TIME jeb bush

Jeb Bush Says Christians Can Refuse to Serve Gay Weddings

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting, on May 16, 2015, at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall—AP Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting, on May 16, 2015, at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.

He also said marriage equality is not a constitutional right

Jeb Bush said in a new interview that Christian business owners can refuse to serve gay weddings.

The presumptive Republican 2016 presidential candidate told the Christian Broadcasting Network that refusing service would not count as discrimination if it went against a business owner’s religious beliefs.

“A big country, a tolerant country ought to be able to figure out the difference between discriminating someone because of their sexual orientation and not forcing someone to participate in a wedding that they find goes against their moral beliefs,” Bush said.

The question became a flashpoint earlier this year amid debate over an Indiana law that proponents said would protect religious freedom but critics said would sanction discrimination.

Bush also said in the interview that he doesn’t believe same-sex marriage is a constitutional right.

Read Next: Jeb Bush Casts Wide Net on Religious Liberty in Address

TIME Religion

How the Church Can Get Millennials Back

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

Lead with Jesus

This past week, the image of the United States as a Christian nation was contested by a new Pew study that showed that the number of Americans who call themselves Christian has dropped significantly. While the trend occurs across all age groups, it’s most notable among millennials.

Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, correctly predicted such a reality:

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision.

Being Christian is no longer a cultural norm, but a free decision. So what can the Church do to attract young people back to the pews? To me the answer is quite simple: Lead with Jesus.

In December 2013, Elizabeth Tenety wrote an article in the Washington Post titled “Like Pope Francis? You’ll love Jesus.” Tenety notes that what we love about Pope Francis is what has continue to amaze us about Jesus of Nazareth. The Jesus that Christians often present today is either too colored by our own political agendas or incredibly stale. But the troublemaker who founded the faith was nothing short of a radical.

Brandon Ambrosino puts it this way:

Jesus’ resurrection marked the end of Caesar’s way of doing things. It established a new kingdom in which enemies are loved, the marginalized are given primacy of place, and the poor are blessed. In this kingdom, hierarchies are subverted, concentrated power is decentralized, and prodigal children are welcomed home. Black lives matter here, as do queer lives and the lives of undocumented aliens within our borders — “Remember the stranger in your midst” is a common refrain in this kingdom.

A Christian faith without Jesus and his radical mission at the center is superficial. Too often those entrusted with passing down the faith of Jesus Christ have instead reduced it to what Pope Francis calls “a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.” This version isn’t a meaningful faith that provides life-long meaning for its people and that stands the test of time. It’s a faith without a future.

Make no mistake: Leading with doctrine instead of the person of Jesus simply will not work among today’s skeptical young Americans who are constantly inundated with the false god of consumerism, empty political rhetoric, dictatorships of relativism, a historical fundamentalism, systems of ethics lacking goodness, and intellectual discourse high on privilege and short on wisdom.

Since the end of Jesus’s life, his followers have been dedicated to spreading his story throughout the world. In the United States, there has been a long tradition of Christians leaving their home and going to serve on missions to spread the Gospel to countries around the globe.

But if the Pew report is correct, it seems that Americans don’t have far to travel to find missionary territory today. It’s in our backyard. It’s on Wall Street, where the law of God has been replaced by the law of the marketplace. It’s in Washington, where our lawmakers fail again and again to make our nation more just and less cold. And it’s in our communities, our families, and even our own hearts, which have become sterile and cold amidst this globalization of indifference.

These are the places the Gospel is needed most. These are the places where Christians must lead with Jesus.

Pope Francis has some advice for those engaging in this work: “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. … In pastoral ministry we must accompany people, and we must heal their wounds.”

In the end, it’s pretty clear: If Christianity is to have a renaissance in the United States, it must get back the source and the summit of the faith: Jesus of Nazareth.

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 Sen. Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio Dismisses Pope Francis’ Views on Cuba, Israel

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Andrew Burton—Getty Images Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Running for President, Leading a Global Faith Have Different Goals

During a Q&A on foreign policy Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio took a shot at an unlikely public figure: Pope Francis.

After delivering a meaty speech outlining his hawkish foreign policy priorities at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Florida Republican criticized the 78-year-old pontiff’s take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the U.S.-Cuban standoff.

“His desire is peace and prosperity, he wants everyone to be better off. He’s not a political figure,” Rubio said. “Anything he can do to open up more opportunities for them, he’s going to pursue.”

