TIME faith

Ferguson’s Reach: A Shot Felt in South Africa

Racially-based injustice is America’s ongoing apartheid

I was in South Africa on August 9, when a young, unarmed black man was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO. It didn’t take long before Michael Brown’s story was on all the news channels in South Africa. After that, in every media interview I did Ferguson came up. “How could this have happened?” all the journalists asked. When I laid out the pattern of this happening regularly to men of color in America at the hands of white police or other men with guns, they were stunned. “White cops couldn’t get away with that anymore in South Africa,” they said.

On my speaking tour I met a new generation of South African leaders who are not content to just re-tell the stories of winning political freedom. They are now laying out their own agenda and vocation—of turning political liberation into economic liberation and gender equality, goals that have yet to be achieved. Economic inequality is actually greater now than under apartheid and gender violence is a frightening epidemic. But a rainbow nation they now are and the image of a young black man with his hands in the air being shot multiple times by a white American policeman was appalling to both blacks and whites.

As a young man, I was deeply blessed and forever changed when I was invited into the South African struggle during the 1980’s. I witnessed the miracle of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration and the birth of a new nation which taught me my theology of hope. Back then I learned what it means to “believe in spite of the evidence then watch the evidence change” as I often say.

Now I was blessed again, coming back to South Africa and making a deep connection with a new generation of leaders. I watched Ferguson from South Africa. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of events from our own civil rights movement it’s time for a new generation and a new agenda to be lifted up. At its heart will be reforming a criminal justice system that still reveals America’s original sin of white racism. The myths of a post-racial society have been swept away by the structural racial realities of our arrests, sentencing, and convictions. The mass incarceration of people of color is the fatal flaw that undermines the success of the civil rights movement. This is America’s ongoing apartheid.

Young men of color are vulnerable to white men with guns, whether police officers or new white vigilantes whose violence has become legally justified. Every black family in America, of every class and status, knows that to be true. Every black parent has had “the conversation”—a painful fact to which every parent with young boys must recognize and respond. And when young men of color are rightfully distrustful of law enforcement, our society is in deep moral jeopardy.

The young people I met on my trip know they cannot achieve a genuinely new South Africa without a new relationship between all races. Christians call that reconciliation, but these young people realize it can only be trusted by concrete commitments to racial and economic justice. And that applies to us too. Black churches must not be left alone to fight the mass incarceration of their young people. A racial issue must be turned into a gospel issue for churches and a democratic issue for the nation. Both the gospel and our democracy are being tested by the kind of events that keep happening in places like Ferguson.

A young black South African leader told me what happened to him when he worked for the Salvation Army in the United States. He and two of his young white co-workers were driving one night when a white police officer pulled them over. The cop asked the driver for her license and registration, which were in her bag. When my friend lifted her bag to her the cop pulled his gun and said, “What are you doing?” When he explained the cop holstered his weapon. But when the young man suggested that they turn down the car radio so they could hear the officer, the cop put his gun in the black man’s face and said, “What did you say to me?” This was in Rhode Island, not Florida or Missouri. “I grew up knowing I might get shot in South Africa, but didn’t think I would get shot in America,” my young friend told me.

This behavior is a sin—against our brothers and sisters, against true democracy in America and ultimately a sin against God. The sin must be repented of and turned around. Reversing the sins of a racist criminal justice system must become an agenda for a new generation of Christians from every race and faith community in America.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME faith

Mormon Church Offers Rare Glimpse at Faith’s Relics

Mormon Church Holds General Conference In Salt Lake City
The Salt Lake Temple of the Mormon church on April 5, 2014 in Salt Lake City, George Frey—Getty Images

The artifacts will be on display in a new exhibit opening in Salt Lake City, where the Mormon Church is based

Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are offering an unprecedented look at ancient Mormon artifacts as a part of a new exhibit at the Mormon church’s historical library.

The “Foundations of Faith” exhibit will feature a collection of 26 books, manuscripts, and documents that trace back to the faith’s founding in the mid-1800s, the Associated Press reports. The LDS church has long been known for its secrecy, but the religion’s leaders are hoping the exhibit will increase non-Mormon understanding of the faith.

