Religion news 21 November 2023

Interfaith week in Wembley. Image credit: Linda Padford

Interfaith week 2023 a “testing time”

Interfaith Week proved to be a testing time this year, according to participants, as it was overshadowed by the Israel-Gaza conflict. Last year the Inter Faith Network recorded more than 600 events including walks and shared meals. This year there were around 500, although organisers say the final tally often takes a long time to calculate. Catherine Pepinster’s report for the RMC says there is anecdotal evidence that events were cancelled amid fears over timing and security, some reports of speakers cancelling their appearance and difficulty for some faith groups appearing on platforms with others, although people continued to message privately. Catherine’s report is here

Calls for British businesses to recognise religion and belief needs of employees

UK business leaders assembled in parliament yesterday to back calls for employers to create faith-and-belief-friendly workplaces, honouring holy days, catering for religious needs and including religion in diversity training. The call comes in a report which puts forward a “REDI” index, a list of actions which benchmark a company’s actions in accommodating religion and belief, arguing that this increases retention and recruitment and ultimately the bottom line. The businesses represented at the meeting, including a university, manufacturing and IT industries, already have such structures in place. It is hoped that the REDI index will catch on with other businesses when it is actively promoted next year.  The report “Building Freedom of Religion or Belief through faith and belief friendly workplaces – A Call to Action”, is published by the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief.  It was produced and presented by Brian Grim, an American who runs the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, which “educates the global business community about the positive power that faith and religious freedom for all, has on workplaces and the economy”.

Friction ahead for the church and new president in Argentina

The election of the new president of Argentina, Javier Milei, is reported to have caused concern among Catholics in the country, which is the birthplace of Pope Francis. The Catholic Herald says that for years, Milei has criticised the Church’s social doctrine and insulted Pope Francis, calling him an imbecile and a communist. Milei is a populist, radical libertarian, pro economic growth and in favour of reduced state spending. Church members and clergy, including those working in slums amongst people in abject poverty, were involved in campaigns against him. They are quoted saying they will carry on with their work and continue a dialogue with the government, but they fear obstacles in their work.  

CofE members in favour of same sex blessings sad at “hostile” attitude of opponents

Eighteen groups in the Church of England, representing inclusive views, have issued a statement welcoming progress at the general synod towards issuing prayers of blessing and allowing trial services where prayers will be said. The inclusive groups say they are “saddened by the hostile and negative manner in which many have engaged with the process, including the simplistic use of Scripture and appeal to narrow legal points”. They commit to remaining united while providing broad space for those who are opposed to the change. Their statement came three days after opponents of same sex blessings declared an alternative organisation of bishops and an alternative fund for churches to pay into, rather than paying into a diocese with which they disagree.

“De facto blasphemy code” as teachers self-censor educational materials

 A YouGov survey commissioned by the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange,  suggests that some teachers are self-censoring teaching materials in the wake of the Batley grammar school incident, when an RE teacher went into hiding after protests following a lesson during which he showed a picture of the prophet Mohammed. The survey of 1,132 teachers conducted in March this year, showed 16 per cent self censor material to avoid religious offence, 75 per cent fear protests outside schools would be damaging to them, 55 per cent would not use an image of the prophet Mohammed and four out of ten schools have no guidance for teachers on whether materials they use may cause offence. Policy Exchange says the survey “exposes that a de facto blasphemy code is being introduced to our schools”. 

Church of Scotland closes church with 900 year history

The Church of Scotland has closed the country’s oldest church. Birnie Kirk in Elgin, Moray, which has been the site of worship for 900 years. The place is steeped in history, the site of an earlier church dedicated to the Irish missionary Saint Brendan, and the location of a cathedral, predating both cathedrals in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Local villagers are outraged saying church authorities are breaking up a community and a family, where people look out for each other’s needs. They say the church is their spiritual home, the place where people have been married and buried in living memory, and worshippers now face a 20 mile round trip to attend  a service.  The Church of Scotland said it had to take the decision based on falling numbers in the congregation, and financial pressures. Usually only 20 people turn up for Sunday worship, but more than 100 turned out for the last service on Sunday. Telegraph report here

Armenian Christians in Jerusalem in fear of ethnic cleansing

The Times’ Jerusalem reporter, Catherine Philp, reports that Armenian Christians in the Old City of Jerusalem are living in fear of ethnic cleansing. They have lived there for 1600 years but since 1967 they say settlers have bought up property on their land and in the latest deal, a piece of church owned land was sold to a venture capitalist, without due process.  The land is now used as a car park but also contains five homes and the families are devastated. The heads of all the churches in Jerusalem issued a statement saying the events “threaten to erase the Armenian presence in the area, weakening and endangering the Christian presence in the Holy Land.”

Ceasefire rally held by UK Jewish campaign group against “Israel’s occupation and apartheid”

 Na’amod UK, an organisation of Jews in the UK seeking to end “support for Israel’s occupation and apartheid, and to mobilise it in the struggle for freedom, equality and justice for all Palestinians and Israelis”, has held a ceasefire rally in London. It said 800 people attended, which made it the largest Jewish-led ceasefire rally in UK history. In a statement published on Twitter / X, Na’amod says it has “watched with heartbreak and outrage as innocent men, women and children in Gaza are massacred, displaced, and struggle to survive a humanitarian crisis of devastating proportions under Israeli bombardments and siege”, following Hamas’s horrifying massacres and hostage-taking. It says the Israeli government is prioritising a campaign of “murderous retribution” over the return of the hostages who should be unconditionally released and it backs Israeli families’ demands for a hostage deal to hasten their return. 

Third of north Georgia Methodist churches disaffiliate over same sex marriage

One third of Methodist churches in north Georgia are disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church in a dispute over same sex marriage and LGBT+ clergy. At a special conference last weekend, 261 churches announced they were leaving and have been given 30 days to fulfil the  terms of their departure including financial and other arrangements. 440 churches remain and new United Methodist congregations are due to form.

London City Mission CEO and his wife attacked by youths in Earsfield

The CEO of London City Mission, Graham Miller, and his wife Alison, were punched and knocked to the ground in Earsfield, south west London, after challenging a group of teenagers for abusing a cafe manager next to the station. Describing the attack on Twitter / X, he said passers-by had to tear the youngsters off them. Mr Miller said he had concussion and felt dizzy and both he and his wife had headaches. London City Mission supports evangelism in the capital and the couple say their response is to redouble their efforts to reach young people: “#LondonNeedsJesus”.


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