TIME France

France Can Keep Burqa Ban, European Court Rules

Europe's top rights court has said a ban on wearing Islamic veils doesn't breach any rights

Europe’s main human rights court ruled Tuesday that France’s ban on wearing a full-face veil is permissible, reports CNN.

The European Court of Human Rights said the French ban of garments worn by some Muslim women—the burqa, a garment that envelops the body with a mesh over the face, and the niqab, a veil that covers the face—didn’t breach the European Convention of Human Rights.

A 24-year-old French woman took the case to the court in November because she felt the law restricted her ability to live according to her religion, culture and personal beliefs.

France’s ban of the burqa and the niqab went into effect in April 2011. The law has sparked fierce debate between believers of religious freedom and those who think the veil is both restrictive and contravenes France’s secularism.

The woman, who hasn’t been named, drew upon several articles of the European Convention of Human Rights, which the court was set up to protect. The defendant cited the right to private and family life as well as freedoms of thought, conscience and religion.

She added that no one has required her to wear the burqa and the niqab, nor does she wear them all the time. France charges a fine of 150 euros or $205 for anyone wearing the garments. This fine can be substituted for community service.

[CNN]

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 4: Eating Haves and Have Nots

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A Pakistani Muslim man arranges Iftar food for Muslim devotees before they break their fast during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Karachi on June 30, 2014. ASIF HASSAN—AFP/Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

Recently, a friend offered a social commentary that really stuck with me. He said, “You know there’s something wrong when too many people in the world are dying because of starvation and, at the same time, too many people are dying because of overeating.”

It reminded me of a simple yet quite profound advice in the Qur’an: “O Children of Adam…eat and drink, but not excessively: verily, God does not like the excessive” (7:31). Reflecting on this teaching, the Prophet Muhammad advised: “No human being overfills a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for any child of Adam are some morsels of food to keep their back straight. But, if they must [eat more than this], then let one third be for food, one third for drink and one third for easy breathing.”

Moderation is an oft-repeated virtue in the Qur’anic discourse on living an ethical life. When it comes to our eating habits, it goes beyond our individual ethics to a more communal ethics. When extreme food waste and extreme lack of food coexist as a reality not only in the world but even, often, in the same cities, then we’ve really got to re-think how we eat and how much we eat. For example, the USDA estimates in a 2014 report that around 40% of food in America goes to waste. And, it is also estimated that 50 million Americans (1 in 6, and more than 1 in 5 children) go to sleep hungry everyday.

Of course, the problems as well as the solutions are much more systemic. But the shift in how much we eat and how we treat food needs a cultural revolution. It requires an honest conversation about the epidemic of obesity, on the one hand, and a critique of the “ideal” body type – which is just as much part of the problem – on the other hand. And, it begins with all of us, individually and in our homes, considering how we can reduce food waste and reduce the imbalance between those who have and those who do not have.

Fasting really makes you re-think the role of food in your life. It is a proof for how little we actually need to stay strong and healthy and how our appetites are so much more adjustable than we think. Breaking fast together in community also makes you think. When food is shared, it seems so much more plentiful as a little bit goes a long way when you eat in good company. As the Prophet Muhammad would say, “food for one is enough for food for two, and food for two is enough for food for three” and so on.

Just some food for thought during this month of Ramadan.

TIME politics

Hobby Lobby Ruling Is a Win for Separation of Church and State

Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Hobby Lobby In ACA Contraception Case
Sister Caroline attends a rally with other supporters of religious freedom to praise the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby, contraception coverage requirement case on June 30, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson—Getty Images

The Supreme Court decision will be good for all Americans, including those who disagree strongly with it now.

The Hobby Lobby victory in the United States Supreme Court Monday has broad implications for religious liberty, many of them I’ve discussed elsewhere. But one aspect some might miss is that in this case the Court upheld the principle of separation of church and state.

