TIME Religion

What Can We Learn From the Pending Hobby Lobby Case?

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Just a little while ago, I read a blog post by Dr. Jackie Roese regarding the upcoming Supreme Court decision about the Hobby Lobby case. She makes the argument that we, especially women, are “eating cheeseburgers” when it comes to the issue of contraception for women – that it seems so straightforward and obvious that women should have easy access to contraceptives, we just go about our regular lives, munching on our cheeseburgers and not worrying about this case or its implications. But depending on how the Court rules, the decision on the Hobby Lobby case could make us think differently.

The Hobby Lobby case asks a simple question – can corporations refuse to cover certain kinds of birth control for women by claiming First Amendment religious freedom protections, despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act requires insurance to cover birth control? So, should corporations have this power – yes or no? It is a simple question, with a simple answer of ‘no,’ but it is the far-reaching implications that come from studying the issue that make things a bit more complicated.

The Affordable Care Act requires for-profit organizations to cover birth control for women on their employees’ health insurance plans. Any non-profit, religious organization with a religious objection to contraception can opt out of this coverage. And obviously any individual with a religious objection to using contraception is not forced to do so. This distinguishes individuals and non-profit organizations formed for religious reasons from corporations formed to make profits. If we start treating for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby the same as churches and allow them to claim to have a faith, we create a bunch of problems. Let’s take a look.

Religious Freedom

In this case, corporations are claiming they should be able to ignore laws they don’t like by claiming the laws violate their faith. But everyone knows corporations do not have souls. They cannot have faith. Corporations were not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Corporations were created by states to provide liability protections for their owners and to create an organizing mechanism to make profit. It cheapens our religious freedoms and the idea of faith to say that faith is something a corporation can have. And it raises the risks that the government will have to take a more active role in litigating and deciding what counts as religious activity, and what is and is not a valid expression of it, as corporations continue to use religion to bypass any of our laws they happen not to like.

Abortion

Because supporters of Hobby Lobby have claimed to be against abortion, and many of the women’s groups who are pro-choice have opposed Hobby Lobby, many assume that a Hobby Lobby win would reduce abortions. But the opposite is true. Restricting access to contraception actually leads to more unintended pregnancies, which studies have consistently shown result in many more abortions. As the recent Faithful Dems post by Lindsey Bergholz explains, we all want to lower the number of abortions in America, but restricting contraceptives is not the way to do it. If this case goes in Hobby Lobby’s favor, there will be more unintended pregnancies and more abortions. As Christians, we should do everything we can to ensure that doesn’t happen, while at the same time staying true to our progressive values and giving women as many choices as we can. Giving women access to contraception fulfills both of these needs.

Women’s Choices

Last but not least is the issue of women’s choices. As women, we have made so much progress since the second-wave feminism of the 1960s that it is easy to take for granted the gains that we do have. However, events such as this pending Hobby Lobby case should remind us how precarious our rights and choices are. Should the Supreme Court rule in Hobby Lobby’s favor and agree that women’s right to contraception can be restricted, hundreds of thousands of women and their families would be put in jeopardy. As Democrats, we must raise our voices in defense of the fundamental right of women to plan when they will have a family and what size it will be. And as people of faith, we should think hard about the best ways to support our families and let all people make the decisions that fit best with their values and beliefs. Dr. Jackie Roese puts it well:

“I want to consider how fortunate I am to have choices. I want to spend a second grieving for women around the globe who don’t. And I at least want to contemplate what this court decision means on a broader scope for us as women, women who have had choice for so long we are eating burgers and drinking ice cold cokes while watching fireworks as those in power make powerful decisions – about me. A woman.”

Madeleine Roberts is a contributor to Faithful Democrats.

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TIME 2016 Election

Rand Paul Says Jesus Wouldn’t Like the GOP’s Taste for War

Rand Paul
Republican Senator Rand Paul speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' conference in Washington on June 20, 2014. Drew Angerer—EPA

Says Jesus was the "Prince of Peace"

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul condemned during a little-noticed interview what he described as his party’s eagerness to engage in international conflict, arguing that Jesus Christ “wasn’t really involved in the wars of his days.”

