Religion news 27 March 2024

Passion play, Bishop Auckland. Image credit: Passion Trust

Trafalgar Square Passion Play “in no way is meant to be antisemitic”

Concern at the historical association between Passion Plays and antisemitism has led to widespread calls for producers to remove anything in the words, costume and set that could be perceived as antisemitic. In a Religion Media Centre briefing, a panel of faith leaders and academics explained that the plays date from the Middle Ages and have a historical association with antisemitism, through including texts blaming Jews for killing Jesus. At a time of rising antisemitic attacks and community tension, the briefing was told that it is difficult to put on this play without it feeling antisemitic to Jews. The producer of the Trafalgar Square Wintershall Passion of Jesus, Charlotte de Klee,  said she plans to address the audience before the play starts, with a statement affirming that in no way is it meant to be antisemitic: “We are all guilty of crucifying Jesus, even today”, she said. The Wintershall script has been revised to replace the word “priest” with “authority” and costumes have been moderated. Rabbi Debbie Long-Somers, of Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue, said: “One of the challenges is that most people who see a Passion Play will never knowingly meet a Jew in the UK, so what is said about them is a huge responsibility”. View the briefing on our YouTube channel here

Asylum seeker Abdul Ezedi was sex offender forced to be accompanied in church

Documents from an immigration tribunal have shed more light on the story of asylum seeker Abdul Ezedi, whose body was found in the River Thames after a chemical attack on a mother and her children in London. They show that Ezedi won asylum after he converted to Christianity and was baptised at Grange Road Baptist Church in Jarrow, arguing his faith would pose a threat if he were to return to Afghanistan. The documents reveal that he failed to answer questions correctly about Christianity and was considered by a judge to have fabricated his story. He was convicted of sexual assault and exposure in February 2018 and it was agreed he would only be allowed to attend church if he was chaperoned by other men. He was baptised in June that year. A letter of support for his asylum application, written in October 2018 by a former minister at the church, said: “Abdul has been ready to share his faith in Christ with non-Christians”. The BBC says Ezedi was given a Muslim burial at a cemetery in east London.

Jewish Leadership Council suggests streamlined response to multiple challenges

The Jewish Leadership Council has produced a document on how British Jews can provide a streamlined response to challenges and external threats. Forge the Future was created after a conference with 180 leaders from many different communities discussed avoiding duplication among the many representative groups, and better collaboration on strategic decisions. The Council’s chair Keith Black is quoted by Jewish News saying: “We are a community under grave threat: a deeply anxious community, worried for its future and not set up to deal with the level of animus and hatred that we are feeling at the moment. It’s simply not there. We’ve not dealt previously with the depth of the anti-Israel narrative prevalent in too much of civic society. That needs to be challenged.” The report identifies four objectives: empowering and supporting the next generations; winning support and allies; ensuring fair media coverage; enforcing our legal rights.

James Whitbourn, BBC producer, composer and conductor, has died aged 60

James Whitbourn, accomplished composer, conductor and BBC producer, has died of cancer aged 60. An obituary in The Guardian, lists his many achievements including producing BBC Radio 4’s Daily Service and Choral Evensong, and for 30 years producing the TV specials Carols from King’s and Easter from King’s College, Cambridge. His compositions include Bridge Over Tay, for the coverage of the Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002; Son of God Mass (2001); and Annelies (2005), a concert-length setting of the diary of Anne Frank. His last work, Requiem, was orchestrated by John Rutter and will be performed at Carnegie Hall, New York, on 13 April. He leaves his wife Alison, their children, Hannah, Naomi and Simeon, his sister, Katherine, and his parents.

Christ Church Oxford former sub dean cleared by church inquiry

The Church Times reports that the former sub-dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Richard Peers, has been cleared of conduct unbecoming or inappropriate to the office and work of a clerk in Holy Orders. He was alleged to have made comments about the former Dean Dr Martyn Percy, who left in 2022 after a protracted dispute with the governing body. The chair of the church tribunal said “An unedifying picture of unkindness and immaturity has emerged as part of the background to this case, which did serious discredit to those involved”. Richard Peers has since moved to become the Dean of Llandaff in Wales.

Archdeacon resigns after brief affair

The Archdeacon of Salop in Shropshire, Paul Thomas, has resigned and is prohibited from ministry for three years after “a brief, consensual but inappropriate relationship with a woman during 2022 and early 2023”. A statement from the Bishop of Lichfield, Michael Ipgrave,  said he was “deeply grieved”  that Paul Thomas’s long service in ministry has been marred in this way.

Easter eggs renamed as “Special Gesture Eggs”

Conservative Christian campaigners have reacted with fury that a number of shops have renamed Cadbury Easter eggs as “special gesture eggs”. They’re on sale in Spalding, Cheshire Oaks on the Wirral, and Alfreton in Derbyshire. MailOnline quotes Tim Dieppe, head of public policy at Christian Concern, saying: “Easter eggs symbolise the resurrection. Without the message of Easter there would be no reason for Easter eggs”. Cadbury is denying involvement, saying it’s up to the shops. The Mail reports that in 2017 the National Trust Easter egg trail, which used to be sponsored by Cadbury, was renamed the “Great British Egg Hunt”, a decision criticised by the Church of England, which accused the National Trust and Cadbury of airbrushing faith.


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