TIME Crime

Rev. Al Sharpton: Pray for Michael Brown’s Family on Thanksgiving

Reverand Al Sharpton speaks at a press conference on the eve of Thanksgiving to pray and address the events of the last few days regarding the grand jury verdict of police officer Darren Wilson on Nov. 26, 2014 in New York.
Reverand Al Sharpton speaks at a press conference on the eve of Thanksgiving to pray and address the events of the last few days regarding the grand jury verdict of police officer Darren Wilson on Nov. 26, 2014 in New York. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Families of two men killed in police incidents came together with Rev. Al Sharpton

The families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, who were both killed in confrontations with police officers over the summer, are set to experience their first Thanksgivings without their loved ones. In preparation for the holiday, Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network hosted a “bonding prayer” Wednesday for the two families at the civil rights organization’s headquarters in Harlem.

“Not only do they share pain of being victims of police conduct,” Sharpton said. “This will be their first Thanksgiving with an empty seat at the table”

Garner was killed after being held in a chokehold by a New York City officer. For Brown’s family, the wounds from his death are especially fresh given the grand jury decision announced this week not to indict officer Darren Wilson, who fired the fatal shots at the 18-year-old. Since the announcement of the decision, protests have sprang up across the U.S. and in Brown’s hometown of Ferguson, Mo.

“We hope that when people pull up to their tables on Thanksgiving, they pray for these families,” Sharpton said before praying that both Garner’s and Brown’s deaths “birth a new way” of handling police conduct and race relations in America.

TIME

Religion, Hypocrisy, and Obamacare

Eric Yoffie was President of the Union for Reform Judaism from 1996 to 2012.

It is not OK for a religiously serious person to offer no plan at all to help truly poor, weak, and helpless Americans.

“Now, when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer.”

These words, spoken last year to a member of the Ohio legislature by John Kasich, the now reelected Republican governor of Ohio, are significant for two reasons.

First and most important, they are a reminder of a simple religious truth: If you don’t care about the poor, the suffering, and the sick, you cannot be a good Christian — or a good Jew, or a good Muslim. You may pretend to be a good religious person, of course. You can convince yourself, perhaps, that you are God-fearing and upright. But in the final analysis, if you forget the downtrodden and ignore the stranger and the widow, and fail to show kindness and mercy to the least among us, you have failed in your religious obligations. As Governor Kasich pointedly reminded the legislator, like him a conservative and a man of faith, St. Peter will be waiting with some very specific questions, and he will not be satisfied with platitudes or evasions.

And while the Governor was speaking as a believing Christian, his words hold true for all the Abrahamic traditions. True, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam offer a stunning diversity of practices and beliefs. Their adherents observe different rituals and pray with different liturgies. Each proposes a distinct path to salvation, and at times, each suggests the superiority of its own religious way. Still, for all of their traditional differences, there are common pillars upon which they all rest. All three assert some version of the Golden Rule, demanding that we act toward others as we would have others act toward us. And all three require compassion for the weak and the poor, requiring us to go beyond ourselves, feel pain that is not our own, and then reach out to the truly needy in our midst.

As a politician, and a good one, Governor Kasich, if pressed, would undoubtedly not say that he was calling his opponents un-Christian. Nonetheless, his words were clear in their intent and very much on target. He was reminding us that despite all the palaver that we hear about the Judeo-Christian tradition, too many religious Americans have lost sight of what religion must always be: A force for compassion, healing, and hope.

The second reason that the Governor’s words are significant is because of the context in which they were expressed.

The Governor said what he said while convincing the members of the Ohio legislature to approve an expansion of Medicaid, a government healthcare program for the poor. The expansion is provided for by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and therefore was unpopular with conservatives, even though it extended medical insurance to 275,000 needy Ohioans.

