Kimberly Winston, Religion News Service

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New Mormon Same-Sex Marriage Guidelines Provoke Feeling of Whiplash

Image via Jim Urquhart / REUTERS / RNS

Gay marriage is now the law of the land and, increasingly, a line in the sand conservative churches say they will not cross.

The latest is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On Nov. 5, it issued new guidelines, saying Mormons in same-sex relationships will face possible excommunication and their children will not be permitted to join the church until they are 18 — and then only if they reject their parents’ relationship.

The new policies make the LDS church, with about 15 million members globally, the largest Christian denomination to enact such a formal — and some say draconian — policy. Children of same-sex couples are effectively denied baptism and other ordinances of the church.

“I am sure everyone feels regret about this,” said D. Michael Quinn, a scholar who was excommunicated by the LDS church in 1993 but still considers himself a Mormon.

“The leaders who have instituted this have done so without any relish. They have done so with regret. All Mormons down the line will look at it as regrettable.”

Evangelical Pastor to Peers: 'Don't Kill a Muslim'

Image via Cascade Books / Wipf and Stock Publishers / RNS

When a half-dozen activists and community leaders sat down to address interfaith relations in the increasingly diverse heartland city of Nashville, Tenn., one paused before his turn to speak, took a breath and said:

“As a white, male, evangelical pastor on this panel, I guess I represent everything that is wrong.”

The speaker, Joshua Graves, the 36-year-old senior pastor of Otter Creek Church, an 1,800-member suburban megachurch, had a point. Evangelicals like him have had a rocky relationship with American Muslims.

But then again, he may also represent everything that could be right in Christian-Muslim understanding.

Modern Orthodox Judaism Says 'No' to Women Rabbis

Image via Eric Thayer / REUTERS / RNS

Women who would be Orthodox rabbis were handed a major setback Oct. 30 when the highest religious body for Modern Orthodox Jews ruled against their ordination.

The Rabbinical Council of America officially prohibited the ordination of women, or the use of the term “rabbi” or “maharat” for women, in what it described as a direct vote of its membership.

The prohibition comes six years after the founding of a yeshiva, or religious school, for women in New York City. The school, Yeshivat Maharat, has ordained less than a dozen women who use the honorific “maharat” instead of rabbi and has placed graduates and interns at 17 Orthodox synagogues in the U.S. and Canada.

Parliament of World's Religions Convenes in Mormon Country — At Last

Image via Jim Urquhart / REUTERS / RNS

When the World’s Parliament of Religions first met in Chicago in 1893, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and even Spiritualists prayed together.

But Mormons were kept out.

What a difference 122 years make. On Oct. 15, when the Parliament of the World’s Religions — a slight adjustment of the name was made a century after the first meeting — convenes in Salt Lake City, it will not only feature a slate of Mormon voices, it will sit in the proverbial lap of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its global headquarters only a five-minute walk away.

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.