“We need to be open and transparent,” Steven Snow, a Mormon historian and recorder, told the AP. “There are questions that arise occasionally, and we need to deal with them in an honest, forthright way, which we are trying to do.”

The artifacts will be on display in the Salt Lake City-based church’s library starting this week.

[AP]

 

 

TIME Religion

The Great Nunquisition: Why the Vatican Is Cracking Down on Sisters

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Nuns pose with the jersey of Argentinian football star Lionel Messi and flags prior Pope Francis Sunday Angelus prayer at St. Peter's Square on July 13, 2014 at the Vatican. FILIPPO MONTEFORTE—AFP/Getty Images

Today's generation of nuns are progressive women, two things the Church isn't used to

Nuns are an endangered species. They are dying and not being replaced.

If you think the news is bad now, a world without nuns would be a far worse place. The nuns that I know are much too humble to tout their achievements and all of the good they contribute to society, but make no mistake, they are an integral part of the fabric that holds our civilization together.

In 2014 there were just 49,883 religious Catholic sisters in the United States, down 13% percent from 2010 according to figures from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. To put it in greater perspective, that is a 72% decline since 1965.

Because nuns don’t brag about all of the good that they do or hashtag how awesome they are on Facebook, many people have no idea about the things they accomplish on a daily basis.

You probably haven’t heard about Sister Joan Dawber. Sister Joan, a Sister of Charity of Halifax, runs a safe house in Queens for victims of human trafficking—former sex and labor slaves. She takes these women in when they have no one else to protect them and risks her life to help them rebuild theirs.

About 20 minutes away by car from Sister Joan’s safe house, Sister Tesa Fitzgerald works tirelessly to raise the children of mothers who are incarcerated. When those women get out of prison Sister Tesa helps them get clothes, jobs and an apartment. Those women credit Tesa with nothing less than saving their lives.

Most people don’t know about Sister Nora Nash, a Franciscan Sister who lives just outside of Philadelphia. As her order’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Sister Nora wakes up every single morning determined to make corporations more responsible to the human race. Sister Nora and her assistant director, Tom McCaney have taken to task the grocery store chain Kroger over the rights of farm workers, Hershey’s chocolate company over child labor, McDonald’s over childhood obesity, Walmart on raising their minimum wage and Wells Fargo over predatory lending practices. Nash wakes up every single morning determined to make corporations more responsible to the human race. Then she follows through on it.

For more than four decades Sister Jeannine Gramick has been tireless in her fight for gay rights through her organization New Ways, despite coming under intense scrutiny from the Vatican.

Sister Dianna Ortiz made headlines in 1989 when she was abducted, tortured and raped while working as a teacher in Guatemala. After living through that horror, instead of allowing herself to sink into a terrible depression, she headed up an organization to help thousands of torture survivors around the globe find the will to keep living.

It’s a problem that you haven’t heard about these women. You would think that, during a time when the Church has suffered from great criticism and weathered very public scandals, it would be celebrating these incredible achievements. Think again.

The Vatican doesn’t celebrate these women. In fact, it has done the very opposite. Attacks on American nuns have been happening since 2008, when the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life initiated an “Apostolic Visitation,” a euphemism for investigation, of the nuns.

To put it in perspective, previous “visitations” conducted by the Church were designed to investigate things like the priest sex abuse scandal.

The nuns nicknamed it the Great Nunquisition and in the past eight years they’ve come under scrutiny from the church patriarchy.

A 2012 Vatican document highlighted the Church’s problem with the Leadership Council of Women Religious, the largest group of nuns in the United States. The document claimed that the LCWR was “silent on the right to life from conception to natural death” and that Roman Catholic views on the family and human sexuality “are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes church teachings.”

Today’s nuns are simply too progressive for the Vatican. The Vatican chooses not to celebrate nuns and it chooses not to empower them.

Pope Francis has been hailed as a progressive icon. Yet on the subject of women in the Church, he remains loyal to a long-held and antiquated stance: he doesn’t think women should become priests.

Nuns are dying out because their population is aging and young women are not joining their ranks in the numbers they once did.

The young women who could be the nuns of tomorrow share a lot of the same values as the nuns of today. They are fiercely dedicated to the concept of social justice and doing good in the world. Seven in 10 millennials consider themselves social activists, and 72% of them are eager to participate in a nonprofit young professional group.

