TIME Religion

Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country

Supreme Court
Susan Walsh—AP The American flag flies in the wind in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on June 22, 2015.

Rod Dreher is a senior editor and blogger at The American Conservative.

Voting Republican and other failed culture war strategies are not going to save us now

No, the sky is not falling — not yet, anyway — but with the Supreme Court ruling constitutionalizing same-sex marriage, the ground under our feet has shifted tectonically.

It is hard to overstate the significance of the Obergefell decision — and the seriousness of the challenges it presents to orthodox Christians and other social conservatives. Voting Republican and other failed culture war strategies are not going to save us now.

Discerning the meaning of the present moment requires sobriety, precisely because its radicalism requires of conservatives a realistic sense of how weak our position is in post-Christian America.

The alarm that the four dissenting justices sounded in their minority opinions is chilling. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia were particularly scathing in pointing out the philosophical and historical groundlessness of the majority’s opinion. Justice Scalia even called the decision “a threat to democracy,” and denounced it, shockingly, in the language of revolution.

It is now clear that for this Court, extremism in the pursuit of the Sexual Revolution’s goals is no vice. True, the majority opinion nodded and smiled in the direction of the First Amendment, in an attempt to calm the fears of those worried about religious liberty. But when a Supreme Court majority is willing to invent rights out of nothing, it is impossible to have faith that the First Amendment will offer any but the barest protection to religious dissenters from gay rights orthodoxy.

Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito explicitly warned religious traditionalists that this decision leaves them vulnerable. Alito warns that Obergefell “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” and will be used to oppress the faithful “by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”

The warning to conservatives from the four dissenters could hardly be clearer or stronger. So where does that leave us?

For one, we have to accept that we really are living in a culturally post-Christian nation. The fundamental norms Christians have long been able to depend on no longer exist. To be frank, the court majority may impose on the rest of the nation a view widely shared by elites, but it is also a view shared by a majority of Americans. There will be no widespread popular resistance to Obergefell. This is the new normal.

For another, LGBT activists and their fellow travelers really will be coming after social conservatives. The Supreme Court has now, in constitutional doctrine, said that homosexuality is equivalent to race. The next goal of activists will be a long-term campaign to remove tax-exempt status from dissenting religious institutions. The more immediate goal will be the shunning and persecution of dissenters within civil society. After today, all religious conservatives are Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla who was chased out of that company for supporting California’s Proposition 8.

Third, the Court majority wrote that gays and lesbians do not want to change the institution of marriage, but rather want to benefit from it. This is hard to believe, given more recent writing from gay activists like Dan Savage expressing a desire to loosen the strictures of monogamy in all marriages. Besides, if marriage can be redefined according to what we desire — that is, if there is no essential nature to marriage, or to gender — then there are no boundaries on marriage. Marriage inevitably loses its power.

In that sense, social and religious conservatives must recognize that the Obergefell decision did not come from nowhere. It is the logical result of the Sexual Revolution, which valorized erotic liberty. It has been widely and correctly observed that heterosexuals began to devalue marriage long before same-sex marriage became an issue. The individualism at the heart of contemporary American culture is at the core of Obergefell — and at the core of modern American life.

This is profoundly incompatible with orthodox Christianity. But this is the world we live in today.

One can certainly understand the joy that LGBT Americans and their supporters feel today. But orthodox Christians must understand that things are going to get much more difficult for us. We are going to have to learn how to live as exiles in our own country. We are going to have to learn how to live with at least a mild form of persecution. And we are going to have to change the way we practice our faith and teach it to our children, to build resilient communities.

It is time for what I call the Benedict Option. In his 1982 book After Virtue, the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us. We who want to live by the traditional virtues, MacIntyre said, have to pioneer new ways of doing so in community. We await, he said “a new — and doubtless very different — St. Benedict.”

Throughout the early Middle Ages, Benedict’s communities formed monasteries, and kept the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness. Eventually, the Benedictine monks helped refound civilization.

I believe that orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts. How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions? I don’t know. But we had better figure this out together, and soon, while there is time.

Last fall, I spoke with the prior of the Benedictine monastery in Nursia, and told him about the Benedict Option. So many Christians, he told me, have no clue how far things have decayed in our aggressively secularizing world. The future for Christians will be within the Benedict Option, the monk said, or it won’t be at all.

