TIME 2014 Election

Duck Dynasty Nephew to Run for Congress

Senate Deal on U.S. Debt Limit Emerging as Time Runs Short
A police officer rides a motorcycle past the United States Capitol building at sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Pete Marovich—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Zach Dasher's wife writes of overcoming her anxiety about a political life with prayer and faith in God.

Republican Zach Dasher, nephew of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, announced Monday morning that he is running for Congress in Louisiana’s 5th district. “I want to help restore America to what she once was—a nation that builds freedom and prosperity on the anchor of God,” Dasher, 36, told the Shreveport Times.

Dasher has a background in pharmaceutical and real estate industries, and he is running on a conservative Republican platform. “Dasher is pro-life and is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” stated a press release. “He favors adoption of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, an overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a strong U.S. military.”

This race is Dasher’s first run for public office. “We did not send people to Washington to determine our rights. We sent them there to defend our rights, but that’s not what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re taking them away, day by day. They’re forcing us to purchase their healthcare insurance because they think they know better than we do when it comes to managing our private lives.”

Dasher and his wife Jil have four children, and they are members of White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ. Duck Commander Phil Robertson is his mother’s brother. Last year, the Robertson family supported US Rep. Vance McAllister (R-LA5) who was caught this spring on video kissing a married staffer.

Jil wrote about her reaction to her husband’s decision on her blog “The Minivan Tales” Monday morning: “I was extremely reluctant, anxious, and down right resistant, barely sleeping and eating for three days. After all we had just built this great house, we were volunteering with an amazing church, and life was just, well, comfortable,” she writes. “I was afraid to take this before the father [God] because somewhere deep down I knew. I knew that God had been preparing my husband long before I was even in the picture for a time such as this. In fact, He was preparing us all, but I wasn’t quite ready to adhere to the calling.”

For Jil, the decision to run is about following a divine call. A person on the campaign team, she writes, compared his own decision to join the campaign to the Biblical prophet Jonah first running away from God, then choosing to obey. “[A friend] said Zach, you know I sort of feel like Jonah, It’s not something that I necessarily want to do, my life and career are in a good comfortable place, (there’s that word again) but if God is telling me to go to Nineveh, then I will go.”

Prayer, she continued, has been key to her family’s choice to trust God’s call like Jonah. “When Zach told me about his conversation I hung up the phone, went straight to my closet (us moms do that sometimes) and knelt before the Lord. This began the first of many many prayers that I have sent up to the Father regarding this specific decision. My prayer has always been the same and will continue to be the same throughout this process ‘Lord, if this decision would hurt our family, our faith, or your kingdom then please slam the door shut, but if you have called us together as a family to go forth in this mission then open the doors, guide our paths, and give us strength to walk through them.’ I do not know where this path will lead and it may not always be ‘comfortable’ but I will walk alongside my husband as long as the road is before us.”

TIME Religion

‘Oh God’: How to Pray for the World Cup

The shortest prayer is just two words

You might be praying and you don’t even know it: “Oh God.”

Those two words are now an official Church of England prayer for the 2014 World Cup.

Amid all the beer-drinking, game-watching and team-cheering that has consumed much of the globe since the games began last week in Brazil, the Church of England released five official prayers for the 2014 World Cup. The Rt. Rev. Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds and a Liverpool fan, originally wrote the prayers for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The prayers have everyone covered — the games, Brazil, the England football team, and even a prayer for those who are “simply not interested.”

Why do the prayers matter? “God is not partisan and there are bigger things to pray for around the world, not least in Iraq, Nigeria and Sudan to name but three,” Baines explained in a statement. “At its heart prayer is about expressing our desires honestly and having our vision of God, the world and one another changed by our praying … My hope is that the World Cup would be a reminder of the joy of a nation coming together in a common cause — something that in itself is worth celebrating.”

