Religion news 1 May 2024

Roswell United Methodist church, Georgia. Image credit: Lee Coursey CCLIcense2.0

United Methodists vote for full communion with the Episcopal Church of the USA

The United Methodist Church general conference, meeting in Charlotte north Carolina, has passed a resolution to affirm and implement a full communion with the Episcopal church in the United States of America. The proposal was passed overwhelmingly with 639 in favour and 85 against.  There are some 6 million Methodists in the US and 2 million members of the Episcopal Church and the idea of a full communion means priests, deacons and the ministry of lay people would be interchangeable. There is a recognition that ministries of bishops in both churches are fully valid and authentic. The affirmation needs a similar vote among the Episcopalians to come into effect. United Methodist News article here

US Methodists move slowly towards relaxing rules on LGBTQ+ issues

The United Methodist Church conference is the first since 2016, an eight-year gap caused by Covid which served to heighten tensions over same sex marriage. Heather Hahn, reporter for the United Methodist News, has identified moves towards eliminating the ban. One is the agreement to restructure the worldwide denomination giving each region the ability to customize its rulebook to fit local needs. There are conferences in Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the USA and the measure would give the American church leeway to change the rules on LGBTQ+ rights, while conservative regions stay with the status quo. Another movement for change was indicated in a series of motions passed  yesterday removing a ban on giving funds to LGBTQ groups, allowing boards to consider self-avowed practicing gay people to go through to ordination, erasing the mandatory penalty of at least a one-year suspension without pay for clergy found guilty of officiating at same-sex weddings or unions and setting a moratorium on judicial proceedings against clergy for conducting same-sex weddings. Crucial votes later this week would change the Book of Discipline ban on “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from the clergy and allow clergy to preside at same-sex marriages.

Anglican archbishops meet in Rome to discuss approach to differences

Primates, leaders of provinces in the worldwide Anglican communion, are meeting in Rome to consider a draft paper on questions of structure and decision making in the organisation. The paper is by the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order, which advises the Communion on doctrine, ecclesiology, liturgy, canon law, and ecumenical relations. It was asked to produce the paper to help address differences in the Anglican Communion, which have seen provinces break away over disagreements on same sex relationships. The archbishops will meet for Bible study, prayer, discussion and pilgrimage, they will visit holy sites in Rome including St Peter’s Basilica and they will met the Pope on Thursday.

Humanists UK condemn proposed change on faith schools intake

Humanists UK has condemned the government’s reported proposal to ban the 50 per cent rule, allowing faith schools to award unlimited places to members of their own faith, instead of limiting the number to half the intake.  The proposed ban was flagged in the Telegraph at the weekend, but the Department of Education has not given a date for the announcement. Chief Executive Andrew Copson said the proposal will “increase religious and racial segregation in our schools at a time when integration and cohesion has never been more important. It will further disadvantage poorer families, non-religious families, and families of the ‘wrong’ religion”. The proposal to allow schools for special education needs with a religious status is something they will look at closely, believing students need an education free of religious bias.

Five teenagers arrested for alleged kidnap of Jewish man in London

Five teenagers have been arrested in connection with an alleged kidnap attempt of a Jewish man in Stamford Hill, north London.The Metropolitan Police confirmed three 17-year-olds, one 15-year-old, and an 18-year-old had been arrested but released on bail.  The local neighbourhood watch organisation Shomrim filmed the incident when a man was approached and reportedly told to get into the boot of the car.

Destruction of Gaza church taken to International Criminal Court as a war crime

Justice For All, a Muslim American human rights organisation, has submitted a document to the International Criminal Court claiming that the destruction of Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza City, was a war crime. The church dates back to 425CE and was severely damaged by an Israeli air strike on 19 October 2023, killing 18 people seeking refuge there. The document says the church was well known as a shelter and there was a blatant disregard for international laws that protect such sacred sites during conflicts. Its case is that there was “no military advantage in the targeting of the church, suggesting that the attack was intended to inflict maximum cultural and psychological damage on the Palestinian community”. Justice for All implores the ICC to initiate proceedings against those responsible “for this deplorable act”, seeking justice for the victims and a reaffirmation of an international commitment to protect cultural heritage and civilian life during armed conflicts.

Police in New Orleans investigate decades old cases of church abuse

The Guardian reports that the Catholic archdiocese of New Orleans is being investigated by state police for a “widespread sexual abuse of minors dating back decades”. The report quotes an 11 page document released by a court which made clear that police investigating one rape charge against a priest had widened the case going back many years and had found documents suggesting a church cover up at the highest levels.

AI “priest” defrocked for hearing a confession and giving absolution

The Times reports that a computer-generated priest, Father Justin, which used AI to answer questions about Catholicism, has been defrocked by its creators after simulating a confession, giving absolution and a penance. The character also said that babies could, in an emergency, be baptised using the sports drink Gatorade instead of water. The avatar was created by Catholic Answers, based in California, whose president Christopher Check said in a blog post that concerns had been expressed the character was priest, but this was because they wanted to “convey a quality of knowledge and authority”. However, they have deposed him and in future, Father Justin will be known as a plain layman named Justin, who will nonetheless continue to “make good use of the benefits of artificial intelligence”.


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