby Lobby decision–a handful of Christian leaders including pastors Rick Warren and Joel Hunter wrote Obama a letter asking him to exempt religious organizations. They soon received pushback–more than 100 faith leaders wrote Obama last week asking that he not include an exemption. That group, which included Christian, Muslim, Jewish and interfaith leaders, said such an exemption would only open a “Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.” Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, wrote in an op-ed for TIME that asking for such an exemption was “theologically indefensible.” Former Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), who had originally signed the letter asking for a religious exemption along with Warren and Hunter, apologized last week, calling her initial decision to sign the request “an error in judgement,” and asked that her name be removed.

Obama’s executive order does not add exemptions for religious organizations beyond President George W. Bush’s 2002 order, which allowed religiously affiliated contractors to favor individuals of a particular religion when hiring. Religious organizations are still allowed, under the First Amendment, to make employment decisions about their ministers as they see fit.

TIME Travel

Washington, D.C.: What to See and What to Skip

The US Capitol and Reflecting Pool.
View of the U.S. Capitol over the Reflecting Pool in Washington D.C on Oct. 6, 2013. Jon Hicks—Corbis

Everyone knows the basics when it comes to visiting the nation’s capital—see the White House, the Capitol, Supreme Court, the monuments—but the locals know there’s a lot more that is worth checking out. Here’s a rundown of the best of DC:

What to See

A woman reads a magazine while enjoying classical music at the exhibit "Orchid Symphony" in the conservatory of the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., on March 12, 2014.
A woman reads a magazine while enjoying classical music at the exhibit “Orchid Symphony” in the conservatory of the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., on March 12, 2014. Kevin LaMarque—Reuters

If you like art but are overwhelmed by the more popular art museums on the mall, the Phillips Collection offers an intimate modern art collection, with Renoirs and Rothkos tucked away in a Edwardian Dupont row home. Even if you don’t go to a show or concert, check out the Kennedy Center rooftop for skyline views of the city. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is classic fun for all ages, and the United States Botanic Garden is a refreshing natural respite from the hustle by the Capitol—in the winter, it even has an exhibit that recreates DC out of plants. The district has several summer Screen on the Green options: NoMa Summer Screen complete with local food trucks, Golden Triangle Cinema Series, and, new in 2014, Films at the Stone, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Meridian Hill Parkon 16th is famous for its tiered fountains and a fun drum circle that meets on the upper level every Sunday afternoon. A bit farther out, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Catholic church in North America, and Washington National Cathedral is the sixth largest cathedral in the world. Sports fans might want to check out a Nats game or DC United match.

What to Skip

Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 24, 2012.
Ben’s Chili Bowl in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 24, 2012. Frederic Soltan—Corbis

Most important tip: skip the memorials during the day—instead, go at night to see them lit up, and don’t miss the World War II and Vietnam Wall shrines. The Newseum is a tough sell for the $22.95 entrance fee, especially when the Smithsonian history museums are free and have similar exhibits. Georgetown Cupcake never ceases to be an endless tourist fascination thanks to a television show, but Baked and Wired down the street has no line, and superior cupcakes.Adams Morgan has turned into the college kids nightlife spot, so if that’s not your scene, only Jack Rose (whiskey heaven) and Las Canteras (best Peruvian, even in a lime shortage) are worth the trip. Ben’s Chili Bowl downtown is a tourist trap.National Harbor is farther than you think, and without good public transportation, cabs can be pretty pricey for the corporate-feel payoff. Jazz in the Sculpture Garden can be fun, but less fun since BYO alcohol is a no-go for your picnic.

Union Market on April 5, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Leigh Vogel—Getty Images

