TIME Religion

The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Enters the Limelight

With the charges of forgery now debunked, scholars can now assess the full significance of this document -- including how it fits into the complex understanding of Christian beginnings

Overcoming the anxieties of various vested interests, the fragment of the recently uncovered Gospel of Jesus’ Wife now stands in the limelight it deserves. Thanks to the careful scholarship and insightful handling of Harvard Professor Karen King, this tiny, yet juicy, document has been validated by carbon testing as coming from the ancient Mediterranean world. Now the real work can begin.

This work that this ancient fragment occasions needs to be done by both skilled scholars and regular people. With the charges of forgery now behind them, scholars can follow Professor King’s initial wisdom about what the significance of this document is, assess it, and elaborate upon it. This will involve when it may have been originally written, what audience and authorship it may have had, and how it fits into the complex understanding of Christian beginnings.

If it wants, the public can get in on some heavy lifting too. The very significant issues this fragment poses turn out to resemble much that is at stake in our own world right now. Genuine, thoughtful, and heartfelt engagement by all kinds of people can help make sense of the fragment, especially in terms of sexuality issues facing all of us.

First, however, the public needs to navigate the shallow waters around whether the historical Jesus was actually married or not. As Professor King has insisted from the beginning, this stunning fragment which includes Jesus calling a woman “my wife” and “able to be my disciple” will not solve the historical question about Jesus’ possible marriage. The fragment is too small and the question is too complicated to get farther than the many-sided speculations already in play.

For the record, when People Magazine interviewed me and other scholars in 2006 about whether Jesus was married, I suggested strongly that he probably was. I based this on the obvious historical facts about Galilee in the early first century CE. Almost every man was married then. Ancient writers about recognized figures (like Jesus) assumed that everyone had a wife, but almost never mentioned it. There is nothing from first century gospels that says Jesus was not married. And Jesus (in contrast to Paul) never taught that it was better not to be married.

But neither I nor other scholars or novelists will be able to settle this question. And The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, as Professor King has made clear, probably wasn’t all that interested in recording history. Rather this new fragment was “thinking with” the picture of Jesus as married to help its readers deal with particular burning questions of their day.

In her Harvard Theological Review article released this Thursday, King assesses the fragment’s portrait of Jesus having a wife this way: “the main point…is simply to affirm that women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’s disciples.” King’s generosity and open-mindedness quickly adds that there may be other ways of interpreting the fragment and at this point much is still “tantalizingly open.”

As a scholar of the New Testament and early Christianity, I encourage ordinary people to help in understanding this new portrait of Jesus married to a woman who is able to be his disciple as well. There are two issues where regular people’s experience can help.

First, how do our experiences as women and men today inform and help understand whether women are able to be leaders in the Jesus movements of our day? Or, for that matter, in other important parts of our lives? We, of course, know that this is a raging question in world-wide Christianity, since there are already many women bishops, tens of thousands of women pastors, and millions of other kinds of women leaders in churches around the globe. On the other hand, a number of large and important denominations still forbid women to be bishops and pastors. The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife now accompanies the many different portraits of women in Christendom. Can it also help us think about women as leaders in other parts of our lives?

Second, how do our experiences of marriage and sexuality inform and help understand how to lead? Here too, societies around the world are embroiled in contestation about how our sexual experiences and relationships intersect with capacities to be responsible leaders. Do child-bearing, celibate, heterosexually married, female, same-sex married, male, transgender, and sexually active single people all have the same or somewhat different gifts of leadership? What do our sexualities and gendered relationships contribute to our abilities to lead? The fragment’s picture of Jesus’s mother, Jesus’s wife, and this new Jesus now join us in our unfolding longing for good leaders.

Indeed, this fragment now joins the other fragments of our lives. The tenuousness of marriage and celibacy, the brokenness of family and city, the fragile filaments of government and nation, and many other shards form a very incomplete mosaic. May we not shy away from meaning and inspiration in the fragments in our lives.

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Asks Abuse Victims for ‘Forgiveness’

Pope Francis touches his forehead as he leads the general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, April 9, 2014.
Pope Francis touches his forehead as he leads the general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, April 9, 2014. Alessandro Bianchi—Reuters

Pope Francis admitted he's compelled to tackle the "evil" committed by priests who sexually abused youth and has promised to do more to protect children. He said that sanctions are among the things the church will not shy away from

Pope Francis asked those who had been abused by Catholic priests for forgiveness on Friday, while promising the Catholic church will continue to fight to protect children.

