Religion news 6 August 2021

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Culture secretary’s crackdown on social media antisemitism

The culture secretary Oliver Dowden has told the Jewish Chronicle that social media giants must clean up their sites, removing antisemitism, or face fines and be blocked. The punitive measures will be in the Online Safety Bill, now under review, which will place a legal duty of care on social media companies to protect all users. He made clear that social media platforms must act now, not wait until the bill is enacted. He was speaking after the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Centre for Countering Digital Hate and the Community Security Trust reported record levels of antisemitic incidents and a failure to respond.

Founder of Hillsong charged with concealing information on child sex abuse case

Brian Houston, the founder of Hillsong, a global network of mega churches, has been charged with concealing his father’s sexual abuse of a child in the 1970s. The offence can carry a maximum penalty of up to five years in jail. In a statement, New South Wales police said: “Police will allege in court the man knew information relating to the sexual abuse of a young male in the 1970s and failed to bring that information to the attention of police.” Australia’s royal commission into child sexual abuse heard that Houston’s late father, Frank, had abused up to nine boys in Australia and New Zealand. He was a Pentecostal minister who started Sydney Christian Life Centre which was a forerunner to Hillsong and he died aged 82 in 2004. Brian Houston said in a statement that the charges came as a shock and he vehemently professed his innocence. Hillsong is a Pentecostal church where worship meets entertainment, with music performed on stage and available on its own record label, attracting thousands of worshippers in various venues in 28 countries, for example in London they meet at the Dominion Theatre. Recently its pastor in New York, Carl Lentz, was sacked after admitting an affair and a married pastor in New Jersey resigned after lewd photos appeared.

Campaign to save the Church of England parish system

A campaign to save the Church of England’s parish system by electing supporters to the General Synod, was launched this week by the Rev Marcus Walker. He and others were alarmed at recent comments by Canon John Grinley, the leader of the CofE’s Myriad project, which seeks to establish 10,000 new Christian groups. He had referred to church buildings, clergy salaries and their long training as “limiting factors” in the growth of the church. The shocked reaction has led to the building of an alliance in defence of the parish, according to Fr Walker. At the launch in his own church in London, he appealed for those who love the parish system and want to sustain it to stand for election to the General Synod and defend “this treasure”.

UN condemns appalling violence against women accused of witchcraft

The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution condemning the harmful practices associated with accusations of witchcraft and ritual attacks. It follows years of reports which found witchcraft accusations were used to justify extreme violence against older women in 41 African and Asian countries. Abuses include beatings, banishment, cutting of body parts and amputation, torture, and murder. Reports have said there is often no robust state-led response and judicial systems do not act to prevent, investigate or prosecute human rights abuses linked to beliefs in witchcraft.

Legal explanation of ‘the protect duty’ in places of worship

 A lawyer offering information videos on areas of concern in public life, has explained the government’s proposal to create a new duty for leaders in places of worship to protect their worshippers against terrorism. The proposal has been out for consultation and conclusions are expected in the autumn. Nasir Hafezi outlines the law, why it is needed and what it hopes to achieve through risk management, access to counterterrorism threats and inspection. He also lists possible objections to counterterrorism measures in a mosque and reports one objection that added security may “have a chilling effect” on freedom of speech. He urges leaders at places of worship to engage in dialogue and work with other faith leaders to make their views known.

Pakistan: Muslims attack Hindu temple in protest at ‘blasphemous’ attack on a madrassa

Pakistan deployed paramilitary troops in a town in the Punjab province after a Muslim crowd attacked and badly damaged a Hindu temple there, the Associated Press reports. Statues were damaged and the main door burnt. The crowd was angry that an eight-year-old Hindu boy charged with intentionally urinating in a madrassa was granted bail. They said the crime was blasphemy punishable by death. Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, condemned the attack and promised the government would restore the temple.

Climate Sunday appeal to all UK churches

All churches in the UK are being urged to hold a special service on climate change, in advance of Cop26 in Glasgow in November. “Climate Sunday”, organised by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, aims is to encourage churches to move climate change centre stage in their thinking and activities, by featuring the issue in Sunday worship. The events will feature a national Climate Sunday Service in Glasgow on 5 September.


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