TIME Religion

3 Other Christian Denominations That Allow Gay Marriage

The Presbyterian Church (USA) formally recognized same-sex marriages Tuesday

On Tuesday the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to redefine marriage as “a commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman,” formally allowing same-sex marriages within the church. The vote to modify the church constitution follows last year’s recommendation from the church’s General Assembly.

Here’s are other major churches in the U.S. that allow same-sex marriage:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America allows same-sex couples to get married, but leaves it up to individual ministers of congregations to decide, according to a 2009 resolution. “There is nothing that prescribes who a congregation pastor can marry or not marry, so long as it is consistent with state law,” ELCA Secretary David Swartling said in 2012.

The Episcopal Church established a rite of blessing for same-sex couples in 2012 and prohibited discrimination against transgender people. It has welcomed gay people since 1976, when its General Convention decided that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.” Technically it has no official policy sanctioning same-sex marriage, but it will take up the issue in June.

The United Church of Christ has allowed same-sex couples to get married since 2005. At the 25th General Synod of the United Church of Christ in Atlanta, it “affirm[ed] equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage.” It was the first major Protestant denomination to do so.

TIME faith

Presbyterian Church Votes to Recognize Same-Sex Marriage

The church redefines marriage to include "a commitment between two people"

Correction appended, March 18

The Presbyterian Church (USA) made a historic decision Tuesday night to formally recognize gay marriage and allow same-sex couples to marry in its congregations.

The largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S. voted to redefine the church constitution on marriage to include “a commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman,” the New York Times reports.

The vote, which was approved by a majority of the church’s 171 regional bodies (or presbyteries), cements a recommendation made last year by its General Assembly. As of Tuesday night, the vote stood at 87 presbyteries in favor to 41 against with one tied.

“Finally, the church in its constitutional documents fully recognizes that the love of gays and lesbian couples is worth celebrating in the faith community,” Rev. Brian D. Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, which advocates for the inclusion of gay people in the church, told the Times.

There is a provision that states no clergy would be compelled to preside over a same-sex marriage.

The denomination has some 1.8 million members and about 10,000 congregations.


Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described the Presbyterian Church (USA). It is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S.

TIME Burma

Burma Jails New Zealander for ‘Insulting Buddhism’ in Facebook Post

Phil Blackwood, a bar manager from New Zealand, comes out of court after being sentenced to two and half years in prison, at Bahan township court in Yangon on March 17, 2015.
Soe Zeya Tun—Reuters Phil Blackwood, a bar manager from New Zealand, comes out of court after being sentenced to two and half years in prison, at Bahan township court in Yangon on March 17, 2015.

Two Burmese were also jailed in what critics deem the latest instance of spiraling religious intolerance in the Southeast Asian nation

A Burmese court sentenced a New Zealand citizen and two Burmese nationals to 2½ years in prison with hard labor for posting a promotional advert on social media that depicted the Buddha wearing headphones.

State prosecutors claimed the image posted last year on the Facebook page of V Gastro bar, where Phil Blackwood worked as the general manager, was an insult to the Buddhist religion.

The establishment later issued an apology for causing offense, but Blackwood, along with the bar’s Burmese owner Tun Thurein and manager Htut Ko Ko Lwin, were arrested on Dec. 10 and have been held in Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison ever since.

Ahead of Tuesday’s decision, the visibly disheveled Blackwood still appeared optimistic.

“Well, hopefully a bit of justice is going to happen,” Blackwood told the BBC as he was frog-marched into court by police.

Hours later, activists panned the decision that they say further erodes freedom of expression and promotes growing religious intolerance in the former military state.

“That these three men acted in a culturally insensitive way by posting the Buddha with headphones image on Facebook is obvious, but that is nothing they should have been hauled into court for, much less sent to prison,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

Burma has been rocked by myriad bouts of ethnosectarian violence pitting Buddhist extremist against the nation’s tiny Muslim minority since the country’s ruling military junta unveiled political reforms in late 2011.

The nationalist movement, known locally as 969, has helped bolster a growing wave of Buddhist chauvinism throughout the country. Nevertheless, over 90% of respondents to a poll conducted by local media outlet DVB said the V Gastro trio did not deserve to be jailed.

Analysts say Tuesday’s court decision may also be used to shore up political capital for potential candidates ahead of Burma’s national elections later this year.

“This is an election year and religion is already being used for political purposes,” Matthew Smith, executive director of the Fortify Rights advocacy group, tells TIME. “It’s become a race to the bottom to determine who is a stronger defender of conservative Buddhism, and that’s dangerous territory to be entering.”

