TIME Religion

See Rare Photos of the Dalai Lama Growing Up

Here's a look back at the life of the Tibetan Buddhist leader as he celebrates his 80th birthday

TIME Pope Francis

More Than 1 Million Gather for Pope’s Mass in South America

Massive crowds gather for Pope Francis' first big event of his three-nation South American tour

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador (AP) — More than 1 million people filled a park in Ecuador’s main port city on Monday for Pope Francis’ first big event of his three-nation South American tour, hoping for a glimpse of Latin America’s first pope returning to his home soil for a Mass dedicated to the family.

Many pilgrims spent the night outdoors, and some walked for miles to reach the park on Guayaquil’s northern outskirts where the crowd sang hymns and sought pockets of shade to keep cool amid the scorching sun and high humidity.

“I’m tired. I’m hungry, I haven’t slept but I’m also full of emotion and joy in my heart,” said Vicente Huilcatoma, a 47-year-old retired police officer who walked 25 miles (40 kilometers) to reach Samanes Park.

Government organizers estimated that more than 1 million people turned out for the papal Mass. Across the park, Ecuadoran national flags and papal banners waved above the enormous sea of people. Ecuador’s population is about 15 million.

On his arrival in Guayaquil, the pontiff allowed several acolytes on the tarmac to take selfies with him. He was met by Mayor Jaime Nebot, who gave him ceremonial keys to the city made from gold and silver and encrusted with topaz and pearls.

Francis headed first to the Shrine of the Divine Mercy, where 2,000 invitees gathered including child cancer patients, residents of homes for the elderly abandoned by their families and some of Guayaquil’s poorest people.

A child reached out to touch Francis as he arrived at the shrine and nearly poked him in the eye. The pope walked away grinning, then spent a minute in silent prayer beneath a huge painting of Jesus Christ.

He told those gathered that he would pray for them “and I won’t charge you a thing. All I ask, please, is that you pray for me.” Before leaving, he kissed the head of a disabled child in a wheelchair as he made his way through the crowd.

After the open-air Mass, a private lunch was planned with a group of Jesuits.

A highlight was to be a reunion with the Rev. Francisco Cortes, a priest affectionately known as “Padre Paquito,” to whom the Argentina-born pope, then the Rev. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, entrusted his seminarians on study trips to Ecuador years ago.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Cortes couldn’t fathom that Bergoglio remembered him, much less made a point of coming to have lunch.

“I don’t know what to ask him,” the soon-to-be 91-year-old Cortes said. “He said he wanted to see me and I’m amazed that he’s coming. For the first time, I have known a pope.

The “pope of the poor” returned to Spanish-speaking South America for the first time as pontiff Sunday, stressing the importance of protecting the needy and the environment from exploitation and — in a nation whose president was booed as his vehicle followed the papal motorcade Sunday — to foster dialogue among all sectors of society.

Francis’ only other trip back to Latin America since being elected pope was in 2013, when he visited Brazil, where Portuguese is the main language.

Children in native dress greeted Francis Sunday at Mariscal Sucre airport outside Ecuador’s capital of Quito, the wind blowing off his skullcap and whipping his white cassock as he descended from the plane following a 13-hour flight from Rome.

In a speech in front of President Rafael Correa, Francis signaled some key themes for the visit, which also takes him to Bolivia and later Paraguay: the need to care for society’s most marginal, guarantee socially responsible development and defend the Earth against profit-at-all-cost development that he says most harms the poor.

The environmental message — from a pope who last month issued a treatise staking the Earth’s preservation as a core mission — is particularly relevant for Ecuador, a Pacific nation that is home to one of the world’s most species-diverse ecosystems but is also an OPEC country heavily dependent on oil. High crude prices allowed Correa to lift 1.3 million people out of poverty in his eight years in office.

But now that prices have fallen, the generous social safety net Correa has woven is threatened. He’s had to cut government spending and been buffeted for nearly a month by the most serious anti-government street protests of his tenure.

Along Francis’ motorcade route into Quito, the throngs followed chants of adulation for the pontiff with jeers of “Correa out!” when the president’s entourage followed.

Correa also has angered environmentalists and the nation’s main indigenous group, CONAIE, by moving forward with oil drilling and mining projects in pristine Amazon forests.

Standing by Correa’s side at the airport, Francis pledged the Catholic Church’s readiness to encourage respect for peoples’ differences and foster “dialogue and full participation” so all are ensured a better future.

