Religion news 4 December 2023

Image credit: @AnnaAverkiou / RMC

Celebration of Christianity and football at Wembley

There’s been a growth in the number of Christians in football in the last ten years, according to Dr Graham Daniels, director of Christians in Sport. He was speaking at a “Faith and Football” event at Wembley, organised by the Football Association, as part of a series of celebrations of different faiths represented in the game, with the message that all are included. So far there has been a Vasiakhi event for Sikhs, Itfar for Muslims and soon a Hannukah event for Jews. Yesterday’s gathering attracted some 400 people and was hosted by Adrian Chiles, who turned to Catholicism aged 40. He asked speakers including former players and many associated with the game, to explain what happened first in their lives, a love of football or Christian commitment, and they took the story on to say how faith was part of their footballing lives. Chaplains and coaches agreed that being a Christian in football is about showing love and kindness rather than “shouting scripture at people”. The afternoon event included a cameo appearance of Cardinal Vincent Nichols in his red Liverpool shirt, who spoke about the importance of belonging – in football and Christianity. It ended with a service on the Wembley pitch side with a Salvation Army band, gospel choir and carols. The afternoon was produced by Michael Wakelin, exec chair of the Religion Media Centre, and Dal Darroch, head of diversity and inclusion strategic programmes at the Football Association.

Global faith leaders call for urgent action on climate change

Pope Francis and a senior imam of Sunni Islam, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, have signed an interfaith statement for urgent action to tackle climate change. They recorded video messages relayed to world leaders at the Cop28 environment summit in Dubai.  The statement was drafted the Global Faith Leaders’ Summit in November, hosted by the Muslim Council of Elders, which has also established the first ever “Faith Pavilion” at the summit, where faith groups meet and discuss issues in parallel. The Pope urged religious representatives to set an example showing that change is possible. The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar said the voice of religious leaders must be heard in protecting the earth from irreversible destruction. COP28’s president Dr Sultan Al Jaber said global faith communities “play a significant role in instilling awareness of the responsibility towards environmental protection”. More than 300 faith leaders and public figures are taking part in events at the Faith Pavilion, with 70 sessions live streamed.

Bishop incredulous over fossil fuel claims

COP28 agreed a “loss and damage” fund, compensating poor countries for damage caused by climate change, on the first day of its meeting.  This was one of the top priorities for the Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher, who is the lead Church of England bishop on the environment.  He has also called for a consensus on phasing out fossil fuels, but this was dealt a blow by the president of Cop28, Sultan Al Jaber, who  has claimed that there is no science that phasing out fossil fuels will lead to a reduction in global warning to 1.5C. His comments were made in an online meeting on 21 November, but have just come to light in The Guardian.  The story was met with incredulity by the bishop who tweeted: “So the COP28 President says there is ‘no science’ behind the need to phase-out fossil fuels to keep the planet within 1.5C warming. The data is abundantly clear. What planet is this man living on? There is no Planet B.”

Faith leaders join Together for Humanity vigil outside Downing Street

A coalition of faith groups, charities and community organisations took part in a vigil for all civilians killed in the war between Israel and Gaza, outside Downing Street in the freezing rain yesterday afternoon. Organised by Together for Humanity,  led by Brendan Cox, the speakers included the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Rabbi David Mason and Imam Monawar Hussain. MPs included Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat; Stella Creasy, Labour; and Tobias Ellwood, Conservative. The purpose was to build a movement against antisemitism and Islamophobia, which have increased in Britain since Hamas’ attack on Israel on 7 October. Flags and placards were banned. Hundreds of people turned out to lend their support.

Havering Council U-turns and will now light the menorah for the Jewish festival of Hanukkah

Havering Council has reversed its decision not to light Hanukkah candles in a menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum, outside Havering Town Hall in Romford. Originally it said this would risk inflaming tensions within communities. But it reversed its decision after widespread criticism and a meeting with local Jewish community leaders. The menorah will be installed and stay for the duration of Hanukkah from 8 – 15 December.

Kindertransport links to the kibbutz movement of the young Israel

Eighty-five years ago, on 2 December, 1938, the Kindertransport was launched to save Jewish children from the Nazis. Around 10,000 were brought to Britain to start new lives and most were taken in by individual families, but some of the older teenagers were sent to training farms where they learned agricultural skills, growing vegetables and cereals, rearing cows and chickens, and working in related businesses including repair shops. These young people, orphaned in the war, found work and a new life in Israel’s kibbutzim and many of those who set up the farm schools had a romantic dream about how these young people could help with the kibbutz settlements. Read Catherine Pepinster’s report on our website here

Progressive imam urges government to establish new Muslim group

The Telegraph reports that Taj Hargey, imam and founder of the progressive Oxford Institute for British Islam, is urging government ministers to establish a group of Muslims who promote co-existence and harmony. The report says that speaking at a book launch, he said the Gaza conflict had brought “fanatics” out of the woodwork and the only way to tackle Islamist extremism was to challenge its intellectual basis and theological foundations.

Muslim vote lines up against Biden over ceasefire demand

Muslim leaders in six battleground states have pledged to vote against President Biden’s re-election as the Democratic candidate, because of his support for Israel in the war against Gaza. Reuters reports that the campaign began with Minnesota calling for Biden to support a ceasefire, and has spread to Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida. It suggests even small shifts in support could be decisive in some of the states, for example in Wisconsin, there are 25,000 Muslim votes and Biden last won by about 20,000 votes

Sikh Lord appeals for more diversity in Parliament

Lord Kuldip Sahota, a Sikh serving in the House of Lords, has told BBC Radio Shropshire that the chamber needs to be ethnically diverse in order to represent British society.  The BBC reports that latest figures show only six per cent of the Lords is from a minority ethnic background, against 13 per cent in the UK population. Lord Sahota, 72, moved to Telford from India in the 1960s and was a Labour councillor for 22 years until nominated for the Lords.  

New rules to choose next Archbishop of Canterbury “harpooned by wokery”

Times columnist Matthew Parris has expressed concern at the new rules for electing the next Archbishop of Canterbury. He said the place of the established Church of England matters to the nation and it has a place close to the centre of national life. But the recent changes, reducing representatives from Canterbury diocese from six to two, and increasing the representatives of the global Anglican Communion from one to five, gives more voice to parts of the church with conservative views on, for example, same sex relationships and women. He says this shift of power in a group which has 17 members, was proposed in a desire to better represent the global church. “Paradoxically enough, what some would call a woke mission has been harpooned by wokery. Welbyites have sold the change as being a way of redressing the “colonial legacy” of the Church of England. Informants within the church tell me opposition was muted because nobody wanted to object to a ‘decolonising’ reform”.

Street preacher dressed like Dr Grinch to tell children Jesus is real

A former street preacher in Texas stood outside a primary school at home time holding a sign that said “Santa is fake. Jesus is real”. Wearing a lurid green costume to look like Dr Grinch, from the Dr Seuss children’s books, David Grisham, aged 63, was filmed telling bystanders “We shouldn’t lie to children”, and then being involved in a scuffle with a man who told him “not here today sir”.  He described on Facebook how police in the town of Amarillo tried to stop him protesting. The police are quoted saying that Mr Grisham is a self-proclaimed street preacher, known to local law enforcement: “We do get called about him from citizens occasionally”.


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