Rubio contrasted that with his own approach.

“My interest as an elected official is the national security of the United States and embedded in that is the belief that it is not good for our people—or the people of Cuba—for an anti-American dictatorship 90 miles from our shores,” he said.

And asked about the Vatican’s support for separate states of Israel and Palestine, Rubio said the United States must stand with its ally Israel.

“It is the only free enterprise, democratic, pro-American country in the Middle East. If we had more free enterprise, pro-American democracies in the Middle East, my speech would be a lot shorter,” Rubio said.

Asked about his earlier support for separate states of Israel and Palestine, Rubio was dour: “I don’t think the conditions exist for that today.”

It won’t be the last time Pope Francis plays a role in U.S. presidential politics. He’s set to visit Philadelphia in September of 2015, as the presidential race gets even more heated.

Read more: The Possible Presidential Candidate Who Agrees the Most with Pope Francis

TIME Religion

Abe Foxman: Vatican’s Recognition of Palestine Is Disappointing

Anti-Defamation League director Abraham 'Abe' Foxman attends the 'Woman In Gold' New York premiere at The Museum of Modern Art on March 30, 2015 in New York City.
Michael Loccisano— Getty Images Anti-Defamation League director Abraham 'Abe' Foxman attends the 'Woman In Gold' New York premiere at The Museum of Modern Art on March 30, 2015 in New York City.

Abraham H. Foxman is the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.

It may disincentivize Palestinians from finding a two-state solution

The Vatican’s announcement that it will soon officially recognize a Palestinian state is disappointing. I understand the church’s concern for the plight of the Palestinians, particularly as stories have surfaced recently that Palestinian refugees in Syria were being targeted by ISIS. I, too, would like to see their situation significantly advanced. Unfortunately, this step by the Vatican, following similar ones by several European Union countries, is premature and will not serve the larger goal: a political solution of two states for two peoples.

These recognitions don’t take into account the Palestinians’ role in failing to reach an agreement with Israel. Clearly, Israel is facing issues relating to dismantling settlements and finding a solution for Jerusalem, all in a regional environment at a time when extremist Islam groups are gaining ground, and where Israel’s experience in withdrawing from territory has not been a good one. Let us never forget, however, that the crux of the problem today, as it has been for decades, is the Palestinian refusal to accept the legitimacy of Jewish state.

We saw this at Camp David in 2000 when Israel offered Palestinians a state, dismantlement of a majority of settlements, and 90% territorial withdrawal. The Palestinians said “no” to an agreement that would have fundamentally changed their lives for the better. At the core of it was an unwillingness to accept a Jewish state as permanent and legitimate.

The same thing happened after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, and Israel’s even more magnanimous offer in 2008. To this day it’s clear that the Palestinians want to have their cake and eat it, too: to get an independent state without having to end their long, illegitimate struggle to dismantle the Jewish state.

Negotiations are the only responsible road to the Palestinian state because a solution requires give and take on both sides. These premature recognitions play into the Palestinian fantasy and actually disincentivize them from doing what they have to do.

What is particularly disappointing about the Vatican announcement is that it comes from a church that has made and continues to make huge strides in its relation with the Jewish people. Pope Francis has been outstanding in his relationship to the Jewish community, in his commitment to combat anti-Semitism and in his good relations with the State of Israel. The warmth that is his holiness’s trademark has been very apparent in his relations with our community.

Pope Francis follows in the tradition of Pope John Paul II, who took the 1960’s Vatican II breakthrough of Nostra Aetate, and translated it into a completely new and dramatically better relationship with Jews. This has been felt both on the macro and micro level. Broadly speaking, the church rejected anti-Semitism, established relations with the State of Israel, and spoke of Judaism as a sister religion. In communities, young Catholics were exposed to more positive images of Judaism and Jews, and relationships between Catholics and Jews grew significantly.

The Anti-Defamation League’s work is but one of many examples of that. Our Bearing Witness program for Catholic school teachers, where discussions are held on the Shoah, anti-Semitism, Catholic, and Jewish readings of scriptures, could not take place without the great progress that has been made.

Catholic-Jewish relations will, in my view, continue to improve in the years ahead. Pope Francis truly believes in the importance of them. Still, I believe the Vatican, much like the United States and the E.U., needs to look more realistically at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state will not further a fair solution or an end to the conflict.