“Part of Republicans’ problems and, frankly, to tell you the truth, some in the evangelical Christian movement I think have appeared too eager for war,” Paul, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, told the Christian Broadcasting Network. “I think you need to remember that [Jesus] was the ‘Prince of Peace.’”

The April 2013 interview was getting renewed attention Friday after it was highlighted by the website Mother Jones. Paul’s more non-interventionist foreign policy has made him an enemy of Republican foreign policy hawks but a favorite of libertarians.

David Limbaugh, the brother of conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, was among the conservative commentators who expressed dismay at the remarks Friday.

“I pray there’s some explanation,” he wrote on Twitter.

TIME Religion

Hillary Clinton: Anchored by Faith

Brooks Kraft/Corbis for TIME

Since childhood, the former Secretary of State's Methodist beliefs have inspired public service and private devotion

This originally appeared in TIME’s book Hillary: An American Life, available on newsstands everywhere June 27.

Hillary Clinton once described her faith as the background music of her life. Whether she hears it as Chopin, Bach or even U2, she did not say, but the tune, she said, never fades away. “It’s there all the time. It’s not something you have to think about, you believe it,” she said in an interview with the New York Times. “You have a faith center out of which the rest flows.”

It can be easy to tune out background music, especially amid the political cacophony that has so often dominated Clinton’s public life. But the former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and First Lady is, and has always been, a Methodist. Her faith is at once public yet personal, quiet yet bold. She is part of the second-largest Protestant group in the country, but her brand of faith has never been mainstream: Methodists make up about 6% of the total U.S. adult population, according to the Pew Research Center.

If Methodists are known for one thing, it is, as the old church saying goes, that they are always looking for a mission. Clinton is no exception. Her sense of purpose has guided her from Wellesley to Washington, and may push her to seek the White House again come 2016. Certainly political aspirations have motivated her career. But her faith has also driven her, if not equally, at least consistently, to give her life to the pursuit of a higher calling.

Step By Step

Methodism knew Clinton even before she was born. Family lore has it that John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, converted her great-great-grandparents in the coal-mining villages of Newcastle, in northeast England, in the 19th century. Clinton grew up attending First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge in Chicago, where she was confirmed in sixth grade. Her mother taught Sunday school, and Clinton was active in youth group, Bible studies and altar guild. On Saturdays during Illinois’s harvest season, she and others from her youth group would babysit children of nearby migrant workers. As the Wesleyan mantra instructed them, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

One man in particular had a strong influence on her young faith: Donald Jones, who came to Park Ridge as the new youth minister when Clinton was a high school freshman. A Drew University Seminary graduate, Jones’s own theology had the imprint of theological heavyweights like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Niebuhr, and he made it his mission to give the youth a strong and broad theological training. He created a “University of Life” for his youth-group students and introduced Clinton and her peers to the great works of T.S. Eliot, E.E. Cummings, Dostoyevsky and Picasso. Faith, he argued, must be lived out in social justice and human rights. Jones ensured that students connected these ideas to life in their own communities, arranging exchanges with youth groups at black and Hispanic churches in Chicago’s inner city so that his students became aware of life beyond Park Ridge. Most important, he introduced Clinton to Martin Luther King Jr. when he came to Chicago in 1962. “Until then, I had been dimly aware of the social revolution occurring in our country,” Clinton recalled in her memoir Living History, “but Dr. King’s words illuminated the struggle taking place and challenged our indifference.”

This socially active current remained the lifeblood of her faith as her political career began to take shape. At Wellesley, Clinton regularly read the Methodist Church’s Motive magazine, and she credited it with helping her to realize that her political beliefs were no longer aligned with the Republican Party and that she should step down as president of the Young Republicans. During her Yale Law School years, she worked for anti-poverty activist Marian Wright Edelman, who is now president of the Children’s Defense Fund, and researched the education and health of migrant children she had known earlier. When she finally decided to marry a young Southern Baptist named Bill Clinton in Oct. 1975, it was local Arkansas Methodist minister Vic Nixon who married them in their living room.