“I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil which some priests, quite a few in number, obviously not compared to the number of all the priests, to personally ask for forgiveness for the damage they have done for having sexually abused children,” the Pope said during a speech at the Vatican, according to Vatican Radio.

During Pope Francis’ speech before members of the International Catholic Child Bureau, a Catholic non-governmental organization, he said the church will “not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem.” Victim advocacy groups have been critical of the church’s “lack of attention” to the problem and have urged the Pope to sanction those who hid abuses.

The Pope, who was TIME’s Person of the Year in 2013, said Friday that sanctions are among the things the church will not shy away from. “You cannot interfere with children,” he said.

TIME Religion

White House, Congress Should Remember Pope Francis During Budget Process

Remember the world's poor throughout the federal budget process

The United States has had a long and proud history of being a world leader on global health issues. Over the last decade, the U.S. has led the charge in tackling numerous challenges such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases, showing both pragmatic and moral leadership in the effort to improve health worldwide.

In doing so, the U.S. has demonstrated particular attention to the poor, a focus that Pope Francis has strongly encouraged in his first year in office. After his meeting last month with the Holy Father, President Obama said he and the American people had been inspired by the new pope’s global leadership on poverty.

“I was extremely moved by his insights about the importance of us all having a moral perspective on world problems,” the president shared after his conversation with the pope.

One of the biggest indicators of a country’s priorities from a moral perspective is how it chooses to spend its revenue. The United States has steadily increased its aid in important global health efforts, most notably those that improve the lives of the poorest people on earth. In the most recently passed budget, a bipartisan group of lawmakers continued this trend, increasing federal funding for global health.

Sadly, the budget proposed by the president last month for the coming year is a step backwards. The White House document includes significant and worrisome cuts to programs tackling health conditions affecting the world’s poorest people, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases.

The human cost of these cuts would be profound. The impact of last year’s sequester on global health programs made that painfully clear. But, beyond the humanitarian dimension, there are strong pragmatic reasons to maintain and even increase our investment in global health.

We already know that investing in health has tremendous returns. For instance, the global effort to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases that infect over a billion of the world’s poorest people is scaling up–and with dramatic results. A person treated will not suffer severe symptoms, such as blindness and disfigurement. They can stay in school, find work, and provide for their families. The cost of treating and preventing the most common neglected tropical diseases is just $0.50 per person annually. This is a small investment with large and immediate returns. Provided adequate funding can be found, we will succeed in eliminating these diseases as public health threats by the end of the decade.

While the United States weighs the value of its investment in this and other areas of global health, the world community is stepping up. Just last week, pharmaceutical companies, philanthropists, and international leaders committed more than $240 million in new resources to the fight against neglected tropical diseases.

The United States must not back away from its global leadership on these issues. President Obama and leaders in Congress, who have found new inspiration in Pope Francis, must act on his call “to remember the people, especially the poor, who are affected by the economic decisions we make.”

The Holy Father is right: governments must work together to protect the poor. And as the richest country on earth, the United States has a moral obligation to lead on global health. Though we spend far less than one percent of the federal budget on global health programs, these funds save lives while strengthening America’s security and economic interests abroad. An investment in the fight against neglected tropical diseases creates a crucial rung on the ladder out of extreme poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

The Catholic Church has said it again and again: the federal budget is a moral document that represents the priorities of a nation. While Washington might consider these cuts a small sliver, the poor who benefit from these programs know otherwise. They are the ones who will be disproportionately impacted by a budget that cuts global health funding.

Pope Francis was recently named the most influential voice in Washington. Let’s hope this is true. If our leaders follow his example, the poor will see the dollars and cents of moral leadership.

And that is an investment worth making.

Emily Conron coordinates faith-based outreach for END7, a campaign of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases at the Sabin Vaccine Institute, and is a member of the Young Leaders Council of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. She can be reached at emily.conron@sabin.org.


Why Pro-lifers Should Join Forces with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

The Senator's Opportunity Plan can help pro-choice and pro-life advocates find common ground

Is pro-life feminism a contradiction in terms? Certainly some feminists see ensuing legal access to abortion as the preeminent cause of the feminist movement, central to guaranteeing women’s individual autonomy and professional success. Anti-abortion activists are seen as waging a war against women, as reactionary forces determined to maintain patriarchy and subjugate women.