Correa, who spoke before Francis, echoed the pope’s concerns about an “unjust and immoral” global economic system, accusing the world’s rich countries of unfairly exploiting the developing world’s resources without reciprocating with technology transfers.

Francis thanked Correa for his “consonance of thought.”

“You’ve cited me too much,” he said.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, estimated that 500,000 people lined the route that took Francis to the Vatican ambassador’s residence.

Many in the crowd said they hoped the pope would have a calming effect on the country’s tense political situation.

Former President Gustavo Noboa, who led the country through its worst political and economic crisis from 2000-2003, told the AP on Monday that Francis’ visit is important for such a polarized country.

The 78-year-old Noboa, using a walker, stressed the importance of understanding Francis’ message of “helping out one’s neighbor, being humble and forgiving.”

Francis chose to visit Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay specifically because they are among the poorest nations in a region that claims 40 percent of the world’s Catholics.

He’s skipping his homeland of Argentina, where as archbishop he ministered to the poorest slum-dwellers, to avoid papal entanglement in this year’s presidential election.

Francis’ stops later in the week include a violent Bolivian prison, a flood-prone Paraguayan shantytown and a meeting with grass-roots groups in Bolivia.

Crowds are expected to be huge. While the countries themselves are small, they are fervently Catholic: 79 percent of the population is Catholic in Ecuador, 77 percent in Bolivia and 89 percent in Paraguay, according to the Pew Research Center.

Before leaving Rome, Francis did some hometown ministering, with Lombardi saying the pope welcomed 10 homeless people into the Vatican.

TIME History

The Christian Roots of Modern Environmentalism

Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.
Time Life Pictures—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

Presbyterianism inspired Teddy Roosevelt's conservationist zeal

Like only a handful of presidents, Theodore Roosevelt lives in our memory and popular culture. He is the bespectacled face gazing from Mount Rushmore, the namesake for the teddy bear, and the advice-giving Rough Rider, played by Robin Williams in the movie Night at the Museum. We remember him, too, as the trust buster who broke up monopolies, the avid outdoorsman and conservationist who preserved parks, forests, and wildlife, and the politician who crusaded for a “fair deal,” a just and equitable society that works for everyone.

Yet Roosevelt’s colorful life and accomplishments distract us from an essential part of him: the profoundly moralistic worldview that fired his progressive zeal. Some recent biographers go so far as to overlook this element of his character completely, but Roosevelt’s friends and colleagues recognized in him, in the words of one friend, “the greatest preacher of righteousness in modern times. Deeply religious beneath the surface, he made right living seem the natural thing, and there was no man beyond the reach of his preaching and example.” As Senator Henry Cabot Lodge mused, “The blood of some ancestral Scotch Covenanter or of some Dutch Reformed preacher facing the tyranny of Philip of Spain was in his veins, and with his large opportunities and his vast audiences he was always ready to appeal for justice and righteousness.”

Lodge astutely singled out the Calvinist traditions in Roosevelt’s ancestry: the Dutch Reformed Church on his father’s side and the Scottish Presbyterian Church (whose Covenanters fought the tyranny of England’s Charles I) on his mother’s, not to mention his own upbringing in New York’s Madison Square Presbyterian Church. How significant Roosevelt’s religious origins were really struck home to me when I realized how many national leaders of the Progressive Era shared them. I had been looking at the denominational origins of major American environmentalists and already knew how dominant people raised Presbyterian, often with ministers in the family, were during its rise. Still, when I turned to progressivism I was unprepared for the extent to which Presbyterians ran the show. Non-Presbyterian presidents held office a mere eight-and-a-half years between 1885 and 1921. Of those born in the church, —Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson—two, Cleveland and Wilson, were sons of ministers. Only two Presidents before Cleveland were raised Presbyterian, and none after Wilson has been.

I wondered what all this Presbyterianism could mean for progressivism, a movement that included people of all faiths, and what this religious strain in politics meant for crusades that these days might be typically colored strictly “red” or “blue.”

Progressives grew up in an era in which big money corrupted politics, large corporations dominated the economy, and environmental crises threatened the natural world – forces that might rouse the ire of those on the “blue” side of the spectrum today. But the situation was a call to arms for those who were steeped in the Calvinist demand for a righteous society, a kind of moralizing that might be more considered on the “red” side of the current spectrum.

At this time in history, though, it was the progressives who were the evangelicals out to spread righteousness in the nation. Censorious Presbyterians attacked greed and avarice with a special vengeance, as the sins that prompted Eve to reach for the forbidden fruit and exile us all from the Garden.

