Religion news 28 February 2024

"Scotland's sacred islands with Ben Fogle". BBC Scotland. Image courtesy BBC

Lords debate Media Bill today amid concerns for future of religious broadcasting

The Media Bill which eliminates the requirement of public service broadcasters to provide programmes on religion, will go through its second reading in the Lords today. The absence of a specific mention of religion, alongside arts and science, has provoked concern that programmes about religion and ethics will simply not be commissioned, accelerating a slump in religion output since 2003. Ofcom reports that Channel 4’s annual output has gone to zero and ITV to one over the past ten years. Interviewed on Roger Bolton’s Beebwatch podcast, the executive director of the Sandford St Martin Trust, Anna McNamee, said this is a bill with commercial concerns at its heart, and lacking an explanation of public service broadcasting. The existing slump in programmes on religion was a failure of imagination, she said, as there is an appetite for religious programming and a need for religious literacy.  The petition calls for content exploring religion and belief to be protected in the bill. Campaigners also want to ensure Ofcom has an obligation to report on the extent of religion content. Speakers in the Lords debate today will include the Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines and the Bishop of Newcastle, Helen Ann Hartley. The Religion Media Centre’s factsheet on the current state of religious broadcasting and the content of the Media Bill is here. Our briefing on the story is on our YouTube channel here

CofE same sex blessing decisions delayed to await concrete proposals

The Church of England general synod debate on same sex blessings concluded without a vote, after synod agreed more concrete proposals were needed before it considers the issue again. The Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow, who leads on the issue, said this work would continue and he took heart at “open, thoughtful and gracious debate about how we might move forward together as a church”. During vote on amendments, it was clear that the clergy and laity are deeply divided, but the bishop said he is reassured “there is a way through this” because people would not have been at the synod “if they did not believe that some degree of communion is still possible”.

Easier process for divorced people seeking to be ordained

The general synod voted to ease the process for accepting people seeking to be ordained as vicars who are divorced, or married to a divorced partner. At present an archbishop has to sanction their case, but in future,  synod voted that diocesan bishops should approve the application, with the archbishops ensuring the process was fairly adhered to across the nation.

The Religion Media Centre is holding a zoom briefing at 1200 today on the February synod, safeguarding, same sex blessings, clergy pay, woke religion and Ukraine. Info from [email protected]k

Definition of Islamophobia explained in The Guardian

The Guardian’s legal affairs correspondent, Haroon Siddique, has written an explainer on the definition of Islamophobia, which is at the centre of the current dispute within the Conservative party. Ministers have refused to describe as Islamophobic, the words of MP Lee Anderson that Islamic extremists had “got control of Sadiq Khan”. The explainer gives the definition agreed by the APPG on British Muslims in 2019: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” Many organisations have adopted this but not the Conservatives in England who say it was “not in line with the Equality Act 2010 and would have severe consequences for freedom of speech”.

Vatican warns against Europe sending ground troops into Ukraine

The Cardinal Secretary of State at the Vatican, Pietro Parolin, has said that Emanuel Macron’s suggestion that Europe could send ground troops to Ukraine opened a “frightening scenario”.  Macron said he couldn’t rule out Western troops being deployed, but several Nato countries including the UK have ruled this out. Cardinal Parolin echoed their fear: “It’s a truly frightening scenario, because it would bring about the escalation that we have always tried to avoid from the beginning. It’s a scenario that I wouldn’t call apocalyptic, but certainly it’s fearsome”. The Kremlin has warned of direct conflict if Nato troops are deployed.

Donald Trump tells Christian broadcasters he will defend faith values

Donald Trump told the National Religious Broadcasters International Christian Media Convention in Nashville that he would defend Christian values against attempts by the left to tear down crosses. He said: “Remember, every communist regime throughout history has tried to stamp out the churches, just like every fascist regime has tried to co-opt them and control them. And in America the radical left is trying to do both. But no one will be touching the cross of Christ under the Trump administration, I swear to you.” The Associated Press says his comments reflect his embrace of Christian nationalism, suggesting that the founders of the US intended the country to be a Christian nation, advocating Christian values and ending the separation of church and state.

Director or UCCF resigns after 20 years

The national director of the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, Richard Cunningham, has resigned after 20 years at the organisation. The announcement follows 15 months of turmoil during which he was suspended, along with field director Tim Rudge, pending an investigation into allegations of multiple breaches of employment law relating to termination of fixed contracts. Trustees and directors apologised and  both men were re-instated. External professional appointments have been made and six trustees have resigned, though not all were said to be related to this investigation. Richard Cunningham has released a statement saying the past year had put a huge strain on him and his family, but it had been a privilege to lead UCCF, adding that the work of Christian Unions “reaching students for Christ” was vital and deserved wide support.

Engraved metal dog collar tags raise money for Israeli hostages

Jewish News reports on its campaign to give away metal tags, the kind that can be fixed to a dog collar or even necklace, with an engraved message in support of the Israeli hostages, saying “Bring them home now”. The tags have been manufactured in Israel in a venture inspired by the work of search and rescue dogs, and all 500 tags have been picked up from Cohens Jewellers in north London, who have distributed them across the UK.  In exchange, people have donated money to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which has benefitted to the tune of £1,500.  Global celebrities have been seen wearing the tags on a necklace, including Elon Musk, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Pope.


Sign up for our news bulletin