Only a negotiating process in which both sides accept the need for compromise and, particularly, one in which the Palestinians finally accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, can lead to the desired goal, and truly transform the lives of the long-suffering Palestinians.

Read next: Vatican Recognizes State of Palestine in New Treaty

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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 faith

If America Became a Christian Nation

They probably wouldn't like what it looks like

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With political season kicking off again, so is the season where folks begin to use the term “Christian nation.” Some claim we were one, some claim we are one, and some say we need to become one. Yet, each time I hear that phrase I have an inner Princess Bride moment where I say to myself, “you keep using that word, but it doesn’t mean what you think it means.”

Because truth be told, if America actually were to become a Christian nation, I don’t think the people who advocated for it would be too happy with the end product. Since Christian is supposed to mean “little Christ” or “Christ follower,” we actually have a way to offer some clear cut examples of what a Christian nation would look like– because all we have to do is look at what Jesus taught, and how Jesus lived, as a model to pattern national behavior.

So, what if we became a Christian nation? Well, a few things would have to change… drastically. Here’s a few quick examples:

We’d Have To Abolish the 2nd Amendment.

The 2nd Amendment is so beloved by American Christians that this alone would likely be the sticking point preventing us from ever becoming a Christian nation. Jesus taught his disciples that they were to never use violence to respond to evil (Matthew 5:39) and that they were to actively love their enemies. He also lived a life of nonviolent enemy love as a model for us to follow– and living our lives patterned after how he lived his is the ultimate proof that we belong to God (1John 2:6). A Christian nation would have no room for the 2nd Amendment.

We’d Have to Replace the Department of Defense with the Department of Enemy Love.

Refraining from killing one’s enemies is just part of the package with Jesus- he also taught that enemy love was to be an active love. He taught his disciples that they were to bless their enemies, serve their enemies, and actively do good things for them. In this regard, disbanding our military would be the first thing a Christian nation would do, but the second thing would be that they would begin actively loving enemies. Converting the Department of Defense into the Department of Enemy Love and using those billions of dollars to bless the world- particularly the Muslim world- would be a good start towards having a nation that looked like Jesus.

We’d Have to End Capital Punishment.

Of course, there would be no capital punishment in a Christian Nation because Christ is the one who disrupted a public execution and told the executioners that only a perfect person was qualified to serve in the role of executioner (John 8:7). This means the role of legitimate executioners has been vacant ever since, and would not exist in a Christian nation.

Eradicating Poverty Would Be One of Our Most Pressing Concerns.

In Matthew 25 Jesus gives us a picture of the final judgement day, and describes the scene as he gathers “all nations” before him. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending which side you end up on) Jesus doesn’t give the nations a theology exam. However, he does judge them based upon whether or not they took care of the poor and vulnerable– and those who did not (professing Christians) are told to “depart.” A Christian nation would remember that feeding hungry people is one of the boxes on Jesus’s judgement day score card.

We’d Freely Care for the Sick.

Healing people of illnesses was one of the central aspects of Jesus’s earthly ministry. Any nation worthy of calling itself a Christian nation would also be a nation who freely and indiscriminately provided healthcare for the sick and lame, just as Jesus. Jesus even freely healed a man who was paralyzed because of his own stupid life choices (John 5:14), so any Christian nation would be extremely generous in the provision of healthcare.

We’d Become The Most Loving Nation Toward Immigrants.

That passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus judges the nations? Welp, one of the other items on the score sheet is “welcoming immigrants” (Matthew 25:35). A Christian nation would be seen as the most pro-immigrant nation on earth.

We’d Do Away with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Kids all across the country begin their days by standing, facing a piece of fabric, and taking a pledge to give their allegiance to it. In a Christian nation however, we would recognize that it is impossible to serve two masters and would be repulsed at the idea of pledging our allegiance to anyone but Jesus himself. Furthermore, we wouldn’t take oaths in a Christian nation (Matthew 5:34), so the entire practice of pledging allegiance to the flag would seem creepy to us.

We’d Pay Our Taxes Without Complaining About It.

It seems many of those who think they want America to be a Christian nation see taxation as a form of thievery, but when Jesus weighed in on the issue (speaking within a culture that had a high taxation rate) he simply noted that we should pay to Caesar whatever belongs to him. Jesus had his big moment to expose the evils of taxation and missed it- essentially telling his followers to pay it and move on. In a Christian nation, we’d all be like Jesus: telling people to pay their taxes.

