TIME Religion

Ramadan Is Morphing Into a Meaningless Holiday Season

The Muslim holiday has taken on a completely different form in America, one that more closely resembles Christmas

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I belong to a very particular generation of Muslims, one who formed a Muslim identity well before the turning point of 9/11. Those days were very different — it was a time when Muslims in America were still primarily under the radar. It was also a time before the Internet flooded us with information (and misinformation) about Islam and Muslims. I still had to explain to work colleagues why I wasn’t ordering anything at lunch during Ramadan, and conversations around me didn’t always revolve around my Muslim identity or global politics. It was much easier to be a normal American, and to be seen as one as well.

Under the cover of this relative isolation, my Ramadan experiences were different then they are today. It was a much more intimate affair — I would spend my evenings in quiet prayer and then break my fast either at the mosque with my community or in small home gatherings with friends and family.

These experiences forever defined within me the scope, power, and meaning of this month. It was certainly a time to be social, to reconnect with community and family, but the heart of it still lay with my relationship with God. It was relatively apolitical as well — we didn’t argue about moon sighting methodologies or getting Eid on school calendars.

Fast forward to modern American Muslim life. Ramadan has taken on a completely different form, and I’m as guilty as any in indulging and reinforcing it. Within our communities, invitations to iftars/social events get sent out weeks in advance, often overlapping so much that the truly determined “iftar-hop” in order to get them all in.

In a month devoted to the abstinence of food, we paradoxically spend our days preparing it, and our evenings feasting on it, making sure to Instagram culinary creations that took the better part of a day to finish. We have turned our attention from celebrating the month inwardly to making sure others know about it. We spend an increasing amount of time blogging, lobbying and spending on Ramadan.

The greatest shift, however, is in how Ramadan is perceived by society at large. I regularly get unsolicited “Ramadan Mubarak!” messages from friends, colleagues, even strangers — both in person and on social media. Where I live in Washington, D.C., the iftar has become a public celebration, where all sorts of institutions outside the Muslim community — non-profit organizations, think tanks, embassies, city halls and federal government institutions — jockey to claim one of the days of the month for iftar dinners that are open to the public (I know this because I spent the last three years organizing the State Department iftar, a much sought-after ticket among the upwardly mobile, Muslim or not).

What is happening to the Ramadan I used to know? I feel we are inadvertently following the model of Christmas and turning the month into a “season” that is a time for socializing, indulgence and consumerism above all else. Corporate America is sensing this and is responding accordingly with Ramadan promotions and special events (latest example: the DKNY Ramadan launch this week), using a barely-modified Christmas playbook.

Our need for belonging makes us applaud any public acknowledgement of our holiday, whether it is a Best Buy ad, a politician’s Ramadan greeting or a department store Ramadan display. I regularly attend public iftars where nearly half the attendees are not Muslim, and any religious aspect is relegated to a small side room so as to not get in the way of networking and socializing. When you start seeing people like Wolf Blitzer at iftars, you just have to wonder what is happening to our most precious religious holiday.

None of what I’m seeing is inherently bad, of course. It certainly is a mark of recognition and cross-community understanding that we’ve been able to cement Ramadan into the public landscape while keeping it relatively free of the geopolitics that so infects our identity these days.

Our economic power has convinced corporate America to respect us as a demographic group, and our increasing political clout has enabled elected officials to calculate that they would gain more votes than they would lose if they cater to us. When you consider the beating we take in certain elements of the public sphere, these are certainly things to be proud of.

But in pursuing the advancement of our communities, it would be a shame to lose what Ramadan is really about and what it was meant to be. How do we make sure that doesn’t happen?

Shahed Amanullah is the founder and original editor-in-chief of Altmuslim, CEO and co-founder of LaunchPosse, CEO and founder of Halalfire (parent company to zabiha.com) and a former senior advisor at the U.S. Department of State.

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TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 10: Reconciliation

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

In yesterday’s piece, I offered some reflections on the tradition of forgiveness in Islam. But, forgiveness is, preferably, just a step – if not the first step – toward an even greater objective: reconciliation.

If forgiveness requires an epic struggle with the ego, then reconciliation – actually opening yourself up to a harmonious relationship with a past foe – requires something quite heroic. And, beyond the individual there is also the matter of reconciliation between entire communities. Today’s world is in much need of healing and reconciling between religions, ethnicities, races, and other factions.

