TIME Religion

What Affirming Same-Sex Marriage Means for the Presbyterian Church

On June 19, the denomination I love and have been privileged to serve as a pastor for eleven years became a more just, inclusive, and Christ-like place. Here's what that change does, and does not, mean

When the results flashed on the screen in the convention center—60% in favor of giving pastors the discretion to perform same-sex weddings in states where it’s legal—I didn’t cry.

When my Facebook feed lit up with celebratory posts and the Presbyterian Church (USA) logo rendered in rainbow colors, I smiled—but still I didn’t cry.

Later that day, I ran into a dear friend, a pastor from Chicago who’s been fighting for this change for years. I hugged him hard and called dibs on his wedding, whenever that blessed time should be. Again the tears didn’t come.

It was only at the end of the week, on the plane bound for home, when the full impact of the General Assembly’s decision hit me. The trigger? A song on the iPod: “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors. Yes, after the intensity of being one of 650 commissioners at our biennial meeting in Detroit and casting a historic vote, it was a bouncy pop anthem—a song with banjo, for heaven’s sake—that finally opened the floodgates.

Thursday, June 19 was not the best day of my life. But it certainly ranks in the top twenty, somewhere between getting my seminary acceptance letter and that perfect October day driving around California wine country with the top down. On that day, the Presbyterian Church (USA) became the second largest Christian denomination to affirm same-sex marriage, after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. (The United Church of Christ has led the way on this for almost a decade, but they’re about half our size.)

With Thursday’s vote, the denomination I love and have been privileged to serve as a pastor for eleven years became a more just, inclusive, and Christ-like place. Now, members of our churches can be married by the same pastors who may have baptized and confirmed them, visited them in the hospital, and called on them to teach, to sing in the choir and to count the offering on Sunday morning.

It’s important to know what the change does and doesn’t mean. Last week’s ruling (called an Authoritative Interpretation) gives pastors and churches the latitude to perform same-sex weddings, but doesn’t require anyone to do so. This will be small comfort to some who are convinced the PC(USA) is abandoning its biblical roots and kowtowing to cultural norms. My top-twenty happy day was one of grief for a decent-sized chunk of the church, and it’s a heady thing to cast a vote that will cause pain to others. But we who celebrate this change have not abandoned the Bible. By affirming the right of committed gay couples to make life-long vows to one another, we are seeking to walk in the Way of Jesus, who stood with the outcast and proclaimed their full humanity.

The Assembly took a second action that day—we voted 71%-29% to amend our constitution’s paragraph describing marriage—an amendment that must be ratified by a majority of our regional bodies, called presbyteries, over the next year. In typical Presbyterian style, the language was a compromise: marriage is a civil contract between “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” This wording describes the world as it is for a growing number of states, but also nods to historical realities.

The PC(USA) has lost a number of churches in the last few years since clearing the way for LGBT persons to be ordained as pastors, elders and deacons. More will undoubtedly leave, not pacified by six words in a subordinate clause. But we hope the language will give some conservative-minded folks a place to stand. The Presbyterian Church is rarely the first one to the table on matters of justice, but when we do get there, we try to bring as many people as possible with us. Whether we’re successful this time remains to be seen.

There are congregations who’ve been clamoring for these changes. Mine isn’t one of them. I serve a small congregation with folks all over the political and theological spectrum. We’re located in Virginia, a state with one of the most restrictive constitutional amendments in the country. But it’s currently on appeal, and even opponents of marriage equality acknowledge its inevitability. When the time comes for my church to confront this issue personally, we will do so with vigorous conversation, mutual forbearance, and no small measure of humor. I’m proud to be part of a denomination that trusts us to make that decision faithfully for our context.

And when my friend in Chicago ties the knot, I’ll be ready to go, with my clergy robe, Book of Common Worship… and yes, my Bible too.

MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a pastor, speaker, and the author of Sabbath in the Suburbs and a forthcoming book, Spirituality for the Smartphone Age. Connect with her at her website, The Blue Room.