Obergefell is a sign of the times, for those with eyes to see. This isn’t the view of wild-eyed prophets wearing animal skins and shouting in the desert. It is the view of four Supreme Court justices, in effect declaring from the bench the decline and fall of the traditional American social, political, and legal order.

We live in interesting times.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

Jewish Groups to Mark ‘Shabbat of Solidarity’ With Black Community After Charleston

In an unusual display of unity, the call comes from leaders in virtually every sect of American Judaism

A broad swath of American Jewish groups has declared Friday, June 26, to Saturday, June 27, to be a “Shabbat of Solidarity” with the African-American community, after the massacre of nine black churchgoers during a prayer meeting on June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C.

During this sabbath period, Jews will be encouraged to speak out “on the issue of racism in society and to express rejection of hateful extremism,” the organizations said in a joint statement. Congregations are also urged to connect with local AME churches to express compassion and support.

“We stand together as a united American Jewish community in calling for a Shabbat of important introspection and examination of racism in the United States,” Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Potomac, Maryland, who is the president of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America, said in the statement. “We hope to convey our support to the African-American community nationwide and show all that we will not stand for violent acts driven by hatred.”

Weinblatt’s organization was joined by the American Jewish Committee; Hillel, a confederation of Jewish student groups; the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; and representative groups from the Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative sects.

As part of the day of solidarity, Rabbis Adam Stock Spilker and Shoshanah Connover of the organization Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, released a special Mi sheiberach, a traditional prayer for healing, that may be used in congregations across the country. The prayer asks for “healing to a nation in tears, to families and friends crying out in grief over nine precious souls — victims of racism and gun violence — taken from this earth too soon.”

The Solidarity Shabbat comes on the heels of a week already full of such events, with interfaith services held across the country, from Des Moines to Detroit to Long Island.

TIME faith

Noah’s Ark Theme Park Gets a Helping Hand From the Amish

noahs ark encounter park kentucky
Ark Encounter

Construction underway despite funding issues

An embattled ministry building a replica of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky is getting a boost, thanks to the Amish.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Amish communities in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania are helping Answers in Genesis—a non-profit Christian ministry that advocates creationism—build Ark Encounter, the multi-million dollar theme park that the ministry says will include a full-size replica of the Biblical ark.

The project, first proposed in 2010, experienced a setback late last year when Kentucky officials denied $18 million in tax incentives to the group. The state’s tourism board said the project had “evolved from a tourism attraction to an extension of AiG’s ministry” and that state incentives would violate the separation between church and state.

State officials cited the group’s hiring requirements, which mandated that future employees give a “salvation statement” and believe that God created the world. AiG sued the state, accusing it of discriminating against the group based on its religious views.

Still, construction is reportedly underway on the 510-foot-long ark even without the tax incentives with the help of a number of Amish workers, who are working on the ark’s wooden structure. AiG says any state incentives will go to future expansions of the park. It plans to open Ark Encounter in the summer of 2016.

TIME Spain

Spanish Town Finally Drops ‘Kill Jews’ Name

Will now be called "Castrillo Mota de Judios, or "Jews' Hill Camp"

A Spanish village with a name that translates to “Camp Kill Jews” has finally officially changed its name to Castrillo Mota de Judios, or “Jews’ Hill Camp.”

Residents of Castrillo Matajudios first voted to change the name last year, with 29 of the village’s 57 inhabitants voting in favor of the change. The name change has now been approved by the regional government of Castilla y Leon, the Associated Press reports.

The town’s former name, which dates back to 1627, was especially puzzling due to the fact that the town was founded by Jews fleeing from pogroms in 1035. Today, the town has no Jewish residents, despite its official shield containing the Star of David.

Spain has a checkered history of treatment towards Jewish residents, including a 1492 edict that ordered Jews to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. In early June, Spain’s lower house of parliament approved a law paving a pathway to citizenship for descendants of Jews who were forced to leave the country during the inquisition.

According to the AP, researchers believe the village actually got its name from Jewish residents who wanted to bolster the believability of their conversion.