I realized how easily Presbyterian evangelical righteousness translated from church pulpits to political podiums. This church imbued Roosevelt and his fellow progressive leaders with the moral courage to take on the concentrated wealth that corrupted American democracy and dominated the economy. When in 1901 Roosevelt found himself with “such a bully pulpit,” in his famous phrase, no wonder that he impressed people as a preacher of righteousness.

This same moral courage was necessary to drive American environmentalism. Calvinist churches fostered a particularly strong interest in nature and natural history; John Calvin himself regarded nature as a place where God drew nearest and communicated himself and he spoke of the natural world as the theater of his glory. To many Calvinists, nature study had an aura of sanctity as a moral occupation for men, women, and children alike. God, they said, gave natural resources to humans to use for the common good, but not sinfully to waste or turn to greedy or selfish purposes.

Under Harrison, Cleveland, Roosevelt, and Wilson, national government made dramatic strides in conservation. They expanded National Parks from one to two dozen, organized the Park Service, created millions of acres of National Forests, established the Forest Service, and named and promulgated conservation. They had essential assistance from their Secretaries of Interior (parks) and Agriculture (forests), who during the heyday of conservation between 1889 and 1946 were Presbyterians in three years out of four. For Wilson, a Southerner little interested in conservation, Interior Secretary Franklin Lane was prime instigator of major parks expansion and organization.

Roosevelt was the unexcelled exemplar of this passion for nature and moralism about its use. As a boy, he created a zoo in his home and learned taxidermy to preserve specimens. At Harvard, he originally intended to study natural history. After he chose a career in politics, he was an unusually knowledgeable ornithologist and published books on natural history, hunting, and his wilderness adventures. Aptly, as vice president, Roosevelt was climbing Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks when he learned William McKinley had died and he was now president.

Roosevelt believed government must protect nature and natural resources against the rapacious forces of self-interested avarice. “Conservation is a great moral issue,” he asserted. “I believe that the natural resources must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolized for the benefit of the few.” As president, he added five National Parks, created the first 18 National Monuments, quadrupled the acreage of National Forests, established the first 51 bird refuges and four game refuges, oversaw the first irrigation projects and several major dams, and made the new term “conservation” the cornerstone of his political agenda.

After he died in 1919, Roosevelt inspired many to carry on with his work. One was the fervent progressive Harold Ickes, who said of the moment he learned of Roosevelt’s death, “something went out of my life that has never been replaced.” Unsurprisingly, Ickes was a Presbyterian who once intended to go into the ministry. One friend even called him “furiously righteous.” Among his many acts as Secretary of Interior in the administration of Roosevelt’s cousin Franklin, he desegregated the National Parks and added the first four parks intended to remain as undeveloped wilderness: Everglades, Olympic, Kings Canyon, and Isle Royale. His career was a fitting capstone to the great era of progressive Presbyterianism.

Mark Stoll is an associate professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He is the author most recently of Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism.

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

The Fight Over Oklahoma’s Ten Commandments Monument Rages On

Oklahoma Capitol Ten Commandments
Sue Ogrocki—AP The Ten Commandments monument is pictured at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Oklahoma’'s Supreme Court says the monument must be removed because it indirectly benefits the Jewish and Christian faiths in violation of the state constitution.

State officials are calling for amendments to the state constitution

Oklahoma lawmakers are considering a measure that would amend the state’s constitution after a court ruled that a Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol violated a ban concerning religious symbols on public property.

Republican leaders in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives said Wednesday they will work to pass a resolution that will let voters decide whether to repeal part of the state’s constitution that bans faith-based monuments from state grounds.

“The state Supreme Court misapplied an archaic and progressive section of our state Constitution and used that to apply a ruling that goes against the belief structure of the majority of Oklahomans,” Republican state Rep. Jon Echols said, according to The Oklahoman.

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a 6-foot Ten Commandments granite monument had to be removed, calling it “obviously religious in nature.”

State officials have said that the monument is historical and similar to one in Texas that was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.

“Quite simply, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong,” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt saud in a statement. “The court completely ignored the profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments on the foundation of Western law.”

The controversial monument was installed in 2012 and funded by a Republican representative, who donated it to the state. The monument has been the subject of numerous debates over the separation of church and state in Oklahoma. Other religions, including the Satanic Temple, have argued that monuments symbolizing their faiths should be included as well. Last year, a man smashed his car into the monument, saying Satan made him do it.

