Religion news 19 January 2022

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Image credit: Anguskirk CCLIcense2.0

Evangelical Christian group at Winchester college operated like a cult

An independent review commissioned by Winchester College, into how it allowed John Smyth to groom and abuse boys in the 1970s and 80s, has exposed how he was allowed unfettered access to the school, beginning with leading Bible studies and extending to active involvement in running the “Christian Forum”. It describes this as an exclusive evangelical group, setting itself apart and aloof from those with different theological views. It operated like a cult, with leaders guilty of coercive control over vulnerable boys away from home, desperate to belong, manipulating them in a way defined as radicalisation. “This has resonance with modern concerns about the ways in which gangs and radical religious groups recruit and retain members by the use of a strict ideology and by providing a sense of belonging and safety within the group”. Winchester College has apologised unreservedly for its part in the abuse of Smyth’s victims and said the review was a formal safeguarding process to identify lessons to be learned from what occurred and ensure the safety of current and future pupils.

Bishop concerned at threat to BBC licence fee

The Bishop of Ripon, Helen-Ann Hartley, has expressed concern at the government’s decision to freeze the BBC licence fee for two years and raise the prospect of its abolition after 2027 when the charter runs out. In a statement, the Bishop, who is also Chair of the Sandford St Martin Trust, said the BBC had played a critical role in the public and personal understanding of religion, especially during the lockdowns when people connected with their faith and community through broadcasts. Responding to comments from the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, the Bishop said: “We would be very sorry to see .. the BBC’s reputation as a world class public service broadcaster and creative leader jeopardised and would welcome an opportunity to discuss how public service broadcasting and the BBC can be funded to truly represent all communities and viewers in the UK.”

Bishops join protest vote against Police and Crime bill

Government proposals to curb protests have been voted down in the Lords after protests including interventions from the Bishops of Bristol and Leeds. The measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill were designed to outlaw the kind of protests staged by environmental activists who caused transport disruption by blocking roads or gluing themselves to trains. Another clause would have prevented protests that were “too noisy”. The bill now goes back to the Commons for a vote by MPs. The bill is opposed by many faith groups including the Muslim Council of Britain and the Quakers, who say they want to defend the right to protest. In the Lords debate, the Bishop of Bristol Vivienne Faull said: “Often protests can be annoying, and often they are disruptive—but that is the point. Public spaces, like College Green in Bristol and Parliament Square, are places which are felt to belong to the public, and which have been places where decision-makers like us are confronted by people’s concerns”.

Pope’s two close aides test positive for Covid

Two close aides of the Pope have tested positive for Covid-19. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, aged 67, the Vatican’s secretary of state, and his deputy, Archbishop Edgar Peña Parra, aged 61, are self-isolating in their homes. They are said to meet the Pope on a regular basis, but it is not known when they all met together. Pope Francis is 85.

Prayer hall 900 years old found under a mosque in Mosul

Reconstruction work of the Al-Nuri mosque in Mosul has discovered the foundations of a prayer hall from the 12th century. The mosque was once the centre of the Islamic State group where it proclaimed its caliphate. But three years later, it was damaged in a battle in 2017 and now the renovation work has discovered the hall alongside four adjacent rooms for ritual washing.

MP in Finland charged with hate crime for tweet on homosexuality

Päivi Räsänen, a member of the Finnish Parliament, is on trial for hate speech after tweeting a Bible verse on homosexuality. The charge, which carries a six year prison sentence, relates to a 2019 tweet where she criticised the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland for participating in a local gay pride event, alongside a picture of Romans 1: 24-27, describing homosexuality as dishonourable. Premier Christian News reports that she is also facing charges for publishing a booklet written 17 years ago on human sexuality. Asked to renounce her writings and delete them from social media, she refused to do so. She is represented by the global faith based legal company ADF international.

European Court decides Pastafarian church of the flying spaghetti monster is not a religion

The European Court of Human Rights has rejected a claim from a self-styled “Pastafarian”,  Mienke De Wilde, who had applied unsuccessfully for a new driving licence and a new identity card with a picture of her wearing a colander on her head.  Law and Religion UK reports her argument that, as a strict Pastafarian subscribed to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, she wore a colander at all times, genuinely saw this as a religious requirement and was “prepared to suffer inconvenience, censure and ridicule” to comply with it.  The Court said Articles 9 and 14 of the Human Rights Act, giving the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and preventing discrimination, applied “only to those views that attained a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance”.  The Court did not consider Pastafarianism to be a religion or belief within the meaning of Article 9 so it could not apply to the Church or its followers.  The Court, unanimously, declared the application inadmissible.

Frank Cranmer, “Driving licences, colanders and Pastafarians: De Wilde in Law & Religion UK, 17January2022


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