They want to be of service.

I recently spoke to a young woman who was discerning to be a Catholic sister, but changed her mind before she took perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

I asked her why and the answer was very simple and yet disheartening.

“I want to work for an employer that values what I do.”

She plans to work for an NGO. She wanted to be of service to the world, but she also wanted to feel empowered in her job.

Why would a generation of young women raised to believe that they can be anything join an institution that tells them there is something they absolutely cannot be, that there is a certain level they will never reach? Many of the women who are nuns today joined the vocation because it was a way to become highly educated, travel the world and dedicate themselves to a higher good without being beholden to a husband or children.

Young women today can do that with a passport and a Kickstarter account.

I am constantly reminded of something Sister Maureen Fiedler, a feminist and the host of the public radio program Interfaith Voices told me when I interviewed her for my book: the fact that Jesus was, and is, an “equal-opportunity employer.” He loved everyone the same.

If Catholic nuns are to survive in this country, something has to give. The Vatican needs to treat the nuns with more respect. The rules will have to evolve. Women will need to be given more power and leadership roles in the church.

Speaking at the annual LCWR assembly earlier this month, Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio described exactly what it means to be a nun today: “We are about drawing in the poor, the lonely, the marginalized, all those seeking to be part of a whole,” she said. “This is nothing more and nothing less than the most awesome vocation.

It is awesome. The nuns are awesome. But if the Vatican doesn’t start treating them as such, there is no incentive for more young women to aspire to join their ranks.

Jo Piazza is the author of the new book, If Nuns Ruled the World, which shatters the stereotypes of American Catholic nuns and profiles 10 daring sisters. A veteran journalist whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Slate, the Daily Beast and Yahoo, Piazza holds a masters degree in Religious Studies from New York University.

TIME faith

Florida Atheist Kicked Out of City Meeting For Refusing to Stand During Invocation

"I don't have to do that," he said

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

At yesterday’s meeting of the Winter Garden City Commissioners (in Florida), Mayor John Rees announced that they would begin with an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, as many government meetings do, and asked everyone to stand up.

John Thoreau, an atheist, remained seated. Normally, that would be irrelevant since he has every right to do that, but Rees had other ideas.

As the first syllable of the invocation was uttered, Rees told everyone to hold up because Thoreau was still sitting down…

Rees: We’re waiting for everyone to rise.

Thoreau: Sorry, are you waiting for me?

Rees: Yes, sir.

Thoreau: I don’t have to.

Rees: Well, we appreciate — you may rise or you may leave the room as we give our prayer and our Pledge of allegiance to the flag.

Thoreau: I don’t believe I have to do that, thank you.

Rees: I believe you have to [unintelligible]…

Rees didn’t press it and the sectarian invocation (in Jesus’ name) continued. Then when it time for the Pledge, the conversation started up again:

Rees: Now, sir, please stand while we do the Pledge… please stand. Children have to do it in school, too.

Thoreau: Yes, and they don’t have to be there…

Rees: This is respect for our country…

Thoreau: I understand that, sir.

Rees: You have one of two choices, sir. You may please stand for the Pledge. You don’t have to say it. Please stand.

Thoreau: I don’t have to do that.

Rees: Okay…

Audience member: Just stand up, man.

Rees: [I’m] asking you to either stand or please be escorted out [as we do] the Pledge. It’s just not fair to our troops and people overseas, sir.

Cop: What do you want to do? Do you want to stand or leave?

Thoreau, a member of the Central Florida Freethought Community, was quickly taken out of the room.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to the city today spelling out the constitutional violations of which the Mayor is guilty and telling them how they must remedy the situation:

(1) The government may not force citizens to stand for the Pledge of allegiance.

(2) Government officials may not ask citizens to stand for prayers or, (3) say prayers themselves.

To remedy the Pledge violation, at the next meeting, Mayor Rees ought to explain that citizens are within their rights to remain sitting for the Pledge and that it does not reflect a lack of patriotism… [Police] Chief [George] Brennan should make a similar statement. Patriotism and religiosity are not one and the same

To show solidarity with Thoreau, several atheist members of the CFFC will attend the city’s next meeting in two weeks and remain seated during the invocation and Pledge. (That should be fun.)

