TIME Careers & Workplace

Study: Putting a Religion on Your Resume May Hurt Your Job Chances

Unless you're Jewish, apparently

Call it the separation of church and job.

Employers in the American South are less likely to hire job applicants with an overt religious identity, according to a new study — unless the applicants happened to be Jewish.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut sent 3,200 fake applications to 800 jobs near two major Southern cities, with each employer receiving four resumes with comparable job qualifications.

The resumes mentioned an affiliation with an atheist, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish or Muslim organization. A control group mentioned no affiliation.

Employers preferred applicants who did not mention a religious affiliation. Muslims were the least likely to be contacted by employers, receiving 38 percent fewer e-mails and 54 percent fewer phone calls than the control group.

Atheists, pagans and Catholics were also unpopular. Evangelicals fared about as well as the unaffiliated applicants. “Only Jews escaped totally unscathed,” researchers said. In fact, the study found, some employers seemed to favor Jewish applicants.

The study indicates that religious discrimination is prevalent even in the South, where employers tend to be more religious than in other regions, said the study’s coauthors.

TIME Religion

Wasila Umaru and the Plight of Nigeria’s Child Brides

A young girl is being detained for allegedly killing her husband


This article originally appeared on Patheos.

The plight of Nigerian girls recently caught the attention of the world after the kidnapping of several hundred schoolgirls in Chibok over a month ago. Another story did not garner as much attention from either local or international media: that of Wasila Umaru. Apparently forced to marry a man in his thirties, Umaru Sani, and endure the reality of being a child bride, 14-year-old Wasila Umaru reportedly took matters in her own hands 17 days after the wedding ceremony. In April, Wasila was detained by the police in Kano, accused of killing her “husband” and three of his friends by allegedly putting rat poison in food served to him. In a culture where food is often shared, Wasila’s so-called husband shared this poisoned food with his friends, leading to the death of three people; ten others were rushed to the hospital. Upon detention by the police, Umaru confessed to the crime, saying that she killed Umaru Sani because she was forced to marry him. According to her father, she is quoted to have said that she killed her husband because she did not love him, while maintaining that she did not mean to kill his friends.

Child marriages are a huge problem in West Africa, where apparently 49 percent of girls younger than 19 years old are married. In Nigeria, it is believed that child marriages are more prevalent in Northern Nigeria and according to the UNICEF Situation Analysis of Women and Children in Nigeria, the average age of marriage in North-Western Nigeria (where Kano state is situated) is at 14.6 years old, placing Wasila near the average.

Initial local news reports stated that Wasila marriage was a forced one, but her in-laws insist on the contrary. In an interview with the Nigerian Vanguard, the father of Umaru Sani claims that Wasila was “courted” by his son for twelve months, and that his son “spent a fortune” on her. According to him, the marriage was not a forced one, and reports to the contrary are misinformed. Putting aside the power dynamic of a 35-year-old man thinking he can court a 14-year-old girl, it gets worse as the general feeling in the impoverished community was one of anger towards Wasila and her family, leading to tensions within the community and between Wasila’s family and the families of her victims.

It did not take long for the Nigerian media to dub Wasila “the killer child bride” in sensational reports. Not surprisingly, this news made it to the Islamophobic parts of the internet, where it has been used as proof of how Islam enables child marriage and puts young girls in situations where they feel the only option is murder. Yet it is widely argued that one of the most important driving forces behind the practice is economic rather than religious. From my own second-hand experiences, I am inclined to agree. A few years ago, a family member agreed to take part in an initiative at our local mosque that involved financially sponsoring girls through school; however, after about a year, two of the girls she was sponsoring were taken out of school by their mother. One was 11 years old, and the other was about 9. Their mother had married them off, saying that this marriage was better for them than spending time in school. For families living in poverty, giving away a girl child to marriage is one less mouth to feed and offers the possibility of gaining money from richer in-laws.

