Religion news 14 August

Image credit: Football Beyond Borders

Methodist schools’ leader says exceptional youngsters are “treated as an aberration”

A church leader has said that the way algorithms have been used to award this year’s A-level grades, has meant that exceptional young people were “not credited as an individual but as an aberration”. Students have been unable to sit exams due to the coronavirus, so their results were based on teacher assessments and then moderated. But 40% of grades were downgraded, based on factors such as previous results at their school, and children in disadvantaged areas were worst hit.

The head of service for the Methodist Academies and Schools Trust, Barbara Easton, said church members should pray for young people and families as they deal with results: “Young people in examination years have been on an emotional roller-coaster which is now reaching its end. Years of hard work, or of moderate apathy, will be judged not by the throw of a dice but by the casting of a mathematical algorithm. Children will receive the reckoning of the generation who went before – those in traditionally high performing schools will be credited with the same high grades as their predecessors; children in less successful schools will be judged no better than their fore-runners. The exceptional youngster not credited as an individual but as an aberration. Lives, careers and futures in the balance.”

Religious Studies A levels results

15,692 students took Religious Studies A level this year and there was a rise of 4% in the top grades awarded, according to stats from DataLab. The number of exam entries declined by 11.5% over the previous year, but this was a lower rate than other humanities subjects. RE teachers say 41% more students are taking the subject now than in 2003. Professor Trevor Cooling, Chair of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, said: “The figures are encouraging. Despite the context of a declining number of 18-year-olds, the reduction in A-level entries, and the knock-on effect of some schools’ failure to provide Religious Studies at Key Stage 4, the subject is proving its popularity at this level.”

 “The Tablet” celebrates its 180th anniversary

The world’s oldest religious weekly “The Tablet” is celebrating its 180th anniversary with a special edition featuring a glittering array of writers. Editor Brendan Walsh says it began “at a time of bitter divisions, hunger, filth and disease, into the world of the railways, the mills, and the factories, and of dawning scientific awareness and religious doubt”. In this edition, there is rage in Lebanon, media coverage of crime, dissent over the decision to use the English Standard Version lectionary in Scotland, lobbying over the selection of the next pope, and a woman chosen for a top Vatican job. The entire 180-year archive is available to subscribers on its website. Brendan Walsh says: “It’s an astonishing scholarly resource and a browser’s delight”.   

Online interfaith service kicks off Democrats convention

The US Democratic party convention will start with an online interfaith service on Sunday, another sign of the importance of faith in their campaign. Kamala Harris, who has been appointed as the vice-presidential running mate to the devout Catholic Joe Biden, is a Baptist born to Christian and Hindu parents, who married a Jewish man.  She has spoken of Biblical principles in her political philosophy and Joe Biden says he wants to “restore the soul of America.”  Democrat candidates in the presidential elections since 2004 have always included a Roman Catholic.  

Anglicans rally round clergy training college damaged by blast in Beirut

Lebanon’s Near Eastern School of Theology in Beirut, which trains clergy for service in the middle east and north Africa, was severely damaged in the bomb blast which claimed more than 150 lives. The School, started in 1835, is sponsored by various Protestant denominations including the Anglicans. NEST’s President, George Sabra, said that the centre had suffered more in this blast than it had during the Civil War. All the glass and doors in the centre were destroyed and the challenge is to find building materials and labour to rebuild. The Anglican church says the humanitarian situation has become even more desperate in Beirut, especially for vulnerable refugees.

Bishops call for calm after five days of violent protests in Belarus

Roman Catholic Bishops in Belarus have called for calm and for talks between the government and protesters following five days of unrest after Sunday’s presidential election. The President, Alexander Lukashenko, was declared the winner in a vote which the EU said was neither free nor fair, and his opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was forced to leave the country. Police have been accused of using excessive force and two people have died – one in clashes and the other in police custody. Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk appealed to all parties to stop acts of violence and to engage in dialogue. The Bishop of Vitebsk, Aleh Bukevich, said: “There is only one way out of this situation, seeking the truth! We must be certain and defend truth, not lies. Truth cannot be found where there is violence.”

And finally .. The UKs first female Muslim football referee

Jawahir Roble, who fled to Britain with her family from civil war in Somalia 16 years ago, has become the UK’s first female Muslim football referee (pictured). The Daily Mail reports that when she arrived in Wembley, north London, she found football helped her to make friends, as she spoke no English but could communicate through the game. She started volunteering as a referee in local clubs and then a girls’ league picked her up. Now her ambition is soaring. The Mail reports that asked whether she hoped to referee in the Premier League or the Women’s Super League, she said: “Honestly that’s the mission”.