Religion news 30 January 2024

Image credit: Parliament TV. Open Parliament Licence

Archbishop of Canterbury says Rwanda bill damages the UK’s reputation

The Archbishop of Canterbury has harshly criticised the Rwanda bill, accusing the government of outsourcing the country’s “legal and moral responsibilities”.  The bill would allow some asylum seekers to be sent to Rwanda, deemed a safe country, to deter people from coming to England across the channel in small boats. Justin Welby told the Lords that the bill was damaging to the UK’s reputation, to national unity and to asylum seekers who are in need of protection. He said God commands people to care for the alien and stranger and this bill “obscures the truth” that all people, asylum seekers included, are of great value. “We can, as a nation, do better than this bill”, he said. However, he did not vote against, as the bill still has to go through the Lords for amendment, but he may yet seek to block it. The bill was voted through to the next stage by 206 votes to 84.  

UK government wrong to halt UNRWA funding – Christian Aid

The government’s decision to suspend funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been criticised by Christian Aid. The UK’s move followed allegations that UNWRA staff were involved in the 7 October attacks against Israel. In a post on ‘X’, Christian Aid’s CEO, Patrick Watt, said “allegations against individuals working for UNWRA, however serious, cannot justify collective punishment of Palestinian people through the withdrawal of aid”. The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office says the government is temporarily pausing any future funding while a review is carried out and is committed to providing humanitarian aid to Gaza. Nine countries, including major donors like the US and Germany, have suspended funding. UNRWA’s commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini has urged nations to reconsider funding suspensions, to ensure continued humanitarian support for Gaza, where UNRWA’s operations are vital.

Pope warns world is on brink of abyss

Pope Francis has renewed calls for a global ceasefire and warns that the world is on the brink of the abyss. In an interview with Italian newspaper, La Stampa, he stated that the Oslo two-state solution in the Holy Land was clear and until that agreement is applied, “true peace remains distant”. He urged global prayers for peace, emphasising dialogue as the only path to a peaceful future amidst ongoing conflicts. See Vatican News for a report on the interview in which he also talks about Ukraine and same-sex blessings.

Islamic State claims responsibility for attack on Istanbul church during Mass

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for an attack in which a man died, during Sunday Mass at a Roman Catholic church in Istanbul. The extremist group described the assault as targeting “Christian unbelievers during their polytheistic ceremony” at Santa Maria Church in Buyukdere. Sky News reports that Turkish authorities have arrested two suspects, one from Russia and one from Tajikistan, reportedly members of Islamic State. Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced raids on 30 locations and the detention of suspects linked to the incident, vowing to maintain national unity and combat terrorism. Meanwhile, Vatican News reports that the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, has conveyed his unwavering support to the Catholic community in Turkey, in the wake of the attack and also expressed his condolences to the grieving family of the victim on behalf of both himself and the Patriarchate.

Christian singer clashes with police over street performances in the centre of London

A Metropolitan Police special constable has reprimanded a popular Christian singer, claiming she couldn’t sing ‘church songs’ outside of church grounds. The Daily Mail reports that Harmonie London, a gospel singer with over 300,000 YouTube subscribers, frequently treats passersby to worship music during her performances on London’s busy Oxford Street. When she protested that she was allowed to sing, the officer insisted that such songs required authorisation from the church. The singer posted a video of the officer laughing and sticking out her tongue as she walked away. Former Conservative minister, Ann Widdecombe, has demanded the removal of the officer from the voluntary force, arguing that there’s no legal basis for restricting public singing. She stated: “I could walk down the street singing Onward Christian Soldiers and I would be committing no offence at all.” Westminster City Council’s policy designates Oxford Street as part of the West End’s regulated busking and street entertainment areas, enforcing a ‘light touch licensing scheme’ where performers can only busk in designated pitches.

MPs to discuss safety of Sikhs living in Britain with security minister

The BBC reports that a cross-party group of MPs is due to meet the government’s security minister Tom Tugendhat today to address concerns over the safety of Sikh activists in Britain. Labour MP, Preet Kaur Gill, highlighted worries sparked by an “intelligence hit list” circulating on Indian media channels, identifying 20 Sikhs living outside India as “enemies of the state”, including six British Sikhs who have received “Osman warnings” about a threat to life, from the police.  The Indian embassy in London has declined to comment.

Historic synagogue faces threat from plans for nearby tall buildings

Bevis Marks, the oldest synagogue in Britain, has raised concerns about potential threats to its historic character from local building developments. Despite a recently approved conservation area, a new City of London plan, set for discussion, is feared to allow tall buildings too close to the Grade-I listed synagogue, which is more than 300 years old.  In a statement issued by the Board of Deputies, the synagogue’s rabbi, Shalom Morris, expressed shock at the plan which would erode the synagogue’s protections. The Jewish Chronicle says supporters of the plan argue that the proposed protective boundaries in the city plan are too restrictive. Bevis Marks has faced previous challenges including a plan for a 48-storey development nearby in 2021, which was rejected.

German family ordered to surrender home acquired under Nazi ‘Arianisation’ laws

A German family has been ordered to give up the home it has occupied for four generations, after investigators discovered it was acquired under Nazi regime’s “Arianisation” laws in 1939. Valued at €1.5 million, the lakeside property in Wandlitz, near Berlin, is slated for restitution to the Claims Conference, aiding Holocaust survivors. Originally owned by Jewish women, Alice Donat and Helene Lindenbaum, who perished in Auschwitz, the house was sold to a non-Jewish buyer. Unaware until 2015, the current occupants, descendants of the buyer, are contesting the decision, citing financial ruin. The Times says that despite appeals, legal precedence favours restitution, highlighting ongoing efforts to address wartime injustices and assist survivors.

Row in Seville over an Easter poster depicting a “sexualised and effete Christ”

The Times reports a row in Seville over an official poster for Holy Week which uses an image of Jesus, naked and draped with folds of material, which some have said is an aberration depicting a “sexualised and effete Christ”. Artist Salustiano García said such imagery was common in Catholic art and “those who see something dirty in the painting are only projecting their own internal dirt on to the image”. A petition has been signed demanding that Seville’s council of brotherhoods, which organises Easter processions, withdraws the poster. The Catholic group Instituto de Política Social is threatening legal action if the poster is not removed.


  • The deadline for entries to the Sandford St Martin 2024 awards, for broadcasts about belief and ethics, is Wednesday 31 January. The categories are Journalism, Radio/Audio, TV/Video and Young Audience. Further details here.
  • CTVC is advertising for a radio and podcast researcher with a team that produces programmes for the BBC and other outlets.
  • Theos is looking for a marketing officer to take its podcast The Sacred to the next level.


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