Religion news 15 March 2024

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Government announces new definition of extremism

The Communities Secretary Michael Gove has announced a new definition of extremism which will block groups from government funding and engagement:
Extremism is “the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to: 1. negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or 2. undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or 3. intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve the results in (1) or (2)”

Mr Gove told the Commons that five groups have already been listed to be assessed by a “counter-extremism centre of excellence” within the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Three were included for their Islamist orientation and views: the Muslim Association of Britain, Cage and MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development). A further two promote Neo-Nazi ideology, the British National Socialist Movement and Patriotic Alternative. He said “Our definition will not affect gender-critical campaigners, those with conservative religious beliefs, trans activists, environmental protest groups, or those exercising their proper right to free speech”.

“The risk of alienating entire communities cannot be overstated”

Zara Mohammed, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, writing for Metro, said all should be united in opposing harm from extremism, but the new definition hinders this common objective. “The risk of alienating entire communities through these arbitrary categorisations cannot be overstated. This definition will undoubtedly undermine efforts to foster unity and mutual understanding within society”. She spoke of the impact on her organisation which was not listed: “For weeks now, our organisation has been subject to smears and insinuation that we would be judged against this extremism criteria as well. If we did, it would mean that the hundreds of mosques and Islamic associations affiliated to us – and the hundreds of thousands of those attending these institutions – would all be tarred with this offensive brush. And that is a huge problem”.

Board of Deputies weighs in after suggestions the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism will be dismissed

The Board of Deputies has written to Michael Gove to support Lord Mann as the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, after rumours emerged that he would not be extended when his five year role ends this year. Jewish News reports that the letter written by the Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl said Lord Mann had “overwhelming support” within the Jewish community: “at a time when our community is so distressed by the sheer amounts of Jew-hatred in the UK at this time… it would be a retrograde step to dismiss Lord Mann.”

Women of faith launch project to bridge community divides

The Women’s Interfaith Network has launched a project called “Keeping Faith”, designed to bring together women from all faiths and backgrounds to build stronger communities.  It will include key events, a new podcast and a book of reflections. The Network’s co-founder and chair, Lady Gilda Levy, said it was started 20 years ago after 9/11, and little seems to have changed. With religious hate crime and community tensions heightened, the Network hopes to provide space for interfaith dialogue to find points of connection and meaning.

Number of people giving regularly to parish churches has declined

The Church of England’s Parish Finance Statistics 2022 shows that the number of regular givers has fallen each year over the past nine years to stand at around 401,000 in 2022 compared with 572,000 in 2013. The largest source of income was parish giving at £586 million and the average weekly giving was £16.20, ranging from under £10 in Lincoln to £30 in London. The total income of parishes was £1,055 million and the total expenditure was £1,019 million.  The report’s introduction says this represents a second year of modest growth in parishes’ income after the sharp downturn of 2020, but this was eroded by the effects of inflation so that in real terms income was slightly down. Expenditure fell in real terms, reversing the modest recovery in parishes’ spending after the COVID pandemic, and was lower in 2022 than in any of the previous 20 years.  There was a reduction in expenditure on buildings and over half the increased expenditure between 2021 and 2022 went on church running costs.  The report is here

Traditionalist welcome for Ireland referendum result against modernisation of family and role of women

The unexpected defeat of referendums in Ireland to modernise the idea of family and the role of women has delighted traditionalist Catholics, according to a report in the Religion News Service. In decisive votes, Ireland rejected a proposal to broaden the definition of family by saying it can be founded on marriage or on other durable relationships, with 67.7 per cent against.; and a second proposal to remove a reference in the constitution to women’s role in the home as a key support to the state, was rejected by 73.9 per cent. The main political parties were in favour and the result was a surprise. RNS reported from a traditionalist Tridentine  mass church and found a campaigner who said: “It’s a great result for women, for mothers, for the homes and for marriage.”

Theft of lead from churches declines after strict security measures

Metal theft from historic places of worship increased by 41 per cent during the lockdown periods of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report from Historic England. But the theft of metal roofing, notably lead, from church roofs declined after Covid, perhaps due to increased security, the falling price of lead and the prosecution of two organised crime groups operating in counties from Dorset to Yorkshire.  To try to reduce the threat of theft, some listed historic churches are replacing stolen lead with stainless steel. Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register shows 53 out of 943 places of worship have risks including arson, the theft of fixtures, fittings and metal and vandalism.

The challenge of finding clergy willing to move to Cornwall

The Church Times reports a dispute between the campaign group Save the Parish and the Diocese of Truro over the number of clergy. Save the Parish published an article last month on the fall in numbers in the diocese which it said was “struggling to recruit new priests to undertake the unrealistic roles proposed by the restructuring plans — in particular oversight ministers to run teams of paid employees in giant benefices”. The diocese responded with a statement saying: “All dioceses in the Church of England are having difficulty filling the number of posts available and we know from feedback that dioceses with active Save the Parish groups struggle more than others because clergy are wary of coming into an area where they will be harassed”.  The Church Times investigates the story and quotes the acting Bishop of Truro, Hugh Nelson, saying increasing the number of salaried priests is a top priority.

Pope discusses resignation – “a distant hypothesis”

Pope Francis has said that if he chooses to resign he would be known as Bishop Emeritus of Rome and would live in the Basilica of St. Mary Major “to return to being a confessor and bring communion to the sick”. His thoughts are recorded in his autobiography out on 19 March “Life. My Story in History”. But he said such thoughts are a “distant hypothesis” because there are no serious reasons to consider this possibility, which he never considers, “despite moments of difficulty.” There were no conditions for a resignation, he said, unless a serious physical impediment arose, in which case a letter of resignation deposited in the Secretariat of State signed by Bergoglio at the beginning of his pontificate would apply.


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