Religion news 30 April 2024

Kate Forbes, Scottish Parliament. Image credit: Open Government Licence

Kate Forbes, “wee free” devout Christian, seriously considering SNP leadership bid

One of the contenders to be the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party is MSP Kate Forbes – a devout Christian and member of the Free Church of Scotland, known as the “wee frees”.  The former finance secretary is expected to throw her hat into the ring again after narrowly losing to Humza Yousaf in last year’s leadership contest. Mr Yousaf resigned  as leader saying he had “underestimated” the level of hurt after ending a power-sharing deal with the Scottish Greens last week. His decision has triggered a search for a successor and new first minister. Ms Forbes, a Gaelic speaker, lost suppport in last year’s leadership contest when she expressed opposition to gay marriage and children being born out of wedlock. In The Times’ profile of Ms Forbes, it’s reported that “her views on social issues remain deeply unpopular among many of her MSP colleagues” although she is said to be popular with the public. Last year in an interview with the Scottish politics magazine and current affairs magazine Holyrood, Ms Forbes said: “I think there’s a complete illiteracy about faith and religion and what it means for someone who believes. I understand Scotland is a secular country, but if some arguments are deemed to be beyond the pale, then you can’t even debate them”. Although the Daily Telegraph reports that she is “seriously” mulling over putting herself forward, it says the former Deputy First Minister John Swinney is the odds-on favourite to replace Mr Yousaf.

Petition for assisted dying debated in parliament

Campaigners for and against assisted dying voiced their opinions in a three hour Westminster Hall debate in parliament yesterday. It took place after a petition, started by the Daily Express and backed by Dame Esther Rantzen, garnered more than 200,000 signatures. She had “begged” MPs to attend the debate. The BBC reported that Dame Esther is terminally ill with lung cancer and last year revealed that she had joined Dignitas, the assisted dying clinic in Switzerland. The petition calls for dying people to be able to ask for medical assistance to end their lives. Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Ms Rantzen said an “amazing” new drug had delayed the spread of the cancer but that her time was “very limited”. She said a change in the law “would mean that I could look forward in confidence to a death which is pain-free surrounded by people I love”. The petition urges the government to give MPs a vote on the subject and argues that “terminally ill people who are mentally sound and near the end of their lives should not suffer unbearably against their will”.

Evangelist Rico Tice leaves the Church of England over same sex marriage

The Rev Rico Tice, founder of Christianity Explored Ministries and former senior minister for evangelism at All Souls, Langham Place, has announced that he has left the Church of England. He left All Souls in September 2023 and was given permission to officiate in the Diocese of London. But in an interview with Evangelicals Now, he said he has started attending an International Presbyterian Church in London. He said he still considers himself a “cradle-to-grave Anglican”,  but could not remain in the Church of England because of its trajectory towards affirming same sex marriage. In answer to a series of questions, he said that he was one of six evangelical leaders who wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, calling on him to resist the influence of cultural values when they are in opposition to those of the Bible, but received no substantive response from him, “and that was a key moment in my decision to leave.”

Muslim fears in India elections

As voting continues in the  general election in India, the BBC’s India correspondent, Soutik Biswas, reports on the fears of Muslims that they are “second-class citizens” in a country where 79 per cent of the people are Hindu. But the article makes clear that Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, which swept to power in 2014, denies that minorities are being mistreated. “These are usual tropes of some people who don’t bother to meet people outside their bubbles. Even India’s minorities don’t buy this narrative anymore,” the prime minister told Newsweek magazine. The report cites examples of anti-Muslim actions such as Hindu vigilante mobs lynching cow traders and targeting small Muslim-owned businesses and petitions being filed against mosques. It says rght-wing groups and sections of mainstream media have fuelled Islamophobia with accusations of “jihad” and falsely accused Muslim men of converting Hindu women by marriage. According to the article, anti-Muslim hate speech has surged – three quarters of incidents were reported from states ruled by the BJP. The 44-day-long electoral process, the second longest in independent India’s history, will conclude with the counting of the votes on 4 June.

Research into British Muslim donations

Research by the Blue State consultancy indicates that Muslims living in the UK donate four times more to charity than the national average. The British Muslim Giving Behaviours Report 2024 is based on a survey of 1,000 British Muslims and 2,000 from the wider population, and says that the average annual giving by Muslims was £708 compared to the national average of £165. The higher charitable giving spanned all income levels, with those earning between £75,000-£100,000 donating an average of £1,494, more than ten times the amount given by the typical British adult.  Zakat, the Islamic obligation to donate, and the idea of giving back were cited as an “important part of religious and cultural identity to ensure everyone has what they need”.  Blue State is a global campaigning research consultancy that has worked for UNHCR, Médecins Sans Frontières and CAFOD.

Catholic religious order pays into redress scheme for abuse in Northern Ireland homes

The Catholic religious order The Good Shepherd Sisters  has made the first financial contribution towards the cost of a redress scheme for victims of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. The First Minister Michelle O’Neill confirmed to the Assembly that a payment has been received from the institution with another from Barnardo’s expected soon. She said engagement is continuing with four other organisations and appealed for them to “do the right thing” and come forward to make payments.  The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry by the late Sir Anthony Hart, revealed in 2107 the extent of sexual, physical and emotional abuse at homes run by the state, church and charities from 1922 to 1995. It recommended that a redress board should be set up for victims. Since 2020, a total of 4,333 applications have been received and almost £85 million awarded.

Australian bishop attacker linked to terrorist group

Australian police say that six radicalised Sydney teenagers have been arrested following investigations into the 16 year old boy who is charged with stabbing Assyrian Orthodox Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel on 15 April, during a service which was being streamed online. An investigation by the Australian ABC network, reports that they are alleged to be part of a terrorist network who used the encrypted messaging app Signal to plan the attack. The report says the teenager “tagged a UK-based extremist account which encouraged followers to become so-called martyrs”. A report in The Times says one of those arrested planned to target Jews.

Russell Brand says his baptism in the Thames was “overwhelming”

Russell Brand has been speaking about his baptism in the River Thames. In a Twitter / X post he said the experience was overwhelming.  Something occurred in the process of baptism that was incredible, he said and he felt blessed, relieved and nourished. He is facing accusations of sexual assault and rape, and in his post he spoke about his challenges, but said: “I feel as though some new resource within me has switched on”.



Sign up for our news bulletin