I should point out that “John Thoreau” is a pseudonym because the real person doesn’t want to face any public backlash or threats.

That the Mayor doesn’t understand First Amendment rights is appalling. That he would single out one member of the crowd for not standing is even worse. Can you imagine how much more awful it would’ve been if this was a teacher calling out a teenager in the classroom?

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. His latest book is called The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide.

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TIME faith

Hate Crime Laws: What the Amish Beard Cutting Case Means for the Rest of Us

Cleveland, Ohio Amish hair cutting attacks trial
Members of the Amish community leave the Cleveland, Ohio federal courthouse during the trial of a breakaway Amish community in eastern Ohio, led by Samuel Mullet Sr., at the federal courthouse in Cleveland, Aug. 27, 2012. David Maxwell—EPA

While it might seem like a legal quibble over facial hair, the decision is important for the future of hate crime laws

In the fall of 2011, 16 members (10 men and six women) of a breakaway Amish community in eastern Ohio executed five beard-cutting attacks on Amish people in other communities at night and by ambush over an eight-week period. The 16 defendants were convicted of federal hate crimes as well as lying to the FBI and obstructing justice. The US government built its case on the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Under this statute hate crimes occur when an assailant attacks a person because of his or her gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, ethnicity or religion.

After a three-week trial in September 2012 a jury convicted the 16 defendants of federal hate crimes motivated by religion. Bishop Samuel Mullet was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The others received shorter sentences. Several defendants who received one year sentences have already returned to the Bergholz Amish community.

This week the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati overturned the hate crime convictions in a 2-1 sharply divided decision. The court upended the hate crime convictions for what it considered an error in the district court’s instructions to the jury. The non-hate crime convictions (perjury and obstructing justice) were not overturned.

Amish Beard Cutting Appellate Court Decision

No one, including the defendants and their attorneys, disputes that the attacks took place. The issue at stake in the trial was the motivation behind the attacks. What motives drove the assailants? Were they driven by family disputes, interpersonal conflict, or religion? The defendants argued that family malice and interpersonal bitterness prompted them to shear the beards and hair of the victims. The prosecution contended that religious differences propelled the attacks. The federal statute considers an attack a religious hate crime if an assailant “willfully causes bodily injury to any person . . . because of the actual or perceived . . . religion . . . of [that] person.” The appellate court’s opinion hinged on two different interpretations of the words “because of.”

The federal district court in Cleveland instructed the jury that a religious motive could be determined if a victim’s “actual or perceived religion was a significant motivating factor for a [d]efendant’s action…even if he or she had other reasons” for attacking the victim. Attorneys for the defendants argued that the phrase “because of” requires a “but-for” cause to show that assailants would not have cut beards but for the victim’s actual or perceived religious beliefs. The appellate court agreed with the defendants, saying that “because of” means “by reason of” or “on account of.”

The reversal opinion made a distinction between religion being the primary or predominant motive and religion being a significant motive among other motives. Did the assailants commit the attacks “because of” the religion of the victims or was religion only a significant reason among others.

The district court used a broader, less restrictive wording at the trial to define the motives driving the Amish hate crimes. The appellate court’s opinion is a more narrow interpretation of the meaning of the words “because of” suggesting that the crimes may not have happened solely for religious motives.

The dissenting judge in a sharply worded opinion said, “the overwhelming and unrefuted evidence adduced at trial demonstrates that Mullet participated in the assaults because of the victims’ religious beliefs.”

While this all might seem like splitting legal hairs over Amish beards, the decision is very important not only for the Amish, or for religious hate crimes, but for all hate crimes that are directed toward victims because of their gender, sexual orientation, disability, race, ethnicity, or religion. The legal decisions ensuing from this reversal will establish a judicial standard for how the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act is interpreted in the future. If the appellate court’s restrictive interpretation this week remains unchallenged it will make prosecution of federal hate crimes more difficult in the future because establishing a single predominant motive in the context of an attack is quite challenging.

Donald Kraybill, PhD, is distinguished professor and senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. The US Department of Justice contracted Professor Kraybill for six months to assist in the prosecution of the Bergholz clan. He is the author of Renegade Amish: Beard Cutting, Hate Crimes, and the Trial of the Bergholz Barbers (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014).