Clinton became the first Methodist First Lady in the White House since President Warren Harding’s wife, Florence, who followed Methodist First Ladies Ida McKinley, Lucy Hayes, Julia Grant and Eliza Johnson. She soon brought issues like health-care reform and women’s rights to the national spotlight (even though faith alone could not make what came to be known as “Hillarycare” succeed). The Clintons regularly attended the Foundry United Methodist Church, a socially active church that today is an advocate for gay and lesbian rights, not far from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “As a Christian, part of my obligation is to take action to alleviate suffering,” she told the United Methodist News Service not long after her husband was elected. “Explicit recognition of that in the Methodist tradition is one reason I’m comfortable in this church.”

While Clinton’s faith has always emphasized public service, it also has a private side that runs deep. Prayer and reflection have been at the core of her spiritual life, and she has been known to carry a small book of her favorite Scripture verses to reflect upon in quiet moments. “My faith has always been primarily personal,” she once told the New York Times. “It is how I live my life and who I am, and I have tried through my works to demonstrate a level of commitment and compassion that flow from my faith.”

At times, she would let the public catch a glimpse of this inner faith. When George H.W. Bush called Bill on election night in 1992 to concede, Hillary recalled in Living History, “Bill and I went into our bedroom, closed the door and prayed together for God’s help as he took on this awesome honor and responsibility.” Her words are an unmistakable echo for anyone who knows the Bible well. Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, preached, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

It is a reminder that Clinton is keenly aware that in America the Bible can often be a political tool. Early in 1993, she joined a women’s prayer group through the National Prayer Breakfast organized by conservative evangelical Doug Coe. Clinton called the women her “prayer partners,” in the long spiritual tradition of having people of faith pray consistently for you throughout your life. The group, however, was more than just spiritual—each woman had strong political affiliations, many of which served to help Clinton win allies across the political aisle. It included Susan Baker, the wife of President George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker; Joanne Kemp, the wife of future vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp; and Holly Leachman, a Christian speaker who even faxed Clinton a daily Scripture reading or faith message throughout her time in the White House. Whether the group served a primarily political or spiritual purpose is difficult to sort out, but Clinton did say that she valued their prayers. “Of all the thousands of gifts I received in my eight years in the White House, few were more welcome and needed,” she wrote.

Clinton had plenty of raw personal moments that thrust her faith into the public spotlight. Her second year in the White House was particularly grief-stricken: she lost her father, her mother-in-law and her friend Vince Foster in the short time since Bill Clinton had been president. Two friends gave Clinton a copy of a book by Catholic priest Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son. One sentence, Clinton said, struck her like a lightning bolt: “The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”

The biggest test of faith came in 1998 with her husband’s personal indiscretions. To the public, Clinton’s response was short and direct. “This is a time when she relies on her strong religious faith,” Marsha Berry, Clinton’s press secretary, said in a statement when the Monica Lewinsky news broke. But as she often did in times of personal trial, Clinton turned back to her former minister Don Jones for counsel. He pointed her to a sermon by theologian Paul Tillich called “You Are Accepted” that he had taught her youth group growing up and encouraged her to choose grace. “Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness,” Tillich wrote. “It happens or it does not happen.” Clinton explained in her memoir that she made a decision to choose grace. She also turned to Nouwen for advice on forgiveness. Prayer, Nouwen argues, takes you into the arms of God and deep into yourself to find the ability to forgive. “Do I want to be not just the one who is being forgiven, but also the one who forgives; not just the one who is being welcomed home, but also the one who welcomes home; not just the one who receives compassion, but the one who offers it as well?” he reflected in his book’s conclusion.

Clinton also developed a close relationship with evangelist Billy Graham in the months leading to and after the crisis. In 1997, at the dedication of the George Herbert Walker Bush Presidential Library, Clinton pulled Graham aside and asked him to talk with her. “She grabbed my head in her hands and held it there like that and looked right into my eyes and said, ‘I want to tell you about Bill,’ ” Graham later recounted in The Preacher and the Presidents. Graham, who forgave Bill Clinton as quickly as he had Nixon decades prior, encouraged Hillary to forgive her husband. Clinton held Graham’s hand the entire time during their private meeting at Graham’s New York City Crusade in 2005. “She was just so sweet,” Graham recalled. “She is different from the Hillary you see in the media. There is a warm side to her—and a spiritual one.”