As a Muslim, one of the most troubling divisions I am witnessing right now is between Sunnis and Shia’ in certain parts of the Muslim World. There has been terrible violence and bloodshed in places like Pakistan and Iraq. And, the sectarianism on the streets and around the dinner tables is quite ugly too. We need a few good men and women to work toward peace and reconciliation during these dark times.

One of the most positive moves in recent memory was when hundreds of senior Muslim scholars representing different schools of thought in Islam came together to sign the historic Amman Message in Jordan, which called on Muslims to co-exist peacefully and respectfully wherever they may live. But, the implementation of the historic document is still lagging far behind.

The Qur’an itself emphatically states, “The believers are brothers [and sisters], so make peace between your brothers and be mindful of God so that you may receive mercy” (49:10). There are several other passages that encourage peacemaking between people, in general, as well (4:114 for example). The Prophet Muhammad said, “Shall I tell you of something that is better than fasting, prayer, and charity? [It is] reconciling between two people.”

Here are three principles from the Qur’an that offer insights on how to actually make reconciliation happen:

1) “God may still bring about affection between you and your [present foes] – God is all powerful, God is most forgiving and merciful” (60:7). In other words, no matter how bad things get, never close the door on the possibility of reconciliation.

2) “…Repel wrong with goodness and your foe will become as close [to you] as an old and valued friend, but only those who are steadfast in patience, only those who are blessed with great righteousness, will attain to such goodness…” (Qur’an 41: 34 – 35). The offering of kind words, gifts, and so on in the midst of enmity can soften the hearts toward a more peaceful future.

3) “O you who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives…refrain from following your own desire, so that you act justly – if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do” (4:135). Usually when there is a falling out and enmity between two people or between communities, there is a need to rectify a past wrong. By the end of a conflict there are probably wrongs on both sides that need to be rectified. While calling for absolute justice ends up in cycles of unending conflict, some measure of justice and fairness is needed for people to be able to move on.

I pray, despite all odds, that Ramadan is the month in which hearts are brought closer together, relationships are repaired, and loving friendships are formed. I pray, for prayer is our best hope for beating the odds. As Muslim country musician, Kareem Salama puts it in his song Prayers at Night: “But we can bend iron with our prayers at night. Yes, we can bend iron with our prayers at night.”

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 8: Finding Inner Freedom

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

During this July 4th weekend I have been thinking much about the concept of freedom as we celebrate Independence Day in the United States. I know that I am eternally grateful for the freedom of religion and conscience, and of speech, work, movement and so much more. And, I recognize that this freedom is a blessing that many are deprived of in the world.

When I was much younger I lived for a few years in Saudi Arabia. There, even though life was comfortable, the absence of freedom, in many ways, was strongly felt. It seemed to completely stifle any sense of civic life and society.

Nowadays, there is a lot of clamor in parts of the Muslim World for greater freedom. The Arab Spring and Tahrir Square in Egypt, for example, became symbols of this yearning to live freely. People took to the streets to topple their governments, believing that they could finally experience freedom if they were freed from the yoke of oppressive dictatorships. This desire to be free is not just an awareness of the freedoms enjoyed in parts of the West as many have suggested, but it is a much more innate and natural desire that stirs deep within the human soul. It may have something to do with the very way we come into the world…

The early Muslim sage and second caliph of Islam, Umar bin al-Khattab, reportedly warned one of his governors – in a quickly expanding Muslim empire – against taking slaves, saying, “O ‘Amr! When did you begin to enslave and subjugate people after their mothers have given birth to them as free people?”

Freedom in the modern world is almost exclusively spoken of in terms of outward rights. But, there is another aspect of freedom that deserves just as much, if not more, attention: inner freedom. In reality, without a philosophical discourse and sincere realization of inner freedom, people may experience all the outward freedom in the world and still feel totally imprisoned.

The Prophet Muhammad is an exemplar of what inward freedom looks like. When he was oppressed and mocked for his teachings during the first 13 years of his prophetic mission, he never replied rudeness with rudeness or harshness with harshness. When the Prophet became the leader of a people for the next 10 years and was forced to fight in battles to protect his community, even then he never allowed hatred to get the best of him and continued to pray for his enemies. When the Prophet was given a chance to engage in perpetual war with his rivals or sign a peace-treaty filled with concessions, he had the insight to choose peace. And, when the Prophet returned victorious to Mecca toward the end of his life, he chose amnesty and forgiveness over revenge. All of this the Prophet did because he was remarkably and truly free.