 

TIME Religion

5 Reasons Christians Are Rejecting the Notion of Hell

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France, Haute Savoie, Saint-Nicolas de Véroce, Hell painting in Saint-Nicolas de Véroce church Fred de Noyelle—Photononstop RM/Getty Images

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

More and more Christians are beginning to reject the traditional view of hell which states the unjust will experience “eternal, conscious torment”. Perhaps you’ve seen this change in the Christian landscape and grown confused as to why so many of us are experiencing shifting beliefs. While my Letting Go of Hell series goes further in-depth on many issues surrounding hell, here are 5 key reasons to help you understand why we are rejecting the notion of “eternal, conscious torment”:

1. Something in our spirit tells us that torturing people is morally wrong.

During the historically recent debates over whether or not it’s okay to torture people, it has only been the most sick and twisted minds among us who have defended torture as being anything less than morally reprehensible. In fact, we know that torturing is such an egregious offense to morality that we even have laws against doing it toanimals. The assertion that God himself would not only torture people but take great pleasure in it, is something that many of us in Christianity are finding utterly offensive.

2. The concept of eternal, conscious torment runs contrary to the whole testimony in scripture.

Part of the reason why a growing number of us are rejecting the traditional view of hell, is that we’ve actually re-read the scriptures without our prefabricated evangelical filter, and find scripture describe something different than a traditional hell. Yes, there are some verses that seem to hint or describe eternal torture, but like many issues, the Bible is inconsistent on the matter. However, when we look at the entire testimony of scripture, we most often see the disposition of those who refuse to enter into God’s love described as a “second death”. Traditional hell isn’t death at all; traditional hell is instead an eternal life of torture. This simply isn’t what the Bible describes when taking into account the entire testimony. Instead, we find that those who ultimately reject God– the one who sustains life– to be granted their wish: their names are blotted out of the book of life and it is as if they never existed.

3. The final judge of each individual is Jesus, and torturing people seems contradictory to his character.

We believe in a coming judgement, and believe each one of us will have to stand before the “judgement seat”. However, we often forget that this judge will be Jesus! Most of us still affirm those who refuse to be reconciled to God’s love through Christ will ultimately be eternally lost, because we believe love must always be chosen– it cannot be forced. However, the idea that the end result of rejecting God’s love will be a slow-roasting eternal torture session with Jesus at the controls, is almost asinine. This isnot the Jesus we find in the New Testament. The Jesus we find in the New Testament is loving and just– but not dementedly cruel. In fact, in the New Testament we see a Jesus who notices suffering all around him and repeatedly states “I have compassion for them”. That compassion consistently moves Jesus to action, often breaking the taboos of his day to alleviate their suffering. The Jesus of scripture is hardly the type of person who’d enjoy torturing people.

4. Jesus would become a hypocrite, demanding that we nonviolently love our enemies while he does the complete opposite.

Remember, Jesus is the ultimate judge of humanity so anyone who ended up being tortured in hell would only go there by the decision of Jesus himself. This is the same Jesus who pointed out in the Bible of his day the permissiveness of using a tit-for-tat system of justice (an eye for an eye) in dealing with enemies as being wrong. Instead of affirming we should follow this part of scripture, Jesus taught his disciples to no longer obey this part of their Bible– instructing that they should become nonviolent enemy lovers instead (Matthew 5:38). In fact, Jesus goes as far as telling them that loving enemies is a requirement of becoming a child of God. If Jesus commands that we love our enemies, refuse to use violence, and that we actually do good to those who hate us yet– eternally tortures his own enemies– he’s guilty of hypocrisy. I don’t believe this is the case– I believe Jesus commands we love our enemies because he loves his enemies… and torture is never loving.

5. We simply can’t get past the idea that we are more gracious and merciful than Jesus himself.

This is the key area I cannot reconcile with eternal torment: I have been wronged by a lot of people in my life, but I have absolutely zero desire to torture anyone. I could never make the call to sentence one to torture or “pull the switch” to commence torture, because seeing people suffer is something that disrupts my spirit. I want no part in the causation of suffering, but instead want to be an agent who helps to relieve suffering. Furthermore, the longer I follow Jesus the more and more I desire that people be shown mercy. If I were to sit on the judgement seat (something I never will), there’s just no possible way I could ever sentence people to eternal torture– especially for things like being born into an Amazonian tribe who never heard the message of Jesus. If I were judge, I would always lean on the option of radical mercy.

