Religion news 4 April 2024

Image credit: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. Public domain

World Council of Churches condemns killing of Gaza aid workers

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev Professor Jerry Pillay, has condemned the killing of seven aid workers in Gaza, whose convoy of cars was hit by Israel after they had delivered aid. Three of the dead are British. Professor Pillay said humanitarian workers should never be targeted: “Such attacks which take the lives of innocent people are absolutely unacceptable and cannot be justified at any level. We invite all WCC member churches to join in raising their voices in prayer for justice, peace, and reconciliation in Gaza.” He repeated the UN call for an immediate ceasefire and the immediate release of all hostages.

Palestinian doctor walks out of Biden iftar meeting in protest at arms to Israel

Muslim leaders invited to the White House for a private meeting with President Joe Biden and national security leaders, confronted them over the administration’s response to Israel in the war in Gaza and the continuing supply of US weapons to Israel.  The Associated Press reports that a Palestinian American doctor walked out soon after the meeting began, handing over a letter from an orphaned eight-year-old girl in Rafah.  The meeting replaced the usual large iftar to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Invitations had been refused as inappropriate while people starve in Gaza.

Charity reviewed over fund raising for Abdul Ezedi burial

The Fundraising Regulator is reviewing the 13 Rivers Trust, which operates the Muslim Burial Fund, after reports that it fund-raised for the burial of Abdul Ezedi, the asylum seeker at the centre of the debate over fake conversions, by using a false name for him. He was granted leave to remain after converting to Christianity, but was sought by police after a woman and two children were injured in a chemical attack. His body was subsequently found in the River Thames and he was given a Muslim burial, funded by the charity, in east London. The review will consider reports that the charity fund-raised using the false name, ‘Abdul Wahed’. The appeal raised £6,596 for the burial.  

RE teacher in Batley still in hiding three years after showing Prophet Muhammad cartoon

The teacher at Batley Grammar School, who showed a Religious Studies class a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a turban containing a bomb, is still in hiding three years later after loud protests outside the school gates caused his suspension.  He has since been cleared of causing deliberate offence and told he can have his job back, but is reported to have felt suicidal and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after being targeted in a campaign of intimidation and abuse. Dame Sara Khan, the government’s independent adviser for social cohesion and resilience, has published a review saying the handling of the case appeased the protesters at his expense. She recommended that a “cohesion and conflict unit” should be created to support teachers who face threats and harassment. Writing in the Observer, Kenan Malik says the protests in Batley were organised by “a new generation of UK-based anti-blasphemy activists”. The problem in Batley, he says, is the way that reactionary groups and leaders came to be seen as representing the community, using blasphemy claims to police communities and reinforce their power. Kenan Malik’s comment is here

RMC included in massive resource for RE teachers developing knowledge and expertise

RE hubs, an organisation of 10 centres in England and Wales which offer resources, training materials and information about teaching Religious Education, has added factsheets from the Religion Media Centre to its vast list of education materials. They feature in the “resources section” alongside multiple free aids such as information on SACREs, podcasts, faith organisations and interfaith groups. The section is one of many on the RE Hubs website, offering tips and practical advice on speakers, places of interest for visits and a calendar of festivals. RE is compulsory, but is taught by many teachers who do not have a degree in Theology or Religious Studies. The RE Hubs website, set up in a collaboration with many national RE organisations,  aims to help all teachers deepen their knowledge, pick up advice and bring together the many organisations and people involved in delivering Religious Education in schools. It is “a single place to equip, enable, and signpost everyone within the community”.

View from The Atlantic: The True Cost of the Church going Bust

An article in The Atlantic points to a decline in religious affiliation in America, co-inciding with a loss of community and social cohesion. Derek Thompson, a 37 year old writer with The Atlantic, cites polls showing more than a quarter of Americans say they are non-religious, a turnaround that has accelerated since the 1990s.  At the same time, civic engagement such as belonging to associations and groups, has declined and he says it is undeniable that non-religious Americans are also less civically engaged. Pew Research has shown that religiously unaffiliated Americans are less likely to volunteer, less likely to feel satisfied with their community and social life, and more likely to say they feel lonely.  He concludes: “It took decades for Americans to lose religion. It might take decades to understand the entirety of what we lost”. Article is here

Pope calls for an end to discrimination against women

Pope Francis has called for an end to discrimination against women. In a video for the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, he prayed that “the dignity and worth of women be recognized in every culture”. Governments should eliminate discriminatory laws everywhere and  work towards guaranteeing women’s human rights. He cites examples such as mandatory dress codes, impediments to ongoing education, denial of assistance for job opportunities and notes that in many countries, genital mutilation is still practiced.  He says women  continue to be treated “like something to get rid of” and they are often victims of violence and abuse in many parts of the world: “If we don’t respect women, our society will not progress.” In October last year, the synod of bishops called for a more decisive commitment on the role of women, who are not allowed to be ordained priests in thre Catholic church, and discussions are continuing over their role as deacons.

Four men in the frame to lead the US Episcopalian church

The Episcopal Church of the United States has announced the names of four bishops put forward as a possible successor to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who retires at the end of October. The nominees are: Bishop J. Scott Barker from the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska; Bishop Daniel G. P. Gutiérrez, Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania;  Bishop Sean Rowe, Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Episcopal Diocese of Western New York; and Bishop Robert Wright, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. They have recorded messages giving a flavour of their churchmanship here and go forward to a vote at the next Convention in June.  The key challenge is declining attendance with latest figures showing a 23 per cent fall in membership over the past 10 years, now standing at 1,432,082. Reporter Julie Roys suggests other challenges are restoring community among the House of Bishops, deepening relationships with the Anglican Communion amid tension over human sexuality, revitalising the church’s governance, and building trust in the process to address clergy misconduct.


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