Religion news 17 May 2021

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Hate and anger in Middle East conflict spills over in the UK

The Community Security Trust, which protects Britain’s Jewish community, says there has been a sharp rise in antisemitic incidents linked to the conflict in Israel and Gaza and it expects the level to continue or worsen until the conflict subsides. It says the reports include verbal abuse, threats and hatred in social media and online. On Sunday in north London, police arrested four people after a film on social media showed a convoy of cars with Palestinian flags, driving through St John’s Wood with people shouting antisemitic abuse. The incident was condemned by political leaders and the Archbishop of Canterbury who said there could be no excuse for “the appalling antisemitism we have seen in the UK today”.

The Muslim Association of Britain was among several organisers of a march on the Israeli embassy in London on Saturday, when thousands of people gathered in support of the Palestinians. Organisers told reporters they believed the bombardment of Gaza, which has killed 188 people so far, is a war crime. The Muslim Council of Britain is calling on the government to suspend arms exports to Israel.

The week of violence cast a shadow on Eid celebrations among Muslim communities in the UK. Green Lane Mosque and Community Centre in Birmingham was among many to issue statements saying they felt their faith had been violated and Imams and communities should pray for the alleviation of suffering of the Palestinians and all those oppressed around the world. There were many appeals for donations to help people made destitute from the attacks.

Ten people have been killed in Israel and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated the action is not over yet. The festival of Shavuot, the giving of the Torah, is being observed and there are reports of families in Israel hiding in bunkers as the rituals are observed.

International leaders continue to call for peace. The Pope has called on all sides to stop the clamour of arms, saying the region is degenerating “into a spiral of death and destruction”. The Archbishop in Jerusalem, Hosam Naoum, who was installed only last week, said the violence was shocking and surprising and was no way to build the future. Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Programme, he said it would take a long time to heal from the current conflict, the worst violence since 2014.

School assembly hymns should include people of all faiths and none

The Church of England says schools should avoid hymns in school assemblies with strongly confessional lyrics, which may make pupils or teachers feel uncomfortable. Guidance issued this weekend said: “There should be no assumption of Christian faith in those present”, but worship in schools should be “inclusive, invitational and inspiring”. Music and liturgies used in worship should reflect the best of traditional and modern Anglican worship, it says.

Free Presbyterian Edwin Poots becomes leader of the DUP

Edwin Poots, a Free Presbyterian, has been elected as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. He has been a member of the assembly since 1998 and held various top government positions. A conservative evangelical, he believes in the literal truth of the Bible and has stated that the earth was created in 4000BC. He is also opposed to same-sex marriage, supported a ban on gay men giving blood and argued against LGBTQ+ couples being allowed to adopt. He will take up his new role on 28 May.

Sunday church worship starts in Ireland after four months lockdown

Churches in Ireland were open for Sunday public worship this weekend, for the first time since December. During the 14 months of the pandemic, churches have been allowed to hold Sunday services on only 14 occasions. The prolonged ban, with threat of criminal action if flouted, was the subject of a dispute between the government and church leaders.

Drive for religious literacy ‘would undermine press freedom’

The National Secular Society has warned that the drive for religious literacy in the media would undermine press freedom. In a comment piece on a recently produced the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) report Learning to Listen, Chris Sloggett says: “A particular concern is the report’s recommendation that training providers should incorporate ‘religious literacy’ training into their qualifications. The APPG appears to consider religion an important enough subject to justify this treatment, but this is unconvincing. Should a journalist who has no interest in covering religious affairs be forced to care about them?” He goes on to argue that the report’s contention that religious literacy also includes respect for religion, “is at odds with the principle that journalists should be free and willing to criticise all ideas as merited”.

Humanists appeal for language about religion to include the non-religious

The Humanists UK organisation is appealing for a change in the way language is used, to include people who are non-religious. It has produced a guide suggesting the phrase “religion or belief” is always used to encompass everyone. For example, it says avoid “All religions and none”, as it is better to focus on positive beliefs of the non-religious, so replace this with “All religions and beliefs”. Another example is replacing “interfaith”, which excludes the non-religious, with “interfaith and belief”. It criticises the use of “Unbelief/non-belief” as being “intrinsically negative terms implying a lack of any beliefs at all. Generally speaking “non-religious” or “humanist” is best, it says.

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