Religion news 2 May 2024

Delegates hug after General Conference voted to remove The United Methodist Church’s ban on the ordination of clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals”. Image credit: Larry McCormack, UM News.

United Methodists remove ban on gay clergy

The United Methodist Church general conference has voted to remove the ban on  the ordination of clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals”. The motion was bundled within 22 pieces of legislation in one vote and was approved by 692 to 51 without debate or announcement. But when the vote was read out, there was spontaneous applause in the hall, a retired bishop offered a prayer, and in a later break, a large group hugged, cried and sang hymns. United Methodist News gauges reaction among LGBTQ+ clergy and reports a jubilant atmosphere at the impromptu celebration, a “day for happy tears”. The ban dates from 1984 and its removal, together with another law which bans clergy from taking same sex marriages, were hotly contested at a special conference in in 2019 with votes split down the middle. Traditionalists believing change was on the way, subsequently left the church – a quarter of all congregations have gone – to become independent or join other groups. This time, the atmosphere and large majorities for change stand in stark comparison. The conference yesterday also voted for a process to allow congregations back if they change their mind about leaving. Comprehensive report by United Methodist News here

Government announces consultation on lifting 50 per cent cap on faith schools intake

The government has launched a consultation on lifting the 50 per cent cap, which had restricted faith schools to selecting no more than half their intake from their own faith group. The proposals, heavily trailed since last weekend, mean the Church of England, Catholic Church and other faith school providers will be able to create more school places and multi-academy trusts around the country, where there is demand. The Department for Education also has plans to enable new faith-based academies for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. The Catholic church, which has objected to the ban since its inception under the coalition government, welcomed the proposal. The Bishop of Leeds and chair of the Catholic Education Service, Marcus Stock, said the decision paves the way for Catholic free schools to open. Catholic Union Vice President and former Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, said the fact that Catholic free schools were prevented from opening never made sense and the decision was a vote of confidence in Catholic education. Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer re-affirmed that “Church of England schools are committed to serving the whole community, including people of all faiths and none, and today’s announcement about the faith cap does not impact on that commitment.”  But Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers,  said it is concerned that the move is “an unnecessary and potentially retrograde step”, leading to selection through the back door and making it harder for some pupils to get a place at their local school.

Jubilee Church community mourns 14-year-old boy killed in sword attack

Daniel Anjorin, the 14-year-old boy who was killed in a sword attack in Hainault, north-east London as he walked to school on Tuesday, attended the Jubilee Church in London with his family. The church released a statement speaking of its shock and sadness at his death: “It is with immense sadness that we share with you the news of the sudden and tragic death of one of the members of Jubilee Youth…We continue to provide every pastoral support as is needed and as a church, and we call on all members of our church family and beyond to pray for the family at this very sad time. We will be praying for the family in our gatherings. We are trusting that the comfort, peace, and strength of God be upon all the family at this time.” The church meets in cinemas in various venues in London and its international headquarters is in Zambia. It runs a youth programme with special services and activities, of which Daniel was part. A 36-year-old man has been charged with his murder.

“Unprecedented levels” of antisemitism against American Jewish students

Armed police have been called in to break up university demonstrations in America, which have sprung up in support of Palestine and against Israel’s action in the war in Gaza. The escalation comes with increasing accusations of antisemitism and stories of Jewish students living in fear on campus. Jewish News reports that signs with swastikas and antisemitic slurs have been reported at university demonstrations, and there are accusations that protesters openly call for Hamas to kill Israelis, chanting that Tel Aviv should be bombed, and incidents of masked protestors blocking Jewish students and “Zionists” from entering campuses. The US  National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the White House condemns “the antisemitic language that we’ve heard of late”.  The Simon Weisenthal Center, the Holocaust-education and human rights organisation, called on Columbia University to protect Jewish students who are experiencing unprecedented levels of antisemitic harassment.  The Mayor of New York, Eric Adams, defended the police action at Columbia, saying outsiders were whipping up anti Jewish feeling among students. The US House of Representatives has just passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act which requires the US Department of Education to define antisemitism based on the definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance alliance.

White Christians continue to favour Trump over Biden and think he was a great or good president

A Pew Research Centre poll has found that most registered voters who are white Christians would vote for Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Joe Biden if the 2024 presidential election were held today. More than half white Christians surveyed think Trump was a “great” or “good” president and don’t think he broke the law in an effort to change the outcome of the 2020 election. In stark contrast, most registered voters who are Black Protestants or religious “nones” – including atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” – would vote for Biden over Trump. Large numbers in these groups also say Trump was a “terrible” president and that he broke the law trying to overturn the 2020 election results. There were responses from Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other religious organisations, but there were not enough respondents from these groups to report on trends. The survey is based on responses from 8,709 people between 8-14 April.

Parish Pump marks 25th anniversary supplying church magazine editors with news

Premier Christian News reports the marking of the 25th anniversary of the “Parish Pump”, a resource providing news stories and editorial content to church magazine editors. The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell,  paid tribute, saying it played a vital role in helping churches reach out into their local communities.  It was launched at the Christian Resources Exhibition in 1999 and has produced 3,000 editions since then, reaching tens of thousands of subscribers. Parish Pump was co-founded and  is owned by editor Anne Coomes, whom the Archbishop praised for “first-class communications through those years.”

May Day festival of Beltane marks the beginning of summer

Beltane, the Pagan festival marking the start of summer, was celebrated at dawn yesterday with processions, Morris Men dancing and festivals across Britain. In Glastonbury a folk processions with stilts, hawthorn bushes and costumes took place in the morning; on Tuesday the Edinburgh Beltane festival was held with processions and fire; and in Leicester Morris Men greeted May Day at dawn.  Factsheet on Beltane here

Pagan Federation wins charitable status

This year’s Beltane was especially significant for the Pagan Federation, which was granted charitable status last month after 25 years of campaigning and correcting misinformation. The Federation president, Sarah Kerr, told followers that this was a significant step forward in its ongoing quest for acceptance and understanding, giving opportunities for more funding and support for initiatives. In a statement, she said: the charitable status affirms “the validity of Paganism as a legitimate faith” and challenges outdated perceptions, encouraging a culture of respect and tolerance. “Moreover, it grants us legitimacy and recognition on a broader scale, helping to lift our status within society and enhancing our ability to advocate for Pagan rights and representation. In a world where misconceptions and stereotypes often overshadow the truth about our beliefs, this legitimacy is invaluable”.


Sign up for our news bulletin