Likewise, some pro-life activists would shudder at the thought of linking the protection of unborn life to a feminist agenda, seeing feminism as the mindset that has led to legalized abortion. While they would dispute the charge that they are in any way anti-women, they would acknowledge that they value traditional gender roles and are skeptical of the egalitarian impulses that animate feminism.

These pro-life and pro-choice activists often find consensus in opposing efforts to reach across the battle lines that divide the two sides to find a common ground that might better the lives of women and children—born and unborn. Too often they prefer to demonize their opponents and wage the culture war. Fortunately, this is not the only option. Millions of Americans are sick of the culture war. Many have mixed feelings on abortion, favoring legal access but with restrictions or a right to life but with exceptions. And many support concrete measures that will reduce the abortion rate and improve the lives of pregnant women and their children.

They are tired of the gridlock in Washington. They want policies that make a difference in people’s lives. A good place to start would be for pro-lifers to embrace Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Opportunity Plan and for Senator Gillibrand and other pro-choice figures and activists to embrace their support, if it is offered.

The plan calls for a fully self-sustaining paid family and medical leave program, an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, universal pre-K, measures to make childcare more affordable, and equal pay for equal work. These measures are good in and of themselves. They would benefit the economy, strengthen families, increase opportunity, and empower women. They are just measures that would promote the common good. But they would also address the concerns and further the goals of both pro-life and pro-choice advocates. If pro-choice advocates are serious about choice, they should be working hard to ensure that no woman seeks an abortion because she feels it is an economic necessity, as this is incompatible with authentic choice. For pro-life advocates, this same goal will save the lives of many unborn children. Increased economic security and opportunity, greater flexibility at the workplace, and greater access to quality childcare and education for their children will lead many women to choose life.

None of this means that pro-choice or pro-life activists must sacrifice their most cherished beliefs. It is possible to work together on shared goals and bracket the differences that cause deep divisions on other issues (in this case, legal access to abortion).Many common ground efforts have stumbled in the past over contentious issues or rhetorical disputes. For activists, there is often the refusal to take more steps to a common ground than those on the other side.

Instead of trying to find some comprehensive plan that threads the needle or extracting the perfect set of concessions, pro-life organizations and activists should simply embrace this plan, articulated by a prominent pro-choice activist. And pro-choice supporters of the plan should welcome this support. In doing so, pro-life activists would demonstrate their authentic commitment to improving women’s lives and building the culture of life.

They would dispel the notion that they are pro-birth, not pro-life. They would show that they are above petty politics and not just another special interest. They can show that they are more interested in protecting the lives of children than helping Republicans win the next election. Pro-choice supporters would gain key allies in empowering women and furthering economic justice. It might undermine the claim that pro-life feminism is nonexistent, but it would have a real, positive impact on the lives of women and their children.

Robert Christian is the editor of Millennial and a PhD Candidate in Politics at The Catholic University of America. He is a senior fellow at Democrats For Life of America.


TIME Religion

Millennials Losing Faith in the Bible

Percentage of Americans who say they're skeptical about the Good Book has nearly doubled from 10% to 19%, with young people driving the trend

A study commissioned by the American Bible Society shows that the percentage of people who are skeptical of the Good Book has nearly doubled from 10% to 19% since 2011, with millennials driving the increase.

Two thirds of skeptics, or people who think the Bible is “just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice,” are between the ages of 18 and 29. The same share of Americans call themselves skeptical—19 percent—as call themselves “engaged” with the Bible.

TIME faith

Scientists Say Gospel of Jesus’ Wife Probably Not Fake

Papyrus, Jesus' wife
Karen L. King Hollis, Professor of Divinity at Harvard University, in her office with a papyrus fragment of the gospel of Jesus' wife. Bill Greene—Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Vatican called a papyrus fragment which suggests Jesus was married a "clumsy forgery" when it emerged in 2012, but forensic analysis now appears to have proved its authenticity

A highly contested ancient Egyptian papyrus that references Jesus as a married man is more likely an authentic ancient text rather than a modern forgery, says a paper published in the Harvard Theological Review Tuesday.

In 2012, Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen L. King presented the fragment, called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” at a conference in Rome. Controversial passages read: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…'” and also “she will be able to be my disciple.” The latter caused a stir amid the backdrop of a continuing debate within the Catholic Church on whether women should be allowed to be priests.

Although the Vatican immediately dismissed the text as a “clumsy forgery,” teams of engineering, biology, and chemistry professors from Columbia University, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded after carbon testing that it is written on papyrus from the ancient era. An Egyptologist at Brown University, however, maintained that the document is a fraud. The University of Arizona said that it could not come to a firm conclusion given the small sample size.

