TIME faith

Vatican Report Finds American Nuns are a Graying Workforce

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Nuns pray during a mass in celebration of Pope Benedict XVI at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, Feb. 28, 2013. Emmanuel Dunand—AFP/Getty Images

Nuns express "great concern" about declining numbers, average age in mid-70s

American nuns have expressed “great concern” about their aging workforce, according to a Vatican survey released Tuesday that finds nuns in the U.S. are advancing in age and declining in number.

Vatican surveyors sent questionnaires and conducted “sister-to-sister” dialogues at 341 Catholic institutions across the United States. They found that nuns had reached an average age of mid-to-late 70’s, opening up an ever-widening age gap with fresh recruits. The report also noted that the total number of apostolic women, at 50,000, had declined by 125,000 since the the mid-1960s.

“Many sisters expressed great concern during the Apostolic Visitation for the continuation of their charism and mission, because of the numerical decline in their membership,” the Report on the Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Religious Women in the United States of America said.

The report also upended expectations that it would take a more critical stance of American nuns for a rising “secular mentality” and “a certain ‘feminist’ spirit,” as one Vatican official warned in 2009, Crux reports.

Instead, the report largely praised American nuns for their “dedicated and selfless service.”

 

TIME Religion

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: The Shahada in Sydney Reminds Us That Political Islam Is Deadly

TOPSHOTS-AUSTRALIA-SIEGE-CONFLICT
This screengrab taken from the Australian Channel Seven broadcast shows presumed hostages holding up a flag with Arabic writing inside a cafe in the central business district of Sydney on December 15, 2014. Channel Seven—AFP/Getty Images

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the founder of the AHA Foundation and the author of Infidel, Nomad, and the forthcoming Heretic: The Case for a Muslim Reformation, to be published next spring.

No symbol represents the soul of Islam more than the Shahada. But today there is a contest within Islam for the ownership of that symbol.

There is still much that we do not know about the Lindt café siege in Sydney. We know that two innocent people are dead: the café manager, Tori Johnson; and barrister and mother of three Katrina Dawson. And we know that the armed man who was holding them and 15 other people hostage, Man Haron Monis, was a self-styled Muslim cleric.

Having been convicted of writing poison-pen letters to the families of fallen Australian servicemen, Monis was clearly no innocent imam. He had recently been charged not only with being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife but also with more than 50 instances of indecent and sexual assault.

Yet Monis’ message to the world—emblazoned in Arabic on a black flag held to the window of the Lindt café—was a classic one: “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger.” This is the shahada, the Muslim profession of faith, and it is the most important of the five pillars of Islam.

An umbrella organization of Muslim groups in Australia was not slow to disavow Monis’ action: “We remind everyone,” they declared, “that the Arabic inscription on the black flag is not representative of a political statement but reaffirms a testimony of faith that has been misappropriated by misguided individuals that represent nobody but themselves.”

To those who recognized the black flag as closely related to the adopted standard of Islamic State, the murderous organization that now controls large tracts of Syria and Iraq—an organization to which Monis claimed to belong—this “reminder” will not quite do.

The shahada may seem a declaration of faith no different from any other to Westerners used to individual freedom of conscience and religion. But as a former Muslim who would dearly love to see Islam reform itself (as Christianity began to do five centuries ago), I disagree. The reality is that the shahada is both a religious and a political symbol.

In the early days of Islam, when Muhammad was going from door to door trying to persuade the polytheists to abandon their idols of worship, he was inviting them to accept that there was no god but Allah and that he was Allah’s messenger, much as Christ had asked the Jews to accept that he was the son of God.

However, after 10 years of trying this kind of persuasion, Muhammad and his small band of believers went to Medina and from that moment, Muhammad’s mission took on a political dimension. Unbelievers were still invited to submit to Allah, but after Medina, they were attacked if they refused. If defeated, they were given the option to either convert or die. (This was the option given to polytheist fellow Arabs. For Christians and Jews—regarded as the people of Holy Scripture, People of the Book—there was a third option: pay a poll tax.)