TIME southeast asia

Malaysia’s Highest Court Upholds Ban on Christians Using the Word Allah

Malaysia Allah Dispute
Muslim women sit in front of a banner reading Allah during a protest outside the court of appeal in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur, on June 23, 2014 Vincent Thian—AP Photo

Disappointed Christians decried creeping Islamization as a threat to their religious freedom

Malaysia’s highest court upheld a lower court’s ruling on Monday that denied an appeal by the Catholic newspaper The Herald to use the word Allah, considered the Arabic name for God. The decision made by a seven-judge panel laid to rest a tumultuous six-year court case that catalyzed religious tension in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian nation.

The case was originally brought in 2007 when the Home Ministry banned the use of Allah in the Malay-language edition of the paper, which dovetailed with a threat to withdraw its publishing permit. Church leaders insist that Allah has been used in religious literature and Malay-language Bibles to refer to the Christian God for centuries.

A 2009 appeal favored The Herald, which argued that Christians had the constitutional right to use the term — a decision that led to attacks on Christian places of worship for several years. Muslims argued that the Christian use of Allah could persuade Muslims to convert and so jeopardized national security. Following a ruling in October that reinstated the ban, Islamic authorities confiscated Bibles that used the word Allah. In January, two petrol bombs were thrown at a Malaysian church.

The federal court’s conclusive ruling on Monday was met with cheers from hundreds of Muslim activists outside the court. Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria told the courtroom that “The court of appeal was right to set aside the high-court ruling,” local papers reported.

Disappointed Christians saw the decision as a threat to their religious freedom, complaining that it was only one example of increasing Islamization being pushed by the 60% Muslim majority. The Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew told AFP that the judgment failed to “touch on the fundamental rights of minorities.”

TIME

Santorum Film: American Believers Could Face Nazi Fate

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Rick Santorum is bringing the nationwide fight over religious liberty to the big screen, and it is chilling.

As the Supreme Court weighs the Hobby Lobby case and activists at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference denounce the war on Christianity in America, Christian movie company EchoLight Studios, of which Rich Santorum is CEO, is preparing to release One Generation Away: the Erosion of Religious Liberty. The trailer, above, shows just how seriously Santorum and many fellow conservatives are taking the issue: if the United States continues down a path that erodes religious freedom, the country could be headed toward Nazi Germany. (That punch comes around minute 1:41.)

One Generation Away is a documentary-style film slated to release September 1. The film focuses on seven ongoing cases studies of religious freedom across the country: Mt. Soledad in San Diego, wedding service providers in Oregon and Washington, Hobby Lobby, chaplaincy in the military, two education cases with a collegiate counseling program, and high school cheerleaders in Koontz, Texas. “The fight to protect our religious freedom is paramount to our country’s future prosperity,” Santorum says. “Taking that fight to the big screen and impacting the culture along the way allows us to inform on this critical subject in a meaningful and entertaining way.”

The film will include interviews with more than 40 political, business and religious leaders, including Steve and David Green of Hobby Lobby, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Jennifer Marshall of Heritage Foundation, Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association. “The tone and message of One Generation is that freedom must be available for all to be effective,” Jeff Sheets, president of EchoLight Studios and founder of Abington Ridge Films, explains. “Our intended goal is to promote ongoing, civil dialogue that respects each other even while at times disagreeing.”

The trailer makes the film’s overall position clear: religious freedom in the U.S. is under attack. A famous Ronald Reagan quote frames the trailer: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” Reagan says in the trailer. “And if you and I don’t do this, then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” (The original quote comes from Reagan’s 1961 speech arguing to block the passage of Medicare. Sarah Palin revived the quote in her closing remarks in the 2008 vice-presidential debate.)

The comparison to Nazi Germany is bound to raise eyebrows, if not criticism. It is not an uncommon analogy for Santorum—as Dana Milbank wrote in 2012, “Santorum sees Nazis everywhere: in the Middle East, in doctor’s offices and medical labs, in the Democratic Party, and now in the White House.” Sheets explains the inclusion of the Nazi comparison this way: “This example was used to illustrate the extreme consequences that can occur when freedoms begin to erode unchecked. The ‘Church’ in Germany sat by as their freedoms and the freedoms of the Jews were restricted. By the time they woke up, it was too late. America is NOT Nazi Germany nor is there an inference in the movie that our government is taking that extremist position.”

One Generation Away will be shown in churches as the premier of EchoLight’s new plan to take advantage of their theater-like setup and built-in audiences.