Although a lot of the focus on Wasila was sensational, her case generated a bit of discussion on her rights within the law. Apparently there is a possibility that Wasila could be charged as an adult following the Sharia law adopted by Kano, which sets the age of criminal responsibility as the age of puberty. Nigeria as a whole adopts civil, customary (or traditional) and Sharia courts; adding to this, there is not a lot of alignment between laws on a federal and state level. As such, even though the country passed the Child Rights Act in 2003, which raises the minimum age of marriage to 18 and makes provisions regarding juveniles in conflict with the law, Kano state has yet to pass this law. This despite the Child Rights Act being supported by the Sharia Penal Code.

As can be expected when news of child marriage breaks in the mainstream Nigerian media, there has been some discussion on the dangers of child marriage, as well as a brief mention of the “Wasila Umaru option” in which other children in marriages could consider murder as a means to be rid of a relationship they do not want. The fact that a young teenager saw no way out of a marriage that she did not want outside of murder has the potential to launch a nationwide debate on the state of child brides in Nigeria that would lead to actual policy changes. However, Wasila’s case very much remains contained within Kano. Efforts at raising awareness for her with a #SaveWasila hashtag have not been successful; a quick search of the hashtag on twitter shows up only one tweet.

It will take a huge amount of work to stop child marriage in Nigeria. Poverty will have to be tackled head on, and parents and communities will have to involved in the fight against child marriage. Currently, Wasila is being supported by the Federation of Women Lawyers in Nigeria, which has taken charge of her upkeep and defense. Wasila, having been charged with culpable homicide and waiting to appear in court through April and May, will be facing a trial judge June 16. Hoping that she gets justice and is freed may seem callous due to the severity of the charge; however, I pray that there will be consideration of her age and circumstances.

Anike is a Nigerian writer and blogger currently residing in London. Read more from Patheos.com:

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. 


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. 


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.


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 Religion

No, Eric Cantor Did Not Lose Because He’s Jewish

Despite what sensational headlines have suggested, anti-semitism isn't to blame for Eric Cantor's stunning primary defeat

Eric Cantor’s primary defeat by David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, sent the pundits scurrying. Shocked and bewildered, they searched around for theories to makes sense of what they had not anticipated happening. Hundreds of articles were written and dozens of explanations were offered.

One of the more fascinating threads that emerged from the cacophony of ideas put forward in the days following the primary was the effort to find a Jewish dimension to the story. Cantor, the House Majority Leader, was the highest ranking Jewish lawmaker in American history, with aspirations to be Speaker of the House. When one adds to that the fact that Brat is a religious Christian who speaks frequently of his faith, the temptation to uncover a Jewish angle became irresistible. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the leading Jewish weekly the Forward, and a variety of other publications duly turned out articles examining, from every perspective, the Jewish and religious sides of the election.

The problem was that there was no Jewish angle, at least not one of any consequence.

David Wasserman, a normally sensible political analyst, got things going with a much-quoted statement to the Times suggesting that anti-Semitism was at play in Cantor’s defeat. Cantor was culturally out of step with his redrawn district, according to Wasserman, “and part of this plays into his religion. You can’t ignore the elephant in the room.” Sensationalist headlines soon followed. The Week, a news magazine, ran a story entitled “Did Eric Cantor lose because he’s Jewish?” And the Forward ran an opinion column with the headline “Did Eric Cantor Lose Because He’s Jewish? You Betcha.”

But there was no elephant in the room. There wasn’t even a mosquito in the room. Nobody could turn up a single statement or piece of literature coming from the Brat campaign or anyone else that was even remotely anti-Semitic. And sensationalism aside, the ultimate consensus of virtually everyone was that anti-Semitism was not a factor of any kind in Cantor’s loss.

Conservatives, including Jewish conservatives, cried foul, charging that the point of the coverage was a deliberate attempt by liberals to smear Republican voters as bigots. Perhaps, although my own view is that it reflected media sloppiness and obsessiveness more than political conspiracy.

