Religion news 16 December

Image credit: whitechapel mission

Faith groups helping vulnerable people in poverty are exhausted and running out of supplies

People of all faiths, who are helping on the front line with vulnerable people struggling to survive through poverty in the pandemic, have been telling a story of increasing destitution and despair. In a Religion Media Centre online briefing yesterday, Paul Morrison, from the free churches’ Joint Public Issues Team, said there were now six million people behind in paying a bill and one in five families is borrowing for food. All the speakers told of people plummeting into poverty when they lost their jobs and then falling through the welfare safety net. The needs were not just for basic supplies to live, but for spiritual support as mental and physical health suffers. They said volunteers from faith groups are now exhausted at the continuing, multiplying need and the provisions to help people are in shorter supply. There was a unanimous call for the government to maintain the £20 ‘uplift’ in universal credit and increase other benefits especially for children. Speakers also identified a need for local faith and voluntary groups to join together to meet the needs of communities.

Zoom recording on our YouTube channel here

300 schoolboys kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram

More than 300 boys are missing after being kidnapped from a school in northern Nigeria by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. Residents near the school in Kankara reported hearing gunfire during a one hour long attack last Friday. Yesterday, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau issued a statement admitting responsibility. The terrorist group wants to set up an Islamic state Nigeria and has a history of brutal attacks going back at least 10 years. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said Boko Haram was a group of utmost evil.

BBC report here

Chief Rabbi urges action as Uighurs are persecuted in China

The Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has said he feels compelled to speak out against the mass atrocity being committed in China against the predominantly Muslim Uighur people. In a signed article in The Guardian, he said the weight of evidence of this persecution is overwhelming, with stories of women being sterilised, people being forced into camps and children and parents separated. “It is clear that there must be an urgent, independent and unfettered investigation into what is happening,” he said. “Those responsible must be held to account and Uighurs able to escape must be given asylum”.

Scottish hate crime bill abolishing blasphemy passes first stage

The controversial Scottish hate crime bill has passed its first parliamentary stage, despite fears that it limits freedom of expression. The bill was brought forward to ensure hate crime legislation is fit for purpose in this century, as it remains a constant threat. But the draft caused widespread criticism, including concern over a proposal to create a new crime of “stirring up hatred” against protected groups, which opponents said could be used against religious beliefs. The bill also abolishes the offence of blasphemy, which has not been prosecuted in Scotland for more than 175 years. It moves to the second stage, with government ministers open-minded about more changes.

BBC report and explainer here

Move British embassy to Jerusalem, says Israel’s new UK ambassador

The Jewish Chronicle has landed an interview with Israel’s new ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, in which she called on the British government to move its embassy to Jerusalem, defended the settlements and said that Brexit would help trade between the nations. She welcomed peace agreements signed by Israel with Arab nations in recent months and hoped more would follow.

Full Jewish Chronicle story here

Eight-year-old girl takes Punjabi farmer’s dispute to No 10

An eight-year-old girl has taken a handwritten letter of protest about the treatment of Punjabi farmers to the gates of 10 Downing Street. Ashleen Kaur Gill, from Windsor, comes from a Punjabi family and urged the prime minister to stand up for farmers who are protesting at a change in the law which they say will limit their income in favour of big business. Last week, Boris Johnson indicated in the Commons that he thought the Punjabi farmers’ dispute was about India’s relationship with Pakistan. Ashleen’s letter says it’s clear the PM doesn’t understand the importance of the issue. She was not allowed through the gates, so had to post her letter instead.

Times of India story here

Former bishop says some priests are posting communion bread to parishioners during the pandemic

The former Bishop of the Isle of Man, Robert Paterson, has told the Church Times that some priests have been sending consecrated bread to people in the post. He describes this as breaching a fundamental principle and a deeply undesirable trend. Observing communion with bread and wine — the eucharist — has created health and safety concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic. Bishop Paterson says the eucharist is a balance of word, prayer and meal and in any event the Prayer Book forbids the removal of consecrated bread and wine from the church.