Religion news 21 February 2022

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Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, monastery of Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. Image credit: Michele Ursino CCLicense2.0

Russia ‘weaponising the church’ in campaign for Ukraine

A report from Kiev in the Canadian-based Global News suggests that Russia is “weaponising” the church in its campaign to win back Ukraine. About 70 per cent of the population in Ukraine is religious and the vast majority are Orthodox Christians, split between the Russian Orthodox and the new Ukrainian Orthodox that was created in 2019. The report says the Russian Orthodox church, rooted in ninth-century Kyiv and loyal to the state, has sown instability in Ukraine with its message of reconciliation seen by many as capitulation to Russia. One statistic puts the present-day church divide as 22 per cent Russia, 40 per cent Ukraine and 36 per cent “simply Orthodox Christian”. An explainer by Talk Eastern Europe on religion in Ukraine can be found here

UK ambassador to Ukraine still worships at Finchley synagogue

The British Ambassador to Ukraine is Melinda Simmons, who still attends Shabbat services in Finchley by Zoom. The Jewish Chronicle says she has played a significant role in the congregation of Finchley Reform Synagogue for more than 20 years and quotes Rabbi Miriam Berger saying “her Jewish values permeate her existence every day”. Her maternal great-grandparents emigrated in the 19th century from the city of Kharkiv in Ukraine.

Martyn Percy issues broadside against latest bishops’ reorganisation plans

Martyn Percy, the Dean of Christ Church Oxford, has offered critical comment on the latest Church of England consultation document, which proposes a cabinet style re-structuring of bishops. They would have roles not linked to geographical areas (dioceses), which could be mission-based or fixed-term contracts “speaking into” matters of public concern such as Brexit or Covid-19. He says theology is a casualty in this proposal. The history and tradition of the church does not recognise this vision for episcopacy and should refuse it. He believes many bishops and clergy see themselves as “missional target setters”, presiding over a dysfunctional organisation that needs reform. Being a bishop is not an ecclesiastical job, he says, but attending to people as Jesus did, “being kind and good shepherds, wise teachers, encouraging the faithful, supporting the weak, alleviating the suffering and pains of the poor and broken, and being to their clergy, congregation, churches and all people as Christ is to others”. He doubts that the CofE is ready to relaunch itself on an unsuspecting nation with guidance on issues which it lacks the expertise to speak on, as this would require heavy resourcing from high-calibre advisers, which currently, the Church of England lacks. His article is in Modern Church here

Trojan Affair podcast “one-sided” and risk to community relations

The New York Times podcast, The Trojan Affair, which tells the story of the 2014 Birmingham schools controversy, has been criticised as one-sided and a risk to communities still affected by the events. There have been several inquiries into how a forged letter alleging an Islamist extremist takeover of schools in Birmingham led to staff being sacked and schools failing Ofsted reports. Sonja Sodha, chief leader writer and columnist at The Observer, said in a column this weekend that the podcast reignited old wounds and divisions and gave the impression that accusations were motivated by Islamophobia. She listed complaints from Humanists UK and whistleblowers included in the podcast and said it minimised child protection concerns, misogyny and homophobia. The New York Times stood by the podcast, saying it fairly and accurately represented interviews and was “the most comprehensive account to date”.

Three Muslim teachers caught up in the Trojan Horse affair have given interviews since the podcast was published, speaking of the effect on their lives. Jahangair Akbar, a head teacher banned indefinitely, vowed to clear his name; Razwan Faraze, a deputy head teacher suspended and sacked, regretted his comments and said he could never go back to teaching; and Inam Malik, former head of modern foreign languages, whose ban was lifted, said he could not go back into the classroom after what happened.

Archbishop describes ‘vicious sense of dislike of himself’ as a symptom of depression

The Archbishop of Canterbury has described his depression as self-hatred, self-contempt, real, vicious sense of dislike of oneself. But his faith in a God who believed in him was still present. He said his self-hatred “seems very odd when it combines with also a deep sense that I’m loved by God. And in my life that expressed itself almost as a safety net. I would say in my prayers — I may be this terrible person, this failure as an archbishop, whatever it is, but I know you know me better than I know myself and you still love me. And by that I am held.” In 2019, the archbishop revealed that he was taking medication for depression. He was speaking in conversation with the novelist Elif Shafak, who said the gift of depression was the opportunity to “reassemble yourself”. This was the first in a series of six episodes of The Archbishop Interviews on BBC Radio 4.

Progressive Christians rebut conservative campaign on conversion therapy ban

Christians urging a ban on conversion therapy have launched an online open letter to the equalities minister Liz Truss, countering conservative groups who want assurances on being able to continue teaching their Christian ideas. The Student Christian Movement and OneBodyOneFaith launched online #SupportTheBan saying there is no single Christian view on sexuality but their groups believe all are “made in the image of God” and sexualities and gender identities can neither be cured nor changed”. They launched their letter after 2,500 conservative evangelical Christians wrote their own open letter and met government officials concerned that the ban would criminalise Christian counselling that explored gender issues. After the meeting, they said they were assured that Christian teachings would be protected from the ban.

UK Sikh charity supports right of Muslim girls to wear the hijab in Indian schools

City Sikhs, a progressive UK-based Sikh charity, has written an open letter to the prime ministers of the UK and India, expressing deep concern at the tensions in India over the rights of Muslim girls to wear a hijab within schools and colleges. The letter, also from Bridge India and British South Indians, says the constitution protects the freedom of religious expression. Param Singh, vice-chair of City Sikhs, said the right to wear turbans had been recognised in the UK and he hoped India would honour the tradition of diversity, pluralism and religious harmony.

Places of worship casualties of Storm Eunice

The dramatic moment during Storm Eunice, when the 165-year-old spire of St Thomas church in Wells, came tumbling to the ground, was captured on film and viewed thousands of times. Ecclesiastical Insurance told the Church Times it was expecting a significant increase in calls. In Oldham, the minaret at Greengate Street Mosque toppled over and hung by a thread. And in Leeds, a large tree smashed into the Baab Ul Ilm Centre in Shadwell, its roots ripped from the ground.

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