Another claim was that even in the absence of explicit anti-Semitism, the Brat victory represented a victory for evangelicalism and Christian politics and therefore a long-term threat to Jews and all non-Christian minorities. Vigilance about church-state separation is always appropriate, of course, but it is hard to see the threat here. Brat is often described as aligned with the Tea Party, which is a motley collection of organizations and activists; it has ill-defined religious positions not at all identical with those of evangelical groups, which are diverse themselves. Most important, there is much evidence that Americans are becoming less religious and not more so, and, as the gay marriage issue demonstrates, more tolerant in their religious outlooks.

Mr. Brat, of course, likes to talk publicly of his belief in God, and that is distressing to some people, both Jews and Christians. But God talk is acceptable in America, and people with liberal religious outlooks, President Obama included, also make reference to their religious beliefs from time to time. The key for politicians is to be sure that they ground their statements in a language of morality that is accessible to everyone; Americans need a common political discourse not dominated by exclusivist theology. As long as Brat—and others—stay on the right side of that political line, there is no reason to see this election as a religious watershed for Jews or anyone else, or a victory for religious coercion.

A third claim is that the Cantor defeat represents a disastrous decline of Jewish political fortunes. In this view, Cantor’s defeat is seen as part of a broader pattern: There are 33 Jews in the current Congress, both the House and the Senate, as compared with 39 in the previous one. But here again, this seems like an altogether arbitrary and unfounded assumption. Jews are well represented in all areas of America’s educational, business, and political life, and that is not changed in any way by the defeat of a Jewish Majority Leader in the House of Representatives.

Eric Cantor’s fall from political power is interesting and in some ways important. For decades to come, politicians and professors will study it as an example of what happens when a serious but self-referential politician loses touch with the things that ordinary Americans care about and gets caught up in the big-dollar culture of Washington. But they will say very little about the Jewish dimension of this affair—and that is for the simple reason that it doesn’t exist.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, a writer and lecturer, was President of the Union for Reform Judaism from 1996 to 2012. His writings are collected at ericyoffie.com.

TIME Religion

Christianity Today Should Not Have Published a Rapist’s Story

The former youth pastor doesn't sound as repentant as he claims to be


This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Remember when the Good Man Project posted an article by an unrepentant rapist, supposedly as an example of things to avoid? Well, Christianity Today recently posted an article by a youth pastor who had sex with one of his students and is supposedly repentant—but doesn’t really sound that way. In fact, it squicks me out exactly the same way the Good Men Project’s posting of a rapist’s story does. Maybe worse actually, because this guy is supposedly repentant. Except not.

In the article, the unnamed jailed former youth pastor, whom we will call Tim for the sake of ease, describes his offense as an “extramarital affair” and assigns as much guilt to his victim as he accepts himself. She sinned, you see.

Tim begins his article by talking about how he grew dissatisfied with his wife. Parenting small children, he says, took a tole on their relationship. Tim says he was very successful as a youth pastor, but didn’t feel appreciated by his wife. So he looked elsewhere.

Meanwhile, there was someone else in my life that appreciated me very much. Seeking approval and appreciation, I gravitated toward that person. She and I were always happy to see each other and looked forward to each other’s company. Before long, we were texting each other and interacting through social media. Nothing scandalous or questionable—a Facebook “like” or comment here, a friendly text there. Things friends do.

But I knew what appeared innocent was, in reality, wrong and very dangerous. Red flags kept popping up. Why was I not talking about this “friendship” with my wife? Why was I being secretive and sneaky about it? Why didn’t I, in the earliest stages, when I knew the “friendship” was rapidly escalating beyond what it should be, slam on the brakes?

What Tim doesn’t mention at this point in the article is that this “friend” was underage. She was, you see, one of the teenagers in the youth group he pastored.

