Religion news 22 March 2024

US Air Force C-130J Super Hercules airdrop of humanitarian assistance over Gaza (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Archbishop says “do not become numb to injustice in Gaza”

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has issued a strongly worded statement on the plight of people in Gaza, saying the situation is intolerable and “we should not become numb to this injustice”. He pointed to the stark picture of children dying of starvation and dehydration in Gaza, with war destroying aid attempts: “It can never be normal for parents to use animal fodder or grass to feed their children”. The deaths are human-made, with “Israel’s prosecution of this war .. decimating infrastructure essential to human survival”. He says current attempts bringing in aid by air drops are imprecise. He reports that drops on the Anglican run Al Ahli hospital in northern Gaza damaged the building and were taken by desperate people, with nothing reaching the hospital. He says thousands of trucks with humanitarian aid are stuck in Egypt and Jordan, because the Government of Israel refuses to give them access and this is unacceptable. He repeats the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages, and sustained humanitarian access for the provision of essential supplies and services to those in need.

Manchester hospital investigates treatment of Jewish boy “forced to lie on the floor

Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust is investigating allegations that a nine year old Jewish boy was mistreated by nurses wearing “Free Palestine” badges. A story posted on social media says the boy has a rare blood disorder and needs a blood transfusion every month or two. But the story written by his aunt, says while he was wearing his kippa and tzitzit (head covering and tassels), he was “kicked out of his bay” at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, by a nurse “covered in Pro-Palestine badges and stickers and had to lie on the floor with a canula in”. There are two pictures on the post showing him on the floor and then, without his religious clothing, on the bed. Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust posted a statement on Twitter / X: “We are aware of images and very serious claims which are circulating on social media. We are rapidly investigating these to establish the situation and are discussing them with the family involved. Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital is committed to providing high quality care to all of our patients.” Jewish News story here

University of Kent closes Religious Studies / Philosophy department

The University of Kent has announced the closure of the Philosophy / Religious Studies department, alongside Anthropology, Art History, Health and Social Care, Journalism and Music and Audio Technology. In a statement it said the changes will come into effect from 2025-2026 “recognising that students have different needs and different expectations than they did in the past”. It continues: “None of this is a reflection on the quality or societal value of any course or subject area being consulted on – we simply don’t think we at Kent can continue to recruit competitively to every course given national student number projections”.  Current students on the threatened courses will be able to complete their studies. The university is based in Canterbury which is the base from which St Augustine introduced Christian scholarship to Britain. It is now one of the leading centres in the study of how religion is understood today, with international research on unbelief and what that means.     

Irish parliament report recommends assisted dying legislation

A committee of the Irish parliament has issued a report on assisted dying which recommends legislation is only introduced in restricted circumstances, such as for those with six months to live, or 12 months where they are suffering from a neurodegenerative condition. Anyone who coerces a person into assisted dying, including medical professionals, will have committed an offence. Reporting such evidence to the Garda would be mandatory. Family members, carers and guardians will not be able to request assisted dying for another person. But the committee’s chair, Michael Healy-Rae, and two other members issued a minority dissenting report, a decision which provoked calls for him to step down as chair. Irish Times report here

Golders Green Rabbi Chaim Halpern charged with sex assault

A rabbi from Golders Green has been charged with two counts of sexual assault on a woman on 1 June 2022. Rabbi Chaim Halpern, 65, of Bridge Lane, London NW11, was charged after a police investigation into claims made in an Israeli TV programme in December 2022. A statement from the Met police says that during the programme “an unnamed woman, who appeared anonymously, alleged she had been the victim of non-recent sexual offences said to have taken place in London. On Thursday 9 March 2023 a man in his 60s was arrested and he has now been charged and bailed to appear at Willesden Magistrates’ Court on Friday 19 April 2024.

UK’s first Turkish mosque under threat from rising costs

The UK’s first Turkish mosque in Dalston, east London, is under threat due to rising costs and falling income. The Guardian reports a conversation with the owner of the land on which the mosque is built, Eric Gürney, whose father Ramdan created it from a synagogue in the 1970s. He said that the Turkish Cypriot congregation who used to attend, have died, moved out or are unable to visit. The area has moved upmarket in the past 20 years forcing rents up and locals out. Those that remain are on the breadline and sometimes give buttons instead of cash. The gentrified area is much in demand and he has been offered £18 million to sell to developers for flats, but he said: “It’s a mosque, it shouldn’t be up for sale, it shouldn’t be interfered with. It’s a sacred place.”

New leader for largest protestant church in the USA

Dr Jeff Iorg, president of a seminary in California, has been elected as the eighth leader of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee. The unanimous vote follows a difficult period for the SBC following allegations of sex abuse against 380 clergy, lay people and volunteers, leaving 700 victims. The Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, was then accused of mistreating abuse survivors and downplaying the number of sexual abuse cases. Its actions were investigated by the US Department of Justice, but this concluded with no charges being filed. The committee has been without a permanent leader since 2021 and in recent years has seen a president resign after admitting lying on his CV, another over the sex abuse crisis and another due to misconduct.  Dr Iorg takes over as membership is continuing to decline, from 16 million to 13.5 million since 2006.  He currently leads the Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention where 1,000 students study in 15 languages and which has partners across the world.

Diocese of Chichester sets up alternative fund for opponents of same sex marriage

The Church Times reports that the diocese of Chichester has created a separate fund which churches opposed to same sex marriage can pay into, instead of giving their money to the diocese. The report says the Bishop’s council approved the fund which is for ministry in conservative/traditional parishes. Eight parishes are paying in, accounting for five and a half per cent of the diocese’s total income. There is another national alternative “Ephesian” fund set up by the Church of England Evangelical Council for the same purpose. Report by Francis Martin here

Archbishop takes up complaint about ad for a “deconstructing whiteness officer”

The Archbishop of Canterbury picked up the phone and complained to Birmingham diocese about its advert for a “deconstructing whiteness officer”. Interviewed on Times Radio, Justin Welby said the wording sounded like something from W1A, the BBC drama satirising the corporation. He said he asked the team who put in the ad what it meant and was told the role was to ensure the church includes people of GMH (global majority heritage) and UKME (UK minority ethnic) backgrounds, and that they have a level playing field.  He joked with the radio audience that his nickname is “Woke Welby”, but he said his views were about taking the Bible seriously and treating people equally.

Jewish festival of Purim observed in Jerusalem despite the war

This weekend marks the Jewish festival of Purim, a time of joyous partying where people eat special foods and often wear fancy dress as they remember the story of Esther who saved the Jews from persecution in 500 BCE. Yet despite the war and the fact that 134 Israeli hostages remain in captivity in Gaza, for the first time in 42 years, there will be a Purim parade in Jerusalem when 30 floats will take part. Tamar Berliner, who heads arts and cultural events for Jerusalem, told the Times of Israel: “It’s challenging to carefully plan an event like this when Purim is draped in sadness.”

Church clock bells complainer unmasked by The Times

The row over the silencing of the bells of St John the Baptist church clock in a north Devon village, has escalated. The Times first reported the furore when a noise abatement order was issued to silence the bells after a complaint. The parish council has had to fit a silencer cancelling chimes between 11pm and 7 am. Now the reporter has been contacted by the complainant who revealed himself to be an abattoir worker living 30 metres from the church in Witheridge, and is himself a bell ringer not far from the village, thus silencing suggestions that the complainant was an incomer who had since left the area. The sorry tale of his negotiations with the church and parish council, and allegations of threats of violence against him on social media, are reported in detail along with a detailed account of the views of other local villagers, who don’t mind the sound.  The Times investigation by Jack Malvern is here


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