In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito addressed the question of whether the Green family (owners of Hobby Lobby) and the Hahn family (owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties) have a reasonable case to believe that paying for the drugs and devices at issue would be immoral. He noted that the families believe that paying for these things would mean potentially empowering the destruction of a fertilized embryo and would thus be immoral. He then noted that the question here is one the courts, in his words, “have no business addressing.

“This belief implicates a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another,” he writes. “Arrogating the authority to a binding national answer to this religious and philosophical question, HHS and the principal dissent in effect tell the plaintiffs that their beliefs are flawed. For good reason, we have repeatedly refused to take such a step.”

In the case syllabus, the majority points to the moral and theological questions involved and writes: “It is not for the Court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs are mistaken or unreasonable.”

I say “Amen” to that. There are many reasons why this decision will be good for all Americans, including those who disagree strongly with it now, but one reason is found in the court’s refusal to play theological referee.

“Separation of church and state” is a fairly partisan phrase these days, since it has come to be equated with the “naked public square” of secularization. Many, quite wrongly, use the phrase to suggest that believers ought to place their religious convictions in a blind trust when they leave their churches or synagogues or mosques to go out into the marketplace or the voting booth.

But the phrase didn’t start with the secularizers. It’s a principle held by very orthodox believers, especially in the Baptist tradition, who wanted the government out of dictating doctrine. The early Baptists and their allies understood that a government in the business of running the church, or claiming the church as a mascot of the state, invariably persecutes and drives out genuine religion.

The American Civil Liberties Union didn’t invent the separation of church and state. Jesus did, when he said that we should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s (Matt. 22:21). And many who use the phrase “church/state separation” actually believe in just the opposite—a church dominated by the state and a state empowered to tell believers what they ought to believe and why.

The Left often demonizes those with strongly held religious convictions as, by definition, theocrats who want to take over the government. This is hardly the case. Hobby Lobby didn’t start this skirmish with the government. The families involved have no interest in what sorts of contraceptive plans are in other companies’ benefits packages.

They want simply the freedom not to be compelled to submit to the government’s morality lesson. Moreover, they want the freedom for the government not to tell them, theologically, what they ought to care about when they stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

As they did earlier in the Greece v. Galloway prayer case, the Court has declared its competence to decide constitutional law but its incompetence to try to, as we Christians would put it, rightly divide the Word of Truth. That’s good news, and good news for everybody.

In the meantime, it ought to prompt those of us on the more conservative and religious side of the spectrum to reclaim the name for what we’ve always believed: the separation of church and state. It’s a good old phrase that’s been highjacked by the Left for long enough.

Dr. Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 3: 5 Principles for Understanding “Difficult” Qur’anic Passages

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A Indian Muslim reads the Koran at a madrassa during the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan in Mumbai on June 30, 2014. Indranil Mukherjee—AFP/Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

When I have the opportunity to engage with people of other faiths, I am often asked about controversial passages in the Qur’an that seem belligerent toward non-Muslims. It would require an entire book to go over every single such passage and offer theories of interpretation and explanation. So, I would like to offer something else as food for thought: five principles to keep in mind when studying or trying to understand these difficult Qur’anic passages.