TIME Religion

The Bible and Seeds of Imagination

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Editors’ Note: This article is part of the Public Square 2014 Summer Series: Conversations on Religious Trends. Read other perspectives from the Progressive Christian community here.

Since I live in what Flannery O’Connor once called “the Christ-haunted South,” I cannot travel a mile without seeing a Bible verse splashed on a billboard, framed by a church marquee, or nailed to a tree. Some of these verses are used to sell building supplies and others to save souls, but altogether they argue against any nuanced reading of scripture. What you see is what you get, and if you have to ask questions then you are probably not ready to give your life to God.

One of the first things students learn in my New Testament class is that the Bible did not fall out of the sky as God’s gift to the early church. It was the church’s creation—a selection of new Greek texts added to a rearrangement of the old Hebrew ones, which made it a library, not a single book—intended to shape the early Christian imagination in ways that would make faith in Jesus Christ a no-brainer.

Or almost a no-brainer. Since the newer collection preserves several heated arguments in the early church along with distinctly different versions of the same stories, it requires some sorting out. At some point you have to decide whether to side with Mark or John (on Jesus’ omniscience), Luke or Paul (on how close Paul really was to Jesus’ original disciples), Paul or James (on the relative importance of faith and works). Asking questions is essential.

This approach can unsettle some students, as it did the mother of five who said she was going home to put warning stickers in all of her children’s Bibles: “Remember this book was written by human beings with agendas.”

I believe that. I also believe what I affirmed at my ordination, that “all things necessary for salvation are contained in the Old and New Testaments.” This is not to say that I believe the Bible is God’s guidebook for life. I don’t follow a fraction of the divine commandments in Leviticus, I think the God of Joshua is a monster, and I don’t recognize the Jesus in the book of Revelation.

Yet for all this the Bible is essential to my life as a Christian and as a human being. It is my best compendium of all the ways people have sought, seen, heard, and mis-heard the God of Abraham through the years. It is my best reminder that even the most agenda-ridden writers have not been able to bend God to their purposes. Its best stories have seeded my imagination in ways that have taken root, changing the course my life and shifting my view of the world so that there does not seem to be any chance of ever getting bored.

On nights when I cannot sleep, I have Jacob for company. He walks with a limp and flinches at strangers who approach him after dark, but when he tells me about the ladder full of angels I can see it propped against my own piece of sky. Other times, when good people are suffering terrible things and God is nowhere to be found, it is Job’s company I seek. He says things to God that I would not dream of saying out loud but since he says them in the Bible I can at least think them.

Mary and Joseph lead me to pay more attention to my dreams, John the Baptist reminds me that the savior you hope for is almost never the savior you get, Mary Magdalene shows me how many kinds of love there are—and Jesus? There’s not enough time even to begin. Give to everyone who begs of you, pray for those who persecute you, watch out for the log in your own eye, love your neighbor as yourself. Thanks to him, I cannot even pass someone in the frozen food grocery aisle at the grocery store without seeing a divine messenger.

This brings me to the best thing about the Bible, which is the way that it will not let you settle down between its pages. Pay attention to what is written there and it will keep pushing you out into the world—to look for the rainbow, scoop up the manna, wrestle the angel, seek the lost sheep, give your shirt to the stranger. Open your imagination to the divine stories it tells and the world stands a better chance of becoming a sacred place, if only because you are out there acting like it is.

This is not something you learn in New Testament class—or Bible study either—at least not if you are there to discover the right answers to all your questions. But if you want to know more about the God-haunted seekers who came before you and are willing to take your place among them, then by and by you will decide for yourself what kind of authority the Bible has. My advice is to keep your eye on the angels.

Barbara Brown Taylor is the author of Learning to Walk in the Dark and was on the TIME 100 in 2014.

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TIME Religion

This Ramadan, Let’s Restore the Sanctity of Life

The blessed month of Ramadan is nearly upon us. Though moral chaos, killing seems to be so easily justified, but the higher path is found in patience and in choosing life.

From the sectarian violence in Iraq to the deadly school shootings in America, we wake up almost everyday to tragic news of the loss of innocent lives. In these times, it is hard to make sense of all the murder and mayhem. Each incident or situation brings its own analysis of the who and why. But, whether it’s in the East or in the West there seems to be a larger problem underpinning all of these travesties: the loss of the sanctity of life.

