Religion news 8 April

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Starmer’s apology for visiting Jesus House provokes backlash

Sir Keir Starmer’s apology for visiting the majority black church Jesus House has provoked a furious response from conservative Christians. The Labour leader visited the church on Good Friday to see a vaccination centre, meet NHS frontline workers and young black church members. But after the church’s views on LGBTQ+ issues were condemned as homophobic on social media, he immediately apologised and said the visit was a mistake. The leader of Jesus House, Pastor Agu Irukwu, told Premier Christian news that they had felt prosecuted, judged, and sentenced unfairly and it was particularly upsetting for the congregation to go through this at Easter. James Mildred, from Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) said Sir Keir could have taken a stand against cancel culture — “this is not what a free society looks like”, he said. On Tuesday afternoon, Labour MP Stephen Timms tweeted that he applauded “the extraordinary work of @jesushouseuk, and of churches and other faith groups, in supporting our communities throughout the past year”.

New charity to better represent Muslims on screen

UK Muslim Film, a charity that launched at a British Film Institute event this week, will advise the entertainment industry on how Muslims can be better represented on screen. Aiming to combat stereotypes, the charity will support, nurture and fund projects from emerging storytellers and be a port of call for authentic Muslim representation. Sajid Varda, the charity’s founder and chief executive, started as the first Muslim character in Byker Grove, and set up this charity to ensure Muslims are represented at all levels, in writers’ rooms and as commissioners.

Muslim survey shows negative impact of Covid-19 but higher spirituality

A survey of 1,000 Muslims suggests that they experienced a disproportionately high rate of infection and loss of jobs, with 70 per cent of young Muslims reporting a negative impact on mental health. The survey by the Muslim Census organisation also found that 17 per cent fell into poverty, with an income dropping to below £1,000 a month. But 61 per cent said they had an increased closeness to their faith throughout the pandemic and the successive lockdowns, with more free time to worship, reflect and learn.

Pears Foundation withdraws name from Birkbeck Institute

The Pears Foundation has withdrawn its name from the Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck, University of London, though in a statement, it made clear that it would continue to be a funder. “As the Institute increasingly tackles challenging and divisive issues in the public sphere, the foundation’s trustees have decided that continuing to be so closely associated with the institute is no longer in the foundation’s best interests.” The Jewish Times suggests it follows controversy over a Guardian article by the institute’s director, Professor David Feldman, which criticised the education secretary’s request for universities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. He said: “The pros and cons of the working definition have been debated on many occasions. For some it provides helpful guidelines; for others it inhibits legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies and practices. But in the light of the secretary of state’s letter, the key point is that it is impossible to know which of these interpretations is correct. And in this context, uncertainty brings danger.”

Ban on Franklin Graham bus adverts was unlawful

Blackpool Borough Council breached human rights when it banned adverts for evangelist Franklin Graham’s event in the town in 2018. Mr Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham, is known for his controversial views on same-sex marriage and Islam, but despite protests, he held a rally at Blackpool winter gardens. The BBC reports that Judge Claire Evans said at Manchester County Court that the decision breached the Human Rights Act’s protection of freedom of religion and freedom of expression. In a joint statement the council and Blackpool Transport Services said it had taken on board the judgment and would undertake a review to determine if any further changes needed to be made. They remained committed “to promoting equality and diversity, eliminating discrimination and increasing respect, tolerance and understanding throughout our community”.

Rochester diocese joins campaign supporting women threatened by violence

The Bishop of Tonbridge, Simon Burton-Jones, is encouraging men to take a stand and “show up” when women are demeaned, harassed or abused. He was speaking in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard and reports of a “rape culture” in independent and state schools. He is a supporter of the White Ribbon campaign, a national campaign that asks men to promise not to excuse or remain silent over violence or threats of violence against women. His diocese is the only one to have officially partnered with White Ribbon.


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