Read next: The Forgotten Brutality of Female Nazi Concentration Camp Guards

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TIME Religion

What Today’s Boundaries Mean for Inclusion

David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

Our challenge is to live with lines but understand that they will shift

Most of the great issues in society today are boundary issues. Some are literally about borders—immigration, for example, or territory and sovereignty disputes. But many boundary arguments, such as those about inclusion, are more metaphorical. Should the LGBT community have the same legal rights as the straight community? Can someone who was born Caucasian pass as African American? Can someone change genders, and what are the implications of such a choice?

Increasingly, the pressure is against setting boundaries. Restriction, limitation and exclusion all seem sides of the same attempt to keep privileges for some and not permit them to others. While recognizing that boundaries keep us safe—the walls of our homes, the bars of the prison, the lines on the road—we feel uneasy when they are used to keep some outside.

Religious communities constantly grapple with the question of who belongs. Clergy puzzle over intermarriages and maintaining faith traditions in blended families. Worldwide faith traditions wonder how to keep cohesion when practices and assumptions differ so greatly in different communities. Who has the right to proclaim that this person is a legitimate clergyman and that one is not? But is there anything left to a religion if someone can simply stand up and say, “I have just decided I am a Rabbi/Priest/Minister/Imam”?

These are not easy questions. Institutions keep their integrity in part by exclusion. If every student were permitted into Harvard University, it would no longer be Harvard. If everyone who wanted to be a citizen of the U.S. could simply declare his own citizenship, the U.S. would cease to be a sovereign nation. The flip side of the uncomfortable feeling of boundaries is their ineradicable necessity. Wars are fought about boundaries; they are the lines by which we live.

Ours is a culture of grievance, where taking offense is always legitimate but giving it rarely is. Therefore the one who wishes to proclaim boundaries is asking for trouble. Diversity and multiculturalism are built on the porousness of boundaries while simultaneously suspicious of them: Members of minorities are a clearly self-defined group, but exclusion of any kind is the most charged accusation. We very strictly define those who have traditionally been excluded, creating a boundary to help a group overcome a boundary. Such ideas with all their concomitant confusions have taken a powerful hold on our campuses.

We are born with boundaries, the very body that is a barrier to the outside world even as it is open to that same world. We are practiced in respecting lines and changing them. Each group in society defines the lines in ways favorable to them. Even those who protest about boundaries generally wish them to be drawn as well, just differently. Our challenge is to live with lines but understand that they will be shifted and reevaluated.

The best guide may be Edwin Markham’s poem “Outwitted”:

He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him in!

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

Billy Graham’s Grandson Resigns From Megachurch After Affair

Billy Graham Birthday Party
Alicia Funderburk — Getty Images William Graham Tullian Tchividjian attends the Billy Graham birthday party on November 7, 2013 in Asheville, United States.

Tullian Tchividjian is the fourth Florida megachurch pastor to resign over an affair

A grandson of the influential evangelical pastor Billy Graham has resigned from the pulpit at a high-profile church in South Florida after church leaders discovered he was having an affair.

Tullian Tchividjian said that he returned from a trip a few months ago to find his wife having an affair, and that he in turn went on to a friend with whom he “sought comfort,” in a statement to the Washington Post. “I resigned from my position at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church today due to ongoing marital issues.”

“Both my wife and I are heartbroken over our actions,” he said.

The pastor, 42, has three children with his wife, Kim. Tchividjian was widely considered a rising star in evangelical circles and is the fourth Florida megachurch pastor to resign after having affairs, according to the Post.

Tchividjian’s grandfather, the 96-year-old Billy Graham, was an adviser to U.S. presidents including Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson.

[Washington Post]

TIME Religion

Charleston Church Holds First Worship Service Since Massacre

Nine people were killed during a shooting at a Bible study group last Wednesday

The historic black church in Charleston, S.C., where a gunman killed nine people last week held its first postmassacre worship service Sunday, bringing a sense of unity to the shattered city as law-enforcement officials continued to probe the suspect’s motives.

A large crowd attended the service inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where parishioners honored the victims through song and prayer. The Associated Press reports uniformed police officers were stationed throughout the church for the service, which Governor Nikki Haley and her family were expected to attend, along with many newcomers.

Among those killed in Wednesday night’s shooting at a Bible study group was the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. On Sunday, the Rev. Norvel Goff, who was picked to lead the church until a successor is named, said the aftermath of the massacre has “been tough” but that the community will continue to “pursue justice.”

