Religion news 11 June 2024

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The Muslim Vote reverses endorsement of three Labour candidates

The Muslim Vote has reversed its stance on endorsing Labour candidates in the general election. The U-turn follows a backlash after it endorsed three Labour candidates – Naz Shah, Afzal Khan and Yasmin Qureshi – who voted for a ceasefire in Gaza last November, defying Labour whips. Opposition to the endorsements came from people who said supporting any Labour candidate was unacceptable because of Labour’s decision to abstain on the ceasefire vote. The Muslim Vote now says it will not endorse any candidates from the Labour or Conservative parties and it will take a “neutral stance” in some constituencies where pro-ceasefire candidates from the main parties are standing for election. In a statement it said it needed to prioritise “unity and empower the community as much as possible.”

Boris Johnson accused of antisemitism for name calling Labour leader

Boris Johnson has faced criticism after describing the leader of the Labour Party as “Sir Keir Schnorrer”  in his Daily Mail column, a word which is Yiddish word for beggar and scrounger. He said: “Sir Keir Schnorrer hopes to benefit from popular frustration with government and acquire the biggest and least-deserved majority in recent parliamentary history…If Schnorrer gets in, he will immediately begin the process of robbing this country of its new-found independence, and make the UK the punk of the EU”.  Using the word “schnorrer” has caused outrage on social media, with accusations of antisemitism and Robert Peston saying on Twitter/X that it was a “pretty offensive” use of the  word and he found it “unsettling to see Johnson appropriating it to describe someone whose wife is Jewish”. 

Tom Holland wins Sandford St Martin Trustees award

The historian and co-host of the podcast “The Rest is History”, Tom Holland, is the winner of the prestigious Sandford St Martin Trustees’ Award, for his contribution to the public understanding of religion. The awards recognise achievement in “radio, TV and online programmes and content that explore religious, spiritual or ethical themes”. The Trustees’ award, chosen by the Trust’s chair and board, was announced yesterday. Mr Holland will receive the award “in recognition of his contribution to the greater public understanding of religions and their role in contemporary and historical human experience”. The award is given for his podcast, presented with the historian and writer Dominic Sandbrook; his books “Dominion: The making of the Western Mind” and “In the Shadow of the Sword”; and television programmes “Islam: The untold story” (2012) and “Isis: The origins of violence” (2017),  which “explored questions often left unspoken in the wider media”. The programmes resulted in threats against him and complaints claiming the content was disrespectful. The full shortlist for other awards is here and they will be presented at Southwark Cathedral later this month.

Methodist Church in Ireland votes against same sex marriage

The Methodist Church in Ireland has decided that marriage remains a relationship “between one man and one woman”. At its conference in Belfast, it apologised “unreservedly for failures in pastoral support and care” to the LGBT community and their families. BBC Northern Ireland reports that the church also said it strongly condemned all forms of homophobia both within the church and the wider community, but it will not follow the Methodist Church in Great Britain in allowing same-sex marriages. The Methodist Church in Ireland (MCI) is made up of about 200 churches in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. During a passionate debate, some speakers were critical of recommendations on sexuality and said they could not support it. “Boundaries that God instituted in creation for human flourishing are no longer part of what it means to be an Irish Methodist,” one said. Others said they felt “conflicted” and were concerned about “a split in the church”. Others supported the review, with one Methodist who backed it saying it “expresses the inclusiveness of the gospel”.  He said: “I am queer and I want to work with children and young people through the church”. Another delegate said: “It is what I believe God has put me here to do and why should one part of my identity bar me from doing that?”

Muslim refugee homelessness is an unprecedented crisis

The online website Hyphen features the plight of Muslim refugees in Britain who have ended up homeless after being granted asylum. After their claim is granted, refugees have 28 days to leave their accommodation, which start when they receive their biometric residence permit. This allows refugees to demonstrate their right to work, rent accommodation and access financial services and benefits such as universal credit or a refugee integration loan. However, many of the benefit claims take longer than 28 days to process, according to the website. A number of case studies are cited in the article including a transgender refugee from Saudi Arabia who sought asylum in the UK after fleeing from abuse at home and the country’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws. He is now living on the streets after being forced to leave his asylum hotel without sufficient support or time to find alternative accommodation. “If I was lucky, I would stay with my friends, but most of them are asylum seekers and they’re not allowed to have visitors to sleep over,” he said. The rise in refugee homelessness has been described by the Refugee Council as “unprecedented” and a “moment of significant crisis” within the sector. Its CEO Enver Solomon said the process was setting them up to fail from the very start

Abuse lawyer says next government must tighten mandatory reporting within religious groups