Nelson Mandela, may God rest his soul, said, upon leaving the prison where he had been held for 27 years, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

These are sagacious words for our times. In the midst of riots and revolutions for the sake of freedom, this inner freedom we cannot afford to forget. For once the outward dictator is overthrown we achieve nothing if the inner dictator is well and alive. Without inner freedom the cycles of oppression continue on and on.

Each one of us has a life long struggle to unshackle ourselves from the inner desires, passions, and ego that seek to be masters over us. Fasting during this month of Ramadan has been an intense and serious lesson in what it means to gain master over lower inner qualities and to attain to a higher state – a state that finds its freedom in God and godliness.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 7: The Tragedy of Domestic Violence

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A Indian Muslim reads the Koran at a madrassa during the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan in Mumbai on June 30, 2014. Indranil Mukherjee—AFP/Getty Images

Domestic violence is absolutely against the ethical teachings of Islam.

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

Yesterday when I wrote my piece on anger management, I couldn’t help but think of the many victims of domestic abuse who suffer everyday. As a chaplain, I have personally met so many women and children, and some men too, who live with the reality and fear of domestic violence.

I am ashamed to say that it is all too common in the Muslim community just as it is a wider American problem. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that 1.3 million women, for example, experience domestic abuse in America every year and that one in four women are expected to experience some form of abuse during their lifetime. More than six million children suffer abuse every year. Those are some heart-wrenching statistics.

What are even more heart-wrenching are the personal stories and accounts of experiencing or witnessing domestic violence. I remember a few years ago I was at a multi-day Muslim conference enjoying the closing night’s celebration when, from the corner of my eye, I saw this enraged father just slap and punch his young son with one blow after another. My initial reaction was just shock and horror. But, then I was overcome by fear as my wife pushed me to go and intervene. I wasn’t sure if the enraged father would turn his anger on me as I nervously approached the situation. Sadly, by the time I reached them the young boy had already gotten quite a beating and the father was continuing to scold him. I just embraced the boy and walked off with him in the other direction to create some distance from his father. The boy was sobbing and shaking the whole time as I held him close to myself. What was so painful to see was the anger and rage in his eyes – how he wished he could get back at his cruel father. I tried to counsel and console the boy, but I was mostly at a loss for words. I knew in that moment, just as he did, that this was not the first time nor was it the last…

Equally disheartening was the reaction of people that I turned to for help that night. There were police officers whom I alerted who actually laughed when I told them a child had just been beaten by his dad. Another security officer asked why the dad beat his son, and when I told him why, he said he would have beaten his son for that too. I felt completely helpless. I’ve thought often about the boy since that day and pray that somehow someway he beat the odds and is living peacefully. But, I know that’s probably a wishful thought.

The tragedy of domestic abuse is that it strips a victim of feeling safe and secure in their own home and in their own family. It forces a victim to constantly be in a state of alert and anxiety, never knowing when thunder could strike again. The long-term affects on victims of domestic violence is well documented and includes higher rates of suicidal attempts, concentration and learning disorders, and so much more.

As a Muslim leader, I must state – no matter how obvious it may seem – that domestic violence is absolutely against the ethical teachings of Islam. It is haraam, meaning a violation of what God has sanctified – namely physical and mental safety and dignity of every man, woman, and child. The Prophet Muhammad said that a person does not truly believe if his or her neighbor feels unsafe from their actions. If this is true for the neighbor, then how much truer is it for one’s own household! Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad said, “The best amongst you are those who are best to their families.”

The Qur’an speaks of the purpose of marriage itself as dwelling in tranquility with love and compassion uniting the hearts of husband and wife (30:21). This description of marriage has no room whatsoever for any violence or harm. The Qur’an tells Muslims to pray for spouse and children who will be “coolness for our eyes” (25:74). Domestic abuse is completely antithetical to such a beautiful prayer. There are so many other passages that dictate kindness and fairness between spouses and members of a household.

It is my sincere hope that we as a country and as a community take domestic abuse and its gross violation of the sanctity of human dignity more seriously. One organization that is at the forefront of preventing domestic abuse and promoting healthy families is an organization by the name of Peaceful Families. I would love to see every Mosque and Muslim organization in America welcome this organization to train people in the community on how they can join the struggle to end the tragedy of domestic abuse.