TIME Religion

I’m Proud To Be a Transgender Catholic

Reflection of man and crucifix in city puddle
Getty Images

Nick Stevens is a Loretto Volunteer working for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good in Washington, DC.

Pope Francis welcomed a transgender visitor with open arms. Now, the rest of the Church needs to follow his lead.

In January, Pope Francis held a private audience with a transgender man from Spain. After learning that Diego Neria Lejárraga’s parish and local church officials rejected him after his transition from female to male, Pope Francis spoke to him several times on the phone before inviting him to Rome. When Diego asked if there was room for him in God’s church, Pope Francis embraced him.

Under Francis’s inclusive leadership, Lejárraga now has more hope for his community’s future. As a transgender Catholic, I agree.

The Catholic Church has been a consistent presence in my life. I grew up in St. Louis, one of the most vibrant Catholic cities in the nation. Although I wasn’t baptized at birth, nor raised in the faith, I still encountered the Church at several points during my youth.

But, it was during my college years that my acquaintance with the faith grew into a friendship. After attending Mass almost every Sunday during my freshman year at a local Catholic university, Fontbonne, I felt called by God to receive the Easter Sacraments and to join the Church.

This wasn’t the only transition I underwent in college. I came to school as Jes, a compassionate, but at times confused, young female searching for a way through school. I left Fontbonne as Nick, a young Catholic man who was more confident going out into the world.

During my transition from female to male, I was often confused with and mad at God. I didn’t understand why I had been born in the wrong body. This anger and confusion with how God had made me seeped into my daily life. I often wasn’t present to my friends and their needs, and I lost a sense of who and what mattered to me.

During this struggle, I closed myself off to God. But God never tired of pursuing me, and eventually we rekindled our relationship. It was at this point that I relearned one of the basic truths of our faith: that God created me, that God loves me, and that God accompanies me. The Lord already knew that I wasn’t accepting a part of myself, but once I told God how broken I felt, he showed me how loved I was.

Admittedly, the Catholic Church isn’t historically known as the most welcoming place for the LGBT community. But I found many Catholics who continued to love me and walk beside me in my journey.

My best friend and current partner—who grew up Catholic—was one of the first friends I came out to. I believe that she spoke the words that the Lord needed me to hear: that God made us to be who we are, and if we aren’t being true to ourselves, then we aren’t being true to God. Her acceptance was a testament to God’s unfailing love, and it allowed me to be true to myself.

As I took the steps to come out to my peers, I was slowly gaining the courage I needed to come out to my family. But I was still especially scared to come out to my grandma, who had raised both of her boys in a traditional Catholic home. Much to my surprise, she already knew what I struggled to say, and made it clear that her love for me was without condition. With tears in her eyes, she told me that male or female, I was hers and had a home in her heart.

Besides my family, my biggest supporters came from the community I formed during college. A Catholic university, Fontbonne allowed me to become a leader in an inclusive and diverse environment.

As the student body president, I interacted with a lot of people on campus, which created a very difficult coming out process. I was afraid that many of those I befriended or worked with at Fontbonne would reject me. Luckily, that wasn’t the case at all. Even the president of the college accepted and welcomed my transition.

Sadly, this isn’t always true. Too often, Christians do not make a home for the LGBT community. For every Fontbonne, there are examples of social exclusion from the Church. Until the entire Church is willing to be as inclusive as Fontbonne—and Pope Francis—transgender people will continue to experience the pain of being excluded.

Now is the time to make Pope Francis’s dream our lived reality. As he recently tweeted, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”

Read next: This Transgender Teen Is the New Face of Clean & Clear

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Has Taught the Church To Thrive Again

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

From the moment he appeared on the loggia of St. Peter’s in a simple white cassock, we knew that Francis was a game changer

Two years after the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis, the Catholic Church is back.

From the moment he appeared on the loggia of St. Peter’s in a simple white cassock, we knew that Francis was a game changer.

Images immediately went viral of the newly elected Vicar of Christ washing the feet of AIDS patients, riding the bus in Buenos Aires and ministering to God’s people living in the slums. In the two years since, Francis has again and again reminded us of that troublemaker who founded the faith, Jesus of Nazareth. Then again, I guess that’s the point.

Pundits suggested that the Jesuit from Argentina would change his ways to adapt to the papacy. To the contrary, he has stayed the same priest and man of the poor that he always was and instead has transformed both the papacy and the Church.

I’ve experienced this transformation in my own life. Inspired by the Pope’s leadership, I quit my job in politics and took over the leadership of a Catholic organization dedicated to promoting the Church’s social justice agenda in public life.