  1. Islam is the third and last of Abraham’s sibling faiths following Judaism and Christianity. Each religion offers a vigorous critique of what came before, partly as a justification for needing a new prophet and revelation. As such, Islam has much to say in way of praise as well as criticism of Jews and Christians as previously revealed faiths. If Islam had come before Judaism or Christianity, they would surely have had similar critiques of Islam.
  2. The Qur’an, when offering critiques of Jews and Christians, always uses the term in Arabic “al” to indicate “the,” which in the Arabic language indicates specificity, not generality. In other words, all of these verses are talking about a specific group of Jews and/or Christians, by no means all Jews and Christians. In fact, the Qur’an itself reminds Muslims: “But they are not all alike. There are some among the People of the Book who are upright, who recite God’s revelation during the night, who bow down in worship, who believe in God and the Last Day, who order what is right and forbid what is wrong, who are quick to do good deeds. These people are among the righteous and they will not be denied [the reward] for whatever good deeds they do: God knows exactly who is conscious of Him” (3:113-115). All passages that offer criticism of Jews or Christians must be tempered with this cautionary passage.
  3. From a Muslim perspective, the Qur’an is not playing favoritism toward any one subjective group but rather more interested in objectively holding up truth and righteousness. As such, it does offer scathing criticism of Jews and Christians when their communities failed to uphold truth and righteousness, but there are also passages in the Qur’an where God offers scathing criticism of Muslims for their failings too. In fact, if you collect all of the passages in the Qur’an that are specifically addressed to the Muslims (usually beginning with “O you who believe”), what often follows is a criticism or a warning. For example, “O you who believe, why do you say things and then do not do them? It is most hateful to God that you say that which you do not do” (61:2-3).
  4. These passages from the Qur’an must be read keeping in mind two contexts: historical and textual. When you come across a passage in which the Qur’an is condemning Jews or Christians, you have to pause and ask yourself what was happening at the historical time of the revelation and what is it that the Qur’an is actually responding to. And, you have to also ask yourself if there are other passages within the Qur’an that temper or clarify the “difficult” passage. For example, in Chapter 5, the Qur’an strongly discourages Muslims from taking Jews and Christians as their allies (awliyah). But, much later in the Qur’an, in Chapter 60, it clarifies that the previous passage was meant only for those who acted belligerently toward the Muslims, not those who were good to the Muslims and kept their treaties with them.
  5. Lastly, one has to keep in mind when reading such passages that the Islamic tradition has a long and vast history of developing schools of interpretation around the Qur’an that dissect every verse of the Qur’an with linguistic and grammatical analysis, historical context and commentary, to name only a few. As such, as is true with other revealed scriptures, a literal and outward reading of the text – let alone the translated text – defies the way in which Muslims have read and understood their scripture for centuries.
TIME Religion

What the Bible Really Says About the Rapture

Christopher Eccleston as Reverend Matt Jamison and Carrie Coon as Nora Durst in the episode "Two Boats and a Helicopter" in the HBO show The Leftovers.
Christopher Eccleston as Reverend Matt Jamison and Carrie Coon as Nora Durst in the episode "Two Boats and a Helicopter" in the HBO show The Leftovers. Paul Schiraldi—HBO

What would the end times really be like? A new HBO series airing Sunday night, The Leftovers, attempts to answer that question, sort of. In the show, based on a Tom Perrotta novel, 2% of the global population vanishes suddenly, and without explanation. The disappearance is mostly attributed to some kind of religious event, and the show deals with how life might be afterward for those left behind — with all the grief, guilt and confusion that something like that would entail.

Despite the setup, neither the show nor the book are overtly religious. The word rapture is never used — at least not in the book — and the ranks of the disappeared seem to have been chosen at random. With many sinners among the vanished, the “true believers” still on earth are left to wonder how they missed the cut.

The word rapture isn’t used in the Holy Bible, but the idea of Judgment Day appears in all the canonical gospels. It’s probably most frequently associated with the apocalyptic imagery of the Book of Revelation to John, but it’s most clearly laid out in the Book of Matthew, in which it is prophesied that the Son of Man will send out his angels with a trumpet call to “gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other,” before separating the righteous sheep from the accursed goats (Matthew 24:31, and 25:31–46).

Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians contains passages along the same lines:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess. 4:16–17)

Then in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he describes how suddenly the “mystery” will occur:

We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51–52)

Matthew’s eerie description of the event sounds much like the event portrayed in the HBO show: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” (Matt. 24:40–41)

So when did the Day of Judgment become associated with a physical rapture? It’s important to note that Christianity’s many denominations disagree on exactly how Christ will return to earth, or how literally to interpret the Bible’s account of how the day of reckoning will go down. (See Robert Jewett’s Jesus Against the Rapture for an example of how many theologians are skeptical of doomsday prognosticators.)

