Religion news 18 January 2024

Portrait of Blessing, widowed after attack on Christians in Nigeria. Image credit: Open Doors

Rise in Christian persecution across the world

The charity Open Doors says persecution against Christians is getting worse around the world. Its annual World Watch list, an annual ranking of the countries where it’s most dangerous to be a Christian, says one in seven Christians worldwide face high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith, representing 365 million people. Five years ago, the figure was one in nine. The worst country is North Korea, followed by Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Eritrea. It says sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 90 per cent of the estimated 5,000 believers killed for their faith worldwide and warns that Christian communities could disappear through violent instability and authoritarian control. Christians are killed in Nigeria as Islamist extremists capitalise on regional instability. Two-thirds of all attacks and closures of churches and public Christian properties were in China. Other countries on the list include Syria, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Nicaragua.  Open Doors began from Brother Andrew’s visits to underground churches in eastern Europe from 1955-67, when he smuggled in Bibles to help Christians meeting in secret.

Head stands by decision to ban Muslim prayers in London school

The headteacher of Michaela Community School in Brent, which a pupil is taking to court over refusal to allow Muslim prayers, says the ban was necessary to maintain a successful learning environment where children of all races and religion can thrive.  The High Court was told that the school’s governing body decided to stop prayer rituals after some pupils started praying in the playground, kneeling on their blazers. The head, Katharine Birbalsingh , said there was a “backdrop of events including violence, intimidation and appalling racial harassment of our teachers”. The school’s lawyer told the High Court that action was taken after teachers heard about a Muslim girl who had dropped out of the school choir because she was told it was “haram”, or forbidden, and a number of children were told that they were “bad Muslims” for not praying and had begun to pray. The case continues.

Rory Stewart speaks of importance of faith foundation in British Politics

Rory Stewart, the former Conservative MP now a speaker, podcast host and president of a poverty charity, has been speaking about his faith and ideas, in an interview for a podcast from the Centre for Cultural Witness.  In a conversation with Jonathan Aitken, also a former MP and now a CofE vicar, he said he found it difficult to speak about faith as he is intimidated by theologians. But he was brought up in a Christian family, prays and goes to church. It was difficult to understand the great advances of the 19th century such as the end of slavery, prison reform and the extension of the franchise, without understanding that most of our institutions were built on a foundation of faith. But now there is a “sense of things becoming unmoored”.  He said it was difficult to imagine that character, honesty and virtue mattered, without a connection to faith. But he felt there was an element of spiritual pride in British politicians who “make a great parade of their Christian faith” and there was a taint of hypocrisy. Asked whether he might return to the political fray in parliament he said: “If somebody offered me the chance to do what David Cameron’s done and come back. I would accept”. The podcast is here

Smyth report may be published in March – four years later than expected

Keith Makin, the Independent Reviewer of CofE safeguarding, has issued a statement saying that the long-awaited report into the abuse by John Smyth is being prepared for publication and he anticipates this will commence in March 2024”. John Smyth was a barrister, member of the Church if England, ran Christian camps for young people in Somerset and viciously abused boys in his garden shed. The report had been promised for 2020 and its delay has caused suspicion that the reviewer had been put under pressure to delay. In this statement, Mr Makin denies this is the case. He says the National Safeguarding Team “recognises the process has gone on longer than is acceptable for those waiting for an outcome and for the Church to act and learn on the outcomes of the report. Along with the reviewer we apologise for this delay”.

41 per cent of US adults become more spiritual over their lifetime

The latest Pew Research in the United States suggests that 41 per cent of US adults say they have grown more spiritual over the course of their lifetime, compared with 24 per cent who say they have become more religiousIn contrast, 13 per cent of US adults say they have become less spiritual over time, while 33 per cent say they have become less religious. The rest say their spirituality and level of religiosity have either stayed the same or fluctuated. Spirituality means something different to people – a quarter thought it relates to organised religion and a third to beliefs in something else such as a high power.

Kenya pastor faces murder charges after 400 bodies found in forest

Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, taxi driver and pastor of a cult in Kenya where more than 400 people died after they were incited to starve in order to meet Jesus in heaven, is to be prosecuted for murder, manslaughter and terrorism.  He is among 95 people suspected of involvement in multiple deaths after bodies were found in the Shakahola forest near the coast, in April last year.  The Guardian reports that most victims died of hunger but others, including children, appear to have been strangled, beaten or suffocated.

Tree of Life synagogue, site of US mass shooting, is demolished

Work has begun to demolish the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were killed in a mass shooting by a lone gunman in 2018. Parts of the  sanctuary walls will be preserved and a new building will emerge in its place with spaces for worship, a museum, an education centre and a cinema. A memorial garden will have sculptures of open books, representing each person who died. The gunman, Robert Bowers, has been sentenced to death.


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