Here are the five prayers:

Prayer 1: A Prayer for the World Cup
“Lord of all the nations, who played the cosmos into being, guide, guard and protect all who work or play in the World Cup.
 May all find in this competition a source of celebration, an experience of common humanity and a growing attitude of generous sportsmanship to others. 
Amen.


”

Prayer 2
: A Prayer for Brazil


God of the nations, who has always called his people to be a blessing for the world, bless all who take part in the World Cup.
 Smile on Brazil in her hosting,
 on the nations represented in competition and on those who travel to join in the party. 
Amen.

”

Prayer 3
: A prayer for those simply not interested
Lord, as all around are gripped with World Cup fever, bless us with understanding, strengthen us with patience and grant us the gift of sympathy if needed.
 Amen.

”

Prayer 4: 
Prayers for the England football team
“Oh God …”

Prayer 5:


”God, who played the cosmos into being, please help England rediscover their legs, their eyes and their hunger: that they might run more clearly, pass more nearly and enjoy the game more dearly. Amen.”

TIME faith

David Brat’s Biblical Views Shape His Tea Party Politics

David Brat's spirituality depends on the union of capitalism and Christianity.

The Republican primary race in Virginia’s 7th district was a David and Goliath story from the beginning. Perhaps that’s why David Brat—the Tea Party professor who stunned the country and took down House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Tuesday—waved a piece of paper with a Bible verse in the air when he won: “Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God!’” he announced to the crowd’s applause.

But there was another reason as well. Brat’s spiritual life has long been as central to his identity, even though it has also been difficult to pigeonhole. He currently attends a Catholic church, but he also identifies as a Calvinist, and he lists four churches as affiliations on his resume: St. Michael’s Catholic, Christ Church Episcopal, Third Presbyterian, and Shady Grove Methodist. He earned his bachelors from Hope College, a Christian liberal arts college in Holland, Mich., which is historically affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, a Protestant denomination that sprouted during the 17th century. He got a Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian school, but while there wrote a thesis on logical positivism and its impact on economic science—not a typical choice for someone earning a ministerial degree. He then switched his focus and earned a Ph.D. in economics from American University.

Through all of that, one aspect of his faith has been constant: Brat takes the Protestant work ethic seriously. Like many of his Tea Party colleagues, Brat is an Ayn Rand enthusiast, and coauthored a paper assessing the moral foundations of her writings in 2010. Like many Protestants in the classic Calvinist tradition, he believes Christ is the transformer of culture, and that capitalism is the key to this world transformation. He outlined this view of politics and religion in a 2011 paper titled “God and Advanced Mammon—Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?” published out of Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology.

His core argument is that capitalism and Christianity should merge. He believes their union is so important that making disciples of capitalism is Brat’s own version of Jesus’ Great Commission. “The main point is that we need to synthesize Christianity and capitalism,” he concludes in “God and Advanced Mammon.” “Augustine synthesized Plato and Christianity. Thomas Aquinas synthesized Aristotle and Christianity. Calvin synthesized all the rest, but capitalism was still coming. There is a book in here somewhere for the next Calvin. Go. God Bless.”

This means that for Brat, the Biblical message of loving your neighbor is about making people self-sufficient. If you preach the gospel and make people good, he argues, then you make the markets good. Individuals are morally responsible to work hard and advance themselves in society, so his theory goes, and then ultimately the capitalist system should help people advance and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. “We should love our neighbor so much that we actually believe in right and wrong, and do something about it,” he writes. “If we all did the right thing and had the guts to spread the word, we would not need the government to backstop every action we take.”

It’s a view that even takes issue with the idea of compassionate conservatism. “Let me ask you as an individual a question,” Brat’s essay continues. “Are you willing to force someone you know to pay for the benefits for one of your neighbors? Will you force them? Very few Christians I know are willing to say ‘yes’ to this question. It gets very uncomfortable.”