No symbol represents the soul of Islam more than the shahada. But today there is a contest within Islam for the ownership of that symbol. Who owns the shahada? Is it those Muslims who want to emphasize Muhammad’s years in Mecca or those who are inspired by his conquests after Medina? There are millions upon millions of Muslims who identify themselves with the former. Increasingly, however, they are challenged by fellow believers who want to revive and re-enact the political version of Islam born in Medina. And unfortunately, Western democracies have been all too ready to act as safe havens for the preachers of political Islam.

In Australia, as in all democracies where the rule of law is firmly established, the preaching of any religion is protected, as it should be. The self-styled “Sheik” Monis was an asylum seeker from Iran who took full advantage of this protection and indeed abused it criminally. Such cases are by now familiar. In recent years we have seen the exposure of extremist preachers such as Abu Hamza, once active in the U.K.; Fawaz Jneid in the Netherlands; and Taj Aldin al-Hilali in Australia itself.

Such men are not “lone wolves,” nor can their behavior be dismissed as merely symptoms of mental instability. They are part of a worldwide movement to awaken Muslims from what they consider the passivity of a purely religious Islam. Part of their strategy is to make existing Muslims politically active. And their starting point is always the shahada. If you are a true Muslim, they argue, it’s not enough to confess that there is no god but Allah and Muhammed is his messenger. You need to do something about it.

These preachers also seek to convert non-Muslims. Many converts may at first be attracted to the spiritual component of the shahada, but they pretty soon find themselves caught up in political Islam.

This latest act of terror will prompt the usual claims that Islam is a religion of peace and the usual denunciations—as “Islamophobes”—of those, like me, who disagree. The reality is that Islam is both a religion and a political ideology, and its latter form is anything but peaceful. In political Islam, the assertion that there is no god but Allah is full of menace for those who worship another god or no god at all. I well remember my last visit to Australia, just last year, when I was greeted by a pack of baying Islamists carrying signs that read: “Message to INFIDEL Ayaan Hirsi Ali. BURN IN HELL FOREVER.” Those same thugs were also carrying a flag inscribed with the shahada.

Even when they themselves do not commit acts of violence, radical preachers are very often the instigators of terrorist acts that their perpetrators glorify as jihad—holy war, as waged by Muhammad after Medina.

To the extent that sincerely peace-loving Muslims wish to combat this trend, they need to do more than utter platitudes. They need to disown the likes of Man Haron Monis before they resort to violence, when they are preaching it. Unless this political dimension of Islam is acknowledged and repudiated, we will see no end to this type of terror, and no city—not even Sydney, more than 8,000 miles removed from Medina—will be safe.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the founder of the AHA Foundation and the author of Infidel, Nomad, and the forthcoming Heretic: The Case for a Muslim Reformation, to be published next spring.

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

Majority of Americans Believe the Story of Jesus’ Birth is Historically Accurate

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The Nativity at Night, 1640 (oil on canvas) Guido Reni—Getty Images/The Bridgeman Art Library

Far more than believe in climate change

More Americans believe the Christmas story is historically accurate than believe in climate change.

According to a new Pew Survey of over 1,500 U.S. adults, 73% say they believe Jesus was born to a virgin, and 74% say they believe Jesus’s birth was announced to the shepherds by an angel (among Protestant respondents, that rate is 91% and 90%, respectively). 78% of women say they believe in the virgin birth, 65% of the respondents said they believe all elements of the Christmas story are factually true.

These findings are remarkably consistent with last year’s Pew study which also found that 73% of respondents believe Jesus was born to a virgin. And a 2007 Gallup poll found that 31% of Americans thought that the Bible was “the actual word of God, to be taken literally.”

In this year’s survey, 44% of Americans say they thought Christian symbols should be allowed on government property, even if other religious symbols arent.

By contrast, a Pew study of from January found that only 61% of Americans think that climate change is happening, and only 40% believe it’s caused by human behavior. Which means that almost twice as many Americans believe in the virgin birth as believe in human-induced global warming.

 

 

TIME Religion

The Truth About Religion and Animals

To connect the dots between the preciousness of animal life and the preciousness of human life isn’t to engage in moral equivalence.

This week’s story about Pope Francis telling a distraught boy that his dog would go to heaven was just so heartwarming—too bad it wasn’t true. It’s no wonder that media across the globe and pet-lovers everywhere fell for it. The story fit so neatly into what’s become a conventional narrative: the one in which “good” Pope Francis is pitted against “bad” Church traditionalists (often wrongly called “conservatives”).