I’m not alone. There are stories everywhere of young and not-so-young Christians responding in even more radical ways to Francis’s call to spread the joy of knowing Jesus and his great Gospel of justice, peace and mercy.

Why has Francis resonated with his contemporaries? I think there are three reasons:

He leads with mercy. The words from his first Sunday message as the Bishop of Rome still ring in my ears: “God never tires of forgiving us, but we sometimes tire of asking Him to forgive us.

Mercy is God’s most beautiful attribute. And Francis understands during this time of crisis where too many times the Church has failed to communicate God’s unfailing love for us, we must re-present the basic truths of our faith: that we are children of the God. The Lord loves us. Jesus Christ saves us. The Pope cherishes us, and the Church welcomes us.

Some of Francis’s detractors argue that this is soft. Nonsense! This is our faith, and this is the faith of the Church.

He leads with authentic joy. “I cannot imagine,” Pope Francis says, “a Christian who doesn’t know how to smile.” Yet the Pope complains that too many peoples’ lives “seem like Lent without Easter.” He says that we mustn’t always “look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”

Erich Fromm once offered this critique of modern men and women: “Today we come across an individual who behaves like an automaton, who does not know or understand himself, and the only person that he knows is the person that he is supposed to be, whose meaningless chatter has replaced communicative speech, whose synthetic smile has replaced genuine laughter, and whose sense of dull despair has taken the place of genuine pain.”

Francis—from his joy of knowing Jesus—cannot be accused of such a thing. When he encounters men and women, you know his smile is real, that his tears are authentic and that his love is inspired.

He leads with humility. Pope Francis says a good priest is someone who is so close to his people that he becomes a“shepherd living with the smell of the sheep.” He has exemplified this ideal in his own pontificate. He rejected the apostolic palace. He washed the feet of Muslim women. He affirmed God’s love for the LGBT community. And the list could go on and on.

But Francis isn’t doing this for publicity. He believes that this outward focus must be the prominent disposition of the entire Christian community: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

Paul Rauschenberg said it well some time ago: Pope Francis has made it cool to be Christian again. His pontificate is allowing the world to rediscover the great contribution of faith to culture and civic society.

At the end of World War II, Joseph Stalin once arrogantly asked Winston Churchill: “How many divisions does the Pope have?”

In 2015, we have our answer: The Soviet Union is dead and the Catholic Church is alive.

And with Francis leading the flock, the Church isn’t just alive. It’s thriving once again. The angel Gabriel must have been right then: “Nothing is impossible with 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 Military

Air Force Security No Longer Banned From Saying ‘Have A Blessed Day’

The greeting was briefly changed to "have a nice day"

After a brief hiatus, Air Force security guards at a Georgia Air Force base can once again wish visitors a “blessed day” after a rule change stemming from a complaint was overturned Thursday.

Mikey Weinstein, CEO of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, spoke with officials after receiving comments from 13 service personnel — nine of whom were practicing Christians. He convinced a commander to change the greeting to “have a nice day,” the Air Force Times reports.

News of the rule change at Robins Air Force Base quickly went viral, prompting officials to review the decision and eventually have it reversed.

“The Air Force takes any expressed concern over religious freedom very seriously … ‘have a blessed day’ as a greeting is consistent with Air Force standards and is not in violation of Air Force Instructions,” the Air Force said in a statement.

Weinstein said he plans to consult with lawyers to discern if any of his company’s clients wish to sue over the matter.

MONEY Religion

Monks: The Original Hipster Entrepreneurs

In this Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 photo, Father Damion, abbot at St. Joseph's Trappist Abbey, left, and Spencer Brewery director Father Isaac walk through their new, state-of-the-art facility in Spencer, Mass. The Spencer Brewery began brewing Spencer Trappist Ale recently becoming only the ninth certified brewery of Trappist beers in the world and the only one outside of Europe.
Stephan Savoia—AP Father Damion, abbot at St. Joseph's Trappist Abbey, left, and Spencer Brewery director Father Isaac, tour the monastery's brewery.

To keep monasteries operational, monks have started artisanal side businesses more often associated with another, trendier and more hedonistic counter-culture group.

They have a strong disdain for corporate greed and take great pride in running independent operations focused on high-quality, small-batch products like handmade coffins, craft beer, and gourmet coffee. Many have beards, and they all dress alike. This description could apply to hipsters in Brooklyn or San Francisco’s Mission District. Instead, we’re talking about monks.

Monks dedicate their lives to prayer, simplicity, and good works. Yet the monasteries they live in aren’t going to pay for themselves. Monks must make some money to cover their lifestyles, bare-bones and unflashy though they may be. What’s the plan?