In the early stages of this extra-marital relationship, I thought that I was seeking approval from someone other than my wife because I was not receiving it from my wife. But me seeking approval and appreciation elsewhere had dramatically impacted how I related to my wife. The unaddressed sin—my selfishness—caused my wife to respond to me differently. I see now that I failed to nurture our marriage properly, but at the time I silently blamed her for driving me away.

The “friendship” continued to develop. Talking and texting turned flirtatious. Flirting led to a physical relationship. It was all very slow and gradual, but it was constantly escalating. We were both riddled with guilt and tried to end things, but the allure of sin was strong. We had given the devil far more than a foothold and had quenched the Holy Spirit’s prodding so many times, there was little-to-no willpower left.

An “extra-marital relationship,” he calls it. An extra-marital relationship between a youth pastor with a wife and children and a girl of 16 or so. Right. Note too that he speaks of the allure of sin affecting both of them, placing even responsibility on his victim. Neither of them, he says, had the willpower to end it.

You may have guessed by now that the “friend” in my relationship was a student. She was one of the core students, involved from the very beginning. Our families were very close, which meant a lot of time together over the years. She adored me and I loved the adoration.

And here he finally gets around to telling us, for the first time, that “friend” he had a “relationship” with was one of his students. It’s about time, don’t you think?

When my wife discovered incriminating text messages on my phone, I knew instantly that everything was about to come crashing down. After hours of screaming and crying, she packed some bags, loaded our 2 kids into the minivan and left the house at 3 AM. I have not seen my kids since. It has been over a year. The only time I have seen my wife has been in court. We have not communicated in one year. I lost my job, and was required to drop out of seminary. I pleaded guilty to 2 felonies, am serving time in prison and will be a registered sex offender for the rest of my life.

You know what’s interesting? Tim doesn’t even bother discussing how this “extra-marital affair” affected his young victim. He talks about how his life came crashing down, but he doesn’t spare another word for his “friend.” Literally—not a single word. He left his victim with a shattered life and only seems to care about the fact that he lost his ministry. Oh noes.

While Tim wrote the article anonymously, there is a note at the bottom:

The writer serves as a GED tutor and helps lead the Christian community at the facility where he is serving his sentence. He is due to be released in the fall of 2015.

Maybe it’s just me, but given how this article is written, I’m thinking this guy really isn’t ready to step back into leadership.

Fortunately, readers took Christianity Today to task in the comments, arguing that they should not have posted an article of this sort by someone who so clearly had yet to take full responsibility for his actions. One of the editors later added this note to the end of the article:

In response to readers’ concerns, the author of this piece has offered the following clarification: “I recognize that what I initially considered a consensual relationship was actually preying on a minor. Youth pastors who do the same are not “in relationship” but are indeed sexual predators. I take 100 percent of the responsibility for what happened.”

I’m not buying it. The article was not written like it was by someone who took “100 percent of the responsibility,” and the author very clearly described himself as being “in a relationship” rather than as a sexual predator.

And Christianity Today posted this piece. Christianity Today is fairly mainstream for evangelicalism, so much so that I grew up thinking it was liberal. The editors of Christianity Today ought to know better. If evangelicals are going to step up and get serious about sexual abuse in their communities, they have got to stop publishing things like this.

Blogger Esther Elizabeth is calling for Christianity Today to take the post down:

Can you imagine the OUTRAGE if a Catholic Priest was allowed to publish an article describing his “relationship” with an “adoring” altar server? And that outrage would be absolutely JUSTIFIED.


Because a predator loses the right to tell his side of the story right about the time he decides to PREY on a CHILD.

Because the ONLY story that should garner attention is the VICTIM’S story.

Libby Anne is a blogger for Patheos.

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TIME Religion

Protesters Rally at the White House to Free Meriam

Protestors want the Obama administration to help save a Christian woman sentenced to death in Sudan.