Where to Eat

  • DC is a foodie heaven, so much so that its hard even for locals to keep pace with the new restaurant openings. Here’s some to get you started:
  • Coffee. Filter and Dolcezza (also known for its gelato) are hip DC’s espresso spots. Many places also serve DC’s local brew, Vigilante Coffee.
  • Brunch. If DC is a happy hour town during the week, it is brunch-obsessed on the weekends. Le Diplomate boasts delicious French-inspired plates, Farmers Fishers Bakers has an unreal buffet spread, The Pig is known for its pork and bourbon maple syrup, Red Rocks has a chill outdoor patio, Ted’s Bulletin is good for families and its homemade pop tarts, and Masa 14 is a must for its bottomless drinks. If you don’t mind waiting, the blueberry buckwheat pancake line atMarket Lunch inside Eastern Market is a fun activity.
  • Lunch. If you try one spot, make it Union Market. It’s a warehouse full of different local food artisans and pop-up kitchens, making it good for a group with lots of different taste buds.
  • Dinner. You can’t really go wrong at any of the places on 14th Street between Logan Circle and U Street, or with anything in chef Jose Andres’ restaurant group (including Zaytinya, Oyamel, Jaleo, and minibar). Mike Isabella’s Graffiato is famous for its seasonal small plates.Tosca is the finest and freshest Italian around. Founding Farmers offers farm-inspired goodness, or for a quick and delicious bite, there’s always burgers and milkshakes at Good Stuff Eatery. Belgian-fare Brasserie Beck, 555-beer-cellar Birch and Barley, modern-Indian Rasika…we could go on and on. Columbia Heights on 11th St. has gems like Room 11, El Chucho, and Meridian Pint. The more adventuresome may want to check out the Atlas District, H Street NE from Union Station out to Benning Rd NE, a hipster haven with favorites including Ethiopic and, Washington’s best, Toki Underground ramen. The best kept dining secret? Little Serow, a northern Thai speakeasy does not take reservations, but its seven-course, prix-fix menu will blow you away. Definitely worth putting your name in early and then grabbing a drink at nearby Hanks Oyster Bar while you wait.

Drinks

The bar inside Proof on G street in Washington, D.C. Darko Zagar

For a classic DC experience, Point of View, the W Hotel’s Rooftop, is a must—it overlooks the White House. DNV Rooftopat the Donovan House has great views to the city’s north. Cocktails are great at Pearl Dive and Bar Charley. For wine, check out Barcelona or Proof. Beer is top-notch at Right Proper Brewing Company (while you’re at it, try out some of the new places cropping up in Shaw), Biergarten Haus, and Granville Moore’s. Nellie’s Sports Bar, Satellite Room, and American Ice are the go-to’s on U Street.

Dining Pro-Tip. Get reservations. Most places are on OpenTable, and DC is definitely a reservation culture, so walking in can mean a long wait.

Where to Stay

The Hay-Adams features stunning views of the White House and the Washington Monument, and it’s where President Obama and his family stayed before they moved into the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. If you want luxury in the heart of Georgetown, book a room at the Four Seasons—just don’t expect it to come cheap. Le Méridien just over the Potomac in Rosslyn is a stylish, boutique spot, or if you want to skip the hotel route, you can check out Airbnb’s neighborhood guide.

TIME Religion

Faith Leaders to Obama: Don’t Let Us Discriminate, Either

A new effort pushes back against a smaller campaign last week

More than 100 faith leaders asked President Barack Obama on Tuesday not to include a religious exemption in his upcoming executive order to ban job discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation among federal employees.

The group—which included Christian, Jewish, Muslim and interfaith leaders—sent the White House a letter Tuesday urging the President to end such discrimination without exception. “An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens,” they said in the letter. “An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.”

Their effort pushes back against a smaller campaign last week by about a dozen Christian leaders who asked the President to carve out an exception in the order for religious organizations. Signers of that letter included pastors Rick Warren and Joel Hunter, as well as Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, Larry Snyder of Catholic Charities USA, and Stephan Bauman of World Relief. Michael Wear, who directed faith vote outreach for Obama’s reelection campaign, helped to organize that effort.

Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary and a signatory to the new letter, said she was “devastated” to learn that a group of prominent faith leaders, “my brothers and sisters in Christ,” had asked the President for a religious exemption in the forthcoming order. “In other words, they asked that people of faith be given special permission to discriminate,” she wrote in an op-ed for TIME last week after the first group’s letter became public. “It’s simply theologically indefensible.”

Five other seminary and divinity school presidents joined Jones in signing Tuesday’s letter—Katharine Henderson of Auburn Theological Seminary, Alice Hunt of Chicago Theological Seminary, James McDonald of San Francisco Theological Seminary, Katherine Hancock Ragsdale of Episcopal Divinity School, and Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan of Claremont School of Theology. Other notable signers include Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson, Brian McLaren of the Cana Initiative, and Rabbi Richard Block of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, as well as heads of nonprofits and denominational leaders of the Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ and others.

It remains to be seen how the White House will respond. For now, the dueling positions are one more reminder that, despite increasing public support for gay rights, tensions surrounding the matter still divide religious communities across the country.

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