For the monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey, a Cistercian (commonly known as Trappist) monastery in Spencer, Mass., the plan is to make beer. Inside the monastery grounds lies a 36,000 square-foot brewery—an award-winning one, no less—that produces thousands of barrels of Spencer Trappist Ale per year.

Strange as it may sound, St. Joseph’s is far from the only monastery to have a significant artisanal side business. Keeping a religious community fed, clothed, and operational is costly, and it’s common to find American monks running enterprises in a variety of industries.

In addition to monastic beer, there’s also Mystic Monk Coffee, made by Carmelite monks in Wyoming; coffins, manufactured by monks from a different St. Joseph’s Abbey in Louisiana; a greeting card business, run by the Benedictine monks of Conception Abbey in Missouri, and Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina, which sells high-quality dried mushrooms to fancy restaurants and local connoisseurs, just to name a few.

The thing about doing business as a monk is you generally can’t operate like a regular corporation. The goal of your average company is to make as much money as possible, generally through expansion and destruction of competing players. But monks are theologically restricted from doing any of those things.

In fact, the International Trappist Association requires all official Trappist operations to follow a strict set of rules that place a harsh limit on revenue. All commercial production is to be under the direct control and operation of monks, and all income must be proportionate to the needs of the monastery and its charities.

That means if Spencer Trappist Ale started flying off the shelves, St. Joseph’s couldn’t manufacture more beer unless it first recruited a bunch of new monks to work at the brewery—monks are the only people allowed to oversee operations—and vastly expanded its charitable activities in proportion to the increase in revenue. Even if none of those restrictions existed, production would still be constrained by the monastic schedule, which significantly limits the workday.

The monks realizes this, and have already planned to cap the brewery’s output at about 10,000 barrels a year. “If we can reach that goal, we should be able to provide most of the financial support to this monastery,” says Father Isaac, St. Joseph’s brewery director. Any expansion beyond that would be minuscule, and merely to keep up with the cost of living.

So how does one run the least capitalistic business in the world? Do what the hipsters in Williamsburg do. Sell a high-margin, high-quality artisanal product that doesn’t compete with mainstream alternatives. Isaac notes St. Joseph’s has changed businesses multiple times as big competitors moved in or their product became commoditized.

“Traditionally we were dairy farmers,” he explains. “When dairy farmers morphed into agribusiness, we moved to another agricultural product and began a company that produced jams and jellies.” Soon that field became too competitive as well. “We first looked at extending our jams and jellies operation” before moving on to ale, Isaac adds, “but we were a niche player in a saturated market.”

For now, craft beer is the perfect business for St. Joseph’s. It’s a fast-growing market with huge demand for unique, premium beers like Spencer Trappist Ale. And by selling their beer at a higher price—a four-pack can cost as much as $16.99—the monks can avoid fighting with larger brewers who target a more mass-market audience.

Other monasteries have also found this kind of upscale artisanal space to be a sweet spot for business. A spokesperson for Mepkin Abbey, the mushroom farming monastery, says the abbey’s monks are the only producers of oyster mushrooms in the area. The monks behind Mystic Monk Coffee can charge Starbucks-level prices because many coffee drinkers will pay more for boutique brands.

Some monasteries have taken a different route, essentially becoming gift shops for religious products that are often made elsewhere. A report on the monastic economy, released by the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America, shows 52% of U.S. Orthodox monasteries list the sale of religious items that are not produced by monastery as a primary source of income. (That number doesn’t include candle sales, which are themselves a major money maker.)

St. Joseph’s is happy to make money on merchandise as well. Anyone calling the abbey’s phone line will quickly learn this monastery is open for business. “Dial 1 for for a directory by name,” says a recording. “For the gift shop, dial 2.”

TIME faith

Like Instagram, But for the Bible

Silicon Valley, meet the Sermon on the Mount.

A new app lets people share inspirational images online, but instead of trending hashtags they can peg them to their favorite Bible verses.

Launched on March 5, the Parallel Bible is different from traditional Bible apps such as the popular YouVersion, which focus on the individual’s experience with the Word.

Instead, users sign into a virtual fellowship, uploading their own photos and videos and tagging them with related verses, searching Scripture to see other users’ photos and sharing stories in small groups or on their own news feeds.

“What we want for the Bible is to turn it back into a big table where everyone feels like they can be welcome,” co-founder Andrew Breitenberg says. “If you are a human being, you qualify—you don’t have to be a Christian to read the Bible.”