As a Muslim, I am particularly saddened and troubled with how a small but dangerously misguided group of people are so easily willing to take life randomly to make a point that is only clear in their own minds all while wearing the mantle of Islam. These individuals and their mischievous leaders have completely neglected the undeniable sanctity of life that is articulated in the religious sources and through the writings of Islamic scholars throughout the centuries.

The Qur’an — Islam’s highest source for knowing God’s will — describes human beings as carrying something of the divine spirit (15:29), inherently full of nobility and dignity (17:70), created in the best of moulds (95:4), and placed on earth for very high purposes (2:30) among other descriptions. Therefore, the Qur’an affirms the Jewish teaching that killing one innocent person is like killing all of humanity, and saving one person is analogous to saving all of humanity (5:32). Murder is strictly forbidden and considered one of the greatest sins (6:151). Abortion (17:31) and infanticide (16:59) are condemned. As a deterrent against the taking of innocent life, the Qur’an allows for capital punishment of a murderer in the court of law but encourages the victim’s family toward mercy or a lighter punishment (2:178). The Prophet Muhammad, likewise, emphasized in numerous traditions that the true believer was the one who safeguarded people’s lives, safety, and property.

As such, the legal scholars of Islam, in articulating the higher aims and purpose of Islam’s sacred law (maqasid al-shari’ah) always highlighted the preservation of life as one of the foremost objectives. There isn’t a scholarly work out there on the philosophy of Shari’ah that does not emphasize the sanctity of life.

This is not to claim that Islam is a pacifist religion. To claim so would be disingenuous. But, violence and the taking of life in Islam is limited to specific legal punishments in a court of law or fighting on the battlefield in a just cause (Qur’an 22:39-41). It is not and cannot be the random vigilante violence that suicide bombers and others have taken to as a daily method of traumatizing and terrorizing people to meet political objectives. This has no basis for justification whatsoever in Islam’s ethical system.

Sadly, there are disenchanted Muslims out there who express their anger and frustrations with the world through violent means. They are led into this battle cry by charismatic leaders who convince them that killing is somehow a solution. The Qur’an itself warns against following charlatans who claim the mantle of godliness but who, in reality, cause corruption and sow mischief on earth (2:204).

There are very real causes for pain and angst in parts of the Muslim World. The feeling of humiliation and disrespect from the rest of the world is palatable for so many. The missiles and embargoes that people have to live under are unbearable. The poverty and corruption make it hard to see brighter days ahead. Living under brutal dictatorships that are supported by powerful nations is depressing.

The old and weary resolve themselves to apathy. But, the young are often left with a burning desire to change their situation. As the popular song by the American band Fun goes, “Tonight, we are young so let’s set the world on fire.” The problem is fire can either produce light and energy or it can cause indescribable destruction and horror. When young people are not shown how to or supported in their efforts to change the world positively and constructively then they will find a way to do so destructively. The frighteningly violent group operating out of Somalia al-Shabab, meaning in Arabic “the young,” are a prime example of what misdirected zeal can lead to. But, as a university chaplain surrounded by young people everyday, I take much greater hope in the Muslim students I meet everyday who are committed to peaceful paths and positive change. For example, two Princeton students, Farah Amjad and Wardah Bari, received the prestigious Davis Projects for Peace prize and are spending their summer in Jordan developing playgrounds for children that bring together native communities and Syrian refugees to foster peace.

Returning to the sanctity of life, it must be restored to the heart of our ethics today. This means making it known loud and clear from every hilltop and valley that vigilante killing is morally intolerable and unacceptable. It means holding murderers in disgrace, never in honor. It means truly feeling and mourning the taking of life whenever and wherever it happens. It means debating war just as vehemently as we debate abortion or end of life issues, if not more. And, it means treating every life — regardless of race or religion — as equal.

Of course, one of the moral problems we face as human beings is knowing when killing, if ever, is justified. Many moral philosophers and religious scholars have pondered this difficult question. All I would like to offer in this piece is a call to restraint. The Prophet Muhammad warned that a time would come when random killing was common and he advised his followers to be like the first and better son of Adam who said to his brother “If you stretch forth your hand to kill me, I will not stretch forth my hand to kill you.”

