Religion news 30 May 2024

Rabbi Herschel Gluck and Diane Abbott. Image credit: @HackneyAbbott

Orthodox rabbi in Diane Abbott’s constituency defends her and criticises Keir Starmer

Orthodox Rabbi Herschel Gluck has spoken in defence of his local MP Diane Abbott, whom he knows and has supported for many years. He told Channel 4 news that he was shocked by her comments in the Observer in 2023, that Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experience prejudice but do not face racism all their lives. The comment led to her suspension which was lifted only yesterday and then confusion over whether she is allowed to stand again as a Labour MP. She said she was banned, but Sir Keir Starmer said no decision had yet been taken. Rabbi Gluck said: “I spoke to her a number of times on the phone and she was very sorry that she made that statement. She felt that she had a lapse of judgement and we both realised that this was totally out of character”. On the role of Keir Starmer in the confusing events around her future, he said Sir Keir had to prove he was a good human being: “His behaviour as far as Diane is concerned, has shown a total lack of human sympathy and any aspiring Prime Minister needs to show that they care for people and especially people who have served their party so well for over four decades”.

Washed out: the laws relating to religion that are lost because of early election

Several bills linked to religion, and religious and ethical beliefs, have been lost because the election was called early. They include the Holocaust Memorial Bill to remove restrictions on building a memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament, which is held in limbo until the new government is formed and the new parliament sits; the Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief Bill, which would have ensured the continued appointment of the special envoy; two abortion bills lowering the date limit from 24 to 22 weeks and reviewing at home abortions; and two bills to limit conversion therapy. The Media Bill, which omits a requirement for public service broadcasters to include certain genres of programmes including religion, was rushed through. Catherine Pepinster’s report listing further bills and details is here

Jewish, Arab & Muslim media have worse mental health after reporting the Israel / Gaza war

The Film and TV Charity has published a report from a survey of Arab, Muslim, and Jewish workers, on how they have been affected by reporting on the Hamas attacks on Israel on 7 October, the conflict in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis. It received 400 responses and found “a sense of discomfort in the workplace in relation to respondents’ religious and ethnic identity” which amplified experiences of discrimination. 94 per cent  experienced a deterioration in their mental health; only  23 per cent felt supported by their employers; 51 per cent believed the industry is structurally and/​or systemically discriminatory towards their community; 57 per cent believe that views and behaviours hostile to their community are common in the industry; 55 per cent have experienced a deterioration in their sense of wellbeing at work; and only 22 per cent think that the industry is safe and welcoming for them. Roundtable discussions organised afterwards, agreed the need to prioritise training and improve cultural literacy to combat a lack of understanding, disturbing levels of hostility and a lack of safety being felt across all communities. The survey included all major broadcasters in the UK. Details here

Sacked Cliff College lecturer gives evidence to employment tribunal

Dr Aaron Edwards, a former lecturer at the Methodist Cliff College in Derbyshire, who was sacked for tweeting “homosexuality is invading the church”, has given evidence at an employment tribunal hearing his claim for unfair dismissal, harassment and discrimination. His case is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, which carries a detailed account of his evidence. He told the tribunal that social media was equivalent to spaces where early Christians used to preach “enculturated messages” and his tweet proclaimed the Christian truth in a public space. It read: “Homosexuality is invading the Church. Evangelicals no longer see the severity of this b/c they’re busy apologising for their apparently barbaric homophobia, whether or not it’s true. This *is* a “Gospel issue”, by the way. If sin is no longer sin, we no longer need a Saviour.”  He wrote it in February 2023, a time when the Church of England’s divisive debate on same sex relationships was widely reported, mirroring similar tension in the Methodist church. He believed his evangelical, theological college should adopt a stance in line with traditional evangelical thinking against same sex relationships.  His tweet went viral. The college issued a statement saying it was inappropriate and unacceptable, ultimately leading to his dismissal for misconduct. He said he had not maligned the college, but it had denounced him and ostracised him, causing stress leading to cardiac symptoms, and a backlash online when he says he was harassed, slandered and brought into disrepute, resulting in life altering consequences and irreparable damage to his career.  