Costly Grace

There’s a strain of Christian theology that believes self-sacrifice to be the highest form of faithful living. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who famously said that when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. Bonhoeffer took this literally—he was eventually executed by the Nazis for his role in the political resistance movement. God’s grace should mean something, he argued, and it should bring about justice on earth. “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church,” he wrote. “We are fighting today for costly grace.”

It can be said that Clinton knows this personally all too well. Few people in politics today know costs as closely as she does, be they political, marital, or the costs of being the first woman poised to become president. They have followed her time and again throughout her career. But she keeps on going. As she told a gathering of Methodist women in April, “Even when the odds are long, even when we are tired and just want to go away somewhere to be alone and rest, let’s make it happen.”

In a way, the costs are just the price for doing the Lord’s work. And it makes politics, and whatever her future therein is, more than just her career: it makes it her calling.

TIME Religion

5 Things You Really Mean When You Say ‘I Don’t Approve of Your Homosexual Lifestyle’

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Robert Daly—OJO Images RF/Getty Images

If you say this, you're not fooling anybody

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

The phrase “homosexual lifestyle” gets thrown around a lot by conservatives when jockeying for political power or popularity points. Sadly it seems it gets used even more so by otherwise nice enough people when they want to claim how much they love gay people, they just “don’t approve of their lifestyle.”

UGH!

Please, God, please – know that when you word vomit this phrase, you are painting with a wide brush that does not depict the picture you think it does. Frankly, honey, you sound ignorant. Ignorant because you are evidently not thinking beyond what you have been taught to parrot. Ignorant because you have bought and are peddling the tired old lie that all queer folk live exactly the same “lifestyle.”

Bless your heart.

I want to help translate what you think you are saying into what you are actually saying.

1. When you say “I don’t approve of your lifestyle” what you really mean is “ICK! I am so grossed out by what you do with other women – like, gag me with a spoon!” Guess what, I throw up in my mouth a little when I think about all your interlocking, squirty boot knockin’. How about we agree to keep our imaginations out of each other’s bedrooms? What you really mean is that you DO approve of reducing my entire personhood to my preference for dolls, instead of guys. You assent that nothing else about me is part of my “lifestyle” – not the job I do, not the worship I attend, not the food I eat, not the gardening I enjoy, not the children I am raising, and most certainly not the palpable and inescapable love I have for God and my neighbor. Next time, just be honest and say “I am grossed out by thinking about your sex life.”

2. When you say “I don’t approve of your lifestyle” what you really mean is you don’t believe in science. You have decided to ignore all social sciences that inform us that human sexuality is on a spectrum and that some people are in fact built (Created) to be attracted to, fall in love with and desire to make a life with people of the same gender. Next time, just be honest and say “I don’t believe in science.”

3. When you say “I don’t approve of your lifestyle” what you are really saying is you DO approve of forcing me to live either a dark and dangerous lie or to be completely alone, forever. Guess what, just as it is not my place to approve of how and who you love, it is not your place to approve or disapprove with whom I hold hands, kiss, take to my bed or want to share the most intimate dreams and nightmares of my life. Next time, just be honest and say “I don’t approve of you being whole and loved.”

4. When you say “I don’t approve of your lifestyle” what you are really saying is that you approve of me being persistently a second class, slightly fearful citizen living on the same street, shopping in the same community, worshipping at the same church and subject to stricter laws than you. What you really mean is that you believe only mixed gender couples have unalienable rights to the protection of life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness (or more basely stated) to court, love, make love to, marry, work without fear and raise a family without impunity. Guess what, laws of the United States sure as hell shouldn’t be based on individual ick factors or if I had my way – ombré highlights, egregious camel toes, duck lips, reality TV and camouflage clothing would all be punishable by glitter bombing, all the time. Next time, just be honest and say “I don’t approve of equal rights for all.”