TIME Religion

Remembering Sir Nicholas Winton, Who Saved 669 Children From the Holocaust

An Oct. 28, 2014 file photo of the then 105 year-old Sir Nicholas Winton waiting to be decorated with the highest Czech Republic's decoration, The Order of the White Lion at the Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic. Winton, a humanitarian who almost single-handedly saved more than 650 Jewish children from the Holocaust, earning himself the label “Britain's Schindler,” has died. He was 106. The Rotary Club of Maidenhead, of which he was former president, said Winton died Wednesday, July 1, 2015, with his daughter Barbara and two grandchildren at his side. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)
Petr David Josek—AP The then 105 year-old Sir Nicholas Winton waiting to be decorated with the highest Czech Republic's decoration, The Order of the White Lion at the Prague Castle in Prague, on Oct. 28, 2014.

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

"Britain's Schindler" stepped up to save children while the world was burning

What if the only way you can be good is to be great? There are moments in history when people are confronted by moral choices so stark that they either have to take risks or turn away. In 1938 it became clear that the Jewish children of Europe were marked for extinction. All across the world, people came to know this shocking truth. And all across the world, people did what we all do—they turned the page of the paper, took another sip of coffee, shook their heads at the tragedy of it all.

Sir Nicholas Winton, who died Wednesday at the age of 106, realized the threat while traveling through Czechoslovakia. Great turning points in human history do not take place in public but in a secret chamber in the hearts of human beings. The heart must be awake before the dramatic action. Winton, a Jew by descent who had been raised as a Christian, decided that he could not simply shake his head and drink his coffee and know that these children would die. His heart woke; he decided to be good by being great.

Winton arranged trains to carry children from Nazi-occupied Prague to Britain. He became the “one-man children’s section of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia.” His plans were ambitious: He drew up lists of thousands of children and persuaded families to accept these refugee children.

We all know people who try to get us involved in a cause. They plague us with their earnestness and single-mindedness. How many checks have been written to get someone to leave us alone? But Winton wasn’t asking for money. He was asking for much more—that people take a child from a different country and often a different tradition into their homes. He wanted his countrymen to save children when no one else would. And he succeeded.

Winton kept quiet about his work, and the truth of his heroism did not come to light for decades. For almost 50 years he was silent until his wife found documents in the attic, and his story was told. Winton said he always regretted that he could not do more, but unlike other rescue operations, he was essentially working alone, a one-man lifeboat for drowning children.

This remarkable yet humble man saved 669 children. In this YouTube video, you can see how he did it, and what it meant. It is impossible not to cry at the end of these four minutes.

We often ask why, during times of war, did people not intervene? The truth is most of us do not stir ourselves to act. We know of suffering in the world and yet continue to live our lives, go to work, take care of our families, and sleep in peace. Some precious souls are moved to a goodness that transcends explanation. Sir Nicholas Winton left behind many who lived, had children and grandchildren, because of his drive to save children while the world was burning. In his memory, we should all observe a moment of silence, and promise to do better. Sometimes just being good can make us great.

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

The Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage Isn’t an Excuse to Attack Churches

Getty Images

Rob Schwarzwalder is the Senior Vice-President at the Family Research Council.

You can't replace the benefits of religious institutions with government aid

Writing on Time.com, Mark Oppenheimer, a New York Times religion columnist, argued that in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states it was time to end tax exemptions for religious institutions.

Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses … So yes, the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions.

Note Oppenheimer’s chilling qualification: “conservative churches.” Why “conservative” churches? Because theologically traditional Protestant and Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues will not bend the knee to the prevailing cultural winds concerning homosexuality and transgenderism, nor will they accede to the invasive, insistent demands of those who want them to.

This means no same-sex weddings or receptions in their facilities. No transgender or gender-neutral bathrooms. No hiring of openly LGBT teachers for the daycare or school. No membership for persons refusing to sign doctrinal statements affirming the historic Jewish and Christian belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and that any sexual intimacy outside of such a union is an offense to God.

Currently, the tax-exempt status of such religious institutions (and schools, from pre-schools through graduate schools and seminaries), is protected under law. But not for long if Oppenheimer has his way.

He acknowledges the social good that many churches do, and the risk that charitable giving would drop if tax exemptions and deductions were removed. But his idea — drive charity away from churches and give it to the government instead — would further concentrate power in the hand of the state, a concentration the Constitution never envisions and which history tells us is profoundly dangerous. Given the massive inefficiencies and waste of federal “compassion” programs, not to mention the profound intergenerational dependence it has created, this idea is embarrassing on its face. Yet it’s one advanced with dead seriousness by Oppenheimer and his compeers in the anti-religious Left.