It’s been pointed out here and there that Pope Francis isn’t quite as suited to the chosen stereotype as some people think. What the new shaggy dog story goes to show is that neither are the meanie traditionalists and conservatives themselves—especially when it comes to animal welfare.

And therein lies not a tail, but a tale.

The fact is that the most energetic thinking about that subject for the last several years has been emanating from just those supposedly backward quarters. It’s occurring not despite people with an affinity for religious and other traditionalism, but rather, by and because of them.

American Catholic and Catholic-influenced thinkers have been in the forefront of this budding moral movement at least since the appearance 12 years ago of Matthew Scully’s seminal book Dominion. Where the prominent Republican speechwriter first led, others of similar leanings have followed (this author included), mindful carnivores and vegans/vegetarians alike. Pro-animal writings and debate are now an itinerant cottage industry in venues like National Review, First Things magazine, at the American Conservative, and elsewhere far outside the orbits of the typically secular-to-atheist animal rights constituency inspired by utilitarian theorist Peter Singer (Animal Liberation).

Similarly, The New Atlantis recently devoted an entire issue to the moral consideration of animals, including Caitrin Nicol’s widely read instant classic, “Do Elephants Have Souls?” The latest issue of The Journal of Moral Theology likewise consists entirely of articles about the moral meaning of non-human animals. And so many evangelical Protestants are now speaking out that the Humane Society of the United States this fall released a 12-part video series called “Faith Voices on Animal Protection.”

Why so much interest in animal welfare from such perhaps unexpected precincts?

In part, the answer is that religious concern for animals comes as a surprise only to readers unacquainted with religion—a number that’s increasing, as many surveys show. As many “nones” seem not to know, theological concern for animals is in fact longstanding, as the dietary rules of Judaism concerning slaughter are the first to show. The Catholic Catechism states that animals are “owed” moral treatment, and many Christian thinkers have agreed; theologian Charles Camosy’s recent book For Love of Animals is a useful primer here. Among others, Trappists, Cistercians, Benedictines, and a number of saints have adopted vegetarianism or otherwise debated the requirements of mercy regarding animals. Recent popes have also appealed variously for clemency toward birds and beasts. Benedict XVI, to name one, deplored the industrial creation of foie gras, to the approval of PETA.

Today’s new moral energy is also emanating from such quarters for another reason: the similarity discerned by some people between the industrial trashing of animal life via factory farms, and the industrial trashing of human life via factory abortion. When Pope Francis decries the tragedy of a “throwaway culture,” he is not only talking about fast-food wrappers or unwanted kitties—as his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, section 214, makes clear.

To connect the dots between the preciousness of animal life and the preciousness of human life isn’t to engage in moral equivalence. It’s rather to observe that people have big enough hearts to cherish both.

Once upon a time, concern for already-born animal life was thought to be on one side of the political aisle; and concern for unborn human life on the other. Today, more people can see beyond that false divide to a place where the two positions logically align. Maybe that’s why the Millennials, for all their vaunted progressivism, are more anti-abortion in polls than their Boomer parents; and they are simultaneously also more concerned with animal welfare, as the food industry is the first to know.

Whether furry friends await us in the hereafter is a question unlikely to be answered any time soon, including within the Apostolic Palace. But that more and more people today care about the dogs still here on earth—and the elephants, and the horses, and the pigs, and yes, the chickens too—is a widening social truth. And in a twist unforeseen a generation ago, believers from all over are helping to build that thing.

Mary Eberstadt is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author most recently of How the West Really Lost God.

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

Noah’s Ark Theme Park Won’t Get Tax Breaks

'Ark Encounter' is struggling to stay afloat

A life-size Noah’s Ark theme park planned in northern Kentucky won’t receive $18 million in tax incentives after concerns from the state over its hiring practices.

The state’s tourism secretary wrote a letter Wednesday saying that Answers in Genesis, which is funding the planned Ark Encounter theme park, was requiring “salvation testimony” and a “Creation belief statement” in its job postings, which the state said was discriminating based on religious grounds.