King told the Boston Globe that the important argument isn’t whether or not Jesus was married, as one text doesn’t prove fact: “I’m basically hoping that we can move past the issue of forgery to questions about the significance of this fragment for the history of Christianity, for thinking about questions like, ‘Why does Jesus being married, or not, even matter? Why is it that people had such an incredible reaction to this?'”

[Harvard Theological Review]

TIME faith

Don’t Blame The Central African Republic Conflict On Religion

We in the United States need to act to help our brothers and sisters in the Central African Republic

Recently, I was invited to attend a dinner for a delegation of religious leaders from Central African Republic (CAR). Seated at the table were Catholic, evangelical, and Muslim leaders, as well as those leading the relief and advocacy efforts in CAR. The purpose of the dinner was to make connections with American counterparts and to help shed light on the crisis.

Media portrayals of CAR have focused on a Christian vs Muslim narrative which distracts from the political and economic instability that led to the overthrow of the government in March 2013 and resulted in protracted violence . The conflict did not start as a religious war and as these three faith leaders demonstrate, it is not rooted in theological differences.

But the religious narrative that should be shared is the story of these three men—Dieudonné Nzapalainga, theCatholic Archbishop of Bangui; Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, President of the Central African Islamic Community; and Reverend Nicolas Guérékoyame, President of the Evangelical Alliance of the Central African Republic. They have a strong, unified desire to see peace and stability restored to their country, to protect the Muslim citizens who are fleeing the violence, and to bring reconciliation to their war-torn neighbors. They are already living out their faith in powerful ways—since December, the Archbishop has housed Imam Oumar Kobine Layama and his family because their home was destroyed. Rev. Guérékoyame asked the group to pray that the Imam and his family would be able to have a new home in order to live securely and to meet with the remaining Muslims in the country. And in fact, the Reverend himself shared that he’s often on the phone with his family because his neighborhood is being overtaken by violence.

As the night continued, the three faith leaders shared some hard truths about the conflict in their country. CAR is 180 out of 187 on the UN’s Human Development Index. Much of the violence has arisen due to political instability which has led to economic instability. There are only 20 registered businesses in the country. There is very little normal schooling. Many of the young men were recruited to join the Seleka—a loose alliance of bandits, fighters, and rebels, often from Muslim countries outside CAR—because they were promised jobs in the army. The jobs never materialized. And many of the young men involved in the anti-balaka, the largely Christian groups that formed in retaliation, are motivated because they don’t have work. Commenting on the massive unemployment that has crippled his country and contributed to the violence, Rev. Guérékoyame, pointed out, “When a young person has a way to get his daily bread, he won’t be manipulated.”

And the faith leaders are rightfully concerned about the suffering young people in their country. Archbishop Nzapalainga spoke at length about the efforts the leaders are taking to re-educate the youth in their country toward peace. “We knock on the door of their mind, which is created in the image of God and say ‘thou shalt not kill.’”

Sharing a meal with these men was a reminder of what we believe as Christians —that through the cross we’ve become part of a family and identity that transcends nationality, race, class, and political and theological distinctions.

It is a fact that it’s easy for many Christians, particularly in America, to forget. As the Rev. Guérékoyame said to the group, “We are your brothers and sisters. We’ve been wondering when you are going to help us.”

I asked the question at dinner and I ask it now here: How can we help?

The primary concern is the political instability in their country. The United States should reopen our embassy in CAR. If the ambassador had remained in the country, the decision to get troops earlier to secure the country may have been expedited. We must also request that our ambassadors to the UN fulfil the humanitarian pledges we’ve made.

It has not escaped the notice of many of us who care about this issue that 20 years ago this past Monday, the Rwandan genocide began. Approximately one million Rwandans were killed during the crisis—which was largely ignored by many in the west who failed to act sooner. Starting today, aid groups and individuals plan to call attention to CAR on Twitter using the hashtag #CARcrisis. The best way to honor the dead is to prevent other lives from being lost due to inaction.

Because our brothers and sisters in CAR are wondering, “when are you going to help us?”

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

TIME Religion

Mozilla’s Culture War Is a Bad Model for Business

The decision to remove Mozilla CEO Brandon Eich is not good for anyone on any side of the culture war

Last week’s forced resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich should have sent a shudder through gatherings all over the country. This shudder was felt, it’s true, in gatherings of evangelical churches, Roman Catholic parishes, Orthodox Jewish synagogues. But this shudder should also have gone through corporate boardrooms, because it signals a dangerous trend of forced political uniformity, rather than tolerance, in corporate America. That’s not good for anyone, on any side of the culture war.

