Religion news 31 January 2022

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Image credit: Adam Fagen CCLicense2.0

No integrity, no honour: faith leaders’ verdict on No 10 party ‘hypocrisy

The delayed publication of Sue Gray’s report into parties at Downing Street during lockdown may have dampened the political urgency, but among faith leaders, there is no weakening of resolve. In a Religion Media Centre briefing, Professor Tina Beattie spoke of a violation of the rules “which impacted in the most hurtful way on the lives of nearly everybody”. Nick Spencer from the think tank Theos, said the events at No 10 were a specific act of hypocrisy that showed indifference to the burdens placed on everyone in the lockdowns. The Rev Dr David Muir, who was deputy chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority while Boris Johnson was mayor of London, suspected the prime minister “might be able to talk himself out of this one again, but I’m hoping that there’ll be enough MPs in the Conservative ranks who will say, ‘Boris, actually, enough is enough’.” Full story here

Welby urges mediation and diplomacy to avert war in Ukraine

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has urged the government to pursue mediation and diplomacy until the last possible moment, as leaders try to avert war in Ukraine. He told the Lords that this would give both sides the opportunity to withdraw, particularly the Russians who have amassed 100,000 troops on the border. “The one thing we can be sure of is that, once war starts, all control of the situation will be completely lost, possibly for years, and the casualties will be terrible”, he said. He went on to seek assurances to support the large number of refugees and huge humanitarian needs which will be inevitable in late winter in eastern Europe.

Bloody Sunday remembered in ecumenical service

Hundreds of people, political and church leaders came together for a march and memorial service to mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when British soldiers killed 13 unarmed Catholic civil rights marchers. Relatives of those who died re-iterated their public campaign to challenge the government’ s decision not to prosecute any soldiers involved. The current Bishop of Londonderry, Donal McKeown, was joined by his Anglican counterpart, Andrew James Forster, in the ecumenical service. He told Vatican News that much work had been achieved in building a strong relationship between both the Catholic and Protestant Churches – they were well ahead of the politicians. He would tell the people to “look at the past with compassion; to forgive and remember – and be able to move on because we deserve to be architects of the future and not prisoners of the past.”

Unvaccinated priests in Cyprus suspended and threatened with the sack

The head of the Orthodox Christian Church in Cyprus says that he will suspend a dozen priests from his diocese because they refused to heed his call to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Various reports suggest several priests are prominent in the antivax campaign. The Orthodox Times quotes Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus saying that if priests continue to refuse the vaccination they should join another Metropolis next month.

French sporting hijab ban threatens reputation ahead of 2024 Olympics

The French senate has voted to ban the wearing of hijabs and other conspicuous religious symbols in sports competitions. The proposal came in an amendment from Les Republicains, a right-wing party, and was approved by 160-143 votes. Their argument was that headscarves can put at risk the safety of athletes wearing them. The amendment has to be considered by a committee and could yet be finally rejected. But Fadumo Olow comments in the Telegraph: “For a nation that is set to host the 2024 Olympics, the audacity of seeking to exclude a group of women in this way is shocking.” The French Football Federation already bans women from wearing the hijab. A year ago, the French Parliament approved a law to strengthen oversight of mosques, schools and sports clubs to try to safeguard France from radical Islamists and promote respect for French values, following several brutal attacks.

The Pinter Trust — explaining the Charedi tradition in Judaism

A new trust has been formed to give voice to England’s growing Charedi Orthodox Jewish community, which now has members in Gateshead, Manchester, Barnet, Hackney and Canvey island, Essex. The Pinter Trust is named after Rabbi Avrahom Pinter, a former Labour councillor in Hackney and active in the community, who died from Covid in April 2020. Charedi Jews are distinctive because of their strict adherence to the Torah prescribed Jewish law and traditions, the importance given to family life and distinctive style of dress including black hats for men and wigs for women. The Trust says it exists to give people outside their community an insight into its values, way of life and communal organisations.

Christian priest killed on way home from church in Pakistan

The church in Pakistan has strongly condemned the killing of a Christian priest and the serious wounding of another as they drove home from church in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Sunday. Police say two attackers on a motorcycle opened fire on the car, killing Pastor William Siraj instantly. His colleague, the Rev Patrick Naeem, is being treated for his injuries. The region, bordering Pakistan, has seen a rise in militant attacks. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, condemned the atrocity as “an abhorrent act” and prayed for justice and safety for Christians in Pakistan. Report on Christian persecution here

Brian Houston steps down as Hillsong leader

The founder of the global Hillsong evangelical church, Brian Houston, has announced he is stepping down as leader of the church until the end of the year, as he defends himself against charges that he covered up his father’s sexual abuse of children. He said the decision followed talks with lawyers and the Hillsong Global Board in December. He had already stepped aside as chairman. In a statement, he said the charges came as a shock and he will “vigorously defend” himself.

Media response of church leaders to negative stories ‘crucial’ for reputation

A PR company set up by a former Christian pastor has commissioned research suggesting that more than 150 negative stories about the church were published in the UK between September and December last year. More than half of these concerned historical sex abuse cases, others involved bullying and stories related to the Christian convert suicide bomber in Liverpool. It says the church’s reputation is under threat, and the level of coverage is sad but not surprising. Jersey Road PR says often churches have failed to act and respond well to allegations of abuse, with devastating impact on both the lives of survivors and the reputation of the church. They say it is crucial for leaders to respond with transparency, integrity and compassion.

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