The blessed month of Ramadan is nearly upon us, anticipated to begin on the night of June 27. For Muslims, it is a time for fasting from eating and drinking during the daylight hours as a way of training and discipling the soul in the virtue of self-restraint. In these days of moral chaos when killing seems to be so easily justified, it is a good reminder that the higher path is found in patience and in choosing life.

Sohaib N. Sultan is a chaplain and the first full-time Muslim Life coordinator at Princeton University.

TIME Religion

Pope for Legal Dope? Still Nope.

Pope Israel
Pope Francis listens to a speech during his meeting with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, at the Heichal Shlomo center in Jerusalem on May 26, 2014 Andrew Medichini—AP

The Holy Father is standing firm against recreational drugs, even as his home continent pushes for legalization

Pope Francis is not changing his mind about recreational drug use or marijuana legalization. On Friday morning, the Holy Father made his anti-pot position clear to the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome. “Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!” the Pope said. “Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise.”

Legalization, he continued, should be a no-go. “Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs,’ are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects,” he said.

It is far from a new position, either for Francis or the Vatican. In 2001, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Health Care urged governments to resist legalization even on soft drugs in the manual “Church, Drugs, and Drug Addiction,” published at the request of John Paul II. Francis said no to legalization as a bishop in Argentina when he was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. Last summer, Pope Francis condemned legalization when he was in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day. “The scourge of drug trafficking, that favors violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires of society as a whole an act of courage,” he told the crowd, adding that legalization would not yield “a reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction.”

The Pope’s position is similar to the Dalai Lama’s, who also warns against recreational use. “These kinds of substances are generally considered poison, very bad,” he told TIME in February. “The ability to judge reality is something very unique. Our brain is something very special. So if that is damaged, that’s awful. So alcohol and drugs are very bad.”

Francis’ reasoning is not so much about drugs themselves as about the broader suffering they cause, not just for individuals, but also for communities. Drugs dependencies can both hurt relationships and trap people in poverty. “To say this ‘no,’ one has to say ‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to love, ‘yes’ to others, ‘yes’ to education, ‘yes’ to greater job opportunities,” the Pope explained. “If we say ‘yes’ to all these things, there will be no room for illicit drugs, for alcohol abuse, for other forms of addiction.”

He is particularly concerned about their impact on young people. “The scourge of drug use continues to spread inexorably, fed by a deplorable commerce which transcends national and continental borders,” he said. “As a result, the lives of more and more young people and adolescents are in danger.”

Even if his words are not new, it is still a significant stand for the first Pope from Latin America to take. The region has been at the forefront of the drug wars for years, and many lawmakers there have been arguing that legalization and regulation are actually the way out of the cycle of violence and poverty associated with the trade.

Last year Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize the marijuana trade—growing, selling, smoking—to try to push traffickers out to the pot business, and President José “Pepe” Mujica was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Argentina, Francis’ home, decriminalized possession of controlled substances in 2009, and Catholic priest Juan Carlos Molina, who serves as the country’s drug czar, called for a debate about whether or not Argentina should follow Uruguay’s example. In Brazil trafficking the drug is criminal but personal use is not punished. Mexico decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 2009.

Francis may not have directly taken on these policies this morning, it is hard to imagine they are far from his mind, especially since South America is in the global spotlight for the World Cup games. The last major time he spoke out against recreational drugs was also when Rio de Janiero was an international focus for World Youth Day. It’s another reminder that the world’s top Catholic leader knows how to play the political game.

TIME U.S.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like: A Day at Ralph Reed’s “Road to Majority” Conference

Road to Majority conservative conference
Attendees recite the Pledge of Allegiance during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" conference in Washington, June 20, 2014. Drew Angerer—EPA

Members of FFC’s "Road to Majority" Conference come armed with faith and idealism to take on Washington.

Bronson and Misty Oudshoff came to Washington to wage war. “Every day there is a battle between opposing worldviews,” says Bronson, 36, a clinical research coordinator for a urology group with a self-described “conservative Christian worldview… [of] how the Bible instructs us and details the truth of God’s word.”