What about the separation of church and state — an idea the Left likes to draw like a gun every time religious faith seeks to participate in the public square? Is government to be the custodian of church property?

Oppenheimer seems unconcerned, too, with how churches would be affected by sudden, gigantic tax rates. Unlike what he seems to suggest, very few houses of worship sit in high-property-value areas. It’s more likely they are working to pay off building loans or sit on land that, while valuable, they could ill-afford to keep should a tax bill be levied against them. Living rooms in middle America are mostly quite spacious for a family, but they would have great difficulty holding congregations.

The limitation and diminishment of religious institutions Oppenheimer envisions would substantially denude America of its churches and synagogues. He offers little consideration to the many social benefits churches provide to their communities, whether in the Big Apple or Appleton, Wisconsin. These institutions offer not only a wellspring of moral instruction but also benefits to civil society and countless souls. For hundreds of years they have provided visible evidence of the transcendence without which no society can long endure, and they have ameliorated vast social needs.

For the government to assume such a role would be vastly expensive, and it would also consign millions of needy people into the hands of the federal bureaucracy. Perhaps most profoundly, by marginalizing churches and synagogues, our country would experience a moral impoverishment that in an era of family disintegration and cultural decay we cannot afford.

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

Pope Francis’s Smaller Visits Have a Bigger Meaning

Pope Francesco meets the young in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele in Turin
Awakening Pope Francesco meets the young in Piazza Vittorio Emanuele in Turin

Christopher Hale is executive director at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and the co-founder of Millennial.

When Francis visits the homeless, immigrants, and prisoners he’ll likely be arguing for a new way forward for the church in the U.S.

The Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released Pope Francis’s official schedule for his September trip to the U.S. this morning. His trip will include visits to the the White House, Congress, and the U.N. But it’s his other stops that will highlight Francis’s vision of being “a poor Church for the poor.” In his six-day trip, the pope will visit the homeless in Washington, immigrants in Harlem, and prisoners in Philadelphia. If Francis’s trip to the U.S. looks anything like his previous overseas journeys, it will be these encounters with the excluded—not his 18 speeches and visits with the political and cultural elites—that will touch the heart of the American people and, God-willing, transform our nation.

Some of the most lasting images of Francis’s papacy include mourning the immigrants who drowned off the Italian coast of Lampedusa, visiting the slums of Rio, and praying with the street children of Manila.

After Francis’s Manila visit, Cardinal Luis Tagle said that the pope inspired that Filipino people to go “to the peripheries, to prison cells, to hospitals … to bring the light of Jesus.” Many Catholic leaders in the U.S. hope for the same. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., has even launched a campaign asking local Catholics to rededicate themselves to service in advance of the pope’s visit.

Pope Francis will likely ask more of Americans during his September visit. The church, Francis argues, “has to go forth to everyone without exception. But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked.” Or as Francis says more bluntly: “A Christian who is not a revolutionary today isn’t a Christian.”

The success of Francis’s trip cannot be measured by increased service hours. Such reductionism misses the pope’s radical dream for our nation. When Francis visits the homeless, immigrants, and prisoners he’ll likely be arguing for an entirely new way forward for the church in the U.S. and the entire American people. It’s simple: Francis wants our nation to look more like God’s dreams for the world. What does this look like? It’s a place where “enemies are loved, the marginalized are given primacy of place, and the poor are blessed,” as Brandon Ambrosino writes.

This vision doesn’t just belong to Francis, but to Jesus Christ himself. In fact, in the Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that the nations will be judged by solely by how they treat “the least of these.” It’ll be this radical, uncomfortable message that Francis will carry with him from the existential peripheries to the places of power in the U.S. And if Jesus is right, everything depends on our response to his crucial challenge.

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

A Ramadan Plea to Overcome Muslim Stereotypes in America

Margari Aziza Hill is the co-founder of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, assistant editor at AltM, and co-founder of Muslims Make It Plain.

A multi-ethnic community puts Muslims in North America in a unique position to build bridges

As we honor Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar, it’s important to look back at the history of Muslims in America to guide the context of fighting increased anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S. today.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes are five times more common today than they were before 9/11. In 2014, we saw the chilling murder of 15-year-old Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, who was run down outside his mosque in Kansas City, Mo., by a man who had expressed his hatred for Muslims. In February 2015, the Chapel Hill shooting took the lives of three American-Muslim college students and shook the entire Muslim community. Last month there was an armed protest in Arizona outside of a mosque, and a Muslim community in New York was targeted by a man who plotted to burn down a school and mosque. The media is also filled with negative stereotypes about Muslims.