“We’re going to be vigilant,” he said, “and we are going to hold our elected officials accountable to do the right thing.”

Authorities are continuing to investigate the motives of the suspected gunman, Dylann Roof. The 21-year-old was apprehended in North Carolina on Thursday and later transported back to South Carolina, where he was charged with nine counts of murder and one count of weapon possession.

Sunday’s service came one day after authorities announced they were investigating a hate site linked to Roof that held dozens of pictures and a racially charged manifesto.

TIME Religion

Muhammad Cartoons Are Offensive, But Not for the Reason You Think

Political blogger Pamela Geller, American Freedom Defense Initiative's Houston-based founder, speaks during an interview in New York on May 28, 2015.
Brendan McDermid—Reuters Political blogger Pamela Geller, American Freedom Defense Initiative's founder, speaks during an interview in New York May 28, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Jordan Denari is a Research Fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, where she works for the Bridge Initiative, a research project on Islamophobia.

These cartoons contribute to a climate of fear in which Muslims are seen as a threat

If you find yourself driving through St. Louis or rural Arkansas in the coming weeks, you may come across billboards depicting Islam’s prophet Muhammad. The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), the group led by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer that organized last month’s Draw Muhammad event in Garland, Texas, is promoting ads featuring the contest’s winning cartoon: an image of an angry, sword-wielding Muhammad lunging forward toward the hands of the artist who drew him.

The news coverage of AFDI’s recent effort—as well as others’ plans to disseminate Muhammad cartoons—has been accompanied by attempts to explain why displaying these violent drawings is problematic or offensive. Journalists and commentators often diagnose the problem this way: Many Muslims disapprove of depictions of their prophet, and thus some may retaliate violently against them. But this characterization ignores the cartoons’ real implications. Actively spreading these cartoons is offensive because it contributes to an existing climate of fear in which Muslims are seen as a threat—a climate that endangers Muslims in the West.

These cartoons play into the worst stereotypes about Muslims. Almost all of the cartoons displayed at the Garland contest portrayed Muhammad in a negative light, showing the prophet as violent, backward, sexually perverted, and intolerant of non-Muslims. Out of dozens of cartoons posted on AFDI’s Facebook page, only three can be interpreted as neutral.

Like the cartoons, media representations of Muslims tend to be negative. Content analysis research from MediaTenor, an international media research institute, found that media coverage of Muslims and Islam is at an all time low. MediaTenor, which has analyzed more 2 million news stories from 10 outlets in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany since before 9/11, found that in 2014, 80% of stories about Muslims portrayed them in a negative light. News media, political discourse, and even entertainment often advance the same memes found in the AFDI cartoons: Islam is more likely to inspire people to violence; Muslim men are barbaric; Muslim women are oppressed; and Islamic culture is antithetical to progress or diversity.

This monolithic, negative portrayal provides a skewed image of Islam and Muslims. It excludes the manifestations of Islam as it’s lived by ordinary Muslims, and doesn’t reflect how Muslims view their religion and their prophet—as promoters of justice and peace. It also ignores the fact that the number of attacks committed by Muslims in Western societies is quite low. In the last five years, only 2% of all terrorist attacks in Europe have been “religiously motivated.” Muslims have carried out only 6% of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since 1980.

Though attacks against Muslims in the West receive little coverage, they have been far more widespread. Since December 2014, at least five Muslims in the U.S. and Canada have been killed—including three young family members in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in April—in attacks that many believe were motivated by Islamophobic bias. Across the U.S., police are investigating other murders of Muslims, verbal threats, physical attacks, and mosque vandalisms that have occurred in recent months. Muslim civil rights organizations have also noticed a considerable uptick in attacks against Muslims since the rise of ISIS.

Islamophobic incidents in Europe have also risen. From mid-2012 to mid-2014, anti-Muslim attacks increased considerably in London, according to the U.K.-based monitoring organization, TellMAMA. A recent study from Teesside University found that spikes occurred in the wake of “jihadi” attacks in Paris, Sydney, and Copenhagen. Anti-Muslim incidents in France also increased steadily from 2005 to 2013. In the two days after the Charlie Hebdo attack in January, TellMAMA counted 15 major attacks against Muslims or Muslim institutions in France.