The question then becomes: am I, a hopelessly flawed and sinful human being more merciful and compassionate than Jesus? There’s no possible way that is true, which tells me there might be more mercy than I can even fathom dished out at the final judgement.

As more and more Christians return home to a radical faith centered squarely on Jesus, we will continue to see a growing number of bible believing, soundly orthodox Christians, reject the evangelical concept of “eternal, conscious torment”. This should be viewed as a beautiful thing, not a travesty, as we rediscover that God actually is altogether wonderful, altogether lovely, and altogether like Jesus.

Benjamin L. Corey is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. His first book is Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus (Release date, August 2014).

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TIME Religion

Athlete Says His Coach Is Making Him Choose Between Football and God

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Most high school and college coaches will make reasonable accommodations for their athletes if there’s a conflict between the game and something else. Have a wedding to attend? No problem. You can leave practice early in order to catch a plane. Celebrating your bar mitzvah on game day? Okay, you can skip the one game.

But those accommodations have to go both ways. The athletes know the practice schedule and competition days in advance. They need to work around those obligations.

In Oregon, Portland State University football player Vincent Johnson hasn’t figured that out. He wants to skip several practices in order to attend church. His coach, Nigel Burton, was willing to let him do that a couple of times, but no more. Now, Johnson is complaining that the coach is forcing him to choose between two things he loves:

“He asked me to choose between church and football,” Portland State University student Vincent Johnson said. “I said, ‘Coach, you can’t ask me to do that. It’s like asking me to choose between God and football.’”

Johnson said it’s a decision he didn’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, make.

“I just really want to play,” he said.

But he hasn’t played since spring when he said he went to his coach with a problem. Four services at his Milwaukie church, World Mission Society Church of God, fell at the same time as football practice.

Johnson claims his coach would only allow some of the absences.

“There’s a lot of people that miss practice due to if they have academics, or anything like that, so it could have been arranged,” he said.

He’s filed a complaint, which is still under investigation, with the university.

It’s a ridiculous complaint for several reasons.

  • Johnson knew the practice schedule in advance. He should be able to schedule personal things around that, just like other players do all the time.
  • Going to church, as many Christians will tell you, isn’t necessary to practice your faith. Many churches even have multiple services in order to accommodate people who can’t make it a particular time. Why not attend a different service? If that’s not an option, why not ask the pastor to meet with you separately? Since when does God only care about you if you attend services at set times?
  • The coach was willing to allow a couple of absences. But when you’re a scholarship athlete on a college team, that has to become a top priority. By skipping practice multiple times, you’re letting down your teammates and making it that much harder for coaches and the other players to see the full team in action.
  • If all the players made similar requests as Johnson, there would be chaos. It’s not the coach’s responsibility to schedule practices around everyone’s personal preferences. It’s the players’ responsibility to schedule their religious and personal lives around the team. You may not agree with that being their priority, but the players knew it in advance, well before they accepted their scholarships.
  • Professional football players — many of whom are Christian — have no problem practicing their faith despite being a little busy on Sundays. Same with other professional athletes. Sure, college is different, but the principle remains: When you commit to a team, you can’t also commit to another time-consuming activity that goes on at the same time.
  • Johnson is upset he’s not getting playing time, but if he’s skipping multiple practices (for any reason), that’s not surprising. He hasn’t run the routes. He won’t know what the plays look like in real time. He’d be a liability on the field. The coach isn’t punishing him for his faith; the coach is punishing him for not being there when the plays were being drawn up and practiced.

There’s no evidence of religious discrimination at play. What you have is a scholarship player who is putting another activity before his obligations to the team. Johnson claims students who struggle academically get time off, so he’s being treated unfairly, but I doubt players who miss multiple practices for academic reasons get more time on the field.

Remember: The coach was willing to make some accommodations. What Johnson is requesting, though, is beyond reasonable.

University officials say they’ll finish their investigation within two weeks.

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. His latest book is called The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide.

