Religion news 3 May 2024

Reaction to United Methodist General Conference reversing assertion that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. Image credit: Larry McCormack UM News

United Methodist Church reverses condemnation of homosexuality    

The United Methodist Church general conference has voted to reverse its assertion that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The ruling was adopted in 1972 and campaigners greeted its abolition as an historic moment. In the same motion, the conference affirmed marriage as a “sacred, lifelong covenant that brings two people of faith (adult man and adult woman of consenting age or two adult persons of consenting age) into a union of one another and into deeper relationship with God and the religious community.” The vote for both was 523 to 161. This vote completes a suite of motions rolling back anti-gay legislation. Earlier in the week the church removed the ban on clergy who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals. The United Methodist News reports on the background to this historic week here. It makes the point that the 1972 ruling was made when the United Methodist Church was formed as a merger between the Methodists and the Evangelical United Brethren churches. A further article with reaction from Methodist bishops Is here

Toolkit to advance the teaching of religion and worldviews in schools

The Religious Education Council has launched a “toolkit” to help people writing RE curriculums develop a Religion and Worldviews approach. The handbook has been produced after a three year project analysing the meaning of “worldviews”, sketching out objectives of this approach and practical measures to achieve them. It reflects the nature of belief and practice in modern Britain, where Christian affiliation is declining and non-religion is rising. The approach is based on the understanding that “no one stands nowhere”, every person has a worldview, which religious traditions and other views influence. The curriculum would change from studying world religions in blocks, to studying themes such as climate change or life after death and seeing how different views shape ideas. The handbook suggests this approach will re-invigorate the subject which a recent Ofsted report said was “continuing to wilt” with no coherent national plan and there was confusion in schools over content. The religion and worldviews approach was rejected by education minister Damian Hinds in 2018, but it has wide support, with the chair of the REC, Sarah Lane Cawte, saying the project reflects a broad consensus across the RE community to create an approach fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Wee Free Kate Forbes withdraws from SNP leadership race but “made it possible to do God in politics

Kate Forbes, tipped to stand for leadership of the SNP, has declared that she will not run and will support John Sweeney. She is a member of the Free Presbyterian church, which holds a literal interpretation of the Bible, and she lost support in her first tilt for the leadership last year by saying she would have voted against same sex marriage. She is also against sex outside of marriage and women ministers.  This time, her withdrawal from the leadership race was met with accusations that she had been bullied out because of her Christian views. Her announcement on Twitter / X, included reference to divergent views in the party: “I have listened very carefully to the vision @JohnSwinney set out this morning for Scotland. I welcomed, and embrace, his commitment to ensure internal respect for robust and divergent debate in the party, which is the lifeblood of any democratic institution like the SNP.  I was also greatly heartened by his drive to restore a sense of courtesy and dignity to the way we conduct ourselves as a party and as a Parliament”. And then she explained she had weighed her decision and concluded the best way to deliver the change Scotland needs is to join John Swinney. The Spectator magazine editor, Fraser Nelson, writes in the Telegraph that Kate Forbes has in fact won support from Muslims and other non-religious groups backing her faith based principles, indicating a rising tide of acceptance that diversity of opinion is now to be encouraged. In short, he says, Kate Forbes has made it possible to do God in politics.

Pope tells Anglican leaders only love can bring separated Christians together

The Anglican Primates, leaders of the global church, who gathered for a meeting in Rome this week, met Pope Francis who addressed Anglican Catholic unity. He told them that love as a gratuitous service can bring separated Christians together: “Only that love which in God’s name puts our brothers and sisters before the ironclad defence of our own religious structures, only that love will unite us.” He thanked the Archbishop of Canterbury for his fraternal cooperation in commissioning a group of Catholic and Anglican bishops to minister together, and speaking of relations between the Catholic and Anglican churches, said “imperfect communion must not prevent us from walking together”. He said it was necessary to engage in dialogue to understand how the ministry of the Pope in Rome can develop as a service of love for all.

Idea for an elected archbishop to share leadership of global Anglicans is rejected

Anglican Primates issued a communique after their Rome meeting saying they considered a report addressing their  fractured global church, which has deep divisions over same sex relationships. They rejected the prospect of an elected primate who might serve alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other groups that hold the organisation together, as chair of the Primates’ Meeting, and potentially as president of the Anglican Consultative Council. But they began to discuss ways of broadening aspects of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s role, including through the regional Primates in their standing committee. They also agreed to redefine the nature of the Anglican Communion as a means of moving towards attaining unity. Leaders from 32 provinces, regions, were  present at the Rome meeting, but nine provinces stayed away, with at least two saying it was a matter of conscience. The communique said the bishops felt this absence keenly and hoped all could join discussions on the way forward together.

US college chaplains supporting students caught up in protests

The Episcopal News Service in the USA has been talking to clergy who have found themselves in the thick of the pro-Palestine student protests across America. It summarises the picture of makeshift camps, 2,000 arrests, students expelled and classes cancelled, police called to clear the camps amid violence. The story quotes the Rev Noah Stansbury, chaplain at the University of Texas, who gave water and snacks to protesters and offered pastoral care.  He said: “I would like law enforcement to stop and in turn recognize the humanity of the people that they are abusing”, and he had questions for the university’s administration in their resposne to the protests. The article also quotes the Rev Christie Mossman, whose church is opposite Columbia University campus, saying she has worked with student demonstrators. She explained that churches could provide a space for connection, and chaplains routinely helped students with housing, food, work, or financial well-being. Los Angeles Bishop John Harvey Taylor affirmed the students’ calm approach and attempts to build bridges, saying no progress can be made without acting peacefully. The makeshift camp protest has spread to the UK, with camps at Leeds, Newcastle, Bristol and Sheffield joining Warwick.

Bishops urge the world not to forget unspeakable suffering in Sudan

The Catholic and Anglican bishops leading the churches’ stance on the continuing conflict in Sudan, have issued a statement saying the war is largely overlooked in the rest of the world, yet it is one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes of our time. The World Food programme says there are 10.5 million people displaced and more than 25 million people in need of humanitarian aid. Nearly 15,000 have already been killed, and 26,000 more have been injured, with women and children bearing the brunt of unspeakable violence.  Catholic Bishop Paul Swarbrick, and the Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines, plead with the UK government and the international community to work towards an immediate ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access.

Vaisakhi event in Parliament points to equality within the Sikh tradition

An event to mark the festival of Vaisakhi has been held in the Houses of Parliament. MPs and Lords gave speeches and Gur-Rajan Singh and Gurpreet Kaur from the Anahad Kirtan Society give a musical recital. The event was organised by City Sikhs, the 1928 Institute and the British Punjabi Welfare Association with the message that the Sikh tradition has equality at its core. Jasvir Singh CBE, from City Sikhs, said: “During these deeply divided times, events like this which show a common purpose and bring unity are much needed”.


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