On Thursday morning, nearly 100 protestors gathered in front of the White House to push for the release of Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old woman in Sudan who has been sentenced to death for marrying a Christian man. Representatives from the Institute on Religion and Democracy and more than three dozen affiliated organizations, including travelers from as far as Jacksonville, Fla., clasped paper red chains in their hands and gave speeches to urge President Obama to speak up in her defense.

Ibrahim, 27, was sentenced last month to 100 lashes and to death for apostasy for marrying a non-Muslim man, Daniel Wani. Her case has drawn western attention because her husband is a US citizen and because she gave birth while in prison. Her sentence has been delayed while she nurses the child, and she is being held with her newborn daughter and 20-month-old son while her case moves through an appeals process. “We’re here at the White House because it’s up to President Obama,” Faith McDonnell, event organizer and member of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), says. “We need to get them out of prison and really it will take the administration to call and say you’ve got to stop this now.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gave a brief speech at the rally and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) attended. “We are here today to speak out for faith and for liberty,” Cruz said into a megaphone. “Meriam Ibrahim is a mom, she’s a wife, she is married to an American citizen, a New Hampshire resident.” He continued: “Her crime is very simple, she is accused of and convicted of being a Christian, and tragically in Sudan that is a crime that carries with it a horrific punishment.”

Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced a bill on June 9 to grant the mother and her children permanent resident status in the US, but Meriam supporters worry that the legislation would not pass quickly enough. Death rates at the prison are high, they fear, and many are concerned that the more time passes, the less likely the survival of Meriam, or her newborn baby, will be. Meriam’s case deserves attention, they argue, especially because it is about religious freedom and women’s freedom in the developing world more broadly. “This is an issue that completely shouldn’t be a partisan issue about whether someone should be executed for their faith,” JP Duffy of Family Research Council (FRC) says.

Other top U.S. voices are speaking out as well. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted last month that “Meriam Yahya Ibrahim’s death sentence is abhorrent. Sudan should stop threatening religious freedom and fundamental human rights.” Mia Farrow also has pushed a campaign on Twitter to protest Meriam’s fate to the Sudanese Embassy.

The protestors plan to continue their efforts until action is taken. On Friday, they took their protest to the Sudanese Embassy. The hashtag #FreeMeriam continues to gain popularity, the website rescuemeriam.com has been created to further increase awareness, and a WhiteHouse.gov petition to free Meriam has received more than 45,000 signatures.

TIME Religion

Mormon Church Should Tolerate, Not Excommunicate


This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Today I received the news that both a brother and sister of my church community are being threatened with the process of excommunication. The reason stated: apostasy.
Attempting to put aside my own personal feelings of sadness, confusion and distress, I would like to address this issue from the lens of family systems. After all, a central part of Mormonism is this concept of a universal family – all being seen as children of God. In fact we call our congregations “ward families.” And we are good at this family thing (support, love, acceptance) as long as we comply, abide by the rules and obey authority. This really isn’t much different from most family systems. Anxiety, distress and even discipline tend to rise when rules aren’t followed, ideas aren’t agreed with, and rebellion (real or perceived) ensues.

Murray Bowen, a psychiatrist trained at the Menninger Foundation, developed the concept of “differentiation of self,” which basically states that families and other social groups have great influence on how any one person is brought up and develops a world-view. Where families and social groups differ from one another is in their ability to tolerate difference from their members (in opinion, behavior, belief, etc.). This creates a natural tension that all group systems need to deal with at one level or another.

People with poorly-differentiated selves depend heavily on the acceptance/approval of the group – to the point of selling themselves short. Similarly, poorly differentiated systems depend on the compliance and conformity of their members – to the point of shunning or expelling those who don’t. Disagreement is threatening.

People with well-differentiated selves understand there is a relevant dependence on the group while still being able to tolerate and stay calm in the face of rejection or criticism. Decisions are made with authenticity and integrity – not just to conform or make others happy. Similarly, well-differentiated groups are able to stay true to their convictions and beliefs, be open to the consideration of necessary change, and able to stay calm and supportive: allowing in their midst members who reject aspects of the group’s “rules of engagement.”