The idea that the godly would be “raptured,” or literally sucked into the air to meet Christ, was reportedly popularized by a dispensationalist British minister, John Nelson Darby, in the 1830s after a Scottish teenager had visions of Christ’s return.

Evangelical U.S. Christians learned about it from an early 20th century Bible, and the idea gained popularity among Christian fundamentalists here until it became a cultural touchstone.

One branch of Christian theology, dispensational premillennialism, holds that Christ will physically return to earth to sort the wicked from the godly before a tribulation, when anyone left behind will suffer various torments and plagues.

Prominent in this school of thought is Texan evangelical Hal Lindsey, whose literalist screed The Late, Great Planet Earth became a best seller in 1970, later spawning follow-ups Satan Is Alive and Well on Planet Earth and The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon (the latter of which sounds like a sketch featuring Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” on Saturday Night Live). During the 2008 election, Lindsey wrote that Barack Obama was paving the way for the Antichrist.

(The literal-minded belief in how Judgment Day will go down got a darkly funny spin during one of the opening sequences of another HBO offering, Six Feet Under, in which a woman witnesses a bunch of inflatable sex dolls escaping into the sky from the back of a delivery truck, mistakes them for angels floating up to heaven, and gets so excited about the Second Coming that she runs fatally into the middle of oncoming traffic.)

Today, about 1 in 4 believe Christ will return to earth, though it’s far from clear how many of those believe that the rapture will occur. But the idea has clearly captured many people’s imaginations, be they self-styled soothsayers of the apocalypse or simply novelists hoping for a best seller. And judging by the rapturous reviews of HBO’s new series, the idea still has plenty of mileage left in it.

TIME celebrities

Elton John: Jesus Would Approve of Same-Sex Marriage

2014 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival - Day 4
Elton John Douglas Mason—Getty Images

He also wants to sit down with Putin

Pop star Elton John called the Pope “wonderful” and said Jesus would approve of marriage equality in an interview on Sunday, the same weekend gay-pride events occurred all over the world.

Although Pope Francis does not support same-sex marriage, John praised the Pope’s attitude toward LGBT people as a sign of progress in an interview with Sky News, the AFP reports.

“He’s excited me so much by his humanity and taking everything down to the humility of faith,” he said. “It’s all basically about love and taking everybody in inclusiveness.”

The singer, who plans to marry longtime partner David Furnish, with whom he has two children, also said Jesus would approve of same-sex marriage, which became legal in England earlier this year.

“If Jesus Christ was alive today, I cannot see him … saying this could not happen,” John said. “He was all about love and compassion and forgiveness and trying to bring people together, and that is what the church should be about.”

John also said he wants to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the country’s stance on gay rights after Putin said many Russians were fans of John “despite his orientation.”

“As long as I’m alive, I will fight for people’s rights,” John said.

[AFP]

TIME 2014 World Cup

Muslim World Cup Players Weigh Options for Ramadan

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Algerian players celebrate after the group H World Cup soccer match between Algeria and Russia at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba, Brazil on June 26, 2014. Ivan Sekretarev—AP

The month-long fast may affect players' performance in the knockout stage

Saturday marks the beginning of the World Cup’s knockout stage, the tournament’s most ruthless — lose one game, and you go home. But it also marks the first night of Ramadan, a month-long religious fast during which many Muslims refrain from ingesting food and liquids from sunrise until sunset.

Muslim players competing in the World Cup, then, face a tough choice, as fulfilling the requirements of their religion may affect their performance on the soccer pitch. In Brazil’s timezone, believers who wish to observe the holiday will have to spend approximately 13.5 hours per day fasting. While athletes’ bodies are fine-tuned instruments, that’s still no easy feat when you’re burning up as many calories as international soccer stars do during the World Cup.