TIME Religion

Dear Christians: Stop Opposing Obama’s Ban on LGBTQ Job Discrimination

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President Barack Obama, during a reception to observe LGBT Pride Month in the East Room of the White House in Washington D.C. on June 30, 2014. Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

People of faith asked the President for special permission to discriminate. That is simply theologically indefensible.

I grew up in a deeply Christian family in Oklahoma, the heartland of America. We went to church three times a week and felt our faith required us to be good citizens and good neighbors. I was taught to believe, from the time I could speak, that every human being on the face of this earth is a child of God and deserving of my respect and care. I also learned about the good things Christians had done in our country. They led charge against slavery and then segregation. They were at the forefront of the women’s rights struggle, the labor movement, and the fight against child labor. The list goes on.

For these reasons, I applauded President Obama’s announcement that he would issue an executive order banning job discrimination among federal employees on the basis of gender identity. As an ordained Christian minister and president of Union Theological Seminary, I felt a combination of pride in my visionary country and joy in my Christian heart. It was so very, very right.

The president’s order is a laudable step toward making the country safer for a community that has, for too long, lived in fear. As a Christian, I believe we should resolutely celebrate this decision.

I was therefore devastated when I learned yesterday that a group of prominent faith leaders—my brothers and sisters in Christ—had asked that the President include a religious exemption in his forthcoming executive order. In other words, they asked that people of faith be given special permission to discriminate.

I was saddened, I was embarrassed, I was appalled. The faith that fought for justice for so many is now being used to justify injustice. The faith community that taught me to never throw stones was asking that Christians have a special permission to throw stones if they wanted. It’s simply theologically indefensible.

Clinton Global Citizen Award winner Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, currently a visiting scholar here at Union, has dealt with official government discrimination in his home country of Uganda. He has put his life on the line time and again protecting LGBTQ rights. He has long looked to America as a beacon of justice and hope in this area. As he put it, Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, to the oppressed and if our theologies are discriminatory then they are wrong. As people of faith we should be exemplary, not exempted.

I do not support a religious exemption that permits Christians to behave worse than their fellow citizens, and the president should not include it.

Serene Jones is President of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York where she holds the Johnston Family Chair in Religion and Democracy. She is Vice President of the American Academy of Religion, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and author of Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World. She tweets online at @SereneJones.

TIME Religion

Why I’m Thankful for America’s Immigrants and Religion this Fourth of July

Two reasons I love America: her immigrants and religiosity.

The Fourth of July is nearly upon us. As always, we Americans will barbeque in our backyards, watch fireworks, and celebrate America. And there is much to celebrate.

We love this country, and with good reason.

Americans are informal and down-to-earth. We introduce ourselves by our first names to practically everyone. We say “hi” on elevators to people that we have never laid eyes on. We don’t like folks who put on airs. We are unfailingly helpful and friendly. And if you think everyone is like that, spend a few weeks in Europe.

We talk a lot about freedom in America, and we mostly mean it. Rich, poor, or in between, we are assertive about our rights and stubborn about our liberty.

We are also a patriotic bunch, and reasonably united, despite our diversity. In a world where tribal loyalties are reasserting themselves, we have no ties of blood to bind us together. But we have the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and the essential idealism and optimism of the American people.

There are two things about which I feel special pride.

The first is the way that America continually remakes herself. Great countries require periodic injections of new thinking and energy, and America is now rearranging herself before our very eyes, like a scrambled kaleidoscope.

The arrival of new immigrants is primarily responsible. Most come out of desperation, but they learn our ways with startling speed, and then, like others before them, they reshape America.

Last year a pipe burst in my home on a weekend and the shut-off valve did not work. With water pouring onto the kitchen floor, I called the two plumbers that I have used for 30 years; both informed me that they no longer provide emergency service. I grabbed the phone book and started calling plumbers; on the third try, I reached someone who said they would be there in 10 minutes. Two Hispanic men with heavy accents arrived, stopped the flow of water, did the repair, cleaned up the area, and charged a reasonable fee for their service. These immigrants saved my home.