It would be absurd to suggest that religion requires support for Obamacare. There are a variety of ways in which government could expand health coverage, and in fact, Kasich opposes the Affordable Care Act as an inefficient, “top-down” program. But what was important was his assertion that despite opposing Obamacare, a responsible religious person could — and, in fact, must — endorse selective use of the legislation if that is the only way to help poor and desperate people, such as the 26,000 veterans and 55,000 mentally ill persons who had no other options available to assist them.

In his little sermon to the legislator, the Governor was making it clear that it is fine to say you prefer Plan A to Plan B, but it is not fine for a religiously serious person to offer no plan at all to help truly poor, weak, and helpless Americans. To do that is to contribute to the increasingly common image of political leaders as cynical and complacent and cut off from any real understanding of the people they represent. To do that is to be untrue to the fundamental teachings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and to ignore religion’s understanding of our higher selves.

Twenty-two states have not yet expanded Medicaid, and most, alas, are offering no alternative to their most disadvantaged citizens. I can only hope that politicians in these states will follow the lead of the Governor of Ohio, who understood that turning our back on those at the very bottom of the ladder is not the American way, and it is not the Judeo-Christian way, either. If you are a practical politician with high ideals and religious convictions, you need to put real solutions on the table. And whatever your personal theology or the state of your belief, why not assume that the Governor’s right? If the time comes that someone is standing at heaven’s gate, asking what you did for the poor, it’s best to be ready with an answer.

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

Vatican Strengthens Ties with Evangelicals and Mormons Against Gay Marriage

Pope Francis general audience
Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter square, Vatican City, Nov. 19, 2014. Osservatore Romano/EPA

New alliances formed in Rome this week

In a month when papal conversation about marriage has been all the rage, the Vatican is enlisting a new set of allies to support its commitment to marriage between a man and a woman: American evangelicals and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This week the Vatican hosted a three-day, international, interreligious colloquium called Humanum, “The Complementarity of Man and Woman: An International Colloquium.” Its goal was to “propose anew the beauty of the relationship between the man and the woman.” Speakers came from nearly two dozen countries and a variety of religious traditions, including Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and Taoists.

The presence of American evangelicals and the LDS Church was particularly notable. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, and Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, each gave speeches, and representatives from the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council in Washington attended. President Henry Eyring of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ first presidency spoke and Elder Tom Perry of the LDS’s Quorum of the Twelve also joined. In the United States, this trio of faiths has worked together to stand against the government’s Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, but it was the first time they were coming together at the Vatican to talk about marriage.

The colloquium rallied around the theological concept of complementarianism, the belief that men and women have different roles in a marriage and religious leadership—husbands are spiritual leaders, and wives submit to them in love. To be “complementary” is to complete or fill the lack in the other thing. It opposes egalitarianism, the theological belief that men and women are equal in all respects in marriage and in religious leadership positions. Traditional Catholic, evangelical, and LDS belief interprets the Bible to support a complementarian relational structure. That may explain why mainline Protestant traditions that interpret the Bible to an egalitarian end—Presbyterian, Episcopal, United Church of Christ—were not featured at the event.

Pope Francis did not spearhead the colloquium, as many casual observers might think. It was organized and led by German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, a strong conservative voice at the Pope’s Synod on the Family last month. Müller is the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican group that sponsored the event. Still, Pope Francis gave an opening address to attendees, in which he affirmed the Church’s teaching that children have a right to a mother and a father.

Skepticism about the other’s faith tends to run deep between Catholics, evangelicals and Mormons. In strict economic terms, the three faiths all compete for followers. They are heavily missionizing, and often they evangelize precisely in ways that distinguish themselves apart from the other faiths. But the Protestant work ethic runs deep in both evangelical and Mormon culture, as does deep commitment to faith convictions that the outside world may not understand. The gathering signals that some Vatican leaders recognize that banding together to support marriage as between one man and one woman may be a smart strategy going forward, especially as they have been standing separately against the western world’s changing sexual mores.