5. When you say “I don’t approve of your lifestyle” what you are really saying is you don’t trust God to generously create and extravagantly love an amazing array of differently configured children. What you are saying is that God’s love is limited to people like you. And sweetie, we can call it blasphemy or we can call it heresy, hell I am happy to call it willful ignorance, but in truth it is just plain old, small-minded, narcissistic religiosity that denies the radical grace and is terrified of the incomprehensibility of God. As Anne Lamott said, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Next time, just be honest and say “I don’t believe in your sacred worth.”

NO matter what you think you are saying, when you say “I don’t approve of your lifestyle” what you are really saying, is “I don’t approve of you.”

Kimberly Knight is the Director of Digital Strategy at a southern liberal arts college and Minister of Digital community with Extravagance UCC.

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TIME

What a Muslim American Learned from Zionists

During a visit to an institute in Israel, I gained a new perspective on a belief that I once saw as toxic.

How probable is it to get ardent Zionists and pro-Palestinians to not just talk to one another, but love and respect one another? Not likely. That’s why the Shalom Hartman Institute launched a controversial but groundbreaking program to bring American Muslim thought and civic leaders to Jerusalem for a year-long fellowship. For many, the program was a hard sell given sensitivities and loyalties on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I hesitated joining because Hartman is an unapologetically Zionist institution and, like all the participants, I have been committed to the Palestinian cause throughout my life. Other than posing an ethical dilemma, it also required putting our credibility with the Muslim community on the line and opening dialogue with Zionists, a thought once an anathema to our sensibilities.

Zionism is a toxic word in the pro-Palestinian community; it stands for an opportunistic land-grab in the wake of the Holocaust from people who had nothing to do with that tragedy. To us, it stands for the nakba, a catastrophe, for the Palestinian people. It stands for an ethnic cleansing, a brutal occupation, militarized neighborhoods, checkpoints, political prisoners, daily humiliation, blockades, collective punishment, stolen resources. I have always been proudly anti-Zionist.

Through the fellowship I learned that Zionism means something very different for Jews. The Jewish people’s longing of thousands of years for a homeland, a return from exile, a sanctuary from being a hated minority in the diaspora, an opportunity to establish Jewish values and honor God, a Biblical promise, a chance for redemption. As someone with years of interfaith experience I should have known all this, but I didn’t. For this, I blame both the exhaustive use (and some Israelis say abuse) of the Holocaust narrative from Zionists to win over Western populations, and also because in the U.S., interfaith work means talking about everything except Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It shows the deep flaws in current interfaith models when the most burning issue remains unspoken.

But it did not remain unspoken in our program. As we learned and gained appreciation for the Biblical connection of the Holy Land to the Israeli people, the Palestinians remained at the forefront of our consciousness. In every session, dozens of times daily, we have pushed on the Palestinian issue. While we were challenged on our understanding of Zionism and the history of Jews and Israel, we challenged our professors from legal, historic, faith, human rights and national security perspectives to justify the treatment of Palestinians.

It was a frustrating cycle in which the conversation often ended at a version of one thought: “Most Israelis want to end the occupation but are afraid to.” Initially, this perpetual fear seemed like either an excuse or a deep collective pathology divorced from reality. It wasn’t until I met numerous Palestinians that I realized the fear many Israeli Jews have is not a figment of the imagination.

The despair and anger of a burgeoning population of young, unemployed, restricted, dislocated population which carries with it the pain of generations and assumes an apocalyptic end is real. We personally witnessed hundreds of Muslim men denied access to the Al-Aqsa mosque for Friday prayers, and their quiet rage, and even tears, at the young Israeli security personnel who blocked the entrances and themselves seemed scared and unsure. This pressure cooker cannot hold indefinitely.

Despite living on the front lives of this conflict, many Jewish friends at Hartman said it took the relationships built through the program for our Jewish friends to fully absorb the Palestinian narrative.

After a year we built the trust necessary for a needed exchange of admissions. The Muslim fellows understood Jewish fear and the Jews’ deep desire for a homeland after thousands of years of being a mistrusted minority. And Israeli Jews affirmed to us the daily devastation of the occupation and the shattering of Palestinians through which Israel was born. These exchanges between Zionists and pro-Palestinians were monumental.