Ramadan observance could affect a decent number of World Cup teams: Among the 16 remaining squads, France, Nigeria, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Nigeria all have more than one Muslim on their squad, while the Algerian national team is made up exclusively of Muslim players.

Muslim players have some options, though. FIFA Chief Medical Officer Jiri Dvorak suggested at a Monday media briefing that players observing Ramadan can ask religious authorities for an exemption and make up for the missed fast days at a later time. And during the 2012 Olympics, the United Arab Emirates’ soccer team was exempted from fasting during the tournament by the country’s highest religious body.

Indeed, Germany’s Mesut Ozil, who is of Turkish descent, has already told the press that he will not take part in Ramadan because he “is working.” A spokesman for the Swiss team, meanwhile, has said that none of its players will fast during the competition.

Muslim players who do choose to fast during Ramadan and the World Cup, however, could face a tough next few weeks. While observing Ramadan, players would have to adjust their daily habits to its requirements: eating and hydrating before the sun rises and then again only after sunset. They would spend the hours in between, a period during which they may have to play a match, with no nourishment at all.

But according to research conducted by the FIFA medical team and others, fasting players can still compete at the top of their games.

“We have made extensive studies of players during Ramadan, and the conclusion was that if Ramadan is followed appropriately, there will be no reduction in the physical performances of players,” Dvorak said during the Monday media briefing. “We have done extensive studies and nothing worries us.”

And a report from the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information found that fasting players can take some practical steps to ensure their performance does not suffer on the pitch.

“The available evidence indicates that high-level athletes can maintain performance during Ramadan if physical training, food and fluid intake, and sleep are appropriate and well controlled,” says a 2012 report by the NCBI. “Individualized monitoring of athletes may help to prevent fatigue and overtraining and to reduce the risk of consequent illness and injury.”

That NCBI report recommends athletes observing Ramadan train close to meal times. It also emphasizes the importance of adequate sleep throughout the fast. On top of that, a separate 2013 NCBI report advises athletes to include fat in their pre-dawn meal. The immediate fluid deficit that accumulates throughout the day can usually be reversed when athletes ingest fluids at night, the 2013 report adds.

The reports do emphasize that the effects of the fast on athletes vary with the sport, the season, and athletes’ personal habits. The sweltering heat in Brazil at this time of year, it should be said, will not make observant Muslim players’ task any easier.

TIME Religion

What Can We Learn From the Pending Hobby Lobby Case?

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Just a little while ago, I read a blog post by Dr. Jackie Roese regarding the upcoming Supreme Court decision about the Hobby Lobby case. She makes the argument that we, especially women, are “eating cheeseburgers” when it comes to the issue of contraception for women – that it seems so straightforward and obvious that women should have easy access to contraceptives, we just go about our regular lives, munching on our cheeseburgers and not worrying about this case or its implications. But depending on how the Court rules, the decision on the Hobby Lobby case could make us think differently.

The Hobby Lobby case asks a simple question – can corporations refuse to cover certain kinds of birth control for women by claiming First Amendment religious freedom protections, despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act requires insurance to cover birth control? So, should corporations have this power – yes or no? It is a simple question, with a simple answer of ‘no,’ but it is the far-reaching implications that come from studying the issue that make things a bit more complicated.

The Affordable Care Act requires for-profit organizations to cover birth control for women on their employees’ health insurance plans. Any non-profit, religious organization with a religious objection to contraception can opt out of this coverage. And obviously any individual with a religious objection to using contraception is not forced to do so. This distinguishes individuals and non-profit organizations formed for religious reasons from corporations formed to make profits. If we start treating for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby the same as churches and allow them to claim to have a faith, we create a bunch of problems. Let’s take a look.

Religious Freedom

In this case, corporations are claiming they should be able to ignore laws they don’t like by claiming the laws violate their faith. But everyone knows corporations do not have souls. They cannot have faith. Corporations were not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Corporations were created by states to provide liability protections for their owners and to create an organizing mechanism to make profit. It cheapens our religious freedoms and the idea of faith to say that faith is something a corporation can have. And it raises the risks that the government will have to take a more active role in litigating and deciding what counts as religious activity, and what is and is not a valid expression of it, as corporations continue to use religion to bypass any of our laws they happen not to like.

