Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Behind each one, a story of faith

  • Print

Before Peggy Wehmeyer became the first full-time religion reporter for a U.S. broadcast news network, she worked for a Dallas TV station. While there, she had a knack for finding a faith angle in many stories.

After coming back from yet another reporting assignment with a story about religion, an exasperated producer exclaimed: "How come no matter what we send you out on, you come back with God?" She replied: "How come you keep missing Him?"

That story came to mind for me this week while thinking about Jason Collins, the first male professional athlete to come out as gay -- and the mostly missing faith element to his story.

When Collins came out publicly in a thoughtful essay in Sports Illustrated, the media across North America wrote and said a lot about his groundbreaking move. One thing that received almost no attention was the role religion played in his decision.

As it turns out, one of the things Collins credited with helping him make his decision was his Christian upbringing.

"I'm from a close-knit family," he wrote. "My parents instilled Christian values in me. They taught Sunday school, and I enjoyed lending a hand. I take the teachings of Jesus seriously, particularly the ones that touch on tolerance and understanding."

In a column on titled The Story Behind Jason Collins' Story, reporter Jon Wertheim wrote that Collins took it as a sign from God when, on the day of the interview about his sexuality, he read from a daily prayer manual his grandmother had given him.

That day's entry was titled Freedom, and it said: "The clarion call of freedom sounds within my soul, trumpeting the truth that the love of God liberates me from unhappiness, hurt or fear. I bid farewell to any emptiness from the past, and open myself to realizing my heart's deepest longing and aspiration."

While the faith element in Collins' story was mostly missing, another important story that revolved around faith was almost completely absent from the major media -- the death of Leopold Engleitner, the oldest known survivor of the Nazi concentration camps.

Unlike the million of Jews who suffered and were murdered in the camps because of their race, Engleitner -- who died April 21 at the age of 107 -- was a Jehovah's Witness and a conscientious objector who refused, on the basis of his faith, to join the German army.

Also unlike the Jews, Engleitner and the other Jehovah's Witnesses who were rounded up for not supporting Hitler were given an option to leave the camps -- if they would renounce their faith.

Engleitner refused. He spent four years in the Buchenwald, Niederhagen and Ravensbrueck camps before being sent to work as a slave labourer on a farm.

When asked why he refused to renounce his faith so he could go free, he said that doing so "would have been a complete denial of my faith. I would have acknowledged that I was no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses from that moment on."

He was convinced, he said "that the Nazis were wrong and that peace was only possible by living in agreement with Bible principles. I was determined not to ever give up. I would have sooner died than give up my conviction."

Also, by renouncing his faith in order to obtain his freedom, Engleitner knew it would have jeopardized other members of his church.

"If I would have signed it would have been a major triumph for the SS and strengthened their belief that further pressure would bring more Jehovah's Witnesses to their knees," he said.

Before he died, his friend Frederic Fuss said that what captivated him about Engleitner was the strength of his "unbroken will and determination," his "positive outlook," and the fact that "the intensity of his trial never made him bitter."

During presentations at schools before he died, Engleitner would tell students: "You don't need to go along with peer pressure, you can stick by your conscience."

Jason Collins and Leopold Engleitner: Two completely different men making two completely different decisions with very different consequences -- yet behind each one, a story of faith.

Or, to quote Wehmeyer, all you need to do is look.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2013 J14

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets players discuss outcome of Game 3 and hopes for Game 4

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local/Standup- BABY BISON. Fort Whyte Centre's newest mother gently nudges her 50 pound, female bull calf awake. Calf born yesterday. 25 now in herd. Four more calfs are expected over the next four weeks. It is the bison's second calf. June 7, 2002.
  • A goose cools off Thursday in water at Omands Creek Park-See Bryksa 30 day goose challenge- Day 25– June 21, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


What do you think of the government's announcement that there will be no balanced provincial budget until 2018?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google