They are also an affirmation that there is still hope for dialogue and relationships that can actually make a difference. Until now, both parties have been speaking inside their own bubbles, safe in dialogue with people that agree with them. The walls have been built so high that breaching them to reach out to the other side is tantamount to treason. Hartman and the participants both took huge risks in being part of this program with hopes to forge a new way forward. This fellowship proves that building relationships between people who fundamentally disagree can uncover empathy and mutual recognition that despite differences, everyone deserves dignity, security, prosperity and self-determination.

Rabia Chaudry is a fellow of the Truman National Security Project and the New America Foundation.

TIME Sudan

Sudanese Woman Cleared of Death Sentence Arrested Again

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Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a 27-year-old Christian Sudanese woman sentenced to hang for apostasy, sits in her cell a day after she gave birth to a baby girl at a women's prison in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman AFP/Getty Images

A Sudanese woman was arrested once again a day after a court overturned her death sentence issued on charges of apostasy, her lawyer told Bloomberg News.

A Sudanese court sentenced Meriam Yehia Ibrahim to die after she refused to renounce her Christian faith. Ibrahim has said she was raised Christian by her Ethiopian mother, and she married a Christian man. Ibrahim, 27, gained national attention after she was arrested, beaten and forced to give birth in a jail cell.

A day after her release, Ibrahim was taken into custody by members of Sudan’s national intelligence and security services as she tried to board a flight leaving Sudan.

Ibrahim’s husband and two children were taken into custody as well.

“There is no legal basis for this, it is an arbitrary arrest,” her lawyer, Elshareef Ali, said.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Religion

Activist Who Pushed Mormon Church to Ordain Women Excommunicated

Kate Kelly
Kate Kelly at a vigil in Salt Lake City, June 22, 2014. Rick Bowmer—AP

Convicted of apostasy by all-male jury

Kate Kelly, an activist who agitated for the Mormon church to ordain women, was excommunicated Monday by an all-male panel of judges.

Kelly organized the group Ordain Women in 2013 to demand that the Mormon Church allow women to be priests, and she quickly became the leader of the church feminist movement. She drew national attention for protesting the church’s refusal to ordain women by lining up Mormon women of all ages outside church conferences in Salt Lake City, according to the New York Times.

On Monday, Kelly received an email from Bishop Mark Harrison telling her that an all-male panel of church elders had convicted her of apostasy and voted for her excommunication on Sunday. “Our determination is that you be excommunicated for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church,” Bishop Harrison wrote Kelly, according to a statement on Ordain Women’s website.

“The decision to force me outside my congregation and community is exceptionally painful,” Kelly said in a statement. “Today is a tragic day for my family and me as we process the many ways this will impact us, both in this life and in the eternities. I love the gospel and the courage of its people. Don’t leave. Stay, and make things better.”

Kelly was warned in May that she would face church consequences if she did not disaffiliate from Ordain Women and take down the website, but she refused. She chose not to attend the hearing, but sent a letter to the judges asking them to “allow me to continue to worship in peace.”

 

 

TIME Religion

What It Really Means for Pope Francis to Excommunicate the Mob

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Pope Francis celebrates a Mass in Sibari, southern Italy on June 21, 2014. Alessandra Tarantino—AP

Why the Pope took sides against the Family

Pope Francis used the e-word against the mob for the first time this weekend.

The Holy Father was celebrating mass on Saturday in Calabria, a mob-heavy region in southern Italy, when he deviated from his prepared remarks and announced that the mafia are excommunicated. “Those who go down the evil path, as the Mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated,” he said. The thousands who had gathered underneath the hot sun cheered.

Calabria is home to the ‘Ndrangheta, a global drug trafficking syndicate. Reports suggest that the group turns over $72 billion per year in the cocaine trade and uses that wealth to entice young people in the region—where the unemployment rate is 50% or higher—to work for it. Last week Pope Francis also reaffirmed his position against recreational drug use and the drug trade.

Francis has condemned corporate financial sins throughout his papacy, particularly for their socio-economic consequences. His pronouncement on Saturday yet again shows how seriously he takes those consequences.