On paper, the colloquium concluded with an affirmation of marriage. “For on earth marriage binds us across the ages in the flesh, across families in the flesh, and across the fearful and wonderful divide of man and woman, in the flesh. This is not ours to alter,” it reads. “It is ours, however, to encourage and celebrate….This we affirm.”

But in practice, it ended with something more significant—a strengthening of alliances. The event forged and deepened relationships across faith lines. “This group differs on many points—theological and political—but we agree that marriage matters,” says Moore, who walked around the Vatican with a copy of Luther’s 95 Theses in his coat pocket, a symbol of Protestantism’s break with Rome 500 years ago. “The colloquium started a conversation of groups on virtually every continent and virtually every religious tradition on how we can work together for the common good of marriage.”

For Eyring, of the LDS Church, the event marks a beginning. “They are talking about how are we going to get the word out and what more can we do. They want to do more,” he told the Deseret News. “It’s been amazing how receptive they have been to us,” Perry added, describing relationship he has been developing with Catholic leaders. “I think that we’ve developed a relationship now that they recognized that we have the strength and our structure in our organization that can reach out in a way that other churches do not have.”

American evangelical leaders say they are also leaving hopeful of the journey ahead. “The content of the colloquium was important, but perhaps more so were the connections made between people who share come concerns but who didn’t know each other before,” Moore says. “I am leaving the colloquium much more optimistic than I was when I arrived.”

Adds Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council: “The atmosphere was almost euphoric as the attendees from six of the world’s seven continents broke from the historic gathering to return to their respective nations renewed in their stand for marriage,” he says. “The courts may declare otherwise, and Hollywood may depict its demise, but the union of a man and a woman as the natural and enduring definition of marriage will endure until the end.”

TIME faith

Meet Blase Cupich: Chicago’s New Archbishop

Bishop Blase Cupich, Pope Francis' first major appointment in the hierarchy of the U.S. Catholic Church, leaves Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago
Bishop Blase Cupich, Pope Francis' first major appointment in the hierarchy of the U.S. Catholic Church, leaves Holy Name Cathedral as part of a ritual a day ahead of his installation as the new archbishop in Chicago, Nov. 17, 2014. Jeff Haynes—Reuters

Pope Francis was said to be personally involved in Cupich’s selection

On Tuesday afternoon, Blase Cupich, former bishop of Spokane, Wash., will be installed as the ninth archbishop of Chicago. Pope Francis named Cupich, 65, to the appointment in September to replace Cardinal Francis George, who is the city’s first retiring archbishop and who is fighting cancer. “This was not on my radar screen at all… I honestly thought that I was going to retire in Spokane,” Cupich says. “The Pope thought otherwise.”

The archbishop of Chicago is a key seat in the power structure of American Catholicism. The archdiocese is the country’s third-largest Catholic community with 2.2 million members — nearly half of whom are Hispanic — and a budget that tops $1 billion. Its two previous archbishops have been named cardinals.

Pope Francis was said to be personally involved in Cupich’s selection. So far the two men have had almost no direct communication — Cupich wrote the Pope a personal letter thanking him for the appointment, as is customary, but that’s it. They will likely meet for the first time in June for the presentation of the pallium, a cloak that the Pope places on the shoulders of new archbishops around the world.

Cupich is ready to hit the ground running. Known for his simple lifestyle, he brought just 20 boxes with him to Chicago, mostly of books and clothes. In a lightly edited Q&A with TIME, Cupich admits he is looking ahead to the pastoral challenges his new archdiocese faces, ranging from immigration reform to youth development to contextualizing the Church’s message about marriage and family. “I think it is a very exciting time in the life of the church,” Cupich says. “It is probably as exciting as what happened in the Second Vatican Council.”

Many people have commented that in picking you for the Chicago seat, Pope Francis was making a point about the kind of future leaders he wants in American churches. Is that overstated?