That message puts Brat at odds with the global leader of the church he attends, Pope Francis, who holds a view on the other end of the spectrum—the Pope’s recent messages have warned that capitalism often exploits the poor, and must be moderated. Francis has called “unfettered capitalism” a “new tyranny,” and he has equated unjust social conditions like unemployment and poor healthcare with “moral destitution.”

But for Brat, the consequences of not pursuing this radical capitalist agenda are drastic: if the church does not respond to the reality of capitalism, he writes, society could potentially face a downfall like Nazi Germany. “Capitalism is here to stay, and we need a church model that corresponds to that reality,” he writes, asking people to read Nietzsche. “Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the weak modern Christian democratic man was spot on. Jesus was a great man. Jesus said he was the Son of God. Jesus made things happen. Jesus had faith. Jesus actually made people better. Then came the Christians. What happened? What went wrong? We appear to be a bit passive. Hitler came along, and he did not meet with unified resistance. I have the sinking feeling that it could all happen again, quite easily.”

His moral views give way to his political and economic strategy. Instead of fighting usury as a product of capitalism, Brat argues that “the church should hire lobbyists to work on behalf of the poor who suffer under usury.” People should learn to “work hard and stay out of debt in the first place.” The recent recession, he says came about because “we wanted to force low-interest loans on the banks so that the poor could magically afford houses.” Progressives, especially in the faith community, need to wake up, he argues: “Church folk and my liberal pals are always preaching about inclusiveness and diversity. . . . However, a real test for liberal Christian types is whether they will reach out to capitalists!”

The thing that comes last in his plan? “Finally, I think Jesus told us to help our neighbor when they get in a bind,” he writes. “But that comes last in my little story here, not first.”

TIME Religion

Christian Right Attacks Planned Parenthood For Praying

Prayer gets political

Prayer is often one of the few acts that can cross religious and political divides, no matter how deep. But last week, the president of the Family Research Council criticized Planned Parenthood Federation of America for reaching out to women in the name of God. “Women are used to Planned Parenthood preying on them—but praying on them? That’s a new approach altogether,” Tony Perkins wrote on the FRC website. “Obviously, [Planned Parenthood] is always looking for new ways to justify abortion. But the Bible? That’s a step too far, even for them.”

Perkins was responding to a Planned Parenthood “Pastoral Letter to Patients” written by the group’s 15-member Clergy Advocacy Board and posted online. “Many people wrongly assume that all religious leaders disapprove of abortion,” the letter reads. “The truth is that abortion is not even mentioned in the Scriptures—Jewish or Christian—and there are clergy and people of faith from all denominations who support women making this complex decision.”

That message, Perkins felt, crosses a line. “Is Planned Parenthood so desperate for business that it has to spiritualize the murder of tiny children?” he wrote.

“We felt it was time to weigh in and make sure that our supporters were aware of Planned Parenthood’s latest tactics,” Perkins tells TIME.

Planned Parenthood’s pastoral letter, however, wasn’t actually new. It has been on the group’s website since October 2013, and it is part of a group of clergy’s longstanding efforts to support Planned Parenthood affiliates and patients. The group’s Clergy Advocacy Board spans a range of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions, and while the religious groups have their own particular views about abortion, they share the view that God loves women no matter their decision about a pregnancy. “We believe that clergy have a special responsibility to bear witness in support of reproductive rights so that the public and their elected representatives may understand the theological and moral basis for reproductive rights,” says the Clergy Board’s statement of beliefs. “The decision about abortion is a matter between a woman, her conscience, and/or her God, and that those close to her should offer support in any way they can.”

Three clergy board members—the Board’s chair, Reform Jewish Rabbi Jon Adland of Canton, Ohio; vice-chair Rev. Susan Russell, of All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, Calif.; and Reform Jewish Rabbi Dennis Ross of Concerned Clergy for Choice in Albany, N.Y.—responded to Perkins’ criticism against their work in a statement to TIME. “Too often, the voices of negative religious discourse around abortion are those that loudly proclaim their teachings are the only ones that are valid,” they say. “They try to shame and judge women who are making deeply personal and often complex decisions about their pregnancies.”