At issue, of course, is Brendan Eich’s 2008 donation of $1,000 to a campaign in support of Proposition 8, a California ballot measure to retain the definition of marriage in that state to the union of one man and one woman. Eich was hounded out of his job by activists who didn’t simply disagree with Eich’s view but who wouldn’t tolerate any dissenting view in the company at all. The goal, it seems, wasn’t dignity or justice, but enforced equality of thought.

As social conservatives, we, of course, were shocked by this development. Columnist Rod Dreher spoke of it as Portlandia’s form of Sharia Law. But those on the traditional marriage side of the cultural divide weren’t alone. Some pro-same-sex marriage thinkers, such as Jonathan Rauch and Andrew Sullivan, also dissented from this sort of Inquisition. “The whole episode disgusts me,” Sullivan wrote. “If this is the gay rights movement today—hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else, then count me out.”

Make no mistake, we support the rights of corporations to live up to their corporate values, even when we disagree with those values. We don’t want the government interfering with Mozilla’s right to make this decision. But we think the decision was a poor one, one that seeks to wield a nuclear option of silencing all dissent through endless campaigns of forced silence. We believe it’s important for all of us to ask, how did Mozilla get to this point? And is this really where we want to go?

Mozilla executive chair Mitchell Baker wrote, in explaining the board’s decision, “We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right.” Baker uses “people” here in an abstract and almost universalizing way. Who are these “people”? It’s obviously not LGBT people in general because many of them, like Sullivan and Rauch, don’t agree with these tactics.

And “people” here cannot refer to the overwhelming consensus of the American population because every poll indicates that, whatever cultural changes have happened, the population is still divided on the question of whether the definition of marriage should be revised to include same-sex couples.

The “people,” it appears, who sparked this controversy, are critics on Twitter and a dating site, OKCupid, which recommended its users find another browser than Mozilla’s Firefox. And Mozilla has received more backlash for removing Eich than for hiring him. The company tracks positive and negative comments, and the negative reaction to this is unprecedented.

We’ve seen this before in recent days, in the kerfuffle over A&E’s suspension of Duck Dynasty reality show star Phil Robertson for quoting a Bible passage about sexual morality. The backlash to the suspension was so overwhelming that A&E rescinded it within days.

So how does this happen? How does a company get to the point where its first reaction to an unpopular opinion is to punish diversity of thought? We think it happens because the company becomes so culturally isolated that they no longer know that there, in fact, is diversity of thought on a given issue. The Twitter and Facebook outrage against Eich can seem to be the uniform “voice of the people,” rather than one more debate in an ongoing controversy.

As evangelical Christians, we’ve heard, all our lives, our churches and ministries warn against a “Christian bubble,” where we can be around fellow believers all the time to the point that we lose touch with what our unbelieving neighbors think, to the point that we lose any point of connection with them. That’s easy to do, and not just in church circles.

There can be a “boardroom bubble,” where belonging to a particular cultural group can give the blindness of thinking that “everyone” believes the way that you do. This can happen in Hollywood studios or in New York media empires or in Washington DC think tanks—and it can also happen in Silicon Valley tech companies.

Have American boardrooms become so insulated in their secularity, that they cannot even imagine why, for instance, Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants and Orthodox Jews and Muslims and Latter-day Saints might hold sincere differences from the accepted wisdom of the corporate cocktail parties about what marriage is? If so, these companies will be out of touch with a significant segment of the population. But, more importantly, these companies can find themselves, as Mozilla did, turning their corporate mission into a scorched-earth culture war battlefield that will be good neither for business nor for civil society.

The answer, we believe, is to break out of the bubble. Don’t silence disagreement, but see more conversation, not less, as a means of engagement. The Bible tells us that “in the multitude of counselors,” there is wisdom (Prov. 11:14). We would think that successful business leaders—even those who wouldn’t know how to find that passage in the Bible—would know that intuitively. But that multitude of counselors means engagement, not silencing. And it means real diversity, not just whatever makes sense to the diversity officer. If companies were to seek this sort of engagement, we might see fewer embarrassing episodes like Mozilla’s in the years to come.

Dr. Russell Moore is President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Penny Nance is CEO and President of Concerned Women for America.

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