Differentiation is not individuation. In other words, differentiation keeps in mind the needs, hopes, support and relationship with the “other.” It is a means towards healthy connection. It correlates with such things as emotional regulation, emotional interdependence, emotional IQ and emotional health. As the differentiation of the group/individual rises – the more able it is to adapt to stress and manage/tolerate anxiety, giving it a better prognosis for getting through conflicts intact.

So as the Mormon family faces conflicting principles in our own stated “family rules:” -Do what is right, let the consequence follow- -Search, ponder and pray- -Listen and obey – it will be interesting to see how the balance of differentiation will play out. I hope we remember that the more differentiation we can tolerate, the healthier and less anxious of a people we can be. Unfortunately, this latest news of ousting two of our own (representative of many who share similar views) portrays the message: get with the program or get out of the program. Not a differentiated stance. Harmful for many. Not a good example for how family systems should function. Against some of our own most Mormon teachings around the importance of agency, forgiveness, personal revelation & conversion, etc. And un-Christlike at its worst.

Natasha Helfer Parker is a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist, a Sex Therapist and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Read more from Patheos.com

TIME Religion

God, Soccer, and the World Cup

Soccer may be just a sport to most, but for Imam Sohaib Sultan, the game has been a series of lessons in spirituality

Across much of the world, soccer is known as the beautiful game. For me, soccer first opened my mind and heart to the experience of the existence of the transcendent – that which could not be explained away by the simple laws of physics – and the game taught me invaluable lessons for life’s spiritual journey.

Let me explain. This may sound heretical if not blasphemous, but if I were to write an honest spiritual autobiography, I would say that much of what I learned about faith in a higher power and of what it takes to reach greater heights within myself came initially not through any formal doctrine or religious study, but rather through my love (okay, obsession) with playing and watching soccer.

I first fell in love with the game during the 1990 World Cup. At the time, I did not have a favorite player or team nor did I even know that much about soccer. But, there was something about the preparation before matches, the exquisite athleticism and skill during the game, the winning combination of teamwork and strategy, and those moments of pure magic and genius, that drew me to the game. Soon after that world cup, I took to playing the game myself and even aspired to become a star on the field.

Looking back on it all, there was something in that pure joy of being an early convert to the game of soccer that was deeply spiritual. When Roberto Baggio neatly played off of his teammates to dodge through the entire Czechoslovakia defense and score his first goal of the tournament, it was a divine experience that, as a young boy, opened my senses to believe in transcendence. In that moment I witnessed something greater than physics and pure skill, it was something much more. And, I witnessed this again and again throughout that world cup and beyond in awesome goals, inspired passes and spectacular saves.

And, when I stepped on to the soccer field for the first time myself, I really wanted to experience something of that transcendence myself. But, as I learned the hard way it did not come easy. Instead, almost every time I touched the ball it was an embarrassment. Chances would come and go, but making something of those moments felt impossible. It was through that experience, that I learned one of the most important lessons of life – that training, discipline, hard work, commitment, struggle, courage, sacrifice and much more were needed if I ever wanted to experience what all the greats experience. For years I honed my skills everyday as a defensive midfielder and backup goalkeeper (mostly playing left bench for my teams) hoping to experience something special. It was not just about a game, it was about believing in something greater than self. Every time I stepped on the field, I would make a sincere prayer. I believed that God could make it happen for me if I just gave it my all.