For these Christian and Jewish leaders, their efforts far from spiritualize abortion–they defend a woman’s religious liberty. “As clergy members, we work every day to make clear that everyone is entitled to follow their own conscience and religious beliefs; what they don’t have the right to do is impose those beliefs on everyone else,” they say.

As ministers, they also believe they also have a spiritual responsibility to care for and counsel families in their communities. “As faith leaders, we recognize that women need to be supported and receive compassionate care while making deeply personal decisions based on faith and conscience,” they say. “It is important that women know that there are people of faith who respect a woman’s ability to make these deeply personal decisions in consultation with her family, her doctor, and her faith.”

The spat again revives the culture war debate over who can claim the Bible, and ultimately, who can claim that God endorses their cause. The majority of white evangelicals, Mormons, and Hispanic Catholics believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, according to the Pew Research Center, while the majority of white mainline Protestants, white Catholics, black Protestants, Jews, and unaffiliated believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Perkins, however, suggests that Christianity and Planned Parenthood are incompatible. “A straightforward reading of the Bible shows that since the beginning God held human life to be sacred, and values human life, no matter the stage,” Perkins says. “I imagine that Christians, supposed or true, who support Planned Parenthood either do not fully understand what abortion is, what its physical and emotional consequences are or what Planned Parenthood as an organization actually stands for and advocates.”

TIME faith

Watchmen on the Wall: Pastors Prepare to Take Back America

FRCAction and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, speaks during the Values Voter Summit, held by the Family Research Council Action, on Oct. 11, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
FRCAction and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, speaks during the Values Voter Summit, held by the Family Research Council Action, on Oct. 11, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Jose Luis Magana—AP

A group of pastors fears the United States is losing its Christian heritage, and they came to Washington to be encouraged to stand firm.

On the evening of May 21, a group of fifty pastors stood soaking wet in the Capitol rotunda, undeterred by the rainstorm outside. Beneath the giant painting Baptism of Pocahontas, David Barton, an evangelical advocate for what he believes is the besieged Christian heritage of the United States, was holding forth on the nation’s spiritual history. Pocahontas, he was saying, really wanted to be known by the Christian name Rebecca, but America’s politically correct textbooks insist on calling her Pocahontas. President James Garfield, he continued, preached one day and 34 people accepted Jesus as their savior. The Capitol building’s Statuary Hall used to be a chapel, he added, and remember, “This is a government building.”

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) walked up and hugged Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael, who was in the group, murmuring his ‘Amens’ as Barton spoke. When he gets discouraged with the state of politics or the country, Lee said, he likes to make a late night pilgrimage though the Rotunda and look at all the paintings and statues to be reminded of America’s early religious life. “That really is what the American dream is all about,” he said. “We are a shining city on a hill but we have to resume acting like that shining city.” The group applauded, and then closed their tour with a blessing for the country: “God Bless America,” they sang, many with hands outstretched and eyes closed in prayer.

The pastors had come to the nation’s capital as part of the annual “Watchmen on the Wall” Washington briefing, a conference sponsored by the Family Research Council to connect pastors with policy makers and legislators and to encourage the pastors to advocate for those Biblical values FRC believes should be advanced in America. This year’s event, held May 21-23, marked the 11th year of the program, and more than 650 people from a total of 42 states attended, including 500 pastors and their wives. Nearly half were repeat participants, and most come from conservative or evangelical congregations.

Watchmen on the Wall is FRC’s network of 28,000 pastors nationwide. A “Watchman” pastor is one who has committed to watch what goes on in the culture, pray for wisdom to engage the culture and sound the alarm of perceived cultural transgressions from the pulpit. The group gets its name from a passage in the Old Testament book of Isaiah: “I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest.”

