Religion news 13 February 2024


Times investigation into number of asylum seekers using conversion in their claim to stay

An investigation by The Times has found that last year, 28 asylum cases heard by the Upper Tribunal, the final stage of appeal, involved a claim of a conversion to Christianity, representing one per cent of all cases heard at that stage. Of those, seven were approved and eight were sent back for a new hearing. The Times says this is a fraction of the total number of asylum hearings but the only stage that publishes judgments. Its reporters reviewed thousands of cases to find this number and found a murderer and drug dealer were among the converts granted asylum.  At the weekend, the Mail on Sunday reported that Pastor Phylip Rees of Tredegarville Baptist Church in Cardiff, baptised up to 500 asylum seekers in the sea – but more than half lost contact with the church. The Times picks up comments made at last Thursday’s Religion Media Centre briefing on asylum seekers and conversion, when Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani on behalf of the Church of England, said its guidance to clergy could be reviewed; and Steve Tinning on behalf of the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed churches, said existing guidance for ministers would be reviewed this week. He added that the work of discernment and wisdom when assessing a candidate for baptism needed to be more explicit in the document.

Lord Carey says bishops in the Lords are wrong about migration

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has said he believes the bishops are wrong on the isuse of migration. Writing in The Telegraph, he said he is disturbed by the ferocity and intensity of their opposition to the Rwanda bill: “My disagreement with the Archbishop and bishops in the House of Lords is not with their compassion and Christian care for others, but their blindness to what migration is doing to our country – our culture, our infrastructure and our common life”. His article is here

Foreign Secretary meets family of Sikh detained in India, pleading for his release

The foreign secretary has met the brother of Jagtar Singh Johal, a 37-year-old Sikh from Dumbarton, who has been detained in India for six years. Lord Cameron is the sixth foreign secretary to be in post since Mr Johal was seized weeks after his wedding and charged with terror offences linked to political violence. A cross-party group of MPs said Mr Johal has been tortured while detained, which India denies. A UN panel of human rights experts found his detention lacked legal basis and he should be released. Lord Cameron urged the Indian government to speed up the case, said he will re-examine the paperwork and promised a further meeting. Jagtar Singh Johal’s brother Gurpreet, a lawyer and Labour councillor, thanked Lord Cameron for meeting him but said he expected more.

Jewish audience members flee Soho Theatre show after antisemitic rant

The Campaign Against Antisemitism is engaging lawyers and defending members of the audience who attended a comedy show at Soho Theatre, London, and walked out after refusing to stand and applaud a Palestinian flag. When one person remained seated, the comedian Paul Currie, shouted at him to get out. The man was an Israeli and he promptly left the theatre, along with around four other people who complained they were fearful, regarding it as an antisemitic rant.  Soho Theatre released a statement saying it was sorry for the incident and hurt caused, and said it was important that the theatre was a welcoming and inclusive place for all.

Antisemitic backlash after comments of Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali

The Labour party has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali, its candidate in the Rochdale byelection. The BBC explains the decision was taken after his comments about Jewish media figures fuelling criticism of a pro-Palestinian Labour MP came to light soon after a leaked recording when he suggested Israel had deliberately allowed the Hamas attack on 7 October. Jeremy Dable, the Jewish representative on the Preston Faith Covenant, told the Lancashire Post that the comments had unleashed a wave of antisemitism online: “All the demons are out there making all the completely unsupported allegations under the sun”. 

Pope greets president of Argentina in official audience

Pope Francis welcomed the President of Argentina Javier Gerardo Milei, for an official audience in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. The 53-year-old was sworn in as president in December 2023, and during the election campaign described the Pope as an “imbecile who defends social justice”. But the discussions yesterday were said to be cordial, stressing good relations between Argentina and the Holy See and the will to strengthen them further. They addressed the new government’s programme to counter the economic crisis, and the ongoing conflicts around the world. The Vatican has produced a film of edited highlights of the visit.

More sex abuse allegations against US evangelist Mike Bickle

More allegations of sex abuse have been levelled at Mike Bickle, the founder of the International House of Prayer evangelical charismatic movement in America. It is known for prayer held 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and is a large organisation with thousands of staff. In December 2023, the movement severed ties with him after a woman alleged he sexually abused her. Now another woman has come forward with allegations from 20 years ago and the church has expressed anger and shock.

Redeeming Jesus’ brand of unconditional love at the Super Bowl

A multi-million dollar ad campaign “He Gets Us”, affirming that the story of Jesus is about unconditional love and acceptance, featured in the Super Bowl at the weekend. One big screen ad showed people washing feet, ending with the words: “Jesus didn’t teach hate. He washed feet”; and another showed portraits of vulnerable people with the message: “Know your neighbour”. The campaign to “redeem Jesus’ brand” began in 2022 but the marketing agency says it has assumed new significance in this presidential election year where “divisiveness and hostility is amplified”. On its home page, the question is asked: “How did the story of Jesus, the world’s greatest love story, get twisted into a tool to judge, harm, and divide people?”. The intention is to run the campaign for three years at a cost of $1billion, backed by the owners of Hobby Lobby, an arts and craft stores empire. The not for profit running the campaign is “Come Near”, representing a coalition of Christians from different denominations and traditions, whose CEO is Ken Calwell, a former marketing executive for Wendy’s, Domino’s Pizza and Compassion International. Bob Smietana explains all in a Religion News Service article here

Ten top facts about St Valentine

In preparation for Valentine’s Day, Catherine Pepinster explains that mystery surrounds St Valentine’s identity. It is generally held that he was martyred on 14 February 269, but was he an evangelist, a man who conducted weddings and was executed as a result, or a man who fell in love with a girl signing his letter “Your Valentine”? Today, he is not only the patron saint of lovers but also of beekeepers and epileptics. St Valentine: Ten top facts is here


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