The Oudshoffs and their three children, ages ten, twelve and twelve, are part of a group that has traveled from Florida to D.C. to attend the Road to Majority Conference, organized by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition, in hopes of meeting with legislators from their state, including Representative David Jolly and Senator Marco Rubio.

“We’re not typical Floridians,” Regina Brown, founder of the biblical Christian activist group Transforming Florida, is quick to point out. “It’s a spiritual battle more than a political battle,” Misty Oudshoff, 38, says, and they’re here to challenge the idea that Washington gridlock can stymie even the most impassioned activists.

After the conference’s opening luncheon with remarks by Senator Ted Cruz, Ambassador John Bolton and Rubio, among others, attended by about 1,500 guests, the eleven in the Florida group pile onto buses with the other self-identifying ‘freedom warriors’ heading to the Capitol. The first stop for the Florida gang: a meeting with Jolly, who many of them worked for during his last campaign. FFC has armed its members with a packet of talking points for their meetings. There is a page on immigration reform, (“FFC opposes amnesty in any form”), a page on religious freedom and the Affordable Care Act, (“We oppose the employer mandates in Obamacare that force employers, including religious charities, to provide health care services that violate their faith and assault their conscience”), and a page on education, (“FFC opposes federal imposition of Common Core because of its one size fits all approach to education”).

Packets in hand, the Floridians go to Jolly’s office, where they are seated in a conference room. Jolly is still busy with the vote for the new House Majority Leader, so while they wait the group finds pictures of themselves at Jolly’s victory party to send to his office. They also eagerly discuss the vote – they are all rooting for Tea Party favorite Rep. Raul Labrador over current leadership team member Rep. Kevin McCarthy.

“We need to pray about this,” someone says.

“Can you tell us who he’s voting for?” Brown, 59, asks a staffer. The staffer claims he doesn’t know, and Brown responds, “Well, text him right now and ask!” Before he can respond, Mark Kober, an air-conditioner installer from Largo, gets a breaking news update on his phone: McCarthy has won the election. And in another disappointment for the day, the group is informed that Jolly won’t be able to join them. Brown immediately suggests another time for the meeting, and gets a “maybe” from the staffer. For now, that’s good enough for her. She does a little victory dance and says, “All you need to do is pretend you know what you’re doing!”

Next, the group heads across the street to take a tour of the Capitol before their appointment with Rubio, though Brown hasn’t been able to get confirmation they’ll actually meet him yet, just another “maybe.” As he walks through the Capitol, Kober, 35, marvels at how many famous men and women have walked these same halls, and how, at some point, reverence for that fact must wear off. “That’s why you need people like us,” he says. “To remind you of where you came from.”

Suddenly, Senator Ted Cruz walks by, and smiles. “Did you just see that?” “That was Ted Cruz!” “Did you see him?” The group titters. It’s the closest they’ve been to a lawmaker all day.

But such excitement is ephemeral. At this point it’s past four, so the rotunda is closed and sitting in the nearby gallery overlooking the floor of the Senate means looking down at a room full of empty chairs during a quorum call. The tour ends early. Disappointment begins to set in. “We’re just a day late and a dollar short everywhere we go today,” Misty says.

The group makes a final stop of the day at Rubio’s office. But there the tentative meeting “maybe” becomes “no” and the group meets instead with J.R. Sanchez, Rubio’s director of outreach and senior policy advisor. Still, this last meeting of the day is also their first, and they are eager to talk.

“Give me some solutions,” Sanchez says. “Tell me what I can relay back to Marco.” With an opening to bring up the talking points, someone mentions immigration reform. “Under the current administration, we’ve realized we will never be able to pass real, comprehensive immigration reform,” Sanchez replies.

The Oudshoffs then talk about how they feel the Left is infringing upon their religious freedom by not letting people express Christian religious views in schools.

“At the end of the day you can’t force your faith and values on people,” Sanchez says, “but you shouldn’t have your personal religious beliefs impaired.” How about the decay of the nuclear family unit in society? “We can’t legislate how people should conduct themselves in marriage or not,” Sanchez says, but that they should support laws that encourage the family structure.

The group seems disheartened by such non-committal rhetoric. Finally, Sanchez says, “At the end of the day, the best way you can deal with your outrage is by mobilizing grassroots and not staying at home.” That validation after a day of canceled meetings, “maybes” and truncated tours offers some solace. This group from Florida did not stay home.