This year’s briefing focused on defending the idea that marriage only should exist between a man and woman and on countering what many conservative Christians believe are widespread attacks on Christian religious liberty. “There is an all-out assault on Biblical marriage, with judges overturning the will of the vast majority of voters in some states […] Religious organizations and Christian-owned businesses are being forced to provide insurance plans that cover abortions and abortion-inducing drugs or face fines and punishment…and the list goes on,” FRC president Tony Perkins wrote in a welcome letter to attendees. “It would appear that lawlessness has been unleashed upon our country and culture as we witness an unprecedented and outrageous abuse of power by governing authorities.”

The conference brought together 46 speakers, including Duck Dynasty’s Al Robertson, Sen. Ted Cruz’s father Rafael, Franklin Graham, Tony Evans, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI). Pastors pay $199 to attend, and FRC pays an additional $800 per pastor, bringing this year’s total cost to near half a million dollars. But all of that is worth it, organizers say, to guide Americans toward what the FRC says is the correct Biblical path. “The cure is to be found in a return to the God of the Bible,” explained Perkins. “Now, more than ever, America’s Bible-preaching pastors must serve as the spiritual catalysts for this radical return to God, first in the Church and then as the leaders on the front lines of our communities in this struggle for the heart and soul of America.”

The conference walks the line between prophetic ministry and political engagement. Watchmen provides pastors with a Voter Impact Toolkit, created by FRC, Focus on the Family, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, designed to get like-minded believers to the ballot box. FRC also provides pastors with a Culture Impact manual, with policy goals including action steps like, “Do not misuse civil rights laws to protect homosexual conduct and gender identity disorder.”

The pastors, for their part, say they are grateful for these practical resources and for the encouragement the event gives them to press on with their goals. Jack Hibbs, founder and pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, Calif., has been involved with the Watchmen movement since the beginning. He worries the United States has become a nation of intolerance for Christians, especially when it comes to changing public opinion about sexuality. His church helped to file a referendum to repeal California’s AB1266, commonly called the transgender bathroom law. “As pastors, we need to stand up for what’s right,” he says. “I’m not here to make this a Christian nation, but I believe that freedom should be for everybody.”

J.C. Church, pastor of Victory in Truth Ministries in northeastern Ohio, helped to develop Awake88, a pastoral network throughout all of Ohio’s 88 counties, and is reaching out to the state’s Latino community. Church, like others in the Watchmen leadership, see Latino evangelicals as key allies in their fight, especially given their shared views on the nature of the family. “There is an absolute undeniable attack and a hostility toward Christianity, we have a double standard, tolerance is supposed to be a two-way street,” he says. “We believe that anything that threatens the biblical definition of family, faith, and freedom, are the things that we are finding that pastors will meet and work together on.”

The Watchmen views may be unpopular as the country increasingly supports marriage equality and believes religion is losing its public influence, but that’s all the more reason the Watchmen are gearing up for a fight, the pastors say. For many of them, the battle goes beyond politics: it is spiritual warfare. As senior FRC fellow E.W. Jackson preached to the gathering, the ACLU and the Foundation for the Freedom from Religion, in trying to stop Christian prayer at public events, represent a movement “not simply [of] human beings who disagree with us—it is demonic power moving to shut down the power of God.” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) reminded the group that their place in the country is still significant. “The foundation of the American dream is the Judeo-Christian foundation,” he said. “But if our pastors don’t ignite our pews we may lose this unique anointing we have as a country.”

FRC hopes to grow the Watchmen to 40,000 pastors by 2015, just as the battle for the White House begins to heat up. “They may call us racists, Uncle Toms and what they will, but Jesus said, ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you,’” Jackson said. “You have read the back of the Book like I have—you know that we win.” The auditorium leapt to its feet in applause.

TIME Religion

The Most Powerful #YesAllBiblicalWomen Tweets

If the women of the Bible could return to life and speak, here's what they might say about #YesAllWomen

The shooting spree in Santa Barbara, Calif. on Friday–and suspect Elliot Rodger’s manifesto against women that appears to have been behind it–prompted an online conversation critiquing the beliefs society instills in men about women.

