Religion news 3 January 2024

Inauguration of Claudine Gay as the 30th President of Harvard University. Image credit: Maura Healey CCLIcense2.0

Harvard president resigns over antisemitism evidence to Congressional committee

The president of Harvard University, Claudine Gay, has resigned after plagiarism claims and criticism over her testimony at a congressional hearing where she was unable to confirm that calling for the genocide of Jews would violate Harvard’s policy. She had appeared before a House Committee, alongside presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania, to answer questions after universities were accused of failing to protest Jewish students amid rising antisemitism following the outbreak of war in Israel / Gaza. All three presidents failed to give an unequivocal answer to the question on genocide. Claudine Gay said a violation of policy would depend on the context. Her answer was criticised, she apologised, the board backed her, but  she resigned this week. The president of the University of Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Magill, resigned four days after the hearing following similar criticism. Sally Kornbluth, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was backed by the MIT board and although letters of complaint have come in from Jewish alumni and students, there has not been sustained pressure on her to resign.

Calls for a barrister to intervene in delayed John Smyth review

As the new year starts, the ViaMedia blog includes an article on why a Church of England review into the activities of John Smyth, a barrister who led evangelical Christian youth camps and abused boys through vicious beatings in his garden shed, has still not been published, five years after it began, even though it was scheduled to be done in nine months. Journalist Andrew Graystone, who uncovered the story of the abuse, which broke on Channel 4 News in February 2017, puts forward four reasons for the failure to publish and concludes that delay makes the review weaker. He repeats information that certain bishops and others knew of the abuse, but as the review drags on, some key figures have died or retired and he believes the document may never see the light of day. He suggests the church could acknowledge that the process has broken down and appoint a barrister to analyse facts from seven other reviews that have taken place so far and then identify unanswered questions.  ViaMedia is a website publishing blogs reflecting “the historic Anglican perspective of the Middle Way”.

US religion stories in 2024 as predicted by Religion News Service reporters

Reporters for the US Religion News Service have predicted the themes they will be covering in 2024. Top of the list is how religion will play into the US presidential election, with Trump continuing to court white evangelicals and Biden’s handling of the Israel / Hamas war alienating some voters. The continuing disputes within the Southern Baptist Convention including legitimising women pastors and dealing with past safeguarding errors will come up at the annual meeting. The United Methodists will finally hold their delayed convention, with a vote on LGBTQ inclusion which has already split the church. US progressive Catholics anticipate the outcome of the Rome synod with hope, while traditionalists recoil. The RNS says it will extend coverage of American Hindus, continue to monitor the relationship between US Jews and Israel, and consider all faith responses to climate change and migrants. They will also continue to look at the splintered groups under the umbrella of non-religion, including spiritual collectives and psychedelic communities.  

Pope praises diversity in video for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

The Pope has released a video for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 18-25 January, in praise of diversity. With reference to work between different Christian denominations, he said: “We are guided by the Holy Spirit, abundance, variety, diversity, never cause conflict. The Holy Spirit reminds us first and foremost that we are children loved by God – everyone equal in God’s love, and everyone different”. He gave the example of the Eastern church, united but with different traditions and liturgy. Independent Catholic News report here

Bhaktivedanta Manor, home to the Hare Kirshna movement in Britain, has celebrated its 50th anniversary

Thousands of visitors have visited Bhaktivedanta Manor during its 50th anniversary as the base of Britain’s Hare Krishna community. The 80-acre estate in Aldenham, just outside Watford in Hertfordshire, also holds a place in rock’n’roll history: it was donated to the Hare Krishnas by George Harrison, who was introduced to the movement in a party at Apple Records and became involved for the rest of his life. The house was originally named “Piggott’s Manor” and was renamed in honour of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who brought the ancient teachings of the Vedic scriptures to the West. It is now the venue for festivals and devotions and a focal point for many Asian families living in Britain. Read Lianne Kolirin’s report on our website here

Pagan chaplain curates garden and grove at HMP Leyhill

Kaya Burgess, writing in The Times, reports that Leyhill prison in Gloucestershire has a Buddha garden and a pagan grove for inmates who follow nature-worshipping religions such as Wicca and Druidry. An inspection last June said faith facilities were excellent, also including a chapel, multifaith room and a mosque. The prison has a pagan chaplain and the open-air areas for private contemplation and worship were created 15 years ago. Article is here

The missionary who started a church plant in a gym in Thailand

A Baptist missionary in Thailand joined a gym to relieve the stress of undergoing an intensive language course and ended up planting a church there. Nathan Crandall, with his wife Stephanie, found the gym members in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai were already a tight knit community and said “it was a perfect place to share the gospel”. A report in the Baptist Press says they decided to hold church on Wednesday evenings after people finished their exercises. It quotes Mr Crandall saying: “They’re going to be sweaty. They’re going to be in their workout clothes. They’re going to smell. But that’s how they like to hang out”.  They found the gym made people more open to ideas than a house church where “Buddhist friends felt uncomfortable, and the Christian vocabulary was difficult to comprehend”. Baptist Press story here


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