Russell Brand describes on Tik Tok his month-old Christian faith

Russell Brand has tweeted about his newfound Christian faith again, saying “an inner illumination” was available to him now. Speaking on TikTok, he said he had been a Christian for a month and it had been a big change. He liked the idea that when he is alone in prayer, “there is a figure available, wounded and coronated available to me in my failings and my failures and in my fallibility”. He had taken on a lot of new concepts including repentance: “to repent means that you have to continually change and acknowledge that I am in a battle against myself. I need to surrender myself to an ever present internal and accessible Jesus”. Russell Brand was baptised in the Thames a month ago, helped by his friend Bear Grylls, who was converted through the Alpha programme and is a friend of Nicky Gumbel, former vicar of Holy Trinity Church Brompton.

US Southern Baptists to debate women pastors again

 The US Southern Baptist Convention is due to hold its annual meeting next week, on 9-10 June,  and once more the issue of women pastors is on the agenda. Last year, it voted to affirm a decision by the denomination’s Executive Committee to expel two churches – Saddleback Church in Southern California and Fern Creek Baptist church in Kentucky –  for having female pastors, saying the role was restricted to men.  A hardline amendment stating that a local congregation can be part of the convention only if it “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture” was passed last year, over the objection of the Executive Committee. The amendment is on agenda for a vote again—since it must be approved two years in a role to take effect.  That’s sparked a debate over whether the restriction on male pastors only applies to the senior leader of a church or to support roles, like a children’s or music minister. A report presented last year estimated there are 1,844 female pastors serving in 1,225 churches—many in supporting roles, often at Black churches. The Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in the US with 47,000 churches and a membership of just under 13 million.

400 Muslim families evicted in Indian state of Assam

There are reports that around 400 Muslim families were evicted from their homes in the Sipajhar region of India’s north eastern state of Assam, and their homes were demolished by bulldozers. They are of Bengali origin and have lived in Assam for several decades, having moved there to escape flooding. Christian Solidarity Worldwide says this group has been evicted from their homes several times before in the same region and they say they are persecuted because of their faith. This time it says they were evicted on the orders of the State’s BJP Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa. It is urging the national government to condemn the evictions and to relocate the families.

Christian man aged 73 brutally beaten up for allegedly disrespecting the Quran

Aid to the Church in Need is highlighting the story of a Christian man aged 73 living in Pakistan, who was brutally beaten up by a large mob and then made the subject of a blasphemy probe by Pakistan’s police. Nazir Gill Masih and his son are accused of disrespecting the Quran, after damaged pages were found outside his house. The police have arrested more than 100 men for his attempted lynching and the setting on fire of his home and shoe factory. Father and son are in hospital with serious injuries, but are in a stable condition.

Financial incentives to teach Bible stories to school children in Texas

Texas school students The Guardian reports that Texas elementary (primary) school students will be taught Bible stories as part of their reading instruction, in a curriculum re-design programme announced this week. It is part of a movement to root young people’s lives in traditional values and follows a move to allow chaplains to work as school counsellors.  The Guardian quotes examples such as using a story about a Congressman asking delegates to pray together, despite religious differences, to teach the word “compromise”. Or reading the story of the Last Supper to understand Leonardo da Vinci’s painting. Take up is voluntary but schools  get $60 for each student taking part.

Photo exhibition of Muslims in Norfolk for people who don’t know they are there

Muslim convert and photographer, Khalil Mitchell, is launching a photographic exhibition of Muslims in Norfolk, telling the story of a hidden community: “People do not know we are here half of the time. We don’t look like the typical Muslims”, he said.  The exhibition will tour libraries and museums around Norfolk from June to September, in a project inspired by a calligraphy exhibition and curated by a community librarian and curator of community history. Khalil says the photographs aim to portray a vibrant and dynamic community based at The Ihsan Mosque, in Chapelfield, Norwich. He hopes the photos point towards something bigger: “With every photograph I have taken, I have always hoped it was going to be the ultimate photograph to show people Muslims and Islam”.


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