“When adoration of the Lord is substituted by adoration of money, the road to sin opens to personal interest…Your land, which so beautiful, knows the signs of the consequences of this sin,” Francis explained. “The ‘ndrangheta is this: adoration of evil and contempt of the common good. This evil must be fought, must be expelled. It must be told no.”

Pope Francis’ pronouncement was the strongest censure of the mafia so far in his papacy, or in any of his predecessors’ papacies. Excommunication does not mean that a person is banned from the church, but it is a public recognition by church authorities that a person is no longer part of the Catholic community. Technically excommunication means the excommunicated party has chosen to separate him or herself from the church through their own un-Catholic choices. The Pope doesn’t excommunicate, but people excommunicate themselves by their behavior. Excommunication also does not mean a person is denied from heaven and the afterlife (that’s “anathema”)—one’s baptism is still effectual, meaning it still carries its sacramental worth.

Excommunication is usually reserved for grave offenses, and some sins incur automatic excommunication. These traditionally include abortion (the woman who has it and all accomplices), apostasy (total repudiation of Christian faith), heresy (obstinate denial of doctrine), schism (refusing to submit to the Pope and church community), violating the sacred species (throwing away/desecrating elements of Eucharist), physically attacking the pope, consecrating a bishop without Vatican’s authorization, sacramentally absolving an accomplice in a sexual sin, and violating the seal of confession.

Francis is building on a theme of his papacy that financial behavior deserves equal scrutiny and attention as often-hyped sexual sins. Often people think of excommunication as a consequence for an individual, but the Pope’s words were a reminder that communities can sin too—and that a group’s financial behavior affect society as a whole, sometimes violently. Love of money and violent or dishonest behavior are right up there with abortion in his mind. It is another reason Francis has also been working to reform the scandal-plagued Vatican bank, the Institute for Religious Works, and that he has condemned the “idolatry of money” and unfettered capitalism as a “new tyranny.”

Life together, Pope Francis is reminding the world, is at the core of the Catholic message. That’s why excommunication means something. When someone is excommunicated, they are ex-communion, out of communion, and they cannot participate in the sacrament of Eucharist, a public action by a group of people setting themselves apart for the Christian life.

Will priests start denying members of the mafia the bread and wine? That remains to be seen, and it would likely be a risky decision. Francis appears unabashed. He’s preaching a bigger message: reconciliation and societal change. Even excommunication is not the end of relationship with the church. The same day, Pope Francis reminded a group of prisoners that God always forgives, meaning that reunion is always possible. “The Lord is a master at rehabilitation,” he said. “He takes us by the hand and brings us back into the social community. The Lord always forgives, always accompanies, always understands; it is up to us to let ourselves be understood, forgiven and accompanied.”

Whether the mafia listens to that message is another matter.

TIME Religion

Sudanese Woman Sentenced to Death for Apostasy Freed

Meriam Ibrahim sits in her cell a day after she gave birth to a baby girl at a women's prison in Omdurman on May 28, 2014.
Meriam Ibrahim sits in her cell a day after she gave birth to a baby girl at a women's prison in Omdurman on May 28, 2014. AFP/Getty Images

After giving birth in jail, Meriam Ibrahim finally reunites with her husband.

A Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy after she refused to reject her Christian faith has been freed and reunited with her husband and family, reports CNN.

Meriam Ibrahim was convicted of renouncing her faith by a Sudanese court in May. Eight months pregnant, the 27-year-old was sentenced to be hanged, as well as receive 100 lashings for alleged adultery. She eventually gave birth in jail, the Telegraph revealed—with her legs reportedly still shackled.

The controversy stemmed from Ibrahim’s upbringing, CNN said. Her father was Sudanese Muslim and her mother a Christian. However, her father left her at the age of 6, and Ibrahim’s mother raised her as a Christian. Ibrahim married her husband Daniel Wani, also a Christian, but because of her father’s faith, the marriage was considered invalid. Her own brother filed a report against her, CNN reported.

The case gathered international attention from human rights groups and politicians, including release requests from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State John Kerry and British Prime Minister David Cameron, reported the Telegraph.

Ibrahim’s initial conviction was found faulty in an appeals case, said her lawyer.

[CNN]

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