Then, one day, it finally happened. The soccer club I used to play for in high school had reached the semifinals of the intramural tournament. Just before the match our star goalkeeper fell ill during warm up. He was out. The coach looked at me, handed me the goalkeeper’s gloves and off I went to defend the goal. For the most part I was just called upon to make simple saves behind a great defense. But, with a minute left in the match and my team leading just by a single goal, a forward from the opposing team somehow managed to get just behind my team’s defenders as the ball bounced perfectly for him right in front of goal to volley home the goal that would send the game into overtime. As we held our collective breath, my first instinct was to just throw myself across the mouth of goal and toward the spectacularly well struck soccer ball. I felt the spinning ball barely touch my shoulder as I tumbled to the ground expecting the worst. Instead, as I gathered myself and looked upward, I found the striker with his face buried in his hands instead of celebrating and all of my teammates running toward me with euphoric joy. Moments later the final whistle blew and we had won the game. It felt like one of those moments that you live for. My coach hugging and congratulating me asked where I had learned to make such an incredible move. In reality, I did not. I experienced a moment that defied my own physics and what I was truly capable of on a daily basis (as future matches proved!) I experienced something really special in that moment.

But, I knew then as I know now that if it weren’t for all the pre-requisite years of commitment and discipline, that moment would never have been possible. And, I realized then as I do now that all of those players I watched for hours and coaches who helped me along the way deserved much gratitude. I also knew that my magical moment would have been for naught if it weren’t for the victory that we achieved as a team. And, as a team we achieved success because of our values – patience on the ball, assisting and strengthening one another, and showing courage to move forward.

As a struggling spiritual seeker and now Imam, I have found that the spiritual journey is not dissimilar to the path a soccer player needs to take. Seeking God necessarily required of me daily disciplines of praying, chanting, fasting, serving, and so on. And, I found that I can’t do it without role models and mentors, living and dead, who show me the way through instruction and inspiration. And, finally, I discovered that journeying to God with a community of people who have the same goal and orientation is that much more realistic and fulfilling, and that it is in community that we can strive toward the highest values and virtues.

Religion and soccer, when rooted in simplicity and beauty, have great power to bring people together and to nurture higher values in people. Sadly, institutionalized religion and the organizing soccer bodies, such as FIFA, are too often corrupted by the pursuit of power instead. Both are in need of much reform if they are to play the critical role they must play in a broken world.

Enjoy the world cup starting on Thursday and make it a point to watch it with people, those you know and those whom you do not. It might be the start of something really special.

Sohaib N. Sultan is a chaplain and the first full-time Muslim Life coordinator at Princeton University.

TIME Religion

Meet Riverside Church’s First Female Pastor

Dave Cross

Rev. Amy Butler talks about feminism, her salary, being a single mom, and what it means to lead one of the country's most storied congregations.

Update added on June 12, 2014 at 4:15 p.m.

Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, who has been the pastor at Washington, D.C.’s Calvary Baptist Church for the past eleven years, was chosen Monday to be the first female senior minister at The Riverside Church in New York City. The Riverside Church has been a pillar of faith and activism in New York since its first service in 1930, with its famously diverse congregation participating in political issues ranging from LGBTQ rights to immigration. TIME sat down with Rev. Butler to talk about her upcoming transition.

Your emphasis at Calvary has been on unity and coming together, but Riverside’s congregation is more than twice the size of Calvary’s, and it’s interdenominational. Are there challenges that you think will come with that and do you have a plan for how you’re going to approach the new congregation?

There are many challenges ahead, and this is a diverse community. If you think about doing and being a diverse community together, this is the perfect place to try to do it because all of the pieces are there. And this is a community that has valued diversity for all of its history and, as we all do, struggled with what that means in day-to-day life. I’m really looking forward to trying to figure out how we can make that diversity into an asset and something that is really a compelling and attractive expression of our community. Diversity doesn’t always have to be hard and terrible. It’s a challenge, always it’s a challenge, but it’s a great opportunity for modeling what the church can be in the world.

Not only is the Riverside Church diverse, but also it is politically active. What do you see as the intersection of religion and politics, and what do you hope to do with that at Riverside?

