Religion news 13 November 2023

Diwali at Downing Street. Image credit: @10DowningStreet

Day 38: War in the Middle East

The World Health Organization says Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City is not functioning as a hospital anymore. BBC war headlines here

Archbishop says “relentless” bombing of Gaza must stop

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said the relentless bombardment of hospitals and civilians in Gaza is intolerable and the situation is catastrophic, saying he prays for the “courageous staff and the patients of the Anglican-run Al-Ahli Hospital”. In a tweet on Saturday night, he said: “It’s against international humanitarian law – it must stop and stop now”. He said the misuse of hospitals by Hamas does not justify attacks by Israel – “Two wrongs don’t make a right”.   His tweet followed a strongly worded letter from Palestinian Christians demanding he speak truth to power. The letter’s contents are reported by The Guardian , which says it comes from a congregation in Amman, of overwhelmingly Palestinian Christian refugees forced to leave their homes in 1948. The report quotes the letter: “We continue to have concerns, as expressed by others, that the British government’s relationships with Jewish leaders matter more to Anglican leaders than the basic principles of justice, freedom and the right of return for the oldest Christian community in the world.” 

More than 100 British Muslim scholars appeal again for immediate ceasefire

More than 100 British Muslim scholars have re-iterated their call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the delivery of life-saving supplies. Shaykhs, Imams, professors and community leaders say the international community must not be “bystanders continuing to watch the massacre of innocent Palestinians”.  They express particular concern for children, with one child killed for every ten minutes of the military attack: “We emphatically reaffirm that the civilians of Gaza must not be subjected to mass brutal killings, and Israel must adhere to international humanitarian law”.  They say that until the underlying issue of the occupation of Palestine is permanently resolved through political and diplomatic means, they fear more violence and destruction. They appeal to their local communities to join in the pursuit of peace and justice for Palestinians

Jewish community in Britain is terrified in the wake of pro-Palestine marches

The Campaign Against Antisemitism says the Jewish community is terrified after the pro Palestine march this weekend. In a statement, it says people were “parading to glorify murderous antisemites in the present (day) who want to kill all Jews and destroy the Jewish state”. It adds that the overall policing policy in relation to the demonstrations is woeful and the march should never have been allowed to go ahead. The statement continues with information that Jewish families were targeted on their way out of their synagogue in London and there have been multiple reports of police having to escort congregants away in groups for their own safety. “The placards .. bore slogans and imagery that would not have looked out of place in Nazi Germany. Islamist extremists, the far-left and the far-right were out on the streets, all on one day. What a day to be a Jew in London”.

Other news

Church of England congregations still lower than before Covid

The Church of England has still not recovered congregations who left during the Covid pandemic when churches shut during lockdowns. The Church of England’s Statistics for Mission for 2022 showed numbers were up on the previous year, but still indicated an impact from Covid. The worshipping community – regular worshippers – was 1,113,000 people in 2019; 1,031,000 people in 2020; 966,000 people in 2021; and 984,000 people in 2022. The Church of England’s all age average weekly attendance, which includes Sunday and midweek attendance, was 854,000 people in 2019; 345,000 people in 2020; 605,000 people in 2021; and 654,000 people in 2022. The statistics report explains that people were still suffering from Covid in 2022, with services cancelled, but it was impossible to quantify the effect of this disruption on Church of England attendance and participation figures.  

Same sex blessings crunch votes at Synod this week

The Church of England’s general synod opens in London today, with its meeting dominated by votes on same sex blessings. The synod meeting in February agreed to welcome the bishops’ proposals to provide prayers to bless same-sex unions in church. But conservatives opposed to same sex relationships have fought the process on legal grounds, with talk of an alternative structure within the church for opponents, if the measures go through. One and a half days have been set aside for a debate and votes and in addition, a total of 93 questions on the same topic have been put down for a formal response.  The vote follows years of discussion designed to foster understanding and good relations in a deeply divided church. Church Times article laying out what might  happen next is here

Lords to debate disestablishing the Church of England

A bill to disestablish the Church of England will be introduced in parliament by the Liberal Democrat peer, Paul Scriven, who says disestablishment is long overdue and that the Church’s privileged position is “archaic and unacceptable”. His private members’ bill won a place in a ballot following the King’s speech. The bill has been welcomed by the National Secular Society, which has campaigned for disestablishment since its founding in 1866. Lord Scriven told the NSS: “In a modern and plural England, it is rather archaic and unacceptable that a privileged religious organisation is planted right at the centre of the way the state is organised and run”.

King’s communications secretary joins Church of England

The communications secretary to The King, Hannah Howard, is to be the new director of communications for the Church of England. She had previously worked at the BBC in the corporate press office and news and current affairs publicity. The Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, said she had a wealth of experience “both of delivering positive communications strategies for major events, and in leading a team handling complex and sometimes conflicted issues”.

Pope fires his strident US critic, Bishop Joseph Strickland

Pope Francis has fired one of his most vocal critics, Bishop Joseph E Strickland, from the diocese of Tyler, in Texas, USA. Bishop Strickland has opposed the Pope’s attempts to widen attitudes towards same sex relationships, transgender people and abortion, saying basic truths of Catholic teaching were being challenged and warning of schism. The Pope has responded to his strident critics in the US by speaking of the “backwardness” of some US Catholic church leaders. The reason given for Bishop Strickland’s dismissal is the outcome of a “visitation” by two other bishops into governance and leadership in the diocese, which concluded that it was not feasible for him to continue. 

Religious organisations should take the lead in values based financial investment

Faith groups are the third largest economic power on earth with trillions of dollars invested in global stock markets, yet a recent study suggests only 55 per cent base their investment decision on faith values. The study’s findings were explained at a meeting of 40 faith and finance leaders in London last week, organised by Operation Noah and FaithInvest. Its CEO, Dr Lorna Gold said religious groups needed to take a leadership role in values-driven investing. “We are on the cusp of a great change but the question in all of this is where is the moral leadership, as well as the financial leadership, coming from? In all our investment decisions, there’s a moral risk, there’s an economic risk and there’s an environmental risk.”  FaithInvest is launching an online live course in the Spring, to give advice to faith organisations on ethnical investment.

More Baha’is in Iran arrested and detained

The Baha’i International Community advocacy group says more than 20 Baha’is in the cities of Karaj and Hamedan in Iran, have been raided by armed Iranian security agents. They included elderly women aged between 70 and 90. At least 19 have been taken into custody. Many were reported to have been verbally abused and physically assaulted during the raids. The incident follows another last month when 10 other Baha’is – all women – were arrested in Isfahan. The advocacy group says that in recent months, 26 people have been sentenced to a total of 126 years in prison. Simin Fahandej, Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva said: “We are witnessing a significant and historic process in Iran”.

Funeral of Christian teenager stabbed to death in Croydon

Hundreds of people attended the funeral of 15-year-old Elianne Andam, a schoolgirl who was stabbed to death on her way to school in Croydon, south London. Premier Christian news reports that the funeral service took place at New Life Christian Centre, her family’s church, although more recently she had been regularly attending Hillsong church. She was described as a young woman with unwavering faith, a commitment to justice and an ambition to become a human rights lawyer. More than 3,000 people watched the service online.

Ten Downing Street lit up for Diwali

The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, celebrated Diwali with his family yesterday, taking part in a community event at his childhood family home in Southampton, and then moving onto Ten Downing Street where they lit candles on the doorstep and attended a reception for guests from the Hindu community. Diwali is the festival of light and 100 miles away in Leicester, the golden mile was decked in colourful lights as people braved the rain to celebrate.


Sign up for our news bulletin