Religion news 14 October 2021

Image credit: Kemi Badenoch

Kemi Badenoch MP becomes new faith minister

Kemi Badenoch, the Conservative MP for Saffron Walden, has become the new faith minister, succeeding Lord Stephen Greenhalgh whose role was changed in the September reshuffle. Her brief is Minister of State for Equalities and Levelling Up Communities, which includes faith engagement. Premier Christian News says Kemi Badenoch “describes herself as a ‘cultural Christian’ and has a range of faith traditions to draw upon. Her maternal Grandfather was a Methodist minister and her paternal Grandfather was a Muslim who converted in later life. Ms Badenoch is married to a Catholic and has two children”. She has courted controversy in her political career on issues of conversion therapy, transgender identity, critical race theory and institutional racism.

Defenders of cherished parish churches slam attempts to steamroll closures

Friends of Friendless churches, an organisation that rescues and protects churches in England and Wales no longer used for worship, has launched a furious objection to Church of England proposals to close churches more quickly in order to save money. In a 13 tweet thread, it  pointed to facts outlined in a Church Commisioners’ consultation which suggested 368 of the CofE’s 16,000 churches could be closed in the next five years, though the Church of England has since described this as a worst case scenario. It said the consultation includes proposals limiting rights to object to church closures and advocates replacing expert advice with people bought in for opinions and local authorities who “do not have the level of expertise necessary to deal with places of worship”. The Friends say: “Parish churches are public buildings, originally built and endowed locally and all members of the parish, whether practising Anglicans or not, are entitled to be heard and considered properly. .. It should not be fast or easy to close a place of worship”. The proposals are subject to a consultation period which has been extended to the end of the month.

Pope John Paul I passes all tests to become a saint

The Pope has advanced the cause for sainthood for his predecessor Pope John Paul I, by deciding that it was due to his prayers that an 11 year old girl in Buenos Aires was miraculously healed.  The determination of a miracle was the final requirement for sainthood – he had earlier been marked as a man who led a life of heroic virtue. Pope John Paul I was Pope for just 33 days in 1978, when he was found dead in bed aged 65, having suffered a heart attack.

Facebook removes 15 times more antisemitic hate speech than five years ago

Participants at the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance in Sweden, have blamed social media for contributing to a global rise in antisemitism. The Associated Press reports that YouTube and Facebook officials at the meeting vowed to crack down on hate speech, disinformation and the denial of facts. The Forum was told that Facebook is removing 15 times more hate speech than five years ago. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called Holocaust denial and antisemitism a threat to Jewish people and a poison for democracies. The EU plans to create a network of young European ambassadors to teach their peers about the Holocaust.

Board of Deputies chief exec a “passionate moderate”

The new chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Michael Wegier, has given his first major interview since his appointment in September. Speaking to the Jewish News, he said he was a passionate moderate and was concerned at the sharpening of views on both left and right within the community, particularly over issues such as Israel, where arguments had become bitter. He became interim chief exec after Gillian Merron was appointed to the House of Lords in April and built on his extensive experience running various Jewish organisations.  

Enterprise think tank researches ethics of family businesses in Britain

The Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics, based in Oxford, has launched a project to look at the place of the family business enterprise. Led by Dr John Kroencke, the research will report on the role of the great estates in the private provision of land planning and the role of markets in housing and environmental issues. The Centre says it aims to articulate a vision for the enterprise economy underpinned by a Judeo-Christian framework, tackling loss of confidence in capitalism after the 2007 crash and arguing for enterprise and morality.  The Centre’s chair is Lord Griffiths, a former director of the Bank of England and head of Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit from 1985-90.

US Commission reports on history of religious repression in Uzbekistan

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has released a report on repression against religious and political prisoners in Uzbekistan. The report estimates that more than 2,000 individuals remain imprisoned by the Uzbekistan government for peacefully practicing their religious beliefs.  It says the history of repression dates back 30 years since the country left the Soviet Union and religious people are often apprehended on “vague charges of extremism”, while the system uses torture and abuse against them.

Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops of Central Asia in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan, have formed a new regional bishops’ conference to forge unity and growth.  The area has a population of 72 million, mostly Muslim, but with a significant concentration of Russian Orthodox Christians. Vatican news reports that the greatest challenge is a faith linked only to rites and traditions, and the legacy of atheism imposed during the former Soviet era.

77 concrete crosses sculpture on a church wall represent international congregation

An extraordinary sculpture of 77 concrete crosses has been installed on the outer wall of  St Rollox Church in Sighthill, Glasgow. The church has a diverse congregation and runs projects for asylum seekers and refugees from all over the world.  The sculpture “Assembly” has  33 versions of the cross including Coptic, Byzantium, Catholic, Presbyterian, Iona, Manx and the St Andrew’s cross, the patron saint of Scotland. Sculptor Michael Visocchi said: “It’s a metaphor for what goes on behind the walls”.

Creating Connections: sign up in Manchester, Nottingham, Leeds, Plymouth and Birmingham

The Religion Media Centre is launching a project this autumn to enhance religious literacy and understanding in a landscape often fraught with misconceptions and assumptions on both sides. “Creating Connections, where Religion meets the Media” features a series of events to improve links between religious groups and journalists in England. They are an opportunity to explore the way religion and worldviews are interwoven into community life and it is hoped that key stories on religion and belief will be brought to life and lasting contacts for the future will be made. Reserve a place using the links below. All events take place in the afternoon.


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