As over-the-top as some of these seem, they’re all things that Jesus directly taught and modeled for us to emulate. Any Christian nation, by definition, would have to be a nation that lived out the teachings and example of Jesus, and would be a radical anomaly on the world scene.

So, politicians can use the term “Christian nation” all they want, but I don’t think any of them understand what the term actually means– nor do I think any of them would find a Christian nation appealing.

A Christian nation doesn’t exist, nor will one ever exist. However, the Kingdom of God does exist, right here, right now– and you’re invited to live within it, where all of those above things are lived and practiced already.

Benjamin L. Corey holds a Master of Arts in Theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, a Master of Arts in World Missions (Cum Laude), also from Gordon-Conwell, and is a member of the Phi Alpha Chi Honors Society. Ben is currently completing his doctorate at Fuller Seminary in the field of missiology. In addition to writing for Patheos Progressive Christian, Ben is a contributor for: TIME, Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, Evangelicals for Social Action, Mennonite World Review, and The Good Men Project. He has also been featured as a guest on HuffPost Live, the Drew Marshall Show, and Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang. Ben is a syndicated author with MennoNerds, a collective of some of the top Mennonite & Anabaptist voices today.

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

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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

Don’t Lose Faith in Faith Just Yet

David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

Houses of worship serve a crucial function of community in a fractured, polarized, and screen-obsessed society

Religion in America is fading. According to a new Pew Research Center report, almost 23% of all U.S. adults in 2014 said they were religiously unaffiliated, up from about 16% in 2007. While most of the unaffiliated describe themselves as “nothing in particular,” a growing share say they are atheist or agnostic.

Why is religion in trouble, and should we be fighting to save it?

Some religious groups are holding fairly steady, including the evangelical and historically black Protestant traditions. But organized religion is struggling, and there is a striking correlation, as we have seen before, with income and education, and non-affiliation.

The first adversary religion faces is self-sufficiency. Educated, affluent Americans feel they are doing well. Part of the drive to religion has been to improve one’s lot in this world through prayer, community, and the solace that religion brings. As people feel that their lives are on course and they are able to take care of their own needs, there is less motivation to accede to the demands of time and attention that religion requires.

The second adversary religion faces is a scientific hegemony over the life of the mind. Institutions of higher learning are for the most part, resolutely secular. There is religious life on campus, but most mainstream academic institutions are hospitable to a scientific, secular mindset. You can see this mentality on display in the bestselling and provocative book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Its author, Yuval Harari, blithely proclaims that all values are human constructs, all religions are mythological motivators, and science has no dogma. This is all taken more or less for granted in the halls of academe.

The third adversary to religion is the decline of genuine community and extended family. Modern social arrangements sap religious vitality. The Bible’s first statement about human nature has also been one of religion’s great appeals: “It is not good for a person to be alone (Gen 2:18).” Faith communities enable powerful bonds of association. Even modern studies confirm unambiguously that nothing is more important to longevity and health than the quality of one’s relationships.

Yet in an age of social media, our relationships are increasingly less likely to be dependent on gatherings like those at houses of worship. People who went to church socials to meet a mate are swiping through profiles on dating sites. Grandparents, whose religious affiliations were so decisive in moving grandchildren to devotion, are often no longer living in the same house with their grandchildren, but are visited occasionally in assisted-living complexes.

Religion itself has a lot to answer for as well—including some worship services that are disconnected and dull, beliefs that run powerfully against the grain of modern discoveries or modern sensibilities, a smug authoritarianism assumed by some religious leaders, and the view that religion is at the fulcrum of much of the world’s violence.

Yet although this finding will be applauded by many, do not celebrate too quickly. Not only is religion responsible for much of the world’s good works, but houses of worship serve a crucial function of community in a fractured, polarized, and screen-obsessed society. In my synagogue each week, people put their arms around each other and sing. Theology aside, that deeply human and moving experience is rarely found elsewhere in the modern world.

Today is not the only day that matters. History, tradition, and collective wisdom are not negated because of the ingenuity of the latest app. Religion is our spiritual time capsule, bringing us what was precious to those before us. Much has changed, but not the human heart. Modern leaders need to learn how to speak anew, not only of God but also of ideals like dedication, self-sacrifice, kindness, and love.