My concerns mirror those of so many Americans: As a parent to a rambunctious 3-year-old girl, I am concerned with her getting a quality education in a safe school, and I want her to live to her fullest potential and to have a positive self-identity. Yet when I taught an anti-racism workshop to 11-year-old girls last fall and asked about stereotypes, almost all of them answered that they faced some level of anti-Muslim bias. This reflects a recent survey from Muslim ARC, an organization that I co-founded, in which 82% of respondents said that they experienced racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination from society at large.

American Muslims with roots in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia face anti-Muslim bias mixed with a heavy dose of xenophobia. African American Muslims are often judged on two fronts: on the basis of religion and on the basis of race. But this native Muslim population has historical roots that go back hundreds of years. Around the time of the American Revolution, a large community of Moroccan Muslims lived and thrived in Charleston, S.C. Slaves in the Antebellum United States—nearly 15% to 30% of whom were Muslim—celebrated Ramadan in the South. From Thomas Jefferson owning a Quran to the mass adoration of Muhammad Ali to the reverberating social impact of Malcolm X, African American Muslims have always been a part of the American tapestry. The latest spate of hate crimes—both from white supremacists and from Islamophobes—belies this history.

Muslim Americans in America are a diverse group. The American Mosque Study breaks down the ethnicities of mosque participants in 2011 to 33% South Asian, 27% Arab, 24% African American, 9% Sub-Saharan African, 2% European (i.e. Bosnian), and about 1% each for white, Southeast Asian, Caribbean, Turkish, and Latino. This multi-ethnic community puts Muslims in North America in a unique position to build bridges.

This Ramadan, I abstain from drinking and eating during daylight hours and break fast at sun down with people from all walks of life. I have celebrated with Muslim Americans from Vietnam, Albania, Bangladesh, Morocco, and Mexico, and each exchange has helped me develop greater understanding of myself and empathy for others. As part of the African Diaspora, I feel a connection to African Diasporic communities in India, Brazil, Haiti, and Europe. As a Muslim, I have felt a closeness to Muslims from Eastern Europe, Yemen, Indonesia, and Azerbaijan. By celebrating our plurality, we demonstrate that there is no one single narrative for what it means to be Muslim and to be American.

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

5 Lessons America Can Learn From Black Churches

Obama's eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney offered an illuminating glimpse into African American religious life

When President Obama sang the first few notes of “Amazing Grace” on Friday at the memorial service for Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the other 8 victims of the Charleston massacre, the mourners inside the church weren’t the only ones who rose to their feet and joined him. In that moment, much of America stood to her feet as well, supported by the smooth notes of the organ; united, comforted and hopeful.

It’s safe to say that for that brief moment, America went to black church.

And it isn’t the first time. Every so often – when tragedy strikes or when politicians perform – the nation gets a peek into the pews of a place that has for centuries uplifted spirits and soothed broken hearts, even those broken by hatred and evil. At times like this, even in the rich tapestry of our multi-ethnic, multi-racial, religiously pluralistic society, there remains a distinct appreciation for the colorful, thick threads of the black church. It is, in this way, among many others, an authentically American institution.

But outside of these galvanizing, transcendent events, it’s an institution that gets very little love and even less respect.

The mainstream narratives about the black church range from civil rights era relic to a manipulative made-for-tv mega-church. In TV and movies, on Twitter and Vine, it is a hilarious punchline full of shouting, dancing and excessive displays of emotion. In either case, it is rarely more than a caricature, one that either comforts, humors or repels.

As a pastor’s daughter, church leader and passionate, card-carrying lifetime member of the big, diverse community we call the black church, I know how deeply sad this reduction is. To see people misunderstand an institution that taught me my history, grounded me in my identity and gave me the tools to grow into a woman as well as a civic and moral being, is to see millions of people misunderstand the most valuable gift I have ever been given – and miss out on so much more.

