Tom Gjelten

Tom Gjelten covers issues of 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 social and cultural 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. In the years that followed, he covered the wars in Central America, social and political strife in 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.

Gjelten's latest book is A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story, published in 2015. 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 new book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Simon & Schuster), recounts the impact on America of the 1965 Immigration Act, which officially opened the country's doors to immigrants of color.

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 regular panelist on the PBS program "Washington Week," and a member of the editorial board at World Affairs Journal. A graduate of the University of Minnesota, he began his professional career as a public school teacher and freelance writer.

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Religion has played an outsized role in U.S. history and politics, but it's one that has often gone unrecognized in U.S. museums.

"As a focused subject area, it's been neglected," says Peter Manseau, a scholar and writer installed last year as the first full-time religion curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

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Now to the Vatican for our feature Words You'll Hear. That's where we try to understand some of the stories we'll be hearing more about in the coming days by parsing a word or phrase connected with the story.

During his campaign, Donald Trump criticized President Obama for his reluctance to use the words "radical Islamic extremism."

One of Obama's key anti-terrorism programs was just called "Countering Violent Extremism," with no reference to Islam. The Trump administration may now want to refocus that program exclusively on Muslim extremists.

The Obama program made no reference to Islam largely because it didn't want to suggest that terrorism, even by Muslim extremists, had its roots in religion.

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President Trump is promising to give priority to Christians fleeing persecution — yet some of the strongest criticism of his executive order is coming from Christian leaders themselves.

Some say the temporary ban on admitting refugees challenges the Christian ethic of welcoming the stranger. Others worry that favoring Christians over other immigrants could actually backfire.

President Trump's temporary ban on the admission of refugees is not going over well with the churches and religious organizations that handle most refugee resettlements in the United States.

"The faith groups are going to kick and scream and object to every aspect of this disgusting, vile executive order," says Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, a Jewish refugee society. "[It] makes America out to be something that it is not. We are a country that welcomes refugees."

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Five centuries ago, Christians in Europe who hoped to go to heaven knew they might first have to spend a few thousand years in a fiery purgatory, where they would be purified of their outstanding sins.

It was not a pleasant thought, but the Catholic Church offered some hope: A cash offering to the local priest could buy an "indulgence" certificate, entitling the believer to a shorter purgatory sentence.

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Editor's note: Radovan Karadzic was one of the dominant figures of the Bosnian war, serving as president of the "Serb Republic" in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. The International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague on Thursday found him guilty of multiple crimes, including the slaughter of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica. NPR's Tom Gjelten covered the war in Bosnia, and Karadzic, for years.

Given all that has happened in the last 20 years, many people will not recall the war in Bosnia. Remind us what happened.

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The religion of Islam was founded by Muhammad, the 7th century prophet whom Muslims call "the messenger of God."

They don't consider him divine, but they follow his teachings closely. Good Muslims are taught to emulate the prophet in all matters, personal, spiritual and worldly.

Perhaps no time in recent history has it been more important to do as the Prophet Muhammad did — and not as someone says he did.

With terror groups like ISIS now invoking his name, many Muslim leaders say radicals who cite the prophet to justify violence misrepresent his teachings.

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Terrorism and economic woes may be big concerns, but Republican candidate Ted Cruz sees another issue dominating the presidential race.

"I'm convinced 2016 will be a religious liberty election," he said in a recent interview.

Cruz says religious people, devout Christians in particular, are routinely marginalized and harassed for their beliefs, and that such treatment has gotten worse under the Obama administration.

During the past half-century, 59 million immigrants have moved to the United States, making it the No. 1 immigrant destination on the planet.

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Latino Catholics now have a saint of their own thanks to Pope Francis. Junipero Serra was a missionary who brought Christianity to the native populations in what is now California.

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Pope Francis arrives in Washington, D.C., this afternoon for his first trip to the U.S. Here's a look at some of the key moments to watch during the leader of the Roman Catholic Church's six-day visit.

Tuesday: The President Greets The Pope

Nearly a century ago, immigrants from Germany and Ireland founded St. Helena Church in a working-class neighborhood in north Philadelphia.

Immigrants, and their children, still fill the pews at St. Helena's — but the vast majority of them are now from Vietnam, Latin America, the Philippines and Africa. Weekly masses are conducted in Spanish and Vietnamese as well as English. The senior priest, the Rev. Joseph Trinh, is himself a Vietnamese refugee. One of his associate priests is from Haiti, and another is from Ecuador.

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Transcript

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Many ministers do their best to stay away from politics when they preach, but hundreds of conservative pastors around the country are so upset about what they see as a moral crisis in government that they are preparing to run for public office themselves, with the goal of bringing "biblical values" to the political arena.

The initiative is led by David Lane, a born-again Christian and self-described "political operative" who has organized four large-scale training sessions in which evangelical pastors are tutored in the practical aspects of running a political campaign.

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