I think that the Pope has trust in every bishop that is appointed. I consider that to be the case, plus the fact that I don’t feel very comfortable carrying that burden. If I’m supposed to be at the end of the funnel of everything the Pope wants, that’s an onerous task. I think it is a very exciting time in the life of the church. It really comes down to a deeper appreciation, a more wholesome appreciation of what it means to recognize that the risen Christ is working in the life of the church. That is the basis of everything he is doing. It is not just about Jorge Bergoglio, the former archbishop of Buenos Aires who is now Pope Francis. It is about his being able to be attuned to where the risen Christ is active in the life of the church today, and trying in some way to point the church to that.

A lot of parishes are confused about what Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Synod on the Family means. How will you guide parishes on its takeaways?

I think it is important for people to not come to a conclusion too quickly about what the church is going to do … There is a commitment, as the Holy Father said, not about changing doctrine. This is about two things. First, making sure that we are looking at the full breadth of our doctrine, not just cherry-picking things that are familiar to us, but there is a whole tradition of teaching that goes back 2,000 years. Second is how do we apply that doctrine in pastoral practice. We’ve always had different accommodations for people who are on the journey, who are on the way, to bring them along. I think that those are the kinds of things and nuances that have to be worked out and that we have to speak about, but we have to do it in a way that is unifying. We have to make sure that everybody comes together. That is the role of the Holy Father.

What other themes are you thinking about this year?

You think about immigration, you think about jobs, about the economy — those are experienced in families. They impact marriage. That is the context I’m going to use this year to speak about those issues, to have people reflect on them, how do we approach those various areas and what needs to be done to improve those areas as it impacts families, as it impacts marriages, as it helps children. I think that this year, given the synod, I’m going to contextualize all of those questions that way.

Tell me about your preaching style. Do you like preaching?

I like it more than the people who listen to me! I did my doctoral dissertation on the lectionary readings that we use at mass, and how you have Biblical texts that have been taken out of their original Bible context and put together for mass, and now they form a new text. Out of that new text there is an interplay of new meaning … I try to be sensitive to the power of language, to the power of language that God uses to reveal something about what Christ is doing in our time. That is why I’m always excited about preaching, because there is always something new. Christ uses our imagination, uses the power of language and human speech in order to make present what he is doing … I was really grateful to have a chance to have some really in depth study about the power of language, using a philosopher who taught at the University of Chicago, by the name of Paul Ricoeur. I’m really happy to be in Chicago because a lot of what I do is rooted in his approach to language.

What do you make of the flurry of press coverage over your appointment?

It is tough to get used to. I was a big nobody before all of this, and I still consider myself to be that. One of my family members, having seen all the press coverage and watching the internet videos on me, said, ‘I don’t really get it. You are not that interesting.’ So that keeps me humble. You can always count on family to do that for you.

TIME faith

Pope Francis Confirms U.S. Visit in 2015

The pope will attend the triennial World Meeting of Families

Pope Francis has confirmed he will travel to the U.S. next year to attend a gathering in the city of Brotherly Love, marking his first visit to the U.S. as pontiff.

“I wish to confirm according to the wishes of the Lord, that in September of 2015, I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families,” Pope Francis said Monday, according to Vatican Radio. “Thank you for your prayers with which you accompany my service to the Church. Bless you from my heart.”

The World Meeting of Families is a triennial gathering and claims to be the world’s largest meeting of Catholic families. It will be held Sept. 22-27, with the Pope set to attend the final weekend events. During his visit, the pope will host a mass at the close of the event in Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Details of his visit, however, have not been finalized.

“A hallmark of his papacy has been a keen focus on the many challenges that families face today globally,” said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. “I believe that the presence of the Holy Father will bring all of us –Catholic and non-Catholic alike – together in tremendously powerful, unifying and healing ways.”

Pope Francis hinted he’d be traveling to the U.S. in 2015 in August, but it had yet to be confirmed.

