Religion news 13 June 2024

Advent reception 2023 with Sir Keir Starmer and faith leaders. Image credit: Labour party

Sir Keir Starmer pledges strong partnerships with faith communities

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has promised faith leaders that a future Labour government “would ensure strong partnerships with faith communities, harnessing your energy and creativity to renew our country”. In a letter to faith leaders across the country, he pledged to appoint a government minister to lead on engagement with faith communities; engage faith-based organisations in the delivery of the government’s mission; promote local faith covenants to facilitate partnerships between local authorities and faith groups in communities; and continue to utilise Labour’s network of parliamentary “faith champions” to enhance engagement with faith communities. Sir Keir said he had been deeply moved by the contribution of faith-based organisations in society, especially over the last few years with the pandemic, global conflict and cost of living crisis. He said they had saved lives, sustained families and strengthened communities and “demonstrated what it means to be a society of service”, and he thanked them for all they were doing. He said faith contributes to the rich diversity of the United Kingdom and said: “I want to reassure you that a Labour government would be committed to building a Britain where all faith communities are safe and where diversity is celebrated”.

UK Hindus unite behind election manifesto

Thirteen major British Hindu organisations, including the Hindu Council UK, Hindu Forum of Britain, Hindu Mandir Network UK, National Council of Hindu Temples and Iskcon UK, have jointly drafted a Hindu manifesto for the general election, the first such document from the Hindu communities. Under the title “Hindus for Democracy”, the manifesto urges Hindus to build a stronger, politically engaged Hindu community in the UK. It lists seven key issues: recognising anti-Hindu hate as a hate crime and proscribing organisations and individuals engaged in it; protecting Hindu places of worship after an increase in vandalism and arson; access to fairer education including an expansion of Hindu schools; equal representation and opportunities to serve in public life; streamlining immigration especially for dependents and priests; healthcare and social care to have more Hindu employees and better care for the elderly and lonely; and protecting Dharmic values with respect for diversity. In addition, it asks for a memorial for Hindu soldiers who served the UK; better access to crematoriums and wedding venues which honour religious traditions; and better understanding that the connection of UK Hindus to India is spiritual not political. The Manifesto says the one million Hindus in the UK have integrated into UK society but have not fully integrated into the UK political system and the community needs to engage with the political system.  

More than 2 million people visited a Warm Welcome Space in winter 2023-24

Research into the “warm welcome space” project, where faith centres and a variety of community venues opened their doors to people who were cold and needing a friend, showed that more than two million people visited a space during the winter of 2023-24.  It was so effective that it is continuing into the summer in many locations. The scheme was started in response to the cost-of-living crisis and 4,000 places signed up.  A report on last winter showed a profound impact on loneliness, social isolation, and mental wellbeing. The report indicates that an estimated seven per cent of people experience chronic loneliness and 14.4 million people live in poverty. David Barclay, Warm Welcome Campaign Director and co-founder of Good Faith Partnership which developed the campaign, said the scheme provided and boosted wellbeing. He suggested that  disconnected communities “could be costing the UK economy a staggering £32 billion a year”.

Other news

US Catholics call for ceasefire in Israel / Gaza

5,000 Catholics in the United States have signed a letter calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the return of hostages and a just peace. The letter says they “express our grief and dismay over the horrors that have occurred in Israel-Palestine over the last six months”. And they speak against the “decades of injustice that have plagued the Holy Land”. The letter says 71 per cent of U.S. Catholics support a Gaza ceasefire and they call on “President Biden, a fellow Catholic, and other US and international leaders, to do everything possible to ensure a permanent end to hostilities, including halting additional shipments of US funded offensive weapons to Israel”.

Call for French Olympic athletes headscarves ban to be reversed

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have joined a call to the International Olympic Committee to overturn a ban on French athletes wearing headscarves. In a letter to Thomas Bach, IOC president, they say the ban had left Muslim athletes feeling “invisibilised, excluded and humiliated”, causing some to consider leaving the country to continue with their sport. The ban was announced by France’s minister for sport last September, because of the government’s commitment to secularism, which bans the display of religious symbols during sporting events. The UN criticised this, and the IOC said the restrictions would not apply to athletes from other countries.  The Olympics start in Paris on 26 July.

Distinctive force or vague multicultural outpost? CofE must decide

Historian Tom Holland has warned that the Church of England is facing a clear choice between remaining a distinctive force in society or becoming “secular mush”. He was speaking at a conference in Oxford on the public legitimacy of the Church of England.  There was strong support for the rootedness of the Church of England in all parts of the nation through its parish system, alongside tension in its relationship with the state, with the monarch being Supreme Governor of the Church of England, bishops in the House of Lords, and its automatic precedence at state occasions. Canon Prof Mark Chapman, Professor of the History of Modern Theology, University of Oxford, said it was hard to accept establishment when the Church was out of touch with the majority on issues such as same-sex marriage.  The McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics And Public Life conference was part of a wider project with the Centre for Cultural Witness, based at Lambeth Palace, which intends to produce materials and offer training to help bishops engage in the public square. Read Catherine epinster’s report here

Southern Baptists reject ban on churches with women pastors

The Associated Press reports that Southern Baptists have narrowly rejected a proposal to ban in the constitution, churches with women pastors, reversing a decision from last year. Measures have to be voted upon in two subsequent conferences to go through. But at its conference in Indianapolis this week, 61 per cent voted for the ban, less than the two thirds majority required. Opponents of the ban said the Southern Baptist Convention can already oust churches with women pastors, as it did last year, ejecting two mega Baptist churches for this reason.

CofE discussions on “Living in Love and Faith” stagger on

A three-paragraph statement summing up the meeting of the Church of England bishops this week, says they heard updates on continuing discussions over the Living in Love and Faith Programme, and voted to continue to explore proposals. Members of the working groups “reflected a strong desire from across the range of views to remain together as one church despite differences”. The proposals will be discussed at the July synod in York

Brass eagle theft from Edgbaston church captured on CCTV

Thefts from churches left open for prayer are not unique, but this one at St Augustine’s in Edgbaston, Birmingham, was caught on camera in broad daylight.  A man wearing a hooded jacket walked purposefully to the lectern, removed a brass eagle, then covered it within a blanket and walked shamelessly out of the church. The Rev Matthew Tomlinson said he was bereft over the theft of the eagle. Nothing of significance had been stolen before, despite the church being open every day. The brass eagle had been at St Augustine’s since the church’s consecration in 1868.


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