Abortion

Because supporters of Hobby Lobby have claimed to be against abortion, and many of the women’s groups who are pro-choice have opposed Hobby Lobby, many assume that a Hobby Lobby win would reduce abortions. But the opposite is true. Restricting access to contraception actually leads to more unintended pregnancies, which studies have consistently shown result in many more abortions. As the recent Faithful Dems post by Lindsey Bergholz explains, we all want to lower the number of abortions in America, but restricting contraceptives is not the way to do it. If this case goes in Hobby Lobby’s favor, there will be more unintended pregnancies and more abortions. As Christians, we should do everything we can to ensure that doesn’t happen, while at the same time staying true to our progressive values and giving women as many choices as we can. Giving women access to contraception fulfills both of these needs.

Women’s Choices

Last but not least is the issue of women’s choices. As women, we have made so much progress since the second-wave feminism of the 1960s that it is easy to take for granted the gains that we do have. However, events such as this pending Hobby Lobby case should remind us how precarious our rights and choices are. Should the Supreme Court rule in Hobby Lobby’s favor and agree that women’s right to contraception can be restricted, hundreds of thousands of women and their families would be put in jeopardy. As Democrats, we must raise our voices in defense of the fundamental right of women to plan when they will have a family and what size it will be. And as people of faith, we should think hard about the best ways to support our families and let all people make the decisions that fit best with their values and beliefs. Dr. Jackie Roese puts it well:

“I want to consider how fortunate I am to have choices. I want to spend a second grieving for women around the globe who don’t. And I at least want to contemplate what this court decision means on a broader scope for us as women, women who have had choice for so long we are eating burgers and drinking ice cold cokes while watching fireworks as those in power make powerful decisions – about me. A woman.”

Madeleine Roberts is a contributor to Faithful Democrats.

Read more from Patheos:

TIME 2016 Election

Rand Paul Says Jesus Wouldn’t Like the GOP’s Taste for War

Rand Paul
Republican Senator Rand Paul speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' conference in Washington on June 20, 2014. Drew Angerer—EPA

Says Jesus was the "Prince of Peace"

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul condemned during a little-noticed interview what he described as his party’s eagerness to engage in international conflict, arguing that Jesus Christ “wasn’t really involved in the wars of his days.”

“Part of Republicans’ problems and, frankly, to tell you the truth, some in the evangelical Christian movement I think have appeared too eager for war,” Paul, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, told the Christian Broadcasting Network. “I think you need to remember that [Jesus] was the ‘Prince of Peace.’”

The April 2013 interview was getting renewed attention Friday after it was highlighted by the website Mother Jones. Paul’s more non-interventionist foreign policy has made him an enemy of Republican foreign policy hawks but a favorite of libertarians.

David Limbaugh, the brother of conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, was among the conservative commentators who expressed dismay at the remarks Friday.

“I pray there’s some explanation,” he wrote on Twitter.

TIME Religion

Hillary Clinton: Anchored by Faith

Brooks Kraft/Corbis for TIME

Since childhood, the former Secretary of State's Methodist beliefs have inspired public service and private devotion

This originally appeared in TIME’s book Hillary: An American Life, available on newsstands everywhere June 27.

Hillary Clinton once described her faith as the background music of her life. Whether she hears it as Chopin, Bach or even U2, she did not say, but the tune, she said, never fades away. “It’s there all the time. It’s not something you have to think about, you believe it,” she said in an interview with the New York Times. “You have a faith center out of which the rest flows.”