TIME faith

Joseph Smith’s Many Wives: The Faith at Stake in the News

Mormon Temple Salt Lake City
The historic Salt Lake Mormon Temple during the184th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Oct. 4, 2014 in Salt Lake City. George Frey—Getty Images

An admission of historical facts by the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints will be a test for the Mormon community

Religions at their core do not hinge on historical proofs. They hinge on faith. And that, ultimately, is what is at stake in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ public confirmation that Joseph Smith had dozens of wives.

Peggy Fletcher Stack at the Salt Lake Tribune reported the news three weeks ago when the essay first went live on the Church’s website. The story got national attention this Tuesday when the New York Times put Laurie Goodstein’s story about the development on A1. The shift is provocative: “Mormon leaders have acknowledged for the first time that the church’s founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, portrayed in church materials as a loyal partner to his loving spouse Emma, took as many as 40 wives, some already married and one only 14 years old,” she wrote.

Polygamy, or plural marriage as the Church calls it, has long been one of the hottest topics of conversation surrounding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The LDS Church officially banned polygamy in 1890, and today only 2% of Mormons believe that polygamy is morally acceptable, according to the Pew Research Center. While scholarship about the LDS history has long discussed Smith’s multiple marriages, particularly his involvement with 15-year-old Fanny Alger, the Church itself has largely kept this part of its founder’s life out of the mainstream conversation.

Marriage and family have been central to the Church’s origin and trajectory from the beginning. Smith’s love for his wife Emma Hale has long been touted in Mormon circles. Mormon faith is often primarily nurtured in family structures. Today, half of Mormons say it is essential for their families to hold regular “family home evenings,” a family prayer and activity time, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Church may be talking about Smith’s marriages more openly, but the conversation will lead to topics far more complex than just polygamy. The disclosures raise deeper questions about how faith works. The essay explains that God sanctioned Smith’s polygamy for only a time. That prompts questions about who God is, how God acts, how humanity should respond to the divine, how divine revelation happens, and why it changes. That’s all on top of the particular revelation about polygamy itself. As the essay itself concludes, “The challenge of introducing a principle as controversial as plural marriage is almost impossible to overstate.”

The whole situation is a good reminder of how religions develop over time. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the world’s youngest religions; it has not even celebrated its bicentennial. Christianity did not begin to decide which books would become the Bible until a century after Jesus Christ’s death when Marcion, a Christian leader, wanted the Bible to include just Luke’s gospel and Paul’s letters. The Council of Nicea, which set out orthodox belief about Christ’s relationship to God and formalized the Easter holiday, was 200 years after that. The Council of Chalcedon was another hundred years later in 451, when it standardized theology that that Christ was fully human and fully God. Now that Christian history and orthodoxy has been largely set for centuries, such big shifts can be easy to forget.

An online acknowledgement of Joseph Smith’s many marriages certainly is no Nicea, but it is another sign that the Church is trying to help its followers sort out their own history and theological place in the 21st century. The polygamy essay is one of 11 essays on controversial topics that the LDS Church has written and published online over the last year. Subjects include race and the priesthood—the LDS church did not ordain black men until 1978—and different accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision.

All this means that the LDS reaction may end up being more important than the historical announcement. Religious trajectories are often determined by how communities handle tension. How Mormon families, wards, schools, and young people respond to this official word is what will matter.

TIME Religion

Mormons Acknowledge Church Founder Had Up to 40 Wives

Mormon Temple Salt Lake City
The historic Salt Lake Mormon Temple during the184th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on Oct. 4, 2014 in Salt Lake City. George Frey—Getty Images

Many Mormons believed that Joseph Smith had one wife

The Church of Latter Day Saints has acknowledged in a series of articles that its founder Joseph Smith had as many as 40 wives.

The church issued a series of essays clarifying the history of it founder, the New York Times reports. While the church had been associated with polygamy for most of its existence, it had denied that Smith, who died in 1844, practiced polygamy. In fact, Smith had between 30 to 40 wives and the youngest was 14 years old. The church officially ended the practice in 1890, though it didn’t call for the dissolution of existing marriages until 1904.

