Religion news 15 February

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American evangelist unveiled as serial sex abuser

The American evangelist Ravi Zacharias, who built a worldwide mission, has been unveiled as a serial sex abuser. Allegations include unwanted touching, sexting, spiritual abuse and rape taking place over many years. A report from the American law company Miller and Martin, found significant evidence of sexual misconduct involving massage therapists at a spa in Atlanta, Georgia. It further found evidence of text and email-based relationships with women and more than 200 “selfie”-style photographs of women.  The UK wing of the organisation, the Zacharias Trust, has severed all ties with its American base and vowed to change its name, saying it is “appalled” by Ravi’s “abusive actions and their impact on the victims of his abuse”. Zacharias died last May aged 74. Sex allegations started becoming public last summer, though it is claimed that cases go back several years. The report says that US staff who raised concerns in 2018, were ignored, marginalized, and accused of disloyalty.

Strict Orthodox Jewish Charedi vaccination centre pops up in Hackney

A Covid-19 vaccination centre opened in Hackney yesterday to ensure take-up of the vaccine among the strict orthodox Jewish Charedi population. Doctors and volunteers from within the community staffed the centre. The Jewish Chronicle reports that the Ostro Fayre Share Foundation, is engaging “community champions” from the Charedi population to promote vaccine uptake. Its chairman, Maurice Ostro, said those who took part are “role models in the fight against Covid-19 by showing that they have not been swayed by fearmongering or misinformation”.

French protest at bill to crack down on Islamist extremism

Demonstrations were held in Paris yesterday to demand that the French government abandon a bill aimed at rooting out Islamist extremism, the Associated Press reports. The measure seeks to stop the issuing of virginity certificates, the practice of polygamy and forced marriage. It would crack down on fundamentalist teaching by requiring all children three and over to be in school and tighten rules on the funding and functioning of mosques and religious associations. The legislation comes before the National Assembly for a vote on Tuesday, after two weeks of debate.

Biden signals new impetus for faith and community groups to tackle frontline social need

President Joe Biden has ordered the continuation of the House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, bringing grass roots organisations together for social cohesion and frontline help with disadvantaged groups. The White House said civil society partnerships were essential to meet challenges such as a pandemic, severe economic downturn, systemic racism, climate crisis and polarisation. The office was set up 20 years ago but in its renewed mandate, President Biden said America was not “a nation that can, or will, simply stand by and watch the suffering around us. That is not who we are. That is not what faith calls us to be.” There is speculation that the UK government will announce a similar office later this year.

Church of England produces 185,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year

Church of England parishes have used an online energy footprint tool to calculate energy usage and carbon dioxide creation. It is estimated that parish churches use about 185,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. The calculator suggests how energy use could be cut and compares parishes of similar size. The Church Times reports that emissions are an estimated 12.5 per cent lower than in 2006. But the target is net-zero emissions by 2030.

Jarel Robinson Brown tweets about survival and fear

The Anglican chaplain Jarel Robinson-Brown, who has been at the centre of a storm for posting a tweet about the national clap for Captain Sir Tom Moore, has returned to Twitter, quoting theologians and poets on themes of survival and fear. About 500 people welcomed him back on the platform.

Khalsa TV fined by Ofcom for broadcasts likely to encourage violence

Ofcom has fined Khalsa TV £50,000 for showing a music video and discussion programme in contravention of the broadcasting code. In its judgment, Ofcom said the music video broadcast in 2018 was an indirect call to action for Sikhs living in the UK to commit violence, up to and including murder. The discussion in 2019 “provided a platform for several guests to express views which amounted to indirect calls to action and were likely to encourage or incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder”. Ofcom also found that it included a reference to the proscribed terrorist organisation the Babbar Khalsa, “which in our view could be taken as legitimising it and normalising its aims and actions in the eyes of viewers”.

The secret mystery of St Valentine

The traditional secret sign-off on Valentine’s Day cards may have its origin in the legends surrounding the saint who lived almost 2,000 years ago. The stories go that St Valentine secretly performed weddings for Christian couples and was arrested and executed, but while awaiting his fate, he sent a letter to the judge’s daughter, signed “your Valentine”. He is not only the patron saint of lovers but also of beekeepers and epileptics. Ten things you never knew about St Valentine here



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