The role of the church in society is changing very radically. Fifty years ago the church had a loud and compelling voice at many of these conversations. Increasingly, the church is becoming marginalized. And I think that at this point in history it’s a great opportunity for us as people who claim the message of Jesus, the gospel of loving God and loving each other, as this radical and prophetic place where we can be the church together. So I think the opportunities are boundless and endless, and I think increasingly we’re going to be feeling opportunities to be prophetic and speak truth to power in ways that we may not have had when we were part of the group sitting around the table.

You wrote in an Associated Baptist Press column in April that, “The church is not as vibrant in our society as it once was. In fact, the question of whether church as we know it is viable for the long term is a question begging to be asked.” So I’m going to ask it – do you think the current institutional model is viable? What are you going to do at Riverside to make it relevant and sustainable?

I think the church of the past is not the church of the future, and I think we don’t know what the church of the future is yet. I think the church is not going away because people are looking for community and people are looking for a place to ask the big questions. And if the church can provide a place in which both of those things are present, it’s going to be a place where people are going to want to come and be part of it. So I don’t know what the future of the church looks like, but it’s going to look different. I think at the Riverside Church we could be a place where some of those future expressions of church start to emerge, and that’s one of the things I find so exciting about this opportunity.

You’ve been open about your own struggles with faith. How do you navigate the relationship between your own personal questioning and your role as a leader of the church?

I think traditionally people have expected clergy to be the ones that have all of the answers. Here’s the truth: nobody has all of the answers. We’re all on this journey of figuring out what it means to be human in this world and to understand God’s role in our lives and in the world at large, and I think questioning together is a much more powerful experience. That’s the kind of leadership approach that I take.

I have to ask after the controversy over your predecessor Rev. Brad Braxton’s resignation [related to his more than $450,000 compensation]. What is your salary going to be?

I’ve always heard that it’s not polite to talk about what you make, but I’ll be earning a salary of $250,000. It’s quite a generous salary and it presents an opportunity for me to think about how to be a good steward of the tremendous resources that I am becoming a recipient of. And it’s also a good model for the church as a whole. The Riverside Church has many, many resources, so how do we, as a faith community, think about how to best be stewards of that tremendous gift?

What do you see as the biggest fiscal challenges ahead for Riverside?

I think the future of the church probably does not include building big cathedrals like this in major cities. But places like the Riverside Church are a gift, and can be a gathering place for people who are seeking God in the middle of a very busy and powerful city. So I think our place is important, and I think one of our challenges is going to be moving into the future thinking about how we preserve that and how we make it accessible to as many people as would like to be part of it.

You’re a single mother, you were the first female senior minister of Calvary, and now you are going to be the first female senior minister at Riverside. Where do you see yourself fitting in the modern feminist landscape?

I really recognize the significance of my call. I really want to commend the Riverside Church for taking the step of hiring a woman. That said, there are many, many gifted women around this country who are leading churches and who are doing all kinds of amazing professional roles and being mothers at the same time. And so hopefully this can be a recognition of that fact. It’s not something new; it’s happening everywhere and has for some time. Because this is such a public decision, I hope that it can be affirming of the many different roles that women play.

Do you have anything else that you want to add about the upcoming transition?

Having been the pastor here at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., for 11 years has been such a great time of preparation and growth for me, and I’m leaving behind this amazing, amazing community here. And that is giving me a lot of the courage to move into this new, big role.

[Update: After the story was published, Butler asked to add additional context to her description of her salary. The following question was asked and answered by email.

Your salary sounds different from your predecessor's. How did that figure into your decision?

The Riverside Church made it clear that they wanted to ensure equity in what they offered me. As their first female pastor, I felt that was an important message to send. And I felt that exact numbers—especially for such a humbling offer--were less important than the witness of equity. So the overall compensation won’t be the same, but we agreed to keep the same salary of $250,000 and for the church to provide for my housing, health insurance, and contribute to my retirement. I’ve found it is easy to think in terms of what we are owed or what we own, but it’s important to ask instead how we can use the resources we have, and how we might be used by God through them. Riverside has blessed me and given me quite a responsibility with their offer.]


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.”

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