Muslims make up a minority religious community that is constantly demonized in the media and political discourse in the West. In this climate, ordinary people—who perhaps have never met a Muslim—have been responding to the depiction they’ve been fed for decades: that Muslims and their religion are a threat to the well-being of Western society. That’s what Jon Ritzheimer did when he organized the anti-Islam rally last month outside a mosque in Phoenix, Arizona, which was attended by protestors armed with military-grade weapons. And it’s what Jerry DeLemus and Dean Remington are doing with their respective plans to organize a Geller-inspired Muhammad cartoon contest in New Hampshire and an anti-Islam rally in Tucson.

But these threats are only perceptions—misperceptions—grounded not in facts or personal experience but in propagandistic portrayals. AFDI’s Muhammad ads make Muslims, the demonized group, actually look like the demonizer. The group’s latest campaigns contribute to these misperceptions and the more general climate in which Muslims are depicted as an existential threat and therefore treated as such.

During a period when anti-Muslim attacks are already high, these ads make Muslims feel less safe, and they’re right to be upset about the promotion of these cartoons. In fact, we should all take offense to their dissemination. In diverse, pluralistic societies, Muslims and non-Muslims alike should not stand by as an entire religious group is made to look like the enemy.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Religion

Karenna Gore: Pope Francis Reminds Us To Come Together for Climate Solutions

Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for a meeting with the Roman Diocesans on June 14, 2015 in Vatican City.
Franco Origlia—Getty Images Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for a meeting with the Roman Diocesans on June 14, 2015 in Vatican City.

Karenna Gore, director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, talks to TIME about Pope Francis's encyclical on the environment

What do you think about Pope Francis’s encyclical, released Thursday?

It offers an important moment for us to think about humanity’s relationship to nature. Pope Francis describes how we are a part of nature and interconnected with the rest of the natural world. We can all take it in with open minds and hearts. This is a big breath of fresh air into our capacity to come together around solutions.

How is this different from past comments from the Vatican on climate change?

There has been powerful language on ecology from the Vatican before, but Pope Francis has a distinct voice. Not only is he presenting this in moral and religious terms, he’s also coming at it with the sensibility of someone who is dedicated to emulating St. Francis and challenging our way of thinking. From his past statements, it seems that he sees the deep, root cause of the climate crisis in the paradigm of putting short-term financial gain for a few over the well being of the whole. That’s a really powerful way to look at it.

What’s the importance of the format of an encyclical?

Sharing his message as an encyclical has significance beyond comments the pope has made in the past because it’s a very considered document that we know has been drafted, edited, and read by people close to him and by other authority figures in the Vatican. It’s his first major teaching letter, and it’s a statement of moral philosophy that will go down in history in an epic way. This gives cause to pay attention on a different level.

Recently some politicians have said religion should stay out of science and politics—what do you think?

I don’t understand the need for these rigid categories, especially when we’re talking about the air that we breathe. We need morality in our political decision-making, and our wisdom and faith traditions are a good place to find guidance.

What more can we do to combat climate change?

Spirituality can call people to a higher level of consciousness about what is truly valuable. There is so much we can do to act on this. People of faith—and also nonreligious people who are committed to ethics and morality—can help the civic sphere to develop another way to measure well being—an alternative to GDP. The problem with measuring things in short-term profit through the sale of products is that most everything of real value is sacrificed—plant life rooted to the earth, clean bodies of water to be enjoyed by all, traditional self-sufficient communities, for example. The poor are cast aside and burdened with pollution. Also, a hugely significant moral fact is that the well being of future generations isn’t valued. As Pope Francis puts it, this way of life hurts the richness and beauty of the earth and makes it “ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly.”

We can also take actions such as divesting from fossil fuels and helping connect locally rooted environmental struggles to the larger conversation. We aren’t going to be able to measure these efforts with price tags. But as human beings, we are capable of holding that in our minds as we make political decisions. I hope we can gain strength and inspiration from the encyclical to continue this work.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

Exclusive: Patriarch Bartholomew on Pope Francis’ Climate Encyclical

Pope Francis (L) and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople speak to the faithful after the Divine Liturgy at the Ecumenical Patriarchate on November 30, 2014 in in Istanbul.
Gokhan Tan—Getty Images Pope Francis (L) and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople speak to the faithful after the Divine Liturgy at the Ecumenical Patriarchate on November 30, 2014 in in Istanbul.