So if, after turning off the TV you’d like to take some souvenirs home from the space that our ancestors spent years building and that today many (myself included) still fiercely love and find sacred, here are five that mean a bit more than just an organ and a drumbeat:

1. How to build community. Born at a time where there were few other places for African Americans demonstrate their full humanity with one another, today, the black church is where the hard work of building beloved community never stops. Where people show up for one another and have hard conversations. Where people offer money, food, emotional care, physical presence and touch. In an era when support often means no more than a tweet or a text, the black church is one of the few places where people still regularly come together to nurture one another, grow together and meet each other’s needs. It is where people share stories, wrestle with ideas, fight, forgive, break bread, and,literally and figuratively, wash one another’s feet. Where tears flow freely and accountability matters. The American community could learn so very much from this model and how wonderful would it be if our human community did the same?

2. How to honor the young and the old. This one seems oddly specific, I know, but in a society that often patronizes the young and isolates the old, the church is one of the few spaces that brings both together and holds each up on a pedestal of preciousness. How many other public spaces in America would have found a 26 year old out with his 87 year old aunt on a Wednesday night as was the case with Charleston victims Tywanza Sanders and Susie Jackson? Where else in America facilitates regular intergenerational dialogue and lift up the voices of both in the process? In the black church, each generation is appreciated for its unique wisdom and insight. Both the very young and the very old typically have seats reserved for them, are encouraged to take on roles of leadership and esteem. And most importantly, their happiness and engagement are seen as key measurements for the health of the community as a whole. Would that society at large operate the same way.

3. How to survive. This one speaks for itself. In the face of bombings, fires, shootings and attacks of all kinds, the people remain. Many black churches, still today meet in basements, movie theaters, schools, warehouses and storefronts. They push through obstacles and hardships to come together and commit to never letting go of their faith, their community, and most importantly, the act of living. This doesn’t just “happen”. It isn’t some superhuman, magical force that allows black churches to bounce back and hold on. They practice the deliberate, strategic art of survival every single day.

4. The nobility of faithfulness. How easy it is for us to abandon the hard things today. Work, relationships, causes that don’t yield immediate results – all can be discarded and replaced with the click of an email. But from the black church we learn the importance of commitment and faithfulness. The practice of showing up Sunday after Sunday, Wednesday after Wednesday, week after week and year after year, come rain or come shine builds the character necessary to stick with the fights that our livelihood and democracy depend on.

5. How to fight a righteous fight. I am not sure when or where the narrative of the “prayerful and passive” church mother came from, but I’m convinced it was created by the same kind of people who created the pernicious welfare queen stereotype (Don’t quote me on that. It’s my own personal conspiracy theory.) The idea of the black church only bowing on our knees in times of hardship, is not only a historical and theologically inaccurate, but it flies in the face of those who, like Rev. Clementa Pinckney did, work every day to combat injustice armed with faith and sharp, strategic action. From time immemorial, the black church has known how to fight and has been inherently activist and political, even in its very formation. It is that same history that has always made the church such a beacon for those who have wanted to engage large swaths of black America in campaigns – and also for those who want to stop it’s powerful civic organizing through efforts as subtle as voting rights restrictions and as extreme as shocking acts of violence. It is this history that makes me hopeful about those within the church who lift up their voices against sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, and all other forms of oppression that still exist.

These lessons are certainly not unique to the black church or to religious institutions in general for that matter. But they are central to the identity of a place that is often only acknowledged for it’s music and jubilee with no regard for the experiences and practices that root said joy.

All of this is of course, when the church is at its best. The black church is, like most American institutions, deeply flawed. For as many for whom it represents freedom and love, it also represents pain and shame. Anyone who has been hurt by abuses of power and dangerous religious interpretations that shackle and bind instead of liberate has also learned lessons worth sharing. That history too, must be reckoned with. But even for those who longer call it home, the church will always be more than a caricature. It will always be more than something to watch and admire for it’s “soul”. If you dare look a little closer, you will find a well of joy that most only briefly drank from last Friday. Underneath the surface you will find that the black church in America is so, so much more than just a funeral and a song.

TIME Religion

Now’s the Time To End Tax Exemptions for Religious Institutions

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Mark Oppenheimer writes the biweekly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and is editor-at-large for Tablet. He also reports for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere.

The Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage makes it clearer than ever that the government shouldn't be subsidizing religion and non-profits

Two weeks ago, with a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on the way, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah introduced the First Amendment Defense Act, which ensures that religious institutions won’t lose their tax exemptions if they don’t support same-sex marriage. Liberals tend to think Sen. Lee’s fears are unwarranted, and they can even point to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Friday’s case, which promises “that religious organizations and persons [will be] given proper protection.”