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TIME Religion

Oklahoma Catholics Drop Lawsuit After Satanists Return Wafer

Satanic Mass Lawsuit
In this Feb. 11, 2011 file photo, Archbishop Paul Coakley, center, holds a communion wafer as he is installed as the fourth archbishop of the Oklahoma City Archdiocese in a ceremony at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, in Edmond, Okla. Jim Beckel—AP

A Satanic group had planned to use the communion wafer in a ritual scheduled for next month

The Catholic Archbishop of Oklahoma City has dropped a lawsuit against a Satanic group after it agreed to turn over a communion wafer it hoped to use in a “Black Mass” scheduled to take place in September.

“I am relieved that we have been able to secure the return of the sacred Host, and that we have prevented its desecration as part of a planned satanic ritual,” Coakley said in a statement issued by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

Coakley sued the Satanic group, the Church of Ahriman, on the grounds that it stole the communion wafer, which Catholics hold to be a sacred part of the Mass ritual.

“I remain concerned about the dark powers that this satanic worship invites into our community and the spiritual danger that this poses to all who are involved in it, directly or indirectly,” Coakley said in a statement.

Adam Daniel, the Satan worshipper set to lead next month’s Black Mass, said fighting the lawsuit wasn’t worth the trouble.

“I don’t feel like wasting thousands of dollars over a nasty cookie,” he said.

TIME Research

Ice Bucket Challenge ALS Donations Break $50 Million Mark

The organization raised $64 million in all of 2013

The Ice Bucket Challenge is the gift that keeps on giving for the ALS Association. The organization raised more than $10 million on Thursday alone, it said, bringing its total haul since July 29 to $53 million. For comparison’s sake, the group raised $2.2 million during the same period last year.

The contributions, which have come from more than 1 million new donors as well as some old donors, are an enormous boon for the ALS Association, whose national office raised only $19 million in all of 2012.

Since the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral in early August, social media outlets have been crowded with videos of people dumping ice on their heads after delivering a short message explaining their support for research and treatment of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Public figures who have taken the challenge include politicians like George W. Bush and movie stars like Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck.

The ALS Association is not the only organization to benefit from the viral trend. Opposition to embryonic stem cell research from some Catholics has led to an influx in donations to other charities that support ALS research without using embryonic stem cells. Project ALS, a smaller charity dedicated to ALS research, raised huge sums after Ricky Gervais and Ben Stiller took the Ice Bucket Challenge in its support.

TIME Research

Why Some Catholics Won’t Take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Concerns raised about stem cell research

Not everyone is jumping to take part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which has gone viral and raised millions for research into Lou Gehrig’s disease. Following the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s decision to ban its schools from donating to the ALS Association and a widely read blog post by a Catholic priest, some Catholics are questioning the ethics of contributing to ALS charities that fund research with embryonic stem cells.

“We deeply appreciate the compassion, but there’s a well established moral principle that goods ends are not enough. The means must also be morally licit,” said Cincinnati Archdiocese spokesperson Dan Andriacco.

Father Michael Duffy, whose blog post on the issue has been shared on Facebook more than 100,000 times, said he started hearing chatter online two weeks ago suggesting that donations to the ALS Association might be used for embryonic stem cell research, which conflicts with Catholic doctrine. When he was nominated for the challenge himself, he looked into it and discovered that the ALS Association did in fact fund embryonic stem cell research.

Catholic church doctrine holds that life begins at conception. Because embryonic stem cells come from very early-stage embryos, the church holds that destroying the embryo is akin to taking a life.

ALS Association spokesperson Carrie Munk acknowledged that the organization currently funds one study using embryonic stem cells, but added that donors can ask that their money not be used for this purpose.

Duffy said that option isn’t sufficient.

“I would still have trouble with that because you’re supporting an organization that is taking someone’s life,” he said.

Instead, he suggested an alternative charity, the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, which advocates for stem cell research using adult stem cells. In Cincinnati, the Archdiocese has taken Duffy’s recommendation and asked its schools to direct their funds there if they want to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Apparently, Duffy’s recommendation is working. The John Paul II organization said it has received dozens of donations per hour in recent days and that its website crashed because of the influx in traffic. Typically, the organization only receives a couple donations each day.

But despite the questions from some Catholics, the ALS Association continues to rake in cash. It’s raised $41 million since July 29, compared with just over $2 million in the same period last year.

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