To come out as gay while part of the Christian church and country music is a brave thing to do.
As a teenager in deeply Christian Kansas, Chely Wright thought praying would ‘fix her’ and she would be able to lead ‘a normal life’.
In the second of three programmes for Heart and Soul as part of the BBC’s 100 Women season, Chely shares her life, explaining the massive conflict between her sexuality and her faith.
Her faith is still strong and in her New York City home she talks about how it has been a constant part of her life since she was girl on the family farm. But she feared that her career in country music would be over, and for the 100 Women season she will tell us about her hopes for the future and how Christianity as a whole will be more accepting.
Presenter: Chely Wright
Producer: Geoff Bird
Photo: Sherry Rayn Barnett /Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
To see the full list of 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2019, go to www.bbc.co.uk/100women or on Facebook @BBC100Women
100 Women: Venerable Dhammananda
She is called ‘the rebel monk’, but has also been called a ‘dangerous dissident’ – one of the few female monks who say they are simply carrying on a tradition started by Lord Buddha thousands of years ago. The Venerable Dhammananda is the first Thai woman to be ordained as a female monk in the deeply conservative Theravada Buddhist tradition.
Heart and Soul joins the ‘100 Women’ season running across the BBC to profile three women all making a huge impact in their field.
All the programmes are led by the subjects and Dhammananda leads us on her journey from mother of three, to TV host and academic, to wearing the saffron robes of a traditional Buddhist monk as the Abbess of the all-female Songdhammakalyani Monastery, and the role she has taken up as fighter for spiritual equality.
She tells us about the patriarchal faith and that she sees herself as a “change agent” encouraging women to make the most of their spiritual potential,
Women offer a new spiritual perspective she says that all of Buddhism can benefit from
Presenter: The Venerable Dhammananda
Producer: Aurora Almendral
Image: Aurora Almendral
To see the full list of 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2019, go to
www.bbc.co.uk/100women or on Facebook @BBC100Women
Husbands and priests
From Europe to Latin America, the Catholic church is woefully short of priests. In the Amazon region of Brazil, the shortage is so dramatic that bishops are getting ready to discuss a radical solution: allowing married men to become priests, after a thousand years of priestly celibacy.
What even most Catholics do not know is that within pockets of the Catholic fold, married priests already exist. In the Eastern Catholic churches, they are very much the norm. During a recent visit to Slovakia, Pope Francis even held these married priests up as a shining example: “The families of priests live a unique mission today.”
Blanche Girouard meets some of those married priests to find out whether and how it could work to open up the Catholic priesthood to married men more widely.
Among them is Fr Augustin Butica, who lives in Romania with his wife Violeta and four children. At one point, the couple and three of their children had to share one room because the church had no house for them to move into; but he has never questioned his dual commitment to his priestly ministry and his family.
Meanwhile in the UK, Fr Jeff Woolnough, a former Anglican priest who has transferred to the Catholic church, is grateful that his wife Julie is there to support him at the worst of times - when he is called to the local hospital in the middle of the night to give an accident victim the last rites.
Presenter/Reporter: Blanche Girouard.
Producer: Kristine Pommert
(Photo: Fr Augustin Butica, a married priest in the Greek Catholic church. Credit: Trevor Barnes)
The cowboy church of Texas
Bandera, Texas, is the self-proclaimed Cowboy Capital of the World. It is also home to Ridin' The River Cowboy Fellowship, a cowboy church established eight years ago with a mission to connect cowboys to Christ.
Resembling a giant barn with concrete floors, the church has corrugated walls, and a modest cedar-wood stage for sermons. Non-denominational, everyone is welcome at their Sunday services, Wednesday night Bible studies, plus regular roping and barrel racing events at the adjacent arena.
Pastors Jeremy Levy and Jeff Bishop invite us to join their 500-strong congregation for the monthly “Chuckwagon breakfast” to find out why the cowboy way of life is inherently Christian. Here we meet professional working cowboys - ranchers, cowpokes, herders, professional rodeo riders - and fans of cowboy culture, who are drawn to this come-as-you-are style of worship.
We also go behind the scenes at a local rodeo with church member Robin Montague as she competes in the barrel racing.
Ridin' The River Cowboy Fellowship is a member of the American Federation of Cowboy Churches, a non-profit based in Waxahachie, Texas, which represents over 200 partner churches across 16 states. Cowboy churches have flourished in the last 15 years, despite a national decline in church membership, with more than 500 in the USA, and outposts in Mexico, Canada, Sweden, the Philippines, and Australia.
Presenter: Robin Montague and Jeremy Levy
Producer: Victoria Ferran
(Photo: Interior of the Ridin' The River Cowboy Fellowship church taken from the stage. Credit: Victoria Ferran/BBC)
Alabama: America’s battleground
The American state of Alabama, is the new fault-line in the country's battle over abortion. Two Christian women are on polar opposites of the argument. Sarah Howell resolutely opposes abortion. The Reverend Traci Blackmon is just as resolute in her belief that abortion should be legal.
In Alabama, a virtual ban on abortion is due to become law in November. It is one of a wave of States that wants control of the procedure to be given back to them.
Despite the law on abortion getting tighter in Alabama, its largest city - Birmingham – is pressing ahead with a brand new sexual health clinic. It says it will go ahead and provide abortions even though this flies in the face of the new law.
It is against this backdrop that Sarah and Traci discuss how their faith sustains their opposing positions.
Presenter: Sherrel Wheeler-Stewart
Producer: Siobhann Tighe
(Photo: Pro-choice activists hold signs in response to anti-abortion activists outside the US Supreme Court. Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP)