Religion news 17 January 2024

Image credit: UK Parliament CCLicense2.0

Church leader urges Scotland’s MPs to reject Rwanda bill

The Moderator of the Church of Scotland has urged all the country’s MPs to reject the Rwanda Bill, which would enable asylum seekers to be sent to Rwanda, despite a Supreme Court ruling that this would be unlawful. The Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton has written to all 59 Scottish representatives at Westminster, saying she is appalled that the UK Government has sought to change the law rather than addressing the root concerns. She said the bill threatened to destroy the UK’s reputation as a champion of human rights “reducing our ability to speak with any credibility on injustices and human rights abuses across the world”. It is due to be voted upon today, with the government facing possible defeat as 60 rebellious MPs are backing an amendment because the bill is not tough enough.

CAFOD in the Middle East appeals for urgent ceasefire

The Catholic aid agency CAFOD has marked 100 days of conflict in Israel / Gaza with an appeal for an urgent ceasefire as news reaches them that their local partner had to move out of Khan Younis because of increasing attacks. Elizabeth Funnell, CAFOD’s Country Representative for the Middle East, said the partner organisation had helped around 9,000 people with temporary shelter, hot meals and children’s activities, but it was too dangerous, so everyone had to move out into hastily built shelters: “We stand in awe of the unwavering strength and courage of our local partners, who persevere in their mission despite losing their own homes and facing constant threats of aerial bombardments. 100 days of death and destruction is 100 too many.”

Baroness suggests 26 places for CofE bishops in the Lords should be shared with other faiths

A suggestion that the places of 26 Church of England bishops in the House of Lords should be shared with other faith representatives, has been made by Baroness d’Souza in a parliamentary committee hearing. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee was hearing evidence on the composition of the Lords. The Baroness, a former Lords speaker, said the House of Lords appointments commission should be responsible for keeping the number at 26, but ensure that all religions, denominations and faiths are represented. She added: “A deal is to be done with the Church of England. They have made it clear that they understand that 26 is too many”. Lord Burns has received a similar message. He told the committee the matter had not been dealt with yet because it would require legislation. But he said: “In the discussions that I had with the convener of the Lords spiritual, they were prepared to reduce their numbers voluntarily in proportion to the extent that we reduce the overall size of the House”.  Transcript here

How evangelicals propelled Trump to victory in Iowa

The Washington Post says Donald Trump’s victory in the Iowa primary came because the state’s most religious regions voted for him. The report says his vote combined religious areas with the state’s lower-income and less educated counties to achieve a result that was double his previous election there. However, his weakest performance “was in the parts of Iowa that more closely resemble the rest of the country, with fewer white evangelical Christians, fewer farmers and more people living in cities with higher education and more income”. A further report by Bob Smietana from the Religion News Service, analyses the reasons for Trump’s continuing favour among evangelicals and concludes they want a marriage with the winning Republican, whoever it is, to achieve their goals in policies such as on abortion.

Catholic church in Scotland “seriously concerned” at conversion therapy consultation

The Catholic Church in Scotland has expressed serious concern at the nature and scope of any legislation to ban conversion therapy for sexuality or gender.  The Scottish government launched a consultation this month to “lead the way” on a ban. A spokesperson for the Catholic Church said it was a fundamental pillar of any free society to respect the right of religious bodies and organisations to be free to teach their beliefs support others to do so. A statement says:  “We would urge the Scottish Government, not to criminalise mainstream religious pastoral care, parental guidance, and medical or other professional intervention relating to sexual orientation, which is not approved by the State as acceptable. The worrying lack of clarity about what is meant by the term ‘conversion practices’ could create a chilling effect and may criminalise advice or opinion given in good faith.”

Faith and Belief Forum awarded £500k for hate crime project

The Faith and Belief Forum has been awarded £500,000 by the National Lottery Community Fund to run a project resolving faith based community conflicts in Solihull and Glasgow. In its announcement, it says: “The F&B Forum, the largest interfaith charity in the UK, will lead a new major initiative to repair the harm done by faith-based hate in the UK”.  In partnership with the Restorative Justice charity, it will create a network of people within diverse communities, who will aim for reconciliation between victims and the community at large.

Student takes school to court over prayer ban

A Muslim student is taking her school to court for a policy allegedly amounting to a prayer ban. The hearing at the High Court was told that the Michaela School in Brent, north London, introduced a policy in March 2023 which banned prayer rituals. The Press Association reports that the student’s lawyer said half the 700 pupils are Muslim and she is seeking a compromise allowing Muslim pupils to pray for around five minutes at lunch time when required, but not during lessons. The school, whose head is Katharine Birbalsingh, argued proceedings should be in private due to concerns over past threats but the court ruled that the hearing should be held in public. The case continues.

Project goes global to broaden understanding of science and faith

A project based at Durham University that bridges science and faith and organises conferences for church leaders on such topics as artificial intelligence, cosmology and climate change is expanding worldwide. Eclas — Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science — has set up an initiative in Kenya, Poland, Singapore and India to draw in different theological insights and scientific innovations to broaden understanding. The £6.2 million project is funded by the John Templeton Foundation, and aims to give Christian leaders the tools to engage with scientific questions, through training, meetings and discussion. Its director, the Rev Professor David Wilkinson, who is an astrophysicist and theologian, told us: “We wanted to explore more non-western, religious pluralism, cultural contexts by partnering with higher education institutions that could bring something different to our experience.” Read Angela Youngman’s article here

Royal author suggests future king may not be Supreme Governor of the CofE

The latest royal book by Robert Hardman suggests that Prince William could become the first British monarch in 500 years not to become the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Said to be based on impeccable sources, the book “Charles III, the inside story”, is being serialised in the Mail. It says that while William “greatly admires and respects the Church, and enjoys attending services at significant times of the year”, he is not a regular churchgoer like his grandmother and father. Going further, it quotes sources who say he is not an ideological person, “he is not instinctively comfortable in a faith environment” and “does not surround himself with academics and intellectuals”. Robert Hardman has been royal correspondent for the Telegraph and, since 2001, for the Mail.


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