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 faith

Fewer Americans Calling Themselves Christians, Survey Finds

USA, Vermont, Sharon, Sharon Congregational Church
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Trend is driven by Millennials, around one third of whom claim to be religiously unaffiliated

The share of Americans calling themselves Christians has dropped sharply in recent years, according to a new Pew Research Center survey — while the population of religiously unaffiliated adults has risen.

Though more Christians call America home than any other country, the percentage of American adults identifying as Christians has fallen from 78.4% in 2007 to about 70.6%. Meanwhile, over one in five (22.8%) say they are unaffiliated with any faith, a 6.7% percentage point jump since 2007.

Pew finds the Millennial generation is leading the decline in religious affiliation, though adults of all ages and across all demographic groups are steering away from Christianity. About 36% of Americans between 18 and 24 claim to be religiously unaffiliated, along with some 34% of Americans between 24 and 33.

Protestants and Catholics experienced the greatest drop in population, according to the survey, with populations declining respectively by 5 and 3 million people. There has, however, been a bump in the number of Evangelical Christians in the U.S.—Pew estimates that population has grown by 2 million since 2007.

The survey is Pew’s second to examine the religious landscape of America. The survey seeks to fill a gap left by the Census, which does not question Americans’ religious affiliation. A little over 35,000 adults were interviewed for the survey, which has a margin of error of 0.6 percentage points.

TIME Religion

Old Age Doesn’t Have to Be a Shipwreck

Elderly Couple
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David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

We pay homage to the wisdom of age, but our culture does not seem to believe it

Thirty years ago my mother suffered a stroke that left her without the ability to speak. She can say a word, sometimes two or three, but she has been locked in a prison of self for decades. Yet at moments her powerful character shines through.

A few years ago, after my father died, my brothers and I gathered in Philadelphia for her birthday. We took my mother out to dinner at a local restaurant. After the meal, my brothers and I pulled out our wallets. My mother looked at us with scorn, and loudly said, “No!” We were shocked. Surely she didn’t think that we would let her pay for us? But she seemed emphatic, so dutifully, we put our cards away. My mother looked at us again, and crowed triumphantly, “Dessert!”

We laughed, of course. But the contrast of her force and her limitations is painful. The diminishment of a person is a fearsome and often tragic thing to see. I am at an age when my contemporaries are taking care of and often burying their parents. It is not unusual for death to be preceded by a steady and sometimes painful decline. As a rabbi, I visit old-age homes and hospitals and have to remind myself that this is the fate of everyone who lives long enough. Once the people who are slow, burdened with brittle bones and fading faculties, were children, teenagers, adults, bursting with dreams. They, too, could not imagine being in their current state.

The nuclear family is not kind to the aged. Once most people lived with multiple generations all together in the same house. Institutions have taken the place of families, and the old-age home and the college dorm epitomize our social structure—the old live with the old, and the young live with the young. Except for worship services and sporting events, it’s rare to see intermingling of generations in our society. We pay homage to the wisdom of age, but our culture does not seem to believe it. In a time when technology continually changes the landscape, it’s the younger generation who are likeliest to know how to navigate the world. Teenagers will fix your cellphone and connect your AppleTV. Startups are often created by those who are starting out.

Still, it is our great loss that we disregard the generations who preceded us. Although the elderly represent the past, they are in fact our future. They are where we are headed. Not only do they carry the vividness of personal memory about the years before we were born, but they also carry the immediacy of what it means to be further along on the journey than most of us are now. One day, if we are lucky, we will be old. What will life feel like for me in 20 or 30 or 50 years?

Old age, Charles de Gaulle once said, is a shipwreck. The first sense of that remark is the wreckage of one’s body, once so reliable and now so painful in rest and burdensome in motion. Yet if you think of the storm and gales, emotional, physical, even historical, that so many of the elderly have had to endure, the image of a shipwreck makes a new kind of sense as well. Just as we rush to interview the survivors of any difficult experience, for we know there is an insight born of survival itself, we should look to those who are older not only for the wisdom of living, but also for the wisdom of aging.

Everyone is ultimately headed to the same place. Care for the aged is a mandate of compassion to be sure, but it is also a way of understanding the human condition, including our own. The Psalmist pleaded thousands of years ago, “Do not cast me aside when I am old” (71:9). All of us need to reflect on how well we heed the Psalmist’s cry.