Abuse lawyer Richard Scorer is calling on the next government to do better to protect children in religious settings by insisting on mandatory reporting. Mr Scorer, also a vice-president of the National Secular Society, made his comments in a blog on the NSS website.  In 2022 the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published its final report following a seven year long public inquiry into how  institutions responded to abuse. Much of the inquiry’s work concerned religious settings, including the Catholic and Anglican churches. One of the recommendations for change was mandatory reporting of abuse which imposes a legal obligation on specified persons (“mandated reporters”) to report known and suspected cases of abuse.  They are usually personnel in institutional settings who work with children and can take steps to protect them: teachers, care workers, youth workers, priests and religious ministers. Scorer argues that most western countries have some form of mandatory reporting, but Britain still doesn’t. He says that in most versions of mandatory reporting, the obligation to report is underpinned by criminal sanctions for non-reporting: if you don’t report abuse, you can go to jail. “So as I write this today, a priest (for example) can know that a child has been raped but is under no legal obligation to report it to the police”. He adds “Doing what is now the international norm shouldn’t be a big ask. We can only hope that the next government will grasp this nettle”.

Christian Aid says true cost of extreme weather on low-income countries is underestimated

The charity Christian Aid estimates that extreme weather, including flooding and heatwaves, has caused at least $41 billion (£32 billion) of damage to the global economy in the past six months.  Its report “Climate Breakdown: Six months of climate chaos since COP28”, estimated losses declared from climate-induced disasters since the beginning of the year. It says only insured losses are typically reported and many of the climate-linked events have happened in low-income countries, few of which have insurance. So the true scale of the economic harm is likely be much higher than official estimates. Its report seeks to put pressure on wealthy nations to invest in a Loss and Damage Fund to support lower-income countries hit by extreme weather events. It says: “Rich countries, responsible for the lion’s share of the greenhouse gases that are heating the atmosphere and fuelling extreme events, should recognise their historic responsibility and step up their funding to the Loss and Damage Fund to help other countries cope and recover from extreme weather”. The issue is up for discussion in Bonn this week, by diplomats meeting in preparation for COP29, due to be held in Azerbaijan in November. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ Church Times report here

Fire destroys historic church with  rare paintings in Toronto

A fire at an Anglican church in Toronto has destroyed a historic site and rare paintings by an acclaimed group of Canadian artists, leaving the city reeling from a “heartbreaking” loss, according to a report in the Guardian. A blaze engulfed St Anne’s Anglican church, a national historic site in the city’s Little Portugal neighbourhood in the early hours of Sunday morning. “The building is completely destroyed right now, as are all the artefacts inside,” Jim Jessop, deputy fire chief, told reporters, adding it was “way too early” to determine the cause of the fire. The priest, Don Beyers, said it was an “extraordinary” cultural loss. Among the vibrant art on the walls of the church were nearly 20 works depicting Jesus’s life painted by members of the Group of Seven, an acclaimed art collective that reached its creative peak in the 1920’s and has become among the most highly sought-after art in the Canada. In 2016, a mountain scene by Lawren Harris sold at auction for more than C$11m (US$8m). The works lost in the fire were by JEH MacDonald, Fred Varley and Franklin Carmichael, who depicted Old Testament prophets, the Nativity and the Crucifixion. According CBC news, 33 churches across the country have been destroyed by fire over the past two and a half years, with many thought to be the result of arson.

Nine Hindu pilgrims shot and killed on the way to a shrine in Kashmir

Nine Hindu pilgrims have been killed on their way to a shrine after suspected militants fired on the bus carrying them. A further 33 people were injured in the incident in the Indian federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir, according to police. A search operation by the Indian army and police is being carried out for the attackers. The bus was on its way to the base camp of the famous Hindu shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi when it was fired at, according to BBC News. Police said that the driver lost control after the attack, causing the bus to plunge into a gorge. No one has claimed responsibility yet but Mohita Sharma, the district police chief, told Reuters that suspected militants had “ambushed the bus”. Two of the victims are children aged two and 14. The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan for over six decades. Since 1947, the nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two wars over the Muslim-majority territory, which both claim in full but control in part. Since 1989, Indian-administered Kashmir has also seen an armed insurgency against Delhi’s rule, claiming thousands of lives. The news of the attack broke as Mr Modi took the oath as India’s prime minister for the third consecutive term at a swearing-in ceremony in Delhi.

61-year-old Catholic woman with known mental illness jailed for blasphemy in Pakistan

My Christian Daily reports on the case of a 61-year-old Catholic woman with a history of mental health issues who has been jailed on blasphemy charges in Pakistan.  Jameela Khatoon was arrested at her house in Lahore following a complaint from a shopkeeper. According to her son, she had noticed an Arabic prayer on the wall behind the counter when she allegedly began uttering derogatory remarks about Mohammed, said Christ was greater than the prophet of Islam and began screaming and shouting. Her son told Christian Daily that the shopkeeper knew about her illness when she came into his shop. But he registered a police report on a blasphemy law against the Prophet which carries a mandatory death penalty.  Her lawyer is filing for a medical report which may stop a trial.



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