It can be easy to tune out background music, especially amid the political cacophony that has so often dominated Clinton’s public life. But the former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and First Lady is, and has always been, a Methodist. Her faith is at once public yet personal, quiet yet bold. She is part of the second-largest Protestant group in the country, but her brand of faith has never been mainstream: Methodists make up about 6% of the total U.S. adult population, according to the Pew Research Center.

If Methodists are known for one thing, it is, as the old church saying goes, that they are always looking for a mission. Clinton is no exception. Her sense of purpose has guided her from Wellesley to Washington, and may push her to seek the White House again come 2016. Certainly political aspirations have motivated her career. But her faith has also driven her, if not equally, at least consistently, to give her life to the pursuit of a higher calling.

Step By Step

Methodism knew Clinton even before she was born. Family lore has it that John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, converted her great-great-grandparents in the coal-mining villages of Newcastle, in northeast England, in the 19th century. Clinton grew up attending First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge in Chicago, where she was confirmed in sixth grade. Her mother taught Sunday school, and Clinton was active in youth group, Bible studies and altar guild. On Saturdays during Illinois’s harvest season, she and others from her youth group would babysit children of nearby migrant workers. As the Wesleyan mantra instructed them, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

One man in particular had a strong influence on her young faith: Donald Jones, who came to Park Ridge as the new youth minister when Clinton was a high school freshman. A Drew University Seminary graduate, Jones’s own theology had the imprint of theological heavyweights like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Niebuhr, and he made it his mission to give the youth a strong and broad theological training. He created a “University of Life” for his youth-group students and introduced Clinton and her peers to the great works of T.S. Eliot, E.E. Cummings, Dostoyevsky and Picasso. Faith, he argued, must be lived out in social justice and human rights. Jones ensured that students connected these ideas to life in their own communities, arranging exchanges with youth groups at black and Hispanic churches in Chicago’s inner city so that his students became aware of life beyond Park Ridge. Most important, he introduced Clinton to Martin Luther King Jr. when he came to Chicago in 1962. “Until then, I had been dimly aware of the social revolution occurring in our country,” Clinton recalled in her memoir Living History, “but Dr. King’s words illuminated the struggle taking place and challenged our indifference.”

This socially active current remained the lifeblood of her faith as her political career began to take shape. At Wellesley, Clinton regularly read the Methodist Church’s Motive magazine, and she credited it with helping her to realize that her political beliefs were no longer aligned with the Republican Party and that she should step down as president of the Young Republicans. During her Yale Law School years, she worked for anti-poverty activist Marian Wright Edelman, who is now president of the Children’s Defense Fund, and researched the education and health of migrant children she had known earlier. When she finally decided to marry a young Southern Baptist named Bill Clinton in Oct. 1975, it was local Arkansas Methodist minister Vic Nixon who married them in their living room.

Clinton became the first Methodist First Lady in the White House since President Warren Harding’s wife, Florence, who followed Methodist First Ladies Ida McKinley, Lucy Hayes, Julia Grant and Eliza Johnson. She soon brought issues like health-care reform and women’s rights to the national spotlight (even though faith alone could not make what came to be known as “Hillarycare” succeed). The Clintons regularly attended the Foundry United Methodist Church, a socially active church that today is an advocate for gay and lesbian rights, not far from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “As a Christian, part of my obligation is to take action to alleviate suffering,” she told the United Methodist News Service not long after her husband was elected. “Explicit recognition of that in the Methodist tradition is one reason I’m comfortable in this church.”

While Clinton’s faith has always emphasized public service, it also has a private side that runs deep. Prayer and reflection have been at the core of her spiritual life, and she has been known to carry a small book of her favorite Scripture verses to reflect upon in quiet moments. “My faith has always been primarily personal,” she once told the New York Times. “It is how I live my life and who I am, and I have tried through my works to demonstrate a level of commitment and compassion that flow from my faith.”