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

Young Muslims Are Inviting You to Draw Muhammad

The campaign is a creative response to Islamophobia

Did you know that Muhammad is the most common name in the world? The chances are you know a Muhammad or know somebody who knows one.

Muslim American activist Amani al-Khatahtbeh, who runs the popular blog MuslimGirl.net, is fighting Islamaphobia by inviting people to draw a picture of their friends who are called Muhammad.

The campaign is in response to the inflammatory Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest organized by Pamela Geller of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) in Garland, Texas, on Sunday night. Participants there were invited to draw images of the Prophet Muhammad, which Muslims consider offensive.

The event resulted in violence after two Islamist gunmen, identified as Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, opened fire outside the building, injuring a security officer. The suspects were both shot and killed by police.

Geller is known for her anti-Muslim stance and the AFDI is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Al-Khatahtbeh vigorously condemned the gunmen’s actions as “inexcusable.” But in response to Geller’s event, she came up with her own campaign, ‘Let’s help Pam draw Muhammad.’

People are asked to draw their friend Muhammad as a celebration of the human connections people have to “Muhammad,” it being such a common name.

“Chances are that all know a Muhammad. So, let’s draw Muhammad. Let’s honor his diversity. Let’s celebrate his many different faces. Let’s elevate his humanity,” she writes on MuslimGirl.net.

And using the hashtag #DM2015, people are taking to Twitter to draw a Muhammad in their lives.

TIME Media

Art Spiegelman: Je Suis Charlie—But I’m Not Pamela Geller

Cartoonist Art Spiegelman attends the French Institute Alliance Francaise's "After Charlie: What's Next for Art, Satire and Censorship" at Florence Gould Hall on Feb. 19, 2015 in New York City.
Mark Sagliocco—Getty Images Cartoonist Art Spiegelman attends the French Institute Alliance Francaise's "After Charlie: What's Next for Art, Satire and Censorship" at Florence Gould Hall on Feb. 19, 2015 in New York City.

Art Spiegelman is a cartoonist, editor, and the author of Maus.

On Tuesday night, Art Spiegelman hosted a table at the PEN gala, after other authors dropped out in protest of an award being given to French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Here, he speaks to TIME about the award and why cartoons are so misunderstood by many Americans.

TIME: After six writers withdrew from hosting last night’s PEN gala honoring Charlie Hebdo, why did you decide to step up and co-host the event?

Spiegelman: It seemed necessary as a corrective to what I saw as boneheaded reasons for the pullout. I decided to accept an invitation to host a table that I’d passed on before, because black tie galas aren’t my thing, and I had something else I was supposed to do that night. But after those six authors, who I’ve come to think of as a kind of super hero team called the Sanctimonious Six, pulled out, I just felt that it was necessary to be a corrective and invite other sympathetic people to be there to shout, “Cartoonist lives matter.”

Why was it important to honor Charlie Hebdo with the James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award?

One point that was made over and over again was that this is an award for courage. And it’s hard to be more courageous than going back to work after your office has been bombed and your comrades have been slaughtered. On those grounds alone, one would think, “It’s a no brainer. They get the award.”

Beyond that, the magazine was getting a really bum rap. It’s actually anything but a racist magazine. One of the most touching things for me during the award ceremony last night was having the head of SOS Racisme, a French organization that combats racist activity, very movingly talk about Charlie Hebdo being a great force against racism in France.

They received the award for using their particular vocabulary and medium to stir debate on issues, not to create mischief, and they did it estimably, even when people didn’t agree with them. As one of the editors pointed out yesterday, the Charlie Hebdo editors don’t even agree with each other. The point of these cartoons is to start conversations about these issues. And these issues are not trivial.

This week, we also saw a shooting in Texas outside of a “Draw Muhammad” contest sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. What’s the difference between Charlie Hebdo and Pamela Geller’s organization?

I think that’s when my brain short-circuited. Because superficially, it seems like, well, the same thing is happening in Texas. But it’s not. It’s the anti-matter, Bizarro World, flipside, mirror-logic version of what Charlie Hebdo is about.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative is racist organization. It’s exactly the nightmare version that the writers who were protesting the PEN award thought Charlie was. But Charlie is an anti-racist, political magazine that does not have an agenda that consists of wanting to bait or trouble Muslims.