Bartholomew, 270th Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, is spiritual leader to 300 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world.

Ecology, Economy and Ecumenism

In a series of seminars organized between 1994 and 1998 on the island of Halki off the coast of Istanbul in Turkey, we drew attention to the close connection between ecology and economy. Both terms share the Greek root oikos, which signifies “home.” It therefore came as no surprise to us that our beloved brother Francis of Rome opens his encyclical, which is being released today in the New Synod Hall of the Vatican, with a reference to God’s creation as “our common home.”

Nor again did it come as a surprise to us that Pope Francis underlined the ecumenical dimension of creation care – the term “ecumenism” also shares the same etymological origin as the words “ecology” and “economy.” The truth is that, above any doctrinal differences that may characterize the various Christian confessions and beyond any religious disagreements that may separate the various faith communities, the earth unites us in a unique and extraordinary manner. All of us ultimately share the earth beneath our feet and breathe the same air of our planet’s atmosphere. Even if we do not do enjoy the world’s resources fairly or justly, nevertheless all of us are responsible for its protection and preservation. This is precisely why today’s papal encyclical speaks of the need for “a new dialogue,” “a process of education,” and “urgent action.”

How can one not be moved by the criticism of our “culture of waste” or the emphasis on “the common good” and “the common destination of goods”? And what of the vital importance attributed to the global problem of clean water, which we have underlined for over two decades as we assembled scientists, politicians and activists to explore the challenges of the Mediterranean Sea (1995), the Black Sea (1997), the Danube River (1999), the Adriatic Sea (2002), the Baltic Sea (2003), the Amazon River (2006), the Arctic Sea (2007) and the Mississippi River (2009)? Water is arguably the most divine symbol in the world’s religions and, at the same time, the most divisive element of our planet’s resources.

In the final analysis, however, any dissent over land or water inevitably results in what the Pope’s statement calls “a decline in the quality of human life and a breakdown of society.” How could it possibly be otherwise? After all, concern for the natural environment is directly related to concern for issues of social justice, and particularly of world hunger. A church that neglects to pray for the natural environment is a church that refuses to offer food and drink to a suffering humanity. At the same time, a society that ignores the mandate to care for all human beings is a society that mistreats the very creation of God.

Therefore, the Pope’s diagnosis is on the mark: “We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” Indeed, as he continues to advance, we require “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature.” It is also no surprise, then, that the Pope is concerned about and committed to issues like employment and housing.

Invoking the inspiring words of Scripture and the classics of Christian spirituality of East and West (particularly such saints as Basil the Great and Francis of Assisi), while at the same time evoking the precious works of Roman Catholic conferences of bishops throughout the world (especially in regions where the plunder of the earth is identified with the plight of the poor), Pope Francis proposes new paradigms and new policies in contrast to those of “determinism,” “disregard” and “domination.”

In 1997, we humbly submitted that harming God’s creation was tantamount to sin. We are especially grateful to Pope Francis for recognizing our insistence on the need to broaden our narrow and individualistic concept of sin; and we welcome his stress on “ecological conversion” and “reconciliation with creation.” Moreover, we applaud the priority that the papal encyclical places on “the celebration of rest.” The virtue of contemplation or silence reflects the quality of waiting and depending on God’s grace; and by the same token, the discipline of fasting or frugality reveals the power of not-wanting or wanting less. Both qualities are critical in a culture that stresses the need to hurry, the preeminence of individual “wants” over global “needs.”

In the third year of our brother Pope Francis’s blessed ministry, we count it as a true blessing that we are able to share a common concern and a common vision for God’s creation. As we stated in our joint declaration during our pilgrimage to Jerusalem last year:

“It is our profound conviction that the future of the human family depends also on how we safeguard – both prudently and compassionately, with justice and fairness – the gift of creation that our Creator has entrusted to us … Together, we pledge our commitment to raising awareness about the stewardship of creation; we appeal to all people of goodwill to consider ways of living less wastefully and more frugally, manifesting less greed and more generosity for the protection of God’s world and the benefit of His people.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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