“There is so much out there on the Internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history,” Elder Steven E. Snow, a member of the church leadership, told the Times.

But some reacted with shock to the revelations. “Joseph Smith was presented to me as a practically perfect prophet, and this is true for a lot of people,” said Emily Jensen, a Mormon blogger. “This is not the church I grew up with, this is not the Joseph Smith I love.”

[NYT]

 

TIME Vatican

Pope Francis Demotes Outspoken Conservative Cardinal

Raymond Burke Pope Francis
Archbishop of St. Louis cardinal Raymond Leo Burke attends Palm Sunday Mass celebrated by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City on April 13, 2014. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

Cardinal Raymond Burke was the Vatican's highest ranking American

Pope Francis has demoted a conservative American cardinal who has criticized his leadership of the Catholic Church.

The pontiff removed Cardinal Raymond Burke as the leader of the Vatican’s highest court and appointed him to a ceremonial position as chaplain of the Knights of Malta, a charity group, according to a press bulletin issued Saturday.

That is a significant demotion, according to the National Catholic Reporter. “The position of Patron of the the Order of Malta is usually given to a retired cardinal, or as a second task to an active cardinal,” Michael Sean Winters writes. “It has almost no responsibilities.”

The move was not a surprise, as Burke, the Vatican’s highest ranking American, had said last month that he was going to have a new post.

The outspoken, conservative bishop — who pushed for the Vatican to revise and water-down its recent, tentative step toward greater acceptance of LGBT people — has butted heads with the pope since the Argentine was elected last year. Last month, he compared Pope Francis’ leadership to “a ship without a rudder” during an interview with a Spanish magazine.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysian Court Legalizes Muslim Cross-Dressing

A judge called the law 'degrading, oppressive and inhumane'

An appeals court in Malaysia Friday struck down a law prohibiting Muslim men from wearing women’s clothing, calling the ban “degrading, oppressive and inhumane.”

“It has the effect of denying the appellants and other sufferers of GID [gender identify disorder] to move freely in public place,” Judge Hishamudin Yunus said of the ban, according to the BBC.

Though Malaysia technically allows for freedom of religion, many Malaysian states mandate Shari’a law for Muslims and maintains a separate court system to enforce it. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are not readily recognized in the country.

Aston Paiva, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the decision was a significant step forward.

“This will be a precedent. This court binds all other high courts,” he said, according to Agence France-Presse.

[BBC]

TIME Religion

Football and Religion: The Odd Relationship Between God and the Gridiron

Notre Dame's 'Touchdown Jesus'
Notre Dame's 'Touchdown Jesus' Joe Robbins—Getty Images

Mark Edmundson teaches at the University of Virginia and is the author of Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game.

The peace and forgiveness taught in church are not values reflected on the field—but football shows the division of our ethical consciousness

When I played high school football, we knelt down before every contest. The coach asked God and the Lord Jesus Christ to help us play a fair game, not do significant bodily harm to the opposition and not to sustain serious injury ourselves. The coach asked that we might win the game if we were deserving. Then we said a prayer: usually it was the “Our Father.” Football, it seemed, was a Christian game.

Things haven’t changed all that much, at least from what I can tell. Pro and college teams still pray before games; coaches still invoke Jesus and God. When certain players hit the end zone, they hold a finger up in the air: I owe it all to you, Lord. When a man goes down and stays down, players from both squads get on their knees and pray for him. When I visited the University of Virginia football team this fall, matters were little different than they were forty years ago in my high school locker-room: the head coach invoked God’s blessing and led the team in prayer.

We’ve come to take this fusion of football and religion pretty much for granted. So too do we take the fusion of military values and football values as a matter of course. We’re not surprised when representatives from all four service branches bring the colors out before the game or when Navy jets stream over at half time. Nor are we much surprised when coaches talk about God and the Savior and when we see footage of players praying before games. It’s no surprise that Notre Dame, a school dedicated to religion, is also dedicated to football. No one seems perplexed that a mural depicting the savior with his arms raised is visible behind the stadium: Touchdown Jesus, he’s called.

