Religion news 7 August

Image credit: Islamic Relief

Islamic Relief on the ground in Beirut

Islamic Relief is working with other aid agencies in Beirut to deal with the humanitarian crisis following the explosion which decimated the city, causing more than 130 deaths and 5000 injuries. The international agency says its initial response is focusing on distributing food, essential hygiene kits and health assistance to people sheltering in schools, mosques and churches, who are in urgent need of help. It says 200,000 people have been left homeless; hospitals in Beirut have been inundated and patients are being referred to Tripoli  50 miles north; and there are fears of a food crisis, as the port has been destroyed and with it a huge stockpile of wheat flour. All agencies involved are appealing for volunteers and donations

World faith leaders call for nuclear weapons to be banned

On the 75th Anniversary of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and  Nagasaki, 189 global faith organisations have signed a joint statement calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Signatories, including the World Council of Churches, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland,  say that they reject the existential threat to humanity that nuclear weapons pose. “We reaffirm that the presence of even one nuclear weapon violates the core principles of our different faith traditions and threatens the unimaginable destruction of everything we hold dear. Nuclear weapons are not only a future risk, their presence here and now undermines the ethical and moral foundations of the common good. We call for your commitment to a world that is more peaceful, safe, and just—a world only possible with the elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Six women join Vatican’s Council for the Economy 

The former Education Secretary Ruth Kelly is one of six women to be appointed by the Pope to sit on a group overseeing the Vatican’s finances. This is the largest number of women to be appointed at one time and is part of Pope Francis’ efforts to create gender balance. The Council for the Economy was created in 2014 and has eight cardinals and seven lay people with professional financial experience. The Vatican’s finances have been mired in scandal in recent years and now it faces a loss of income due to Covid19, forcing cost cutting measures. Ruth Kelly studied PPE at Oxford, was economics correspondent for the Guardian in the 1990s and went on to be the youngest person appointed to the cabinet aged 36. A staunch Roman Catholic and member of Opus Dei, her views on homosexuality, contraception and abortion pitted her against the direction of travel of the Labour party. She left politics to spend more time with her family – she has four children – and eventually became pro vice chancellor of St Mary’s University, Twickenham. The six women also include Leslie Ferrar, a former treasurer to Prince Charles.

Archbishop defends Canterbury MP in transgender row

The Archbishop of Canterbury has supported the MP for Canterbury Rosie Duffield, who was subject to a backlash on social media for language around transgender women. The story began with a tweet from CNN about cancer screening using the phrase “individuals with a cervix”. Piers Morgan tweeted “Do you mean women?” and Rosie Duffield liked his tweet. There was a furious response and she was accused of transphobia. But Justin Welby came to her defence. In a tweet he said: “I know Rosie Duffield who is a brilliant constituency MP for Canterbury as well as brave, honest, kind and passionate for justice. She does not seek to demean others. To troll her is simply cruel and wrong.”

Muslims in UK targeted and blamed for coronavirus

“Tell MAMA”, a campaign group against hate towards Muslims, says far-right extremists have been blaming Muslims for the coronavirus pandemic since the beginning of the lockdown in March. Director Iman Atta told CNN: “In March, April, May, we saw a lot of conspiracy theories floating around. The far right were sharing photos of Muslims congregating and flouting the rules at mosques which were, in reality, shut down and not functioning. The photos were from last year. And they have spread rumours online about how BAME communities are the ones spreading the virus, so people should not be interacting with them.” The Muslim Council of Britain has seen the same trend. Spokesperson Zainab Gulamali said “there were theories spreading that Muslims would gather secretly during Ramadan, that mosques were secretly open — none of that was true and there was no evidence”.

Methodist Church questions HSBC support of Hong Kong security laws

The Methodist Church of Great Britain has urged HSBC to reconsider its support of new security laws in Hong Kong, which will introduce greater punishment for protesters and give Beijing more powers in the legal system. It has issued a statement saying it is a long-standing client of HSBC (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited)- previously the Midland Bank. “These laws are contrary to the 1997 handover agreement with the United Kingdom, a threat to democracy, and interfere with human rights of Hong Kong citizens. Your support of them is of deep concern to the Methodist Church and we urge you to reconsider your support of them as a matter of urgency.”

BBC Head of Religion job vacancy

The BBC has advertised for a new head of religion radio, to replace Christine Morgan who is leaving.   Based in Salford, the job involves overseeing Thought for the Day, Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, Beyond Belief, Sunday, Good Morning Sunday and ‘Heart and Soul’ for the World Service. The ad says they are looking for “someone with vision to develop multi-platform content to reach and reflect the lives, faith and beliefs of people from across the UK.” The programmes should be “rooted in a deep understanding of the importance of religion and its role in society”.