And then there is the family of Asian immigrants that runs a fruit and vegetable store in my neighborhood. The produce is better quality than in the supermarket, the prices are lower, and the store is open every day, from early morning to late at night. And of course there are the immigrant nannies that care for so many children in my area.

It distresses me when I hear the strident sounds of ugly nativism from our politicians, directed against both legal and illegal immigrants, children and adults. Yes, the issues are complicated, but much of what they are saying is simply old-fashioned mean-spiritedness. And in trying to reserve America only for those already here, they will only strangle her spirit. Most Americans, I am convinced, want a more inclusive America. They know that there is room here for immigrants; and they know too that the invitation extended on the Statue of Liberty to all those “who yearn to breathe free” is an expression of who we really are.

The second thing of which I am especially proud is America’s exuberant religiosity. The talk of religious decline is mostly nonsense. American religion is constantly reinventing itself, but our country remains a place of deep spiritual energy. Four out of five Americans identify with a religious denomination; and of the 20% who don’t, more than half believe in God. In the industrialized West, no other country comes close to this level of religious engagement.

Religion thrives for many reasons. The Founding Fathers knew that separating church from state would promote religious commitment. And Americans are wise enough not to banish religion entirely from the public sphere; America pays for military chaplains, gives tax exemptions to places of worship, and allows occasional ceremonial prayer. Most important, Americans understand that religion provides an anchor of stability in uncertain times, and that when a people lose faith in God, it often means they have lost faith in their country and in themselves.

Sure, there is plenty to worry about. Our infrastructure is falling apart, and inequality is much greater than it was. And in dealing with all of this, our politics seem both petty and paralyzed.

But it would be a mistake to romanticize earlier eras. Those was no time in America’s past when harmony reigned. And the reason is that our raucous democracy invites contentiousness. Our task, then, is to accept controversy and do what Americans have always done: Battle for our values, and fight to fill the moral void in our land. But, at the same time, reach out to our fellow citizens, strive for mutual respect, and try to articulate political concerns that will draw us together as Americans at least some of the time.

Happy July 4th.

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, a writer and lecturer, was President of the Union for Reform Judaism from 1996 to 2012. His writings are collected at ericyoffie.com.

TIME Religion

After Hobby Lobby: A Single-Payer Health Care Solution?

Perhaps both sides could agree it may be a way forward

Now that the initial shouting and—at times—vitriol from both sides has subsided after Monday’s Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, it’s time to take a sober look at what the ruling says about the future of health care reform in the United States. The majority’s ruling was an imperfect solution to a complicated case involving the reach of religious liberty to exempt organizations from providing certain medical benefits that they find morally objectionable to their employees. The fact that these medical benefits were almost exclusively offered to women makes this decision all the more difficult to accept for some.

But at its core, the case reveals something else as well. It brings to the forefront something we’ve all known for sometime: that Obamacare—for all the good it’s done in increasing access to quality and affordable healthcare—is a messy law. It asks employees to be at the whim of its employers’ objectives and mission for what health care benefits they receive. It also asks employers to at times reject its deepest convictions in order to provide certain benefits to its employees.

This isn’t sustainable. A person’s access to quality healthcare shouldn’t depend on who their boss is. And an employer shouldn’t be heavily fined if they don’t compromise their religious convictions in providing healthcare for their staff.

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is a monumental first step in achieving a just and equitable American health care system that seeks first to serve those on the margins of society. But as we look towards the future, it’s necessary to consider major alterations or even alternatives to Obamacare to continue to advance healthcare reform.

For those of us who value both universal access to quality healthcare and the strong American tradition of protecting religious liberty, there might be a solution in a single-payer system.

A single-payer system overturns an unsound principle of Obamacare: relying too heavily on private organizations to deliver the public good of healthcare. When you require private organizations to enforce what the government believes ought to be public policy, you open yourself to a myriad of legal and ethical qualms. How can you expect organizations as diverse as Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor and the American Atheists to agree on what health care benefits are appropriate for their employees?

Amidst all the fuss this week over the Supreme Court ruling, both sides actually agreed on one thing: they disliked the accommodation provided by the Obama Administration for religious organizations. Religious groups argue the exemption is too narrow and doesn’t protect the autonomy of some organizations to practice their convictions. Women’s groups argue that the current accommodation unfairly denies women working for religious groups access to birth control, which is a basic benefit in any healthcare plan.

