Religion news 22 November 2021

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Image credit: Ted Eytan CCLicense4.0

Sikh farmers win battle over farm laws in Punjab

The Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has announced the repeal of farm laws that caused a year-long protest by farmers from the Punjab. In a surprise announcement, he acknowledged that the laws were unfeasible given the fierce opposition to changes in farm subsidies and price regulation on crops, which farmers said would put their livelihoods at risk. Thousands of farmers, mainly Sikh, demonstrated and set up a protest camp outside Delhi, but there were flashes of violence as protesters stormed the city and the Red Fort, with police using tear gas and water cannon against them. It is reported that 700 farmers died during the year of protests. Their cause was supported by Sikhs all over the world, including the UK. The Guardian reports a suggestion that Modi’s decision to repeal the laws is linked to the state elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, where farmers make up a crucial proportion of voters.

Two of the 17 missionaries kidnapped in Haiti are freed

Two of 17 members of a missionary group kidnapped in Haiti have been freed, according to their Ohio-based church, Christian Aid Ministries The Washington Post reports. Abductors have threatened to kill the group, which includes five children, unless their demand of $1m per hostage is met.

Catholic bishops urge the faithful to come back to church

Catholic bishops in England and Wales are urging the faithful to return to church on Sunday now the lockdowns have ended. In a statement issued after their conference in Leeds, they say the Sunday mass is the “heartbeat of the church” and it is important to honour the day. While recognising some are still afraid to mix socially as Covid-19 is still present, they encourage all to consider and reflect on the importance of worship as against spending the day on sport, shopping, or other leisure and social activities. 

Founding synagogue may quit the Movement for Reform Judaism

The flagship West London synagogue is reported to be considering leaving the Movement for Reform Judaism, a decision of considerable significance as it was the first Reform synagogue in Britain and regarded for many decades as the religious hub of the movement. Rabbi Jonathan Romain, of Maidenhead Synagogue and former chairman of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK, wrote in the Jewish News that “it is hard to express adequately my sense of shock”, explaining it would be the Jewish equivalent of Brexit and could prove equally acrimonious. It is reported that talks between the two sides are continuing and a final decision has not yet been taken.

Church of England repeats defence of clergy confirming asylum seekers

Ben Ryan, home affairs adviser at the Church of England, says he is disappointed at Home Office claims that converting to Christianity is standard practice to gain asylum in the UK. News that the Liverpool bomber had converted four years earlier has fuelled media investigations into the process that allows hundreds of asylum seekers to be baptised and confirmed in the Church of England, and then claim they cannot be sent back to their country because they risk persecution. Ben Ryan told the Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4 that it was not a coincidence that asylum seekers became involved in churches because they were the agency supporting vulnerable people. He accepted that some people believed that conversion would help their case for asylum, but confirmation takes place only after a lengthy period involving classes and membership in a church community. “It’s impossible to make a window into someone’s soul and affirm it is a genuine conversion,” he said, but baptism was a critical part of the faith and must be open to all.

Non-disclosure agreements still being used by the CofE

The Church of England has admitted continuing to offer non-disclosure agreements when people leave its employment, a practice that Justin Welby says he is totally against, The Times reports. The news dropped at the General Synod last week, in response to a question from one of the members. Martin Seeley, the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said NDAs had not been banned but the policy was being reviewed to ensure their use is “subject to careful analysis of the merits in each individual case”. The Times says Archbishop Welby told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in 2018: “A non-disclosure agreement seems to me to be dangerous because it creates suspicion. Surely you’re trying to cover something up.”

Jewish Remembrance Day ceremony

Jewish ex-servicemen and women held their annual Remembrance parade at the Cenotaph this weekend, marking the 100th anniversary of the first wreath-laying ceremony there by Jewish veterans. The parade is held the weekend after the main Remembrance Day service, to honour men and women who fought for their country and stood against antisemitism.

MPs debate freedom of religion and belief

MPs will debate the freedom of religion on Thursday 25 November, the 40th anniversary of the UN declaration on the elimination of religious intolerance. This asserts the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. The debate has been put forward by Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP and the government’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief.

More than 4,000 crimes in rural churches in one year

More than 4,000 crimes were committed at UK churches and religious premises in the year to July 2021, the Countryside Alliance says. Its survey of 38 of the country’s 45 police forces reveals this included theft, vandalism, assault, arson, drug possession and burglary. The worst-hit county was Sussex and the worst metropolitan area was London. The alliance is calling for an increase in funding for security at places of worship and the protection of rural churches, which are seen as easy targets.

Creating Connections: sign up in Birmingham and Manchester

The Religion Media Centre has launched a project this autumn to enhance religious literacy and understanding in a landscape often fraught with misconceptions and assumptions on both sides. Creating Connections, where Religion meets the Media features a series of events to improve links between religious groups and journalists in England. They are an opportunity to explore the way religion and worldviews are interwoven into community life and it is hoped that key stories on religion and belief will be brought to life and lasting contacts for the future will be made. Events in Leeds, Plymouth and Nottingham have happened – two more to go. Reserve a place using the links below.

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