Tom Gjelten | WYPR

Tom Gjelten

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.

In 1986, Gjelten became one of NPR's pioneer foreign correspondents, posted first in Latin America and then in Central Europe. Over the next decade, he covered social and political strife in Central and South America, the first Gulf War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and the transitions to democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

His reporting from Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 was the basis for his book Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege (HarperCollins), praised by the New York Times as "a chilling portrayal of a city's slow murder." He is also the author of Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent's View (Carnegie Corporation) and a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know (W. W. Norton).

After returning from his overseas assignments, Gjelten covered U.S. diplomacy and military affairs, first from the State Department and then from the Pentagon. He was reporting live from the Pentagon at the moment it was hit on September 11, 2001, and he was NPR's lead Pentagon reporter during the early war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Gjelten has also reported extensively from Cuba in recent years. His 2008 book, Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause (Viking), is a unique history of modern Cuba, told through the life and times of the Bacardi rum family. The New York Times selected it as a "Notable Nonfiction Book," and the Washington Post, Kansas City Star, and San Francisco Chronicle all listed it among their "Best Books of 2008." His latest book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Simon & Schuster), published in 2015, recounts the impact on America of the 1965 Immigration Act, which officially opened the country's doors to immigrants of color. He has also contributed to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other outlets.

Since joining NPR in 1982 as labor and education reporter, Gjelten has won numerous awards for his work, including two Overseas Press Club Awards, a George Polk Award, and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and freelance writer.

There was the preacher who told his followers he could teach them to defy gravity. And another who insisted the sun is actually at the center of the earth. Then there was the Quaker who became delirious, died, and then was said to have come back to life as the reincarnated Jesus Christ.

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A shadow of scandal hanging over the Washington, D.C. archdiocese has been lifted with the appointment of a new archbishop, Wilton Gregory, currently leading the archdiocese of Atlanta.

For decades, the United Methodist Church has officially judged homosexual activity to be immoral, barred gays and lesbians from serving as clergy, and opposed same sex marriage.

Those conservative doctrinal positions went against prevailing cultural and social trends, at least in the United States, but they didn't split the church into rival conservative and progressive camps because church leaders rarely enforced them.

No more.

Never in the history of the Roman Catholic Church has a pope ordered bishops from around the world to come together and consider how many priests abuse children sexually and how many church officials cover for the abusers. The scandal of clergy sex abuse has deep roots in church history, but church leaders have been notoriously reluctant to acknowledge it and deal with the consequences.

As the successor of St. Peter, a supreme pontiff should speak with authority. But our recent popes have seemed all too capable of questionable judgment, all too easily proven wrong, all too human.

Religious conservatives have rarely faced much competition in the political realm from faith-based groups on the left.

The provocations of President Trump may finally be changing that.

Nearly 40 years after some prominent evangelical Christians organized a Moral Majority movement to promote a conservative political agenda, a comparable effort by liberal religious leaders is coalescing in support of immigrant rights, universal health care, LGBTQ rights and racial justice.

Given the rivalries and violence that divide the global community today, it is hard to imagine that on December 10, 1948, the nations of the world approved, almost unanimously, a detailed list of fundamental rights that every human on the planet should enjoy.

Over many thousands of years, our understanding of the world has advanced exponentially. But our sense of mystery remains, and we still seek assurances that science and reason cannot provide.

Elaine Pagels opens her new book with the question, "Why is religion still around in the twenty-first century?" As a distinguished scholar of Christianity, she obviously knows some academic explanations, but in Why Religion? A Personal Story she suggests a simpler, more poignant answer: It's because we suffer and need help.

Only about 200 people typically worship each Sunday at the Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., but as many as 40,000 others follow the service via Facebook livestream.

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., who has been accused of covering up sexual abuse scandals during his tenure as the bishop of Pittsburgh.

Sixteen years after an investigation in Boston highlighted the dimensions of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic priesthood, the financial and reputational cost to the Catholic church continues to grow.

A two-year grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania resulted in what the state's attorney general, Josh Shapiro, called "the largest, most comprehensive report into child sex abuse in the Catholic Church ever produced in the United States."

A papal encyclical issued 50 years ago this summer marked a turning point in the way Roman Catholics view the teachings of their church.

On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI stunned Catholics around the world with his announcement of Humanae Vitae, "Of Human Life," a document in which he forcefully reaffirmed the church's previously stated position on the use of artificial birth control, calling it "intrinsically wrong."

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, wrapped up its annual meeting Wednesday on a partisan tone. The featured speaker was Vice President Pence, who spoke of the day he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior and of the importance of prayer, but mostly delivered a speech fit for a campaign rally.

Roman Catholics and evangelicals, two Christian groups that have had overlapping political priorities in the past, find their agendas diverging in the era of President Trump and Pope Francis.

Tensions between the two faith traditions are hardly new. As fierce adversaries, they once cast doubt on each other's legitimacy as heirs to the church of Jesus Christ.

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President Trump as a candidate once called for a ban on Muslim immigrants and declared that "Islam hates us." Now, he has alarmed American Muslims again with his choice of a new national security adviser and a new secretary of state, even as he has strengthened ties with Muslim allies in the Middle East.

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Both the challenges and opportunities of U.S. Christianity are evident at Fairmeadows Baptist Church in Duncanville, Texas, just south of Dallas.

On some Sundays, services at the church draw as few as a dozen worshippers, most of them white.

For the past year, however, the church has also been home to a largely Hispanic tenant congregation that calls itself Erez Baptist, and in that incarnation the church is thriving. The average Sunday attendance is around 80, and the congregation has a youth music group and already sponsors a missionary in Brazil.

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The #MeToo movement, having exposed alleged sexual misconduct from Hollywood to Capitol Hill and in board rooms and news rooms, has now reached into evangelical Christian circles, raising questions unique to that faith culture.

In a White House meeting with members of Congress this week, President Trump is said to have suggested that the United States accepts too many immigrants from "shithole countries" in Africa and too few from countries like Norway.

President Trump was among the first to express public condolences after Mormon leader Thomas S. Monson died this week.

"Melania and I are deeply saddened," Trump said in a statement Wednesday marking the death of Monson, who served as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for nearly a decade.

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Those Jews and evangelical Christians who say an undivided Jerusalem should be the eternal capital of Israel have a ready answer for anyone who questions that claim: The Bible says so.

President Trump's declaration that Jerusalem is Israel's capital and his order to move the U.S. Embassy brought quick and sharply differing reactions from Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders.

I have covered many wars during my years at NPR, but never did I encounter such a monstrous man as Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb army commander likely to spend the rest of his life in prison.

I first heard his name when I was staying in Sarajevo in June 1992. It was a time of constant and brutal shelling carried out on the explicit orders of Mladic, who was intent on terrorizing and dividing the city and killing or expelling all non-Serbs.

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