But alongside the #YesAllWomen hashtag cropped up another one–#YesAllBiblicalWomen–as people began imagining the way the women of the Bible would contribute to the #YesAllWomen conversation if they could speak today.

Feminist Jewish and Christian theology is a relatively new development in each faith’s history, and many of the women in the Bible, as these tweets suggest, experienced consequences of male entitlement. Here’s a selection of the #YesAllBiblicalWomen tweets, each sharing a Biblical woman’s story, from @AllBibleWomen and others:

 

TIME faith

Pope Francis Pivots To Take on Scourge of Church Corruption, Child Sexual Abuse

Pope Francis leaves for trip to Holy Land
Pope Francis disembarks a plane at Queen Alia airport in Amman, Jordan upon his arrival for a papal visit on May 24, 2014. L'osservatore Romano/EPA

On a flight back from Holy Land tour, Pope Francis talked to reporters for 45 minutes.

The man never stops.

On the plane back from his three-day trip to the Middle East, Pope Francis held a 45-minute press conference with journalists, and he announced that he will meet with a small group of victims of sexual abuse for the first time in the coming weeks. The church, Francis said, cannot have “Daddy’s boys” who would be exempt from punishment for sexual abuse of minors. “There are no privileges,” he said.

Victims from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Ireland will participate in the meeting. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, one of Francis’ core group of eight advisory cardinals, will also participate. While the meeting is a first for Francis, Pope Benedict XVI met with victims of sexual abuse several times.

Francis also announced that he will visit the Philippines and Sri Lanka in January. He also indicated that future Popes may follow his predecessor’s example and retire. He himself would consider retiring, if that is what he senses God is calling them to do. “I believe Benedict XVI is not an isolated case,” he said.

But amid all the religion-themed news of the flight, coming off of a high-profile and news-packed pilgrimage, there was another significant tidbit that could get lost in the shuffle: Francis confirmed that the Vatican is investigating charges that $20 million went missing from the Vatican bank during Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s watch. Bertone, Benedict XVI’s secretary of state, stepped down in October when Francis replaced him with Archbishop Pietro Parolin. “It’s something being studied, it’s not clear,” Francis said, when asked about the investigation of missing funds. “Maybe it’s the truth, but at this moment it’s not definitive.”

It is a reminder that Francis still faces the substantial task of reforming the Vatican’s scandal-plagued financial system. He has been making some progress. Last August, he issued a statement against money laundering. In February, he established a new Secretariat of the Economy and appointed Australian Cardinal George Pell to lead it. He also created a 15-member council of lay financial experts and Catholic prelates to guide policy and oversee audits at any time. Over the last year, the Vatican bank, under the leadership of Ernst von Freyberg and formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion, has closed hundreds of accounts.

Even for a smooth operator like Pope Francis, it takes time to turn an operation as giant and unwieldy as the Vatican around.

TIME Religion

Pope Corrects Israeli Leader: Actually, Jesus Did Not Speak Hebrew

The Pontiff set Benjamin Netanyahu straight on Jesus' language

Oops.

One minute into Benjamin Netanyahu’s sit down with Pope Francis on Monday, the Israeli prime minster found himself eating his words—words about Jesus, no less.

“Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew,” Netanyahu said, discussing the strong connection between Judaism and Christianity.

Pope Francis looked up and slightly pointed his finger. “Aramaic,” he corrected.

Netanyahu quickly recovered: “He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew.”

The correction was gentle, even playful—typical Pope Francis style. Everyone smiled and laughed.

 

 

TIME Religion

Buckle Up, People: The Pope’s Brilliant Move

Pope Francis is proving himself to be one of the most powerful leaders in the world.

