Religion news 20 January

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Joe Biden, faithful Catholic, 46th President of the United States

Fintan O’Toole in The Guardian: “Can Joe Biden make America great again?”
“The great problem of American political discourse has always been — strangely for such a Biblical culture — a refusal to accept the idea of original sin. Tragic narratives are driven by some version of this idea: something went wrong at the beginning and, until it is confronted and expiated, it will continue to play itself out in havoc and pain. The mainstream American narrative has worked in the opposite direction. The foundational acts are sacred. If the present has gone wrong, it is because we have deviated from our origins. We must return to those foundations and we will be great again. Trump repeated exactly this story; Biden must break from it once and for all.”

David Charter in The Times: “Guided by the light: how Joe Biden is influenced by his Catholic faith”

“Joe Biden is the first US election winner to receive a congratulatory phone call from the Pope — a sign that America has put behind it the fears about the influence of Rome that dogged John F Kennedy”.

The place of faith on inauguration day

Joe Biden, a faithful Catholic, starts inauguration day with a private church service where, it is reported, he will be joined by congressional leaders. The ceremony itself starts at 11am, Washington time, at the Capitol and as is the tradition, the president can choose clergy to lead the prayers. He has chosen Father Leo J O’Donovan, a Jesuit priest and his spiritual mentor, and the Rev Silvester Beaman, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Delaware, a friend and confidant, who will give the benediction at the end. He will swear the oath on the 127-year-old Biden family Bible, which contains every important date in their history.

Biden’s diverse cabinet lacks white evangelicals

Joe Biden’s nominees for the top team of the cabinet and executive departments is racially and ethnically — and religiously — diverse, the Religion News Service reports. It says at least eight are Catholic, five are Jewish, two are Hindu and there are two black Baptists. What is lacking is any white evangelical, a group favoured by Trump. The comprehensive report suggests most evangelicals tend to lean Republican and their view is that “an evangelical Democrat is not an evangelical anyway. RNS report here

Revolt over anti-genocide trade deals is defeated

A move requiring the government to reconsider any trade deal with a country found to be committing genocide has been narrowly defeated. The government came under pressure from the Lords, religious groups and a cross-party alliance of MPs, but won by 319 to 308 votes. The campaign was strengthened due to the plight of the Muslim majority Uyghur people in north west China, who have been detained in camps and suffered human rights abuses condemned by the world. Campaigners hope to force the Lords and MPs to consider the measure again. BBC news story here

The outgoing US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has said that China has committed genocide in its repression of the Uyghurs and other mainly Muslim peoples. It was his last statement in office as part of the Trump administration.

The ‘sacred civic role’ of faith groups in the pandemic

Faith groups have performed a “sacred civic role” in the pandemic, delivering essential services such as feeding the hungry and comforting the bereaved and a Religion Media Centre online briefing considered how their heroic efforts should continue.

Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal said faith groups had filled a gap when the government had been unable to fulfil its social welfare mechanism and she had noticed that government funding for projects favoured faith groups working together.

Jenny Sinclair, from Together for the Common Good, said it was important that faith groups held on to their distinctive sense of ethos. “We have a sacred civic role, particularly the churches that have been in relationship with neighbourhoods for hundreds of years,” she said.

Laura Marks, an interfaith campaigner and founder of several charities, warned that although the pandemic had brought people together in extraordinary ways, it was also driving division, through deliberate attempts to spread false information about the vaccine, which is dissuading BAME communities form taking it up. She appealed to the government to counter this false information from the top. Full report on our website

Cathedrals used as vaccine hubs should ‘stick to worship’

The Catholic commentator Catherine Pepinster has criticised the decision of several Anglican cathedrals to become vaccine centre and stop worship at the same time. In an article in the Telegraph, she says cathedrals have a noble history of being the centre of good works, but “Never before has it taken over and caused worship to be banished”. She suggests that this is a consequence of the way in which devotion to the NHS has become a quasi religion. Her article is here

C of E rules for observing Lent and Easter

The Church of England has published guidance for churches in Lent, Holy Week and Easter.

Priests will be allowed to make the sign the cross with ash on the foreheads of worshippers, within strict safety rules. Recitals of poetry and music are banned, but the Passion narrative may be said or sung by up to three people. Stations of the cross, where stories of Jesus are portrayed in art, will be allowed with social distancing. Palm crosses can be distributed in sandwich bags or envelopes.

Sikhs go online to commemorate Guru Gobind Singh’s birthday

Sikhs celebrate the birthday of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Guru, today (Wednesday 20 January). At the age of 33, he founded the Khalsa, a disciplined body of men and women dedicated to the faith and high moral codes. Usually the day is marked by prayers, services, singing, processions and social gatherings, but this year the festival is moving online. Guru Gobind Singh was a poet and completed the final scriptures, which are passed on as the eternal living Guru. His inspiration, faith and accomplishments are remembered on his birthday each year.


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