But I don’t think Sen. Lee is crazy. In the 1983 Bob Jones University case, the court ruled that a school could lose tax-exempt status if its policies violated “fundamental national public policy.” So far, the Bob Jones reasoning hasn’t been extended to other kinds of discrimination, but someday it could be. I’m a gay-rights supporter who was elated by Friday’s Supreme Court decision — but I honor Sen. Lee’s fears.

I don’t, however, like his solution. And he’s not going to like mine. Rather than try to rescue tax-exempt status for organizations that dissent from settled public policy on matters of race or sexuality, we need to take a more radical step. It’s time to abolish, or greatly diminish, their tax-exempt statuses.

The federal revenue acts of 1909, 1913, and 1917 exempted nonprofits from the corporate excise and income taxes at the same time that they allowed people to deduct charitable contributions from their incomes. In other words, they gave tax-free status to the income of, and to the income donated to, nonprofits. Since then, state and local laws nearly everywhere have exempted nonprofits from all, or most, property tax and state income tax. This system of tax exemptions and deductions took shape partly during World War I, when it was feared that the new income tax, with top rates as high as 77%, might choke off charitable giving. But whatever its intentions, today it’s a mess, for several reasons.

First, the religious exemption has forced the IRS to decide what’s a religion, and thus has entangled church and state in the worst way. Since the world’s great religion scholars can’t agree on what a religion is, it’s absurd to ask a bunch of accountants, no matter how well-meaning. You can read part of the IRS’s guidelines for what’s a bona fide religion here; suffice it to say that it has an easier time saying what’s not a religion. The site gives the example of the rejection of an application from an “outgrowth of a supper club … whose primary activities were holding meetings before supper, sponsoring the supper club, and publishing a newsletter” but which professed a religious doctrine of “ethical egoism.”

On the other hand, the IRS famously caved and awarded the Church of Scientology tax-exempt status. Never mind that the Scientology is secretive, or that it charges for its courses; or that its leader, David Miscavige, lives like a pasha. Indeed, many clergy have mid-six-figure salaries — many university presidents, seven-figure salaries — and the IRS doesn’t trouble their tax-exempt status. And many churches and synagogues sit on exceedingly valuable tracts of land (walk up and down Fifth Avenue to see what I mean). The property taxes they aren’t paying have to be drawn from business owners and private citizens — in a real sense, you and I are subsidizing Mormon temples, Muslims mosques, Methodist churches.

We’re also subsidizing wealthy organizations sitting in the middle of poor towns. Yale University has an endowment of about $25 billion, yet it pays very little to the city of New Haven, which I (as a resident) can assure you needs the money. At the prep school I attended (current endowment: $175 million), faculty houses, owned by the school, were tax-exempt, on the theory that teachers sometimes had students over for dinner, where they talked about history or literature or swim practice.

Meanwhile, although nonprofits can’t endorse political candidates, they can be quite partisan and still thrive on the public dole, in the form of tax exemptions and deductions. Conservatives are footing the bill for taxes that Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit, doesn’t pay — while liberals are making up revenue lost from the National Rifle Association. I could go on. In short, the exemption-and-deduction regime has grown into a pointless, incoherent agglomeration of nonsensical loopholes, which can allow rich organizations to horde plentiful assets in the midst of poverty.

Defenders of tax exemptions and deductions argue that if we got rid of them charitable giving would drop. It surely would, although how much, we can’t say. But of course government revenue would go up, and that money could be used to, say, house the homeless and feed the hungry. We’d have fewer church soup kitchens — but countries that truly care about poverty don’t rely on churches to run soup kitchens.

Exemption advocates also point out that churches would be squeezed out of high-property-value areas. But if it’s important to the people of Fifth Avenue to have a synagogue like Emanu-El or an Episcopal church like St. Thomas in their midst, they should pay full freight for it. They can afford to, more than millions of poorer New Yorkers whose tax bills the synagogue and church exemptions are currently inflating.

So yes, the logic of gay-marriage rights could lead to a reexamination of conservative churches’ tax exemptions (although, as long as the IRS is afraid of challenging Scientology’s exemption, everyone else is probably safe). But when that day comes, it will be long overdue. I can see keeping some exemptions; hospitals, in particular, are an indispensable, and noncontroversial, public good. And localities could always carve out sensible property-tax exceptions for nonprofits their communities need. But it’s time for most nonprofits, like those of us who faithfully cut checks to them, to pay their fair share.

Read next: Episcopalians Vote to Allow Gay Marriage in Churches

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