Religion news 29 February 2024

Women's Faith Forum. Image credit: @W_faith_forum

Lords criticise Media Bill’s removal of requirement to include religious programmes

Fourteen Lords have expressed concern at the changes in the new Media Bill which remove the requirement for public service broadcasters to include religion, arts and science programming. The Bill replaces this list of protected genres with the requirement to provide “a broad range of audiovisual content .. likely to meet the needs and satisfy the interests of as many different audiences as practicable”. During its second reading in the Lords, the key points raised by Lords from all parties were that removing the specific genres risked reducing the number of programmes made, threatening public service broadcasting and overloading Ofcom by asking them to continue collecting data on programmes in these genres, without setting any metrics. The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, said: “Guaranteeing space for religion is not about propaganda for any particular faith or religion. The point is simply that you cannot understand the world if you do not understand religion… The fragilities of our world at present make attention to religion more important than ever, not less”. Former BBC Director General, Lord Hall said: “This goes to the very heart of why public service broadcasting matters…the Bill does not define in a more granular fashion what.. the remit of public service broadcasting is – to provide, for example, programmes in education, science, the arts and religion. Faith, as we have heard, is so important for matters of international significance”. The bill now goes to Lords committee stage where amendments will be voted on. The Hansard record of debate here. Parliament TV recording here

Pope Francis has hospital tests after suffering from flu

Pope Francis has undergone diagnostic tests at a hospital in Rome, after a bout of flu gave doctors cause for concern. He visited the Gemelli Hospital on Rome’s Tiber Island for a matter of hours, following the General Audience on Wednesday morning. The Pope, who is 87, had appeared in public last Sunday, reciting the Angelus as usual. Plans remain in place for him to receive the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholtz, in an audience on Saturday 2 March.

Women’s Faith Forum seeks unity to challenge hate crime

The shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has called on all political parties to come together to challenge extremism and hatred at a time when antisemitism has reached record levels and cases of Islamophobia have trebled. She was addressing a meeting of the Women’s Faith Forum, in the Commons (pictured), where speakers expressed their shock at casual hate crime they experience in daily life. Stories included a Muslim women in a hijab being afraid of being pushed down an escalator or in front of a train, a Muslim councillor being told during her community surgery that she was evil and a killer, and a Jewish woman in a bus queue told she was a “dirty Jew”. Ms Cooper said there was an important role for government to build community and challenge hate crime. She believed the closure of the Inter Faith Network was the wrong approach at a time when building relationships was more important than ever. The Forum started meeting three years ago and seeks to build relationships between women of different faiths. This audience was a quarter Jewish, a quarter Muslim and the rest a variety of faiths. Its founder, Laura Marks, said it aims to bring together women embedded in faith communities to support each other and find their collective power. The Forum is not politically aligned, but at this meeting Labour MP Marsha de Cordova, a faith “champion” in the party, welcomed the audience and said faith groups are the cornerstone of communities, beacons of light and justice. She said everyone has a role to play in tackling division and hate.

Archbishops’ Council member will ask for review of safeguarding steering group

A member of the Archbishops’ Council has promised she will ask for a review of the  membership of a group to steer through new structures for safeguarding.  The steering group currently includes no survivors, but is made up of many people associated with the recent collapse of the Independent Safeguarding Board last July. In a Religion Media Centre briefing, Rev Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes said that she would ask for the membership to be reviewed as it didn’t make sense to have a group of people who’ve been running the process, in charge of change.  She said: “It’s clearly silly, so I’m hoping the strength of feeling will have been heard that the membership will be reviewed. I’ll certainly be asking for that”. The briefing also addressed the dispute over same sex blessings, with Rev Dr Andrew Goddard saying the church was stuck on all issues, failing to agree in sufficient numbers for change, and the Rev John Bavington said it was time to address the “deep fault line” at the heart of the division, which was how to read scripture. Many of the panellists agreed that talk of a split with whole congregations leaving the CofE in protest, was not straightforward. Each parish was as divided as the church at large, with opponents and supporters of same sex blessings in the same congregation. View the briefing again on our YouTube channel here:

Mother church of Aberdeen sold to an arts charity

The Scottish Press and Journal  reports that the mother church of Aberdeen, the Kirk of St Nicholas, is being sold off by the Church of Scotland, to an arts charity the Edinburgh Palette. It says Historic Environment Scotland hails the building as one of the most historically important in Aberdeen, as a site of Christian presence since the 12th century with this building going back to the 18th century. The congregation was “dissolved” in December 2020 and the church has been under the care of the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland, opened for large services such as remembrance ceremonies for oil workers or “the Kirking of the Council parade”, for new councillors to dedicate themselves to the community. The charity taking over says it wants to help re-ignite the “tired” Union Street and the church hopes that it can still use part of the building.  

Muslim Council of Britain’s eco conscious guide to Ramadan 2024  

The Muslim Council of Britain has produced a guide for Ramadan 2024, which starts on 11 March, a month of fasting, prayer, reflection, charity, and community engagement. It offers advice for employers supporting Muslim colleagues, tips for maintaining physical and mental well-being while fasting, advice to schools and colleges and encouragement to host an Iftar with the wider community. One section advocates for a sustainable and eco-conscious Ramadan, encouraging mosques and community centres to adopt greener practices and promising to make one permanent eco-friendly change this year.  

Dogs allowed to join their owners for Cathedral worship in England

The Telegraph reports that 23 out of 42 English CofE Cathedrals allow dogs to join their owners for worship specially designed for them and their pets, known as “doggy services”. The article quotes the Association of English Cathedrals saying: “This is done mindfully with strict rules in place to make sure all our cathedrals remain safe and enjoyable spaces for all visitors at all times.”


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