On Sunday, he arrived in Bethlehem and made an unexpected stop that surprised everyone: en route to mass in Manger Square, he halted the popemobile and caused a chaotic flurry of press, security, and onlookers as he walked over to the wall that separates Israel from the West Bank. Beneath the graffiti scrawled “Bethlehem,” he reached out, placed his hand on the wall, and prayed.

Only a Holy Father like Francis could pull off this kind of stunt. One small gesture, and the Israeli military in the watchtower above and the Palestinian people below were all at his mercy. He rendered all sides powerless by drawing them into his service, the most counterintuitive service of prayer.

To top it all off, during his sermon at mass, Francis made a historic invitation: “In this place where the Prince of Peace was born, I wish to invite you, President Mahmoud Abbas, and President Shimon Peres, to raise together with me an intense prayer to God for the gift of peace. And I offer my house in the Vatican to host you in this encounter of prayer.”

Within an hour, both leaders had accepted his invitation. What were they going to say, no?

The brilliance in this move goes something like this:

“Hey Peres, I’m in Bethlehem, preaching not in Jerusalem but in Palestinian territory, which happens to be where Jesus who founded my church was born, and don’t forget, I’m about to come to Israel to lay a wreath on the founder of Zionism’s grave. Hey Abbas, I’m visiting Palestine first, before I’m visiting Israel, and I just prayed at the wall, so all eyes are on you right now. I’m going to take this opportunity to invite you both, via my sermon, to come pray with me in the Vatican. And because I just made this historic invitation public, you pretty much are going to have to show up. Also, because Peres’ term expires in two months, this needs to happen ASAP. See you soon!!”

Wink, smile, drop the mic.

This is a pope who understands the power of his position, and knows how to wield it with disarming humility. Buckle up, people. We’re only fourteen months in to his papacy. This is already fun.

TIME Religion

Naim Ateek: What A Palestinian Liberation Theologian Wants from Pope Francis

If Pope Francis would just talk about the occupation, it would show his courage and prophetic stance.

Palestinians weigh heavily on Naim Ateek’s mind as he prepares for Pope Francis’ visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem this weekend.

Ateek, an Anglican priest, is the founder of Palestinian liberation theology, a movement that for three decades has identified Palestinian occupation with Jesus’ suffering and response to injustice. Ateek’s 1989 book, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, is the movement’s foundational work, and he runs the Sabeel Ecumenical Center in Jerusalem and in Nazareth. Sabeel in Arabic means “the way,” or “spring of life-giving water.”

Pope Francis is stepping into a religious and political minefield, Ateek says, like anyone else who visits the region. But because he is the Pope, he has an opportunity to spotlight the Palestinian people in a way that other world leaders cannot.

“We feel he has been able to speak about the poor in Latin America,” Ateek says. “Now we would like to see him speak about the oppressed in Palestine.”

Ateek is watching the Pope closely, and whatever he says will be a sort of litmus test for Palestinians like him to see if Francis truly means the ethics he has been emphasizing in his young papacy—mercy, compassion and humility. Francis has also been stressing moral courage even when it is an unpopular choice, and Ateek hopes to see him display that courage this weekend.

“I would hope that the Pope will show great courage to speak against the injustice of the Palestinians, that he will speak against the occupation,” Ateek says. “I mean if he will just talk about the occupation, it will reflect the prophetic stance.”

Francis has so far carefully navigated the region’s divisions. He is taking great care to not cross any borders that are not internationally recognized. He’s taking a helicopter from Amman to Bethlehem, then another helicopter from Bethlehem to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv to officially enter Israel. “That is a good message that he is sending,” Ateek says. “We are appreciative.”

Another test will come on Monday, when Francis is scheduled to lay a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, the man considered the founder of Zionism. “Since he has chosen to do this, I wonder, what is the message he is going to balance it out with when he is speaking about the Palestinians?” Ateek asks. “Maybe he has done this in order to balance things out. If that is the case, that’s fine, but if he goes to Herzl but does not condemn all the injustices and oppression of the people, of the Palestinians, then that is going to be a missed opportunity.”

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