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]

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.

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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

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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.

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