At times, she would let the public catch a glimpse of this inner faith. When George H.W. Bush called Bill on election night in 1992 to concede, Hillary recalled in Living History, “Bill and I went into our bedroom, closed the door and prayed together for God’s help as he took on this awesome honor and responsibility.” Her words are an unmistakable echo for anyone who knows the Bible well. Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, preached, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

It is a reminder that Clinton is keenly aware that in America the Bible can often be a political tool. Early in 1993, she joined a women’s prayer group through the National Prayer Breakfast organized by conservative evangelical Doug Coe. Clinton called the women her “prayer partners,” in the long spiritual tradition of having people of faith pray consistently for you throughout your life. The group, however, was more than just spiritual—each woman had strong political affiliations, many of which served to help Clinton win allies across the political aisle. It included Susan Baker, the wife of President George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker; Joanne Kemp, the wife of future vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp; and Holly Leachman, a Christian speaker who even faxed Clinton a daily Scripture reading or faith message throughout her time in the White House. Whether the group served a primarily political or spiritual purpose is difficult to sort out, but Clinton did say that she valued their prayers. “Of all the thousands of gifts I received in my eight years in the White House, few were more welcome and needed,” she wrote.

Clinton had plenty of raw personal moments that thrust her faith into the public spotlight. Her second year in the White House was particularly grief-stricken: she lost her father, her mother-in-law and her friend Vince Foster in the short time since Bill Clinton had been president. Two friends gave Clinton a copy of a book by Catholic priest Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son. One sentence, Clinton said, struck her like a lightning bolt: “The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”

The biggest test of faith came in 1998 with her husband’s personal indiscretions. To the public, Clinton’s response was short and direct. “This is a time when she relies on her strong religious faith,” Marsha Berry, Clinton’s press secretary, said in a statement when the Monica Lewinsky news broke. But as she often did in times of personal trial, Clinton turned back to her former minister Don Jones for counsel. He pointed her to a sermon by theologian Paul Tillich called “You Are Accepted” that he had taught her youth group growing up and encouraged her to choose grace. “Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness,” Tillich wrote. “It happens or it does not happen.” Clinton explained in her memoir that she made a decision to choose grace. She also turned to Nouwen for advice on forgiveness. Prayer, Nouwen argues, takes you into the arms of God and deep into yourself to find the ability to forgive. “Do I want to be not just the one who is being forgiven, but also the one who forgives; not just the one who is being welcomed home, but also the one who welcomes home; not just the one who receives compassion, but the one who offers it as well?” he reflected in his book’s conclusion.

Clinton also developed a close relationship with evangelist Billy Graham in the months leading to and after the crisis. In 1997, at the dedication of the George Herbert Walker Bush Presidential Library, Clinton pulled Graham aside and asked him to talk with her. “She grabbed my head in her hands and held it there like that and looked right into my eyes and said, ‘I want to tell you about Bill,’ ” Graham later recounted in The Preacher and the Presidents. Graham, who forgave Bill Clinton as quickly as he had Nixon decades prior, encouraged Hillary to forgive her husband. Clinton held Graham’s hand the entire time during their private meeting at Graham’s New York City Crusade in 2005. “She was just so sweet,” Graham recalled. “She is different from the Hillary you see in the media. There is a warm side to her—and a spiritual one.”

Costly Grace

There’s a strain of Christian theology that believes self-sacrifice to be the highest form of faithful living. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who famously said that when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. Bonhoeffer took this literally—he was eventually executed by the Nazis for his role in the political resistance movement. God’s grace should mean something, he argued, and it should bring about justice on earth. “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church,” he wrote. “We are fighting today for costly grace.”

It can be said that Clinton knows this personally all too well. Few people in politics today know costs as closely as she does, be they political, marital, or the costs of being the first woman poised to become president. They have followed her time and again throughout her career. But she keeps on going. As she told a gathering of Methodist women in April, “Even when the odds are long, even when we are tired and just want to go away somewhere to be alone and rest, let’s make it happen.”

In a way, the costs are just the price for doing the Lord’s work. And it makes politics, and whatever her future therein is, more than just her career: it makes it her calling.

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