(MORE: Modern-Day Noah: Dutch Man Builds Ark of Biblical Proportions)

“It is readily apparent that the project has evolved from a tourist attraction to an extension of AIG’s ministry that will no longer permit the commonwealth to grant the project tourism development incentives,” wrote Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Bob Stewart.

The Ark Encounter, which would feature a 510-foot wooden replica of Noah’s Ark as described in the Bible, has been underway since 2010, but the $170 million project has run into financial difficulties since getting approval in 2011 from the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority.

TIME faith

Why This Evangelical Pastor Wants to Bring Back Advent

Rev. Louie Giglio
Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta lee Steffen—AP

He argues it could help people struggling during the holidays

Christmas—and its ubiquitous cheer—is already everywhere. And when life is not exactly cheery, it can be hard to celebrate “Joy to the World.” That’s why pastor Louie Giglio, the founder of Passion City Church in Atlanta, is using a new book to encourage evangelicals to recover the church holiday that leads up to Christmas: Advent.

For most people, “Advent” means calendars of little chocolate treats behind paper windows, one for each December day until the Christmas morning. But Advent actually is a four-week liturgical period leading up to Christmas. It marks the start of the Christian new year, which this year started on the last Sunday in November, and is as important to church history as Lent is to Easter—it symbolizes a period of prayer and reflection before the coming holy day. Catholic, Orthodox, and mainline Protestant churches tend to follow the liturgical calendar, and so they celebrate the four Sundays of Advent—each one has a different meaning, liturgy and Bible verses that go with it. Evangelical churches tend to have fewer ties to historical church practices, so the idea of them celebrating Advent is relatively new.

This year, Giglio is encouraging both his church and the broader evangelical community to spend time celebrating Advent as a way to build trust in God when times are hard. His message is personal. He wrote his new Advent devotional, Waiting Here For You: An Advent Journey of Hope, with a family going through cancer in mind, and then three months later, his father-in-law was given an incurable cancer diagnosis. “The word ‘advent’ means expectation,” Giglio explains. “It is building into our framework of Christmas the confidence that God is going to come through for us.”

Celebrating Christmas, Giglio says, is about more than just marking Jesus’ birthday; it’s also about remembering God’s presence in hard times. Jesus was born “on tax day to a couple that had the cloud of pregnancy hanging over their heads, a couple that was out of town and didn’t have money and in a cave, and was alone and afraid in the middle of the night,” he explains, recounting the narrative of Jesus’ birth. “We try to dramatize it a lot, but God really did come on the craziest day of all,” he says.

For many evangelical megachurches, where Christmas can quickly become about evangelizing, holiday performances, mission outreach, and extravagant nativity scenes, that spiritual message can fall by the wayside. But Giglio hopes that Advent can offer a new encouragement. “I don’t have a neat and tidy message of faith—it does not always work out the way we want it to work out,” Giglio says. “Christmas is a reminder that God is at work and those plans are still unfolding. … That is a miracle.”

TIME Pakistan

Bollywood Actress Veena Malik Sentenced to 26 Years in Jail For Blasphemy

Veena Malik during promotional event
Veena Malik promotes her movie Zindagi 50 50 at the India Today multiplex in Noida, India. Ramesh Sharma—India Today Group/Getty Images

The actress appeared in a scene that referenced Muhammad's daughter

A Pakistani anti-terrorism court has sentenced film and television star Veena Malik to 26 years in jail after she appeared in a scene that the Guardian describes as “loosely based on the marriage of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter.”

The sentence stemmed from a blasphemy charge, which was also levied at Malik’s husband, businessman Asad Bashir Khan and Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, owner of the Jang-Geo media group which aired the TV show, for their parts in the scene which aired in May. Khan and Shakil-ur-Rahman were also sentenced to 26 years. None of the accused were present in court.

The offending scene was a reenactment of Malik and Khan’s own wedding, acted as musicians played a devotional song about the wedding of a daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. After the episode aired, the senior vice president of a chapter of the Muslim religious organisation Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat made an official complaint, saying the show had defiled the family of the Prophet Muhammad, by using the religious music.

The sentence was handed down by judge Raja Shahbaz, who said, “The malicious acts of the proclaimed offenders ignited the sentiments of all the Muslims of the country and hurt the feelings, which cannot be taken lightly and there is need to strictly curb such tendency.”

[Guardian]

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.”

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