Religion news 8 April 2024

Pics of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, displayed in Finchley north London. Image credit: @amandarosephoto

Rally and protest in London for families of Israeli hostages

Families of hostages held by Hamas took part in an event at St John’s Wood United Synagogue yesterday, to call for their release. This weekend marked the sixth month point since the Hamas attack on 7 October when 1200 people were killed and 250 hostages were taken. The family members held up photographs of their loved ones and recounted the story of the day they were taken. Jewish News spoke to several people there who spoke of their worry over the health and condition of the hostages and how they are unable to rebuild their lives while they wait. They said the past six months have been “hell”. The actress Dame Maureen Lipman and influencer Oli London joined the event

Jesuits say situation in Gaza is unacceptable, scandalous and shameful

 Jesuits in Britain have issued a statement on the continuing war in Gaza, saying it is unacceptable that no one has been able to stop the killing, scandalous that no one has been able to ensure that the residents of Gaza have enough to eat and shameful that no one has been able to call the warmongers to account. The “ongoing conflict in the land called to be holy has been allowed to continue and fester as an open wound on the face of the Middle East”.  The statement says that the Jesuits refuse to be silent. “Engaged for decades in the communities and societies of the Middle East, we, as Jesuits, want to say that it need not be this way. The choice of death over life, vengeance over reconciliation, wrongdoing over justice, self-interest over relationship, violence over dialogue is a choice and not fated destiny. There are other choices that could be made”. The full statement is here

Concern about extreme and prejudiced views on Israel / Palestine

A poll of 1,000 British Muslims, commissioned by the Henry Jackson Society, made the news this weekend with a headline that only one in four believe Hamas committed murder and rape in Israel on 7 October and 46 per cent lean towards or support Hamas. The poll was conducted by JL Partners and included a parallel survey of 2,013 members of the general public – the data is published here. Questions were wide ranging covering opinions on Israel / Palestine, tropes about Jews, attitudes towards Palestinian groups and how people will vote in a general election. In a Twitter/X Thread critique, Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said the results “reflect real grounds for concern about the reach of extreme and prejudiced views. However, these also reflect dubious HJS framing and fishing to amplify/exaggerate Hamas support among British Muslims”. Al Hakam, the website of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Britain, said it was “a clear Islamophobic hit-piece, designed to label British Muslims as Jew-hating extremists”. It said news reports failed to mention the poll’s data showing the level of public distrust of Israel.

Humanists UK challenges Guardian’s backing of Labour links with faith groups

The Guardian’s recent editorial supporting Labour for stating the importance of working with faith organisations for the common good, has been criticised by Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK. In a letter to the paper, he says the editorial overstates the emphasis on the Labour party’s Christian origins, naming Labour’s first prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, as an early president of Humanists UK and stating that  Keir Starmer “seems to fit squarely” in the tradition of significant past atheist and humanist Labour politicians.  He says most people in a time of need fund support from secular charities and secular institutions of the state. “For many progressive-minded people, this is a more important part of Labour’s mission, and it provides a sure way to avoid the downside of relying on religious provision”.

Pagans form fifth largest religious group in British armed forces

The Telegraph reports that the number of Pagans in the British Armed Forces has gone up from 270 in 2020, to 660 in 2024. Further it reports there are 50 self-declared Heathens, Wiccans, Druidists and Odinists. The figures, from a freedom of information request, show the large majority are in the army and that Paganism is now the fifth largest religious group, behind Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. There are 185,980 personnel in the Armed Forces. The Telegraph goes into a detailed discussion about whether the relaxation of rules allowing beards will be an advantage to Pagans, only to quote the Pagan Federation saying there is no spiritual or religious aspect of beards.

Bishop of Warrington ‘away from diocese’

The Church Times reports that the Suffragan Bishop of Warrington, Beverley Mason, is away from the diocese and is not carrying out any engagements. She is continuing with her episcopal duties as a member of the House of Bishops and with Sandford St Martin Trust. She stood in as the bishop of Liverpool while a successor was appointed from 2022-23.

New Dean of Llandaff announced  at lightning speed

The Church in Wales has announced the name of the new Dean of Llandaff, in Cardiff, just one week after the previous Dean announced his resignation. Canon Dr Jason Bray takes over from Dean Richard Peers, who was cleared of all charges set out in a church disciplinary measure relating to comments he is alleged to have made while sub dean of Christ Church, Oxford. He resigned ten days after he was cleared. Canon Bray is from Merthyr Tydfil and is currently vicar of St Giles in Wrexham.  He is also a “deliverance minister”, cleansing people who believe they are in the grip of evil spirits.

15 minute church services to tempt back congregations

A novel way of trying to build a church congregation as attendances decline on Sunday mornings is reported in The Telegraph. The Rev Dr John Gillibrand, a vicar near Swansea, has introduced 15 minute micro services on Monday afternoons at 4.45pm for people to drop in on the way home, acknowledging that families are under time pressure for standard service times. 

Total eclipse of the sun due over the USA today

 The total eclipse of the sun, a phenomenon so striking that world religions have regarded it as a supernatural sign, is due to be witnessed again today in the USA. Unfortunately, severe weather is predicted with up to 85 per cent cloud cover. A partial eclipse may be seen in the west of the UK from sunset. Christian theories about the eclipse are outlined by Christian Headlines here, an article about religion and astronomical happenings is here and response of world religions to the eclipse is here.

Open iftar at Trafalgar Square brings Ramadan towards its close

Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and prayer, comes to an end on Wednesday, and plans are underway for the largest open iftar, the meal at the end of the day breaking the fast, to be held in Trafalgar Square, London this evening.  Everyone is invited to “open iftars”,  held throughout the country in public places, which have been photographed and reported on here.  The events include the sunset ritual to end the day of fasting, alongside entertainment, conversation, spiritual reflections and food.   

Thousands of Sikhs take part in Vaisakhi celebrations

Sikhs around the world are celebrating Vaisakhi, a harvest festival of spring and the date when in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh established the Khalsa, the body of committed Sikhs who dedicate their lives to the values taught by the Sikh gurus. Virendra Sharma MP tweeted pictures from the festival in Southall where 250,000 people took part. Other large events have taken place in Manchester museum, Glasgow and Smethwick.  There were processions, carrying of flags, singing and sharing of food. Factsheet is here


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