Religion News 23 July

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Faith organisations’ crucial role in building community and trust

Public policy makers should not regard faith as being on the margins of society, and a problem with the potential to disrupt, according to a report commissioned by the Faith and Belief Forum and British Academy. It says successive governments have seen faith, especially Islam, through a prism of security concerns, whereas religion offers ways to strengthen society. Suspicion had led to strain over policies such as Prevent and the expansion of faith schools. But social change, with immigrants valuing their Christian faith and a welfare state leaving gaps in dealing with the effects of austerity, has led to faith organisations playing an increasing role in supplying life saving services, especially food banks. The report says that faith groups have the potential and ability to create bonds between people and create a more cohesive society.  A full report is here.

The central role of religion for the Uyghars’ future in China

The British Jewish community has been “utterly shocked” by the increasing reports of human rights abuses against the Uyghar population in north west China. The story of 13 tonnes of human hair seized from a ship by US customs, took the entire front page of the Jewish News last week. Its news editor Justin Cohen, said images from Auschwitz of shoes and hair piled up was often the most searing experience people were left with after visits. So seeing pictures of the hair on a ship provoked a strong reaction. Speaking to a Religion Media Centre online briefing, he said there had been a massive response to the article.
Other speakers on the call explained the religious context of the story. Journalist James Palmer spoke of the intense, concerted campaign to suppress Uyghur culture and religion and had first-hand accounts of people who had disappeared.  Dr Rian Thum, of Nottingham University, said the population had links with Turkey, Iran and Uzbekistan and much of their Muslim faith was practised in small rural communities. Ben Rogers of Christian Solidarity Worldwide said that he was distressed at the lack of Christian leaders speaking out against the Chinese oppression of the Uyghurs. David Taube of the Quilliam Foundation said that it was a mystery there had been no outrage on behalf of the Muslim Uyghurs from the rest of the Muslim world. Edwin Shuker, Vice President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews told the webinar that they had been campaigning for over a year to support the Uyghurs, including lobbying the British Foreign Office. A full report of the zoom call is here.

Interfaith ministers promote the common sacred truth of love

Sixty five ‘interfaith ministers’ are to be ordained in a ceremony in the UK on Saturday (25 July). The scheme, run by the One Spirit Interfaith Foundation, produces people who commit to live a life of love, reconciliation and peace-making. They follow a two year training programme  exploring “the common sacred truths at the heart of the world’s religions, faiths and spiritual traditions”. The course includes training in counselling, therapy, diversity, inclusivity and activism. After graduating, they can  hold interfaith ceremonies such as weddings, baby blessings, burials, divorce rituals. The organisation aims to deepen the expression of love, compassion and respect for self and others for all humanity. It was set up 22 years ago and in this time, it has ordained more than 800 men & women as interfaith ministers in the UK & Ireland. This year, due to the pandemic, the unique ordination ceremony will be streamed live on charity’s facebook page

Augustine Tanner-Ihm – stop speaking or face ‘bad consequences’

Augustine Tanner-Ihm, who is training to be a church of England priest, has been on the receiving end of another incredible message from within the church. Augustine, who is black, came to fame when he made public an email giving the reason for him not getting a curate’s job  “We are not confident that there is a sufficient match between you and the requirements of the post. Firstly, the demographic of the parish is monochrome white working-class, where you might feel uncomfortable.” This week he has posted another message on twitter saying: “ I received an email from a leader to stop speaking about my experiences the last three years otherwise there may be some ‘bad consequences and this may undermine my integrity. Intimidation and silencing are still a part of our Anglican Culture. Say a prayer.” Replies spoke of shock, disbelief, the need for honesty, the need to name and shame, bullying and the crumbling of deference in the CofE.

Sheffield Cathedral sacks the choir

Sheffield Cathedral is closing its choir and overhauling the music department, in order to make the services more accessible for a wider group of people. The Sheffield Star reports that the Cathedral  wants to set up new singing ensembles which will be more appropriate for Sheffield’s ‘mixed urban community’.  Lay clerks – paid adults in the choir – face redundancy and choristers’ parents were told by letter this week. The paper quotes Canon Keith Farrow, the cathedral’s vice dean, saying: “We fully expected people to have a sense of grief, because people are passionate about music. Sheffield Cathedral has got a very strong heritage of music and we knew people would feel shocked by the news. We’ve understood that. I think some people may think it’s the end of the cathedral choir – for us, we don’t believe that. We believe it’s the beginning of a future where we can reach out into Sheffield and the surrounding area of the diocese in a way we’ve perhaps never done before.”

Leading Muslims criticise decision to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque

Leaders of global Muslim organisations have criticised the Turkish president’s decision to return the internationally recognised monument and museum, Hagia Sophia, back into a mosque. They responded to a letter from the World Council of Churches (WCC) which had expressed grief and dismay at the decision. Judge Mohamad Abdel Salam, general secretary of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity and special adviser to the Muslim Council of Elders, supported the WCC position in recognition of the “cultural and spiritual value of Hagia Sophia for humanity all over the world”. Hafid Ouardiri, director of the Muslim Foundation de l’Entre-Connaissance in Geneva, said: “As a Muslim, like many others around the world, we pray that Hagia Sofia, in Turkey which we love with all our heart, remains what she has always been since 1934, namely a crossroads of knowledge, of light, wisdom and peace for all humanity.”