Religion news 10 May 2024

Prime Mnister meets university vice-chancellors and Jewish students. Image credit: @10DowningStreet

University vice chancellors told to take zero tolerance approach to antisetimism

The prime minister has told university vice-chancellors that he expects them to take a zero tolerance approach to antisemitic incidents and to take responsibility for protecting Jewish students. He invited 17 vice chancellors from leading universities to a meeting in Downing Street, with representatives of the Union of Jewish Students. It was called after students created campsites at 13 campuses across Britain, protesting against the war in Gaza. Jewish students have reported being spat at, having swastikas painted on their cars and abused, leaving them living in fear every day. The Union of Jewish Students says the camps create a toxic atmosphere. The protesters say their demonstrations are peaceful and not antisemitic. The Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, who attended the meeting, said vice-chancellors need to “de-escalate” the situation to avoid violence seen in similar protests in the United States. The vice-chancellors said the issue must not be used for political gain which would inflame the situation and warned against a disproportionately heavy-handed response.

Charity urges more dialogue to calm university protests

Sharon Booth, CEO of Solutions Not Sides, told The Standard podcast that their work in initiating dialogue, promoting “active listening” and improving understanding between Jewish and Muslim school students, has increased massively since the 7 October attack and they have had to  take on more staff to cope. Her advice to universities caught up in the campus protests is to protect the right to protest, ensure hatred is not tolerated and maintain campus cohesion. She said the protests should not be directed at certain faith or cultural groups in Britain, with the assumption that they share the same political opinions, or are somehow responsible, for political events happening thousands of miles away. It was important to clarify the purpose of the protests: “Sometimes these protests are being directed towards particular groups of people. They’re using certain stereotypes and tropes that demonise those groups. Ultimately dialogue needs to happen so that people on both sides of the equation have their needs met.”

Security courses for faith groups rolled out by Home Office

The Home Office is piloting a new security awareness course for faith organisations covering how to assess risk and ensure procedures if an incident happens. The courses have been created for different faith groups which have particular and different issues to deal with. The courses follow the introduction of “Martyn’s Law”, named after the Manchester arena bombing victim, Martyn Hett. It aims to improve security by mandating those responsible for events and certain premises, including places of worship, to consider the terrorist risk and how they would respond to an attack.

Theos research on how religious affiliation affects voting patterns

In the months leading up to the general election, the think tank Theos is publishing research on voting patterns amongst people who describe themselves as religious.  Under the title “Religion Counts”, they will publish a new analysis of the British Election Study of voting patterns in the UK. The first set of briefing papers will look at whether voters from different religions are more or less likely to vote; which parties people from various religious backgrounds are likely to support; how religious background influences the way people feel about politics and the difference they can make; and political values amongst religious voters.  Further briefings will explore how religious traditions influence ideas on current issues such as migration, national identity and values. There will be a Religion Media Centre zoom briefing with the report authors on Wednesday 15  May at 12 noon. Details from [email protected]

Tory MP supports letter writing campaign to Save the Parish

The Conservative MP Chris Loder, a lifelong Anglican, and some time churchwarden and church organist, spoke at a recent Save the Parish conference calling for a letter writing campaign to MPs, warning them that parish churches are under threat. Save the Parish reports that he said parish churches are more at risk in rural than urban areas and Parliament’s support was necessary to safeguard them. He said it needed to better understand that churches offer “a focus of community spirit, prayer, and friendship, and a haven of peace”, and the forthcoming general election campaign provided a strategic opportunity to increase the profile of Save the Parish’s campaign. This states parishes have been starved of cash and clergy, with churches facing closure, and offers a manifesto for change. 

United Methodist church still divided on same-sex but determined to stay together

Researchers in America say it’s not accurate to portray the United Methodist Church as a “super liberal, progressive” church after its overwhelming votes rejecting historical opposition to same sex relationships. The progressive move saw a quarter of all churches disaffiliate in protest ahead of the conference votes. The academics from Duke University say their research from 2021, at the height of the dispute, shows a wide diversity of opinion among the churches remaining. 27 per cent of clergy and 40 per cent of churches did not agree that same sex clergy should be ordained, but the congregations are determined to stay together. Drs Joseph Roso and David Eagle found high levels of stress among ministers who had to navigate the divide in their churches, with half more likely to report symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, and others experiencing burnout or a desire to leave. They explained their research in a Religion Media Centre briefing on the outcome of the United Methodist vote. The briefing also discussed the decision to give each global region the power to take decisions according to their culture, the 40 per cent budget cut after disaffiliation and Covid, the vote in favour of moving to full communion with the Episcopalian church and the view of a British delegate that the votes marked a moment of rebirth for the United Methodist Church. The Duke University researchers said early findings of most recent 2023 research suggested “the storm has passed and clergy are finding ways to continue their ministry”. View the briefing agaiin when it is published on our YouTube channel here

Editor Paul Handley announces retirement from the Church Times

The editor of the Church Times, Paul Handley, has announced his retirement after 29 years at the helm. He said: “I have an undiminished love of the Church of England, an undiminished sympathy for its leadership, an undiminished respect for my colleagues, and maybe slightly diminished energy levels.” Mr Handley joined the Church Times as a reporter in 1988 and after a short stint in the press office at Lambeth Palace, has been there ever since. He will be 66 later this month. An advert for his replacement is already up


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