Religion news 22 December 2023

Nativity in Bethlehem 2023. Image credit: David Hardman, Methodist Liaison Officer Jerusalem, Christmas Reflection

“We fail Christmas” when there is no call for peace on earth through a ceasefire

The Rev David Hardman, the Methodist Church liaison officer in Jerusalem, has issued a Christmas reflection describing the reality of living in Bethlehem today and offering the view that if people fail to call for justice and peace on earth through a ceasefire, “we fail Christmas”. Mr Hardman, now working in the same role but from the UK, shows in his film a Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, where a small toy baby lies on top of rubble, signifying the muted Christmas celebrations in the city. He says that in Bethlehem, festivities are cancelled, there are no lights or tree in the holy city, where thousands of tourists usually gather, the Manger square is silent, but so are people in the West Bank, scared for speaking out.  After 7 October, he said Bethlehem was effectively locked down, with checkpoints closed, and roads out of the city blocked with concrete and rubble. He says: “70 per cent of people in Bethlehem have lost their regular income”. Schools provide food parcels, and there are nightly raids at refugee camps. “When..our voices sing our sentimental carols but lack the prophetic edge and lack a call for justice, we fail Christmas. When we hear the words of the angels and then in the Nativity narrative, crying out for peace on earth and fail to call for a ceasefire,, we fail Christmas”. He says the challenge is to model lives on the vulnerable child in the rubble and serve all those whose lives are threatened by war, violence, injustice, oppression, fear and all who are struggling to hang on to hope”. Film is here

“If Jesus’ refugee family had been sent to Rwanda, the wise men would not have found him”

The evangelical Conservative MP for Dom Valley, Nick Fletcher, launched a debate in Westminster Hall in the Commons on Tuesday, inviting MPs to discuss Christmas, Christianity and Communities. Only 12 MPs showed up, including Tim Farron who said the story of Christmas and Christianity was counter cultural, deeply offensive. Speakers gave testimonies, describing the place of faith in their lives and their own Christmas celebrations. But the political opportunity was not lost by the SNP member for Glasgow East, David Linden, who asked: “Had the authorities in Bethlehem decreed that migrants travelling by unconventional means should be deported to Rwanda, how much further would the three wise men have had to travel to celebrate the birth of our Lord?”. No exact reply was given, but the debate was responded to by Simon Hoare, MP for North Dorset and minister in the department of Levelling Up, who introduced himself as the Minister for Faith in the Commons. He said Mr Linden’s scripture knowledge left a lot to be desired and he thanked local groups for their contribution to communities.

Esther Rantzen’s wish to “buzz off to Europe” for assisted dying triggers new campaign

Esther Rantzen’s BBC Today podcast, where she said she plans to “buzz off to Zurich” where assisted dying is legal, if her treatment against stage 4 lung cancer is unsuccessful, has re-opened a public debate on a bill to legalise assisted dying. The Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer has said there are “grounds for changing the law” and MPs should be given a chance to vote with their conscience. The Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride has said he “would not be averse” to a new Commons debate, though there was nothing being planned at the moment. There have been efforts to change the law. In 2015 a bill introduced in the Commons failed. Since then, bills have been introduced in the Lords by Lord Falconer in 2014, and Baroness Meacher in 2021, both of which failed due to lack  of time. Humanists UK is in favour of legalisation; religious leaders including Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Westminster, and Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi, are against. In 2019, a poll suggested 80 per cent of religious people supported a change in the law. In June 2023, Rabbi Jonathan Romain became chair of Dignity in Dying, saying a change in the law was  urgently needed. The bishop of Newcastle Helen-Ann Hartley, has taken to Twitter / X to say this is about assisted suicide, rather than assisted dying, which she  has argued against “in all my episcopal roles and will continue to do so. Investment in palliative care is essential. It will so often be the vulnerable who would suffer most in this”.

2023 was a difficult year, according to CofE bishops

Eleven Church of England bishops have produced end of year messages which are in agreement that this was a tough year. The Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, says it was a distressing year of conflicts across the globe, tearing people from their homes and separating them from loved ones. The Bishop of Bath and Wells, Michael Beasley, said: “Jesus is ‘God with us’ everywhere – in trenches in Ukraine, bomb shelters in Israel and Gaza, in hospital wards where loved ones die, in relationships where there is conflict and distress”. And the Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher, said he prayed for “Peace in our families, peace in our communities, peace in our churches, peace in our world.” The full list of bishops with quotes is here

Census data shows Sikhs are healthier and better at looking after elderly relatives

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released  statistics exploring  outcomes from the 2021 Census for those who identify as Sikh. The data, for England and Wales, is compared with the broader population, highlighting a variety of trends, including comparative levels of home ownership, employment, educational attainment, health, and marriage. Sikhs are healthier than the wider population and more own their homes. Just under a third live in multi-family and multi-generational families, compared with 11.1 per cent for the rest of the population. Sikhs are more likely to be married (and married younger) and less likely to be divorced. Just over a third, 36.7 per cent, said they had a qualification, at least equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, or post-graduate qualifications, compared with 33.8 per cent for the full population. Older age groups, however, had fewer qualifications in comparison. Read Hardeep Singh’s analysis of the stats here

Small Jewish communities in Britain find solidarity and kindness, but in large cities there is hatred

Jewish News carries an article by Lianne Kolirin on the experiences of small Jewish communities in Britain, post 7 October, who often have no synagogue, meet in homes and rely on each other for spiritual support. Their story is of community support, as compared to abuse and fear experienced in large cities. In Norfolk, where there are only 30 Jews in a wide rural area, people  have started laying flowers on the graves at an old Jewish cemetery with notes of solidarity. In contrast, relatives of this small Jewish community, who now live in London and Bristol, say they are fearful and remove clothing identifying them as Jewish for fear of attack. Bristol is known for its activism, but there has been close co-operation behind the scenes and the progressive synagogue has received “a huge number of membership enquiries” in recent weeks. In Belfast however, there is a noticeable divide in support for Israelis or Palestinians and Jews have experienced abuse. Lianne’s report is here  

Languages teacher sacked over LGBT views allowed to carry on teaching

A Christian modern languages teacher who was sacked for refusing to teach content about LGBT issues during an RE lesson, has been spared a ban from the profession. Gladwys Leger, aged 43, was a teacher at Bishop Justus CofE school in Bromley when she decided the content “was going too far now and that I am going to tell my pupils the truth”. Her comments in a lesson were relayed to a parent who took it up with the school. Her case was referred to the Teacher Regulation Agency, which decided that 19 aspects of her behaviour were serious and not acceptable, but they did not warrant a lifetime ban and she was free to return to the classroom. She was supported by Christian Concern, which quotes her response: “I was treated like a criminal and as though I was a danger for expressing my Christian beliefs. I am certain that I have not shown, and never would show, any hatred lack of love towards LGBT people”. ‘

Worldwide Wrestling champion Hulk Hogan baptised in Florida

World Wrestling champion Hulk Hogan, and his wife Sky, have been baptised into the Christian faith at the Indian Rocks Baptist Church in Florida. He shared film of the service on Twitter / X and said “’Total surrender and dedication to Jesus is the greatest day of my life. No worries, no hate, no judgment… only love!” Hulk Hogan was World Wrestling Federation champion five times in the 1980s and was converted aged 14, with the explanation that love made him able to “slam any giant of any size through the power of my Lord and Savior”.


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