But what did they accomplish by coming? That morning, when the buses pulled up and members of FFC got their first look at the Capitol building, Kober looked up and said, “It’s powerful just to be here.”

TIME

Christian Heavy Metal Band Frontman Admits He’s Actually an Atheist

As I Lay Dying Wikipedia / Matthias Bauer

Apostasy is so metal

If you grew up Christian, or just really emo, you might remember the band As I Lay Dying from your teenage years. They mixed heavy metal instrumentation and angsty lyrics with a tinge of religion. But it turns out that was something of a lie. The band’s frontman, Tim Lambesis, just admitted that he has been an atheist for years—and he wasn’t the only band member to drop out of their creed.

This confession wasn’t the first time Lambesis betrayed his fans, however. He was also recently arrested for hiring an undercover detective to kill his soon-to-be former wife—he was angry that she had restricted visits with their children and would get a share of his income in the divorce. His wife, Meggan, has filed a $2 million lawsuit against him.

Lambesis says he was the third guy who became an atheist in the band, a fact that had come to light in the couple’s divorce papers. “In the process of trying to defend my faith, I started thinking the other point of view was the stronger one,” he said in an interview with Alternative Press. “In 12 years of touring with As I Lay Dying, I would say maybe one in 10 Christian bands we toured with were actually Christian bands.”

The singer has been sentenced to six years in jail, but the band’s near future probably isn’t a good bet, either.

TIME Religion

A Letter to Graduates: Whatever Happened to the Common Good?

When considering what's next after graduation, think of others

It’s that time of year, when eager graduates celebrate the fruit of their hard work and look forward to their first job or graduate school. The air is full of excitement of untapped potential and bright futures.

So to those graduates, I offer you a challenge: in the lives you choose to lead from this point forward, consider how to ensure a bright future for all—not just yourselves or your group.

Because the moral question for the society you’re about to enter is the spiritual battle between “I” and “We.” In culture the “me first” ethos dominates real concern for others. In economics, the metric of “short termism” trumps “stewardship.” In politics, winning replaces governing and instead of solutions, we prefer blame. In religion, private piety is preferred over sacrifice. It is a “selfie” culture, in which the camera is focused on us and our friends, ignoring the beauty of the world. Depending on someone else to take our picture isn’t even necessary anymore.

The spiritual term for these problems is, of course, is “selfishness”–a familiar human seduction and sin. The only redemption from it is to rise above ourselves for something greater.

Yet, almost every day, the news from Washington, Wall Street, and Hollywood raises a very pointed question: Whatever happened to the common good?

Public polling shows that most of us believe our country is headed in the wrong direction. Many of us feel that our society’s major institutions have failed. Many feel politically and spiritually homeless in the raging battles between ideological extremes. And most of us would agree that the common good has become very uncommon.

Still, many of us are hungry for authenticity when we see it and desire something larger than our own self-interests—as the response to Pope Francis has demonstrated, from the religious and non-religious alike. As the Pontiff said during his visit to the Middle East: “The time has come for everyone to find the courage to be generous and creative in the service of the common good.”

Indeed, the ancient idea of “the common good” is a vision that helps us live our best values. For Christians, the common good comes from Jesus’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves—including “the least of these.” I know of no other social ethic that is as transformational as this one. But most of our faith traditions agree we must love our neighbor if we say we love God. Seeking the common good means that our treatment of the most vulnerable is the test of our society’s integrity. Promoting the common good is the best way to make sure that we are protecting the life and dignity of all God’s children.

Given the political inability to solve the real problems, given our inability, to focus on those who are most in jeopardy, and given how greed and self-interest have overtaken our markets and our politics, we must go deeper into our best values.

The public discussion we need about the common good concerns all the decisions we make in our personal and public lives. The common good may come last to places like Washington, Wall Street, and Hollywood, but can turn history in different directions. And it begins with our own personal decisions–the way all social movements start.

And that is what I hope you will consider in your academic and professional careers: how to repair a society that has broken down in fundamental ways. A commitment to the common good is also the best way to find common ground with others–even those who disagree with us.

It’s in your power to lead us now, by urging a new ethic of civility between conservatives and liberals. Both personal and social responsibility are necessary for a world in which the common good is embraced.