Pam Geller’s organization is intentionally trying to start war of culture with Islam by saying that all Muslims are terrorists under the surface, and we’re going to prove it. Do the group members deserve free speech protection? Of course. But they’re hiding behind that banner with things that have very little to do with free speech and a lot to do with race hate.

Je suis Charlie, mais je ne suis pas Pam Geller. She and her dim-witted, ugly organization deserve the protection of the free speech mantle that they wrap themselves in. But would I ever give them a courage award? Hardly. Would I ever want to be in the same room with them? No. Do I wish they would stop? Yes.

The PEN writers who protested the event were projecting similar motives and attitudes onto Charlie Hebdo. Dismissing it as French arrogance is quite arrogant. Dismissing it as crude and vulgar is something that makes me suspicious of how cartoons are viewed by the writers who didn’t have enough respect for these images to understand them on their own.

What is the role of images and cartoons in this debate?

It’s interesting to me that cartoons have been so central to it. Cartoons are so much more immediate than prose. They have a visceral power that doesn’t require you to slow down, but it does require you to slow down if you want to understand them.

They have a deceptive directness that writers can only envy. They deploy the same tools that writers often use: symbolism, irony, metaphor. Cartoons enter your eye in a blink, and can’t be unseen after they’re seen. But to understand some of these cartoons requires a lot of culture immersion and symbol reading and a lot of analysis.

There was a New Yorker cover back in the beginning of my time at the magazine that helped change the magazine’s DNA enough to embrace controversial images. It was in the wake of the Crown Heights race riots in which the West Indian black community and the Hasidic Jew community came to bloody blows. As I was doodling I wondered, “What would the guy with the monocle look like if he were Hasidic?” And then I had a black woman kiss him.

When the cover came out, it created a riot of its own—as much indignation on both sides as possible in the world before the Internet. Among the letters that came in to the magazine was a letter from a young woman saying that she thought it was really sweet that on Abe Lincoln’s birthday there was a picture of Lincoln kissing a slave. What’s so amazing about that is that it gets right to the heart of the problem that some of the protesting PEN writers have: learning to read images. They’re very easy to misread without enough information, and some of my writing brethren are great mis-readers.

What would you like to see moving forward?

We should be teaching visual literacy in all schools. We’re bombarded with images more and more, and we have less and less time to understand them. What’s amazing about these simple drawings is that they stand still long enough for you to circle them and get around them in ways you often can’t with videos.

It’s not easy for Americans, because for one thing there are hardly any political cartoonists in America at this point. Political cartoonists are a dying breed. Here there are fewer newspapers, fewer newspapers with a cartoonist on staff, and political cartoons have been reduced to being a variant of a gag cartoon because the last thing a newspaper would want to do is lose a single reader.

I’m stuck having to agree with my bête noir friend Pam Geller that it would be better going forward for newspapers and magazines to take on the responsibility for showing these images. When the Danish Muhammad cartoons appeared in 2006, and when the Mohammad cartoons from Charlie Hebdo appeared, newspapers should have shown these images and talked about them. Many dismissed them as banal and treated them as, “Nothing to see here, move along.”

If it were taken as a matter of course for newspapers and magazines to show these images, they could be normalized, so the many Muslims not offended to the point of grabbing a machine gun could understand that this is how our culture functions with images and issues. It would create a better-informed population dealing with whatever comes next. It would also be useful to have other voices on newspaper and magazine staffs.

What’s the mistake in not publishing images that could be deemed offensive?

There’s no stopping it. What would it be based on? Would it be based on when someone takes up arms against the image? Would it be based on when someone thinks it’s offensive? God knows where the line would be drawn. It can’t be drawn that way. There is an incredible efficiency cartoons have, once you learn to read them, in clarifying the issues at hand, making them memorable.

There’s something basic about cartoons. They work they way the brain works. We think in small, iconic images. An infant can recognize a smiley face before it can recognize its mother’s smile. We think in little bursts of language. This is how cartoons are structured. They’re structured to talk to something deep inside our brains. A cartoon becomes a new kind of word that didn’t exist before.

It’s interesting how little respect they get. “Oh, anyone could draw that crude, vulgar scrawl,” said a number of critics of Charlie Hedbo. That’s not quite true. They’re not totally dismissible. If a writer had made some of the points that Charlie Hebdo had made, I don’t think the writers protesting PEN would have been so condescending and dismissive.

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