A single-payer public health care option eliminates such complications. No matter who your boss is or what business you work for, you get access to the healthcare you need. And employers will not be forced to compromise their religious beliefs while providing the public good of healthcare.

And let’s be clear, if you have something that is both supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Planned Parenthood, you might be onto a plan that proves the angel Gabriel right: nothing is impossible with God.

Fred Rotondaro is the chair of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign.
TIME Religion

Immigration Reform Has Some Dry Bones

A message for immigration reform is found in a Biblical prophecy

Immigration reform appears to be dead in this Congress. According to recent reports, Speaker Boehner told President Obama that the House would not take action on immigration legislation this year. This is a moral failure of leadership.

The resounding message from the Republican House leadership is that politics is more important than the suffering of families. In the end, the thousands of stories that evangelical Christians have brought to Republicans don’t matter to them. There is no other conclusion to be drawn.

President Obama responded with an announcement that his Administration will take executive action to attempt to fix some of the inhumane consequences of this horrible system and “try to help relieve the suffering” as faith leaders asked him to do in a meeting at the White House this week. Republicans will likely decry his efforts as “overreach” and claim he is failing to enforce the existing law. But obstructionism on the part of the Republican-controlled House, instead of addressing the moral failures of a broken system, is shameful. The fact that this President has deported a record number of people renders these protests both cynical and dishonest. If those who refused the moral opportunity to fix this broken system now oppose the President’s efforts to protect suffering families and people, many of us in the faith community will say back to them, “How dare you, and shame on you.” And many of us will be at the President’s side and have his back.

This development is deeply discouraging for the vast majority of Americans who support common sense immigration and for the leaders within the evangelical community, like myself, who have invested years urging Washington to act. While there are lessons we should learn and new strategies to formulate, it is important to recognize that we have not been defeated.

In a well-known passage in the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel describes a valley of dry bones. The imagery is clear: death and destruction have won. Then Ezekiel, following God’s commands, begins to prophesy. The bones start connecting, tendons forms, and skin begins to cover them again. Life is breathed back into them. Resurrection has occurred. Hope has triumphed over despair.

This is the reality for immigration reform. Reform will happen. Too many Americans support it, in all our political parties, for politicians to ignore them for much longer. There is enough agreement on the necessary changes—including reforming the visa process, addressing questions about the future flow of immigrant labor, and providing a legal way to become members of our society for the millions of hard working and law-abiding people who have made the U.S. their home—that the policy debate is largely over. It would provide a desperately needed boost to our economy and help secure our borders, goals both parties claim to share.

The question is not whether immigration reform will pass but how many more people will suffer before it does. The answer from John Boehner and the House – at least for now – seems to be that many millions will continue to suffer. That means countless more families will be broken up, parents and children will be living in the shadows of society, and the lives of so many will continue to be jeopardized every day. The thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America highlight the humanitarian crisis being perpetuated by the status quo. An orderly, smart, and humane immigration system could have helped here.

That the outcome of this legislative irresponsibility will be a set of limited actions taken by a constitutionally constrained President, and a continuation of failed policies is worthy of our deepest lament.

Some of the most powerful people in the country will spend the next days, weeks, and months laying blame in order to avoid the public holding them responsible. I hope and believe we are smart enough to see through this ridiculous veneer. The bottom line is that immigration reform failed because an extreme wing of the Republican Party held their leadership hostage out of political and racial fear—and their party leader didn’t have the moral courage to stand up to them. Few others will say that so frankly and succinctly. As a Christian I believe that truth has a liberating power. Those who have blocked immigration reform should be held accountable—and many Hispanic and Christian voters are vowing to do that.

We see the human costs of this moral failure on a daily basis. This is why the faith community will be working tirelessly to breathe life into the dry bones of immigration reform. We are not going away, and we will surround the politicians with our prayerful presence until this destructive immigration system is fixed and healed.

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

TIME health

How Having an (Insurance-Covered) IUD Is Saving My Life

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IUD Jonathan Kantor—Getty Images

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I had no intentions of writing about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. I tweeted my friend Laura Ortberg Turner’s short post on it, because I share her opinions and she wrote with good humor and admirable economy. I expected to leave it at that.