Football is a game beloved by conservatives. Conservatives love football; conservatives love faith. What more is there to say?

Well, maybe there’s something. You don’t have to read the Gospels with exquisite care to see that the values espoused there are not quite football values. Jesus is many things to many people. But it would take a great deal of ingenuity to deny that he is a prophet of forgiveness—forgiveness and non-violence. When someone strikes you, what are you to do? On this Jesus is unequivocal. You must turn the other cheek. When someone sins against you, do you take revenge? No, not at all. Jesus tells us to forgive trespassers time after time. On the cross he looks out at his tormentors and speaks a simple and memorable sentence: Father forgive them, they know not what they do.

Jesus can get angry at times. When he sees the money changers operating in the temple, he picks up a whip and brandishes it at them. He picks up the whip. But he doesn’t hit anyone with it. And when he sees a fig tree that will not bear fruit, he blasts it. Why does he blast it? No one really knows. He blasts it because he does. But the temple whip flourishing and the fig tree blast are about the most violent things we see Jesus do. Mostly he is the advocate or peace, love and forgiveness.

It’s odd then, isn’t it, that football and faith, and the Christian faith in particular, should be so resolutely aligned in American culture? It never occurred to me when I was a young Medford Mustang, on my knees asking Jesus for a clean game and a victory, that Jesus might not have fully approved of the violence that was about to unfold on the field. For football is not about forgiving someone seven times seven; football is not about turning the other cheek. Football is about deploying violence: in football you blast your adversary with all the might you can muster.

And it’s odd then, isn’t it, that in America devout believers go off to church on Sunday to hear the gospel of the mild and forgiving savior, and then go home, turn on their TVs and watch young men try to bust one another’s spleens? What kind of country are we—what kind of culture are we—that can put together the Savior and the bone-crushing power sweep and not notice that there may be some contradictions involved?

But if you think a little more about it, you begin to see that football isn’t just a touch contradictory in itself: it reveals a rift in American faith. Because the majority of Americans are not just Christians per se: they are Judeo-Christians. That is, they belief that the Gospels are the word of God, but they believe that the Hebrew Bible is God’s word as well. And the Hebrew God, God the Father, whatever else you may say about him, is not a pacifist. He does not tell his followers to turn the other cheek. When Sodom and Gomorrah displease him, he destroys the cities nearly to the last. When the Amalekites infuriate him, he demands that Saul destroy them: man, woman and child. (And when Saul doesn’t, the Lord is enraged with him.) When pharaoh won’t let the chosen people go, the Lord kills the first born of every house and then drowns pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea.

The Lord God of hosts can be a loving god as well. He creates man and installs him in paradise. He preserves his people in the desert. He guides them in their times of tribulations. But pacifist, mild, readily forgiving? Yahweh is none of those things.

What football shows us Americans is how dramatically our ethical consciousness is divided. We can go to church and listen to the gospel of peace and forgiveness and then go home and watch the carnage on the field for a simple reason: that’s a tension we live with all the time. The religion that most of us follow allows us to be forgiving (when we wish to be) and retributive (when we wish to be). It really is up to us which way to go at any given moment. For we have sacred sanction for both paths. The Buddhists for instance do not worship any god who deploys violence: they follow the example of Gautama, the Buddha, who claimed to be nothing more than a mortal man. (Or they try.) When a Buddhist behaves violently (and plenty have and will) he has no religious sanction for it. For the Christian—or rather the Judeo-Christian—this is not the case.

There is a great deal to say about the ramifications of living in a country and a culture that allows so much leeway for ethical behavior. But for now, one might simply say that the game of football—which has become our national game, the mirror of our national identities—matters for a lot of reasons. One of them is the way it reveals some of the unspoken and unacknowledged dimensions of our lives to us, in compressed form. Though when that happens, we may of course not much like what it is we see.

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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