Kimberly Winston, Religion News Service

Posts By This Author

Hundreds Shut Out of Sole Session on Gays at World Meeting of Families

Madi Alexander / RNS

At the World Meeting of Families, Ron Belgau, center, and his mother Beverley Belgau, right, described to a packed room what it was like for them dealing with Ron’s same-sex attraction. Photo by Madi Alexander / RNS

Just as the single session on homosexuality at this Vatican-approved meeting of Catholic families was to begin on Sept. 24, a conference official took the stage in the main hall, capable of seating at least 10,000, and announced the location had been moved.

Thousands of people got up and made their way up one floor to another room capable of seating only about 1,000. Hundreds of others were turned away, the doors shut on them by convention center officials citing fire code regulations.

O Happy Day! A Surprise Gospel Moment

Bobby Jones. Image via  / Shutterstock

I knew this was going to be a great trip. I did not know it would afford me a chance to scratch off the top item on my bucket list.

But when the iconic gospel singer Bobby Jones met with the band of international journalists I am traveling with on a fellowship from the East-West Center, he mentioned the song “Oh Happy Day” was so popular among his fans in Russia, Italy and Japan that he can’t get offstage there without singing it.

Was I really the only one present who knew the song, or was I just the most brave? I don’t know, but in a flash I was singing backup — badly —  to gospel music’s greatest on one of my favorite songs.

Radicalization Is Not a ‘Muslim Problem'

Image via evgdemidova/Shutterstock

Extremist groups like ISIS and Al Qaida are trying to radicalize young Muslims through well-produced and elaborate online videos and sweeping Twitter campaigns targeted at disaffected young men and women around the world.

Three London school girls recently ran away to join ISIS in Syria after encountering recruiters on Twitter. A Sunday school teacher in Washington state secretly converted to Islam and planned to leave home to join the only Muslims she knew — Isis recruiters she encountered through social media. In Virginia, a local imam meets with young men and women whose families fear they will answer the call of ISIS sent through their cellphones.

As one member of the local law enforcement told our group of 17 international journalists, “There is a terrorist in your pocket and it is talking to you all the time.”

The NFL's Nonbelieving Pro-Bowler

Image via RNS/REUTERS/Tim Sharp

Earlier this month, NFL star Arian Foster, a running back for the Houston Texans, sent ripples through the world of professional football when he came out as a nonbeliever in the pages of ESPN Magazine.

Though he is not exactly an atheist — Foster told reporter Tim Keown he shuns that label and believes in "nothing" — Foster offered a counternarrative to the overwhelmingly Christian world of professional football and the college football system that feeds it.

"Everybody always says the same thing: You have to have faith," Foster, who is 28, says in the magazine.

While there are certainly other football players with nontraditional religious beliefs, Foster is the only active professional football player who has been open about his nonbelief. 

Black, Bisexual, Buddhist, and Not Afraid to Embrace Who She Is

Simbwala Schultz / Wisdom Publications / RNS

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel. Photo via Simbwala Schultz / Wisdom Publications / RNS

When Zenju Earthlyn Manuel goes to teach somewhere for the first time, she often sees surprise in the faces of the students as she is introduced.

She doesn’t look like many of them expect. She isn’t Asian. She isn’t a man. And she isn’t white.

And getting them to acknowledge that her body — her “manifestation,” as she calls it — is different and a part of her experience is crucial to her teaching. If our bodies are sources of suffering, then we ignore them at our peril.

“When I have held and embraced who I am, how I am embodied, it has become a source of enlightenment, of freedom,” she said from a sunny corner window seat in her living room. Draped in a black monk’s jacket, she is a stark contrast to the white walls and white upholstery of the rest of the room.

African-American Opera Singer Revives the Yiddish Songs of the Shtetl

Clara Rice Photography / RNS

Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell. Photo via Clara Rice Photography / RNS

Three years ago, when Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell took the stage at a Jewish vaudeville celebration and said he was going to sing in Yiddish, people laughed.

As a 6-foot-plus African-American with one golden earring, he just didn’t look like the typical Jew fluent in the language of the pre-World War II shtetl.

Then he opened his mouth. Out came a rich bass voice in a longing lament to the isolated villages and tiny homes left behind in places like Poland and Russia.

Think Fiddler on the Roof's “Anatevka” sung by a guy who looks more like Chris Rock than Zero Mostel.

How the Vatican Links Human Trafficking, Climate Change, and God

Vladimir Wrangel /

Sunset over the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Photo via Vladimir Wrangel /

On July 21 and 22, the Vatican hosts two conferences on human trafficking and climate change, bringing the mayors of major cities — including several in the U.S. — to Rome for the events. What do human trafficking and climate change have to do with each other? And what does Catholicism have to do with them? Let us explain.

Q: Why is the Vatican concerned with human trafficking and climate change?

A: If Pope Francis has two pet issues, they are human trafficking and climate change. Since the first year of his papacy he has spoken against human trafficking, calling it “a crime against humanity” and lamenting it as modern slavery. It’s an even bet that when the pope addresses the United Nations in late September he will hammer it as one of the crucial issues of our time. Ditto on climate change. In June, the pontiff published his encyclical — the highest teaching of the church — on climate change.

“Our home is being ruined and that hurts everyone, especially the poorest among us,” Francis said just before the publication of the encyclical.

Jim Gaffigan's Catholic Comedy

Image via TVLand/RNS

Image via TVLand/RNS

Jokes about somebody’s religious beliefs are often duds.

But jokes about your own religious beliefs somehow push the line between funny and offensive, making room for laughter and, occasionally, sharp commentary.

That’s the philosophy behind The Jim Gaffigan Show, a new series premiering on TVLand on July 15 featuring Jim Gaffigan — the popular stand-up comedian known for his Comedy Central special and the books Dad Is Fat and Food: A Love Story — and his wife, Jeannie.

The husband-and-wife team say their Catholicism — with its daily prayer, weekly Mass, and rosary recitation with their five kids — is such a part of their own lives that not including it in their work would be dishonest.

“It’s part of the story,” said Jeannie Gaffigan, an executive producer of the new show and Jim’s frequent collaborator.

5 Faith Facts about Donald Trump: a Presbyterian who Collects Bibles

Image via RNS/REUTERS/Chris Keane.

Image via RNS/REUTERS/Chris Keane.

Donald Trump, the New York rich guy/reality television star/conservative news commentator/real estate mogul/hair disaster, announced he will run for the Republican Party nomination for president of the United States on June 16. 

Five Faith Facts About Lincoln Chafee: ‘I Have To Be Respectful of Everyone’

Photo via REUTERS / Jessica Rinaldi / RNS

Then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee, right, after signing Rhode Island’s Marriage Equality Act. Photo via REUTERS / Jessica Rinaldi / RNS

Add one more to the table of Democratic contenders for president in 2016. On June 3 Lincoln Chafee, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat who served as both governor and senator of Rhode Island, announced he is in the running. Here are five faith facts about this very dark horse (who used to horseshoe for a living).

1. He’s Episcopalian.

Chafee was raised in the church and his positions on many of the issues largely mirror that of many Episcopalians, one of the more liberal Christian denominations. Chafee supports marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research, and reproductive choice for women, and he opposes the death penalty.