But while reading friends’ Facebook conversations, I noticed two troubling trends in some Christian responses to the Supreme Court ruling. The first trend was simple inaccuracy, as people argued that the case was primarily about Hobby Lobby not wanting to fund contraceptives that cause abortions. First, many would argue that this is not actually what the case was primarily about (for one take on what it was about, read Paul Horwitz’s New York Times op ed). Second, that contraceptives such as “morning after” pills and IUDs prevent implantation of fertilized embryos and thus cause abortion is simply not true. I’m not even going to link to evidence that these and other contraceptives interfere with ovulation or fertilization, not implantation, because it’s so easy to find that it would take me longer to copy and paste links than it would take you to find and read them on your own. (If you want something more fun to read than dry data, check out this post from my colleague the Slacktivist, who points out that fertilization doesn’t occur during or immediately after intercourse. Taking a pill such as Plan B in the day or two after having unprotected intercourse doesn’t abort an implanted fertilized egg; at that point, a fertilized egg most likely doesn’t exist, as sperm are still swimming around refusing to ask for directions. Rather, such medications prevent or delay ovulation or inhibit fertilization.)

The second, and to me more viscerally troubling, trend among some Christians rejoicing in Hobby Lobby’s victory was the characterization of the court’s decision as a dismissal of whiny women who want someone else to pay so they can have lots and lots of sex without worry, because they can have as many abortions-via-contraception as they need.

I can’t believe this point needs to be made, but contraceptives are actually not used solely, or even primarily, by women who want to have lots and lots of sex without getting pregnant. Contraception isn’t a mere “Get Out of Jail Free” card for the promiscuous. It’s a tool that can promote health—physical, psychological, individual, communal, and global. Propagating the idea that medications to halt infections, ameliorate mental illness, and prolong men’s erections are reasonable tools to promote health (and therefore covered by insurance, regardless of your employer’s opinions about the germ theory, the causes of depression, or erections), but contraceptives are a personal choice so that women can give their out-of-control libidos a regular workout without worry is, indeed, an act of aggression toward and dismissal of women.

Contraceptives don’t merely prevent pregnancy for women having lots, or even a little, sex. They support women’s physical, psychological, and emotional health. I’m not just talking about women taking birth control pills for conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome or painful periods, or women whose circumstances dictate that a pregnancy could kill her or push her family more deeply into dire poverty.

I’m talking about me.

I have had an IUD for just more than eight years. I consider my IUD to be saving my life. I don’t mean that exactly literally, but I do mean it seriously. My IUD protects my sanity and my fragile physical health to such an extent that I consider it necessary to my, and my family’s, health and well-being.

I got my first IUD (I’m now on my second) three months after my third child was born. We didn’t want any more children. Underneath that simple statement are deep, jagged layers of anxiety, pain, and even terror—anxiety, pain, and terror that my IUD, which prevents pregnancy regardless of the timing of intercourse or my memory or the repair history of the condom factory’s equipment, almost entirely ameliorates.

Because of my IUD, I hardly get periods anymore. This is convenient, but it’s far more than that. My periods were horrible, painful, long, irregularly constant (as in, I would sometimes bleed all but three or four days a month), copious, clotty, hideous things. I am deeply grateful for the reproductive goings-on behind even my horrible periods, because they allowed me to conceive and carry three children. I am also deeply grateful to no longer have my vision narrow to a pinpoint in the throes of menstrual cramps or bleed out of my vagina more days of the month than not. (Sorry to be graphic, but I want you to understand from what sort of captivity I’ve been freed.)

More important, because of my IUD, I carry no anxiety about an unwanted pregnancy. My desire not to have another baby is not just because we have three beautiful kids and that feels like enough, just right. I don’t want another baby because I’m convinced that carrying and giving birth to another baby would damage me, and secondarily our entire family, in deep, perhaps irreparable ways.

There’s this:

During my third baby’s c-section birth, the doctors had a lot of trouble getting my epidural in properly. I had epidurals with my first two children; the first was straightforward, the second less so. But the third was a nightmare. They were poking needles into my spine for 15 or 20 minutes, each time producing a painful burst of shock-like sensations up and down my spine. I endured silently, expecting that soon I’d be numb from the ribs down and ready to meet our son.

Except when they began cutting my abdomen, I could feel it, enough to produce both pain and panic. At that point, there was nothing to do about the epidural. The anesthesiologist, in my husbands words, began “throwing” meds into my IV and the mask over my nose, including nitrous oxide and various other cocktails. The point, the anesthesiologist explained, wasn’t to erase the pain. Nothing could really do that. The point was to make me loopy enough that I wasn’t fully engaged with the fact of my abdomen being sliced open without adequate anesthesia.