Breitenberg founded Parallel with his brother Chris. The brothers who grew up in Princeton, N.J., and who now live in Virginia Beach and Washington, D.C. Andrew, 36, is a graduate of Swarthmore and spent the last six years doing street art and graffiti in Cape Town. Chris, 33, is a graduate of Davidson and has worked at a peace-building nonprofit and spent time traveling Asia.

Both have explored evangelical and Eastern Christian traditions, and their spiritual influences include French mystic and activist Simone Weil, American Catholic mystic Thomas Merton, and the British theologian C.S. Lewis, beloved by evangelicals worldwide. For the past six months, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, has been their mentor.

Their core idea is the theological principle that the Bible is inherently more than a book, it is a shared experience. Biblical texts began as oral traditions, and only became bound in one cohesive, written form after hundreds of years. The modern idea that the Bible is a just book with a beginning, middle and end, misses the diverse cultural contexts that it contains, as well as the way that people have interacted with those stories over the centuries and the participation that is possible in the Bible’s stories today.

“Ultimately faith is not individual but communal with God and the people around you,” says Chris. “We are just shortening that leap.”

Parallel Bible is currently free. The Breitenberg brothers do not believe in putting ads or commercials in the middle of the Bible, and their goal is to create the new community first and monetize later. That strategy, they say, has so far not deterred investors. Their team is small—right now they have just one developer—and their startup budget for the past two years was about $100,000. It is currently only available for iTunes (an Android version is in the works) and they have had about 1,000 downloads. But, as Andrew says, this is just the beginning. “You can’t build something that looks like Instagram overnight.”

Beyond the development process however, the app signals a new evangelism, the communal sharing of stories rather than overt proselytization. And the founders are thinking big. “It literally could be the next Bible that the world uses,” says Andrew.

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Is More Popular Than Ever in the U.S.

Pope Francis attends a special audience for the Cassano allo Jonio diocese at the Vatican on Feb.21, 2015.
Osservatore Romano— Vatican Press Office/AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis attends a special audience for the Cassano allo Jonio diocese at the Vatican on Feb.21, 2015.

Even those with no religious affiliation are highly favorable

Pope Francis is more popular than ever in the U.S. — with 95 percent of Catholics who go to church every week giving him high marks and 7 in 10 Americans of all faiths rating him favorably in a new survey. The Pew Research Center says that two years after Francis was named the leader of the world’s 1 billion Roman Catholics, his popularity has eclipsed any numbers his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, ever posted and puts him on par with Pope John Paul II in the 1980s and 1990s.

Pope Francis’ common touch and plain-spokenness have also won him fans among non-Catholics. The…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Religion

See Photos of Children Celebrating Purim in the 1950s

As the Jewish holiday is celebrated around the world, here is a selection of never-published photos by Alfred Eisenstaedt

In a 24-page feature on Judaism in 1955, part of a multi-issue series on world religions, LIFE Magazine introduced the religion’s holidays to readers in order of their spiritual importance. First came the high holy days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, followed by Passover (which Charlton Heston would bring to the silver screen the following year) and Simchat Torah (which celebrates the end of the annual cycle of reading the Torah). Fifth on the list, just edging out Hanukkah’s festival of lights, was Purim.

“Purim (February or March) finds the children dancing and dressing up, recalling how beautiful Queen Esther saved the Jews from persecution at the hands of a politician named Haman.” That’s all the real estate the holiday received, accompanied by a black and white photo of a Hasidic man dancing in Jerusalem. Left on the cutting room floor were a number of color photographs made by Alfred Eisenstaedt of Israeli children wearing costumes for the celebration. Some dress as the characters in the Purim story (Esther, no surprise, is a crowd favorite), while others, like one little Lone Ranger, draw from popular culture.

The celebration itself centers around the reading of the Book of Esther, which begins with the Persian King Ahasuerus banishing his wife Vashti for disobeying orders. He arranges a beauty pageant to find a new wife and selects Esther, who keeps her Judaism a secret. Esther’s cousin Mordechai, leader of the Jews, gains Ahasuerus’ favor by alerting him to an assassination plot, but incurs the wrath of anti-Semitic prime minister Haman, who issues a decree ordering all Jews to be killed. Esther valiantly stands up to Ahasuerus, disclosing her true identity and leading to Haman’s hanging on the gallows built for Mordechai.

Purim is a favorite among children, who for just one day are encouraged to indulge in several activities that might otherwise be frowned upon. Dress-up hour is extended to a full-day activity. Cookies are offered up in abundance, their triangular shape conjuring evil Haman’s hat. And noisemakers are distributed, with children instructed to exercise their full vocal capacity whenever Haman’s name is uttered.

But Purim is not just for the kids. Adult revelers are urged to drink until they can’t tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman—Talmud’s orders.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

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