It’s in your power now, to choose work and make decisions in those workplaces that restores trust in economic decision-making, mobility, and opportunity. It’s up to you make choices that will promote a “moral economy” by embracing values like human dignity, the common good, and stewardship. Let’s take on the big question about the role of government—how can it best serve the common good in partnership with other sectors?

It’s in your power now to seek the common good in the places we call home. How we live well with those closest to us will shape or undermine a common good culture. Whether religious or not, how can we learn to see our neighborhoods, our nation, and the world as our “parish” for which we are all responsible?

And that is my challenge to you. As you continue your education or embark on your career, consider the personal decisions you can make to seek the common good and promote our best values.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

TIME Religion

5 Reasons Churches Need to ‘Come Out’ on LGBTQ Rights

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Our entire family, including my wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, and my two kids, took part in the Portland Gay Pride parade this weekend. We stood on a float in the rain and waved to thousands of people lining the streets, from the park blocks to the riverfront. It truly was a joyful day, but of course, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of the church officially being represented in the parade.
Why not just take part as individuals? Why bring such a polarizing issue into the spotlight, especially one that might make many people uncomfortable?

Here are five reasons we, as Christian institutions, need to take public stands on behalf of our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer sisters and brothers:

Much of the pain, and therefore, suspicion and resentment, lies at the institutional level. It’s one thing for a person who identifies as a Christian to take the risk of putting themselves out there to say they support or affirm someone’s God-given orientation or identity. It’s entirely another when a church body does so. As long as the efforts to reconcile the brokenness between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community remain at the individual level, the history of marginalization and judgment lingers like an ever-present shadow.

The Churches’ window of opportunity to be on the right side of history is closing. At the risk of sounding opportunistic, too many Christians found themselves on the rather embarrassing end of the debate about slavery, desegregation, and even women’s rights and in some cases still today. Nearly anyone with a compassionate heart and some sense of history would look back on those movements as something for which Christian churches should have been champions on the forefront. Yes, some were, but certainly not enough. And honestly, if we continue to advocate for some people being treated as “less than” others in any way, how can we claim the Gospel as our mandate with any credibility? We’re seeing history change before our eyes with regard to same-sex rights; shall we be remembered, once again, as one of the few holdouts clinging to the social equivalent of a flat-earth mentality?

People need to know where their sanctuaries are. Despite much progress toward equality for LGBTQ persons, there still is an inherent fear, or at least anxiety, about where one will be tolerated, if not openly welcomed. By taking such a public position, churches assure those seeking refuge from a lifetime of judgment or condemnation that there is a place for them.

We’re commanded to go to those in need of God’s grace. Sure, it’s all well and good to take an official stand as a congregation or denomination from a boardroom or in a set of bylaws no one will ever read. But saying we’re affirming of LGBTQ rights takes very little risk on our part. If someone has taken the bold step to be open and forthright about their identity or orientation in the public sphere, the least we can do is act in kind. Yes, it’s vulnerable and a little bit scary to go as a group of Christians to a pride parade. Someone might reject us. Someone might unload their pent-up pain or anger toward Christianity on us. Much like they’ve had people do to them, no doubt, being part of the LGBTQ tribe. Jesus didn’t sit back at the temple and wait for people to cue up and ask for his grace; He went out into the world, noticed where the needs were around him and addressed them, head-on. Why, as followers of the path Christ illuminated for us, should we expect our work to be any different.

Love is without condition. Period. Perhaps you’re still wrestling with the “gay issue” because of your understanding of scripture. As long as you’re at least wrestling, I applaud that. It means you care. But if you use such reservations about an issue to withhold radical, boundary-smashing love and grace from any of God’s children, you’re denying the humanity at the heart of the Greatest Commandment while navel-gazing and calling it Bible study. Your LGBTQ brothers and sisters are worthy of your love and grace, and God’s love and grace, as much as those you find it so easy to love. But Jesus is clear that we should not be content with loving the one’s we’re already comfortable loving. The very people who you struggle to open your heart to are the ones to whom you are commanded to give yourself fully. With all your soul, strength and mind. And if we can’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder on such principles as this, what in the hell are we worth as Church universal?

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About the Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus.

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