While I made it through the ordeal (obviously), I became shaky and agitated any time I thought about it. The thought of having another baby—another epidural, another c-section—didn’t just make me weary. It made me (makes me) panic.

And there’s this:

I tore cartilage in my knee toward the end of that third pregnancy. Who knows if that sped along my inevitable march toward arthritis or not? I do know that the injury, which occurred because of the extra weight I was carrying on my already precarious joints, was the beginning of something life changing. I no longer have much cartilage left in either knee, and take powerful opioids so I can function as a mother, wife, homeowner, and writer despite pain and impairment. I know, literally in my bones, that I could not carry another pregnancy without at least exacerbating the pain, and at most, permanently worsening the condition of my joints. I would also have to go without my medication for the duration, which would involve unpleasant withdrawal and worsened pain. And when it was all over, I suspect my ability to care for a new baby, three other children and our household, to cook and clean and walk the dog and take the kids sledding, would be either diminished or destroyed.

I might someday, even without another pregnancy and another baby, need a wheelchair for mobility, hired help for cleaning and cooking, or other aids. While I don’t relish those possibilities, I will make those decisions when the time comes. But I have reason to believe, and a tenacious hope, that such decisions are still years down the road.

Really, what it comes down to is this:

If I were to become pregnant again, there is enormous potential for another harrowing birth and permanent damage to my body and ability to do the things that I love, want, and need to do. That potential means that I would seriously consider having an abortion.

I don’t know if I would or not. But I know the question would be an open one. I know I don’t want to face that decision. I know that a tiny boomerang of hormone-infused plastic ensures that I haven’t had to, and won’t have to, make such a decision.

This is why I feel like my IUD is saving my sanity, my family, my life.

Our health insurance paid for both of my IUDs (they are replaced every five years), at a cost of $500 – $1,000 a pop for the device itself, insertion, and follow-up. If our insurance didn’t cover it, most likely we would have chosen a less expensive birth control method—one requiring more regular involvement, one feeling less sure.

That wouldn’t be a tragedy. I know that. But it would deal a real blow to my health.

That blow would largely take the form of much more anxiety around having another baby. As a Christian, a believer in God’s word made flesh, I understand health as incorporating body and mind and spirit. The state of our bodies dictates the state of mind and spirit, and vice versa. This is why I feel like my IUD, by protecting me and my family from the potentially ruinous consequences of another pregnancy as well as the deep worry about that happening in the first place, is saving my life.

Some Christians’ rejoicing in the Hobby Lobby decision is based on bad science about how contraception works. And some of it arises from graceless, inaccurate assumptions about why low-cost contraception isn’t merely a choice or a convenience for many women—including monogamous, responsible, married women like me—but a necessity. Contraception can be a life- and sanity-saver for women who want to be good stewards of the bodies and minds and spirits—our own and our families’—that God has entrusted to us. That’s something a so-called “Christian” employer might consider good.

Ellen is the author of ‘No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction’.

More from Patheos:

TIME China

China Bans Ramadan Fasting for Officials, Students in Restive Northwest

Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar
Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, on Aug. 3, 2011. Carlos Barria—Reuters

Xinjiang's ethnic Uighur Muslims have been subject to an "anti-terrorism" crackdown after a spate of deadly attacks

Several government departments in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region have banned students and civil servants from fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Statements posted on school and government websites said the sure-to-be-unpopular policy was aimed at protecting students and stopping government offices from being used to promote religion, reports the Associated Press.

This is not the first instance of Chinese officials trying to curtail religious freedom among Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighur Muslims, but it comes at a particularly delicate time. A series of brutal attacks by what China says are religious extremists has spurred a year-long anti-terrorism crackdown in Xinjiang, including mass arrests and trials, cash awards for information and random searches.

Critics counter that the chief concern is not links to global terrorism, but widespread dissatisfaction with Chinese rule. A Muslim people that take their cultural and linguistic cues from Central Asia, Xinjiang’s Uighurs say they have been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants from the Han heartland to the east. They also complain of discrimination in the job market, limits on free expression and restriction on their right to pray, dress — and now, fast — as they so choose.

[AP]

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