Religion news 8 September 2021

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Image credit: No 10

Church response to government’s National Insurance tax hike

MPs prepare to vote today on the health and social care tax, which will raise National Insurance contributions by 1.25 per cent, providing £12 billion a year. The Church Times reports mixed reaction to the hike:

The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, is quoted: “Today’s announcement is very welcome, not least after 18 months in which social-care staff and residents have borne the brunt of the pandemic. I pray that this will be the first step towards a social-care system that will allow our most frail sisters and brothers to live in dignity and with an acceptable quality of life.

The Church of England’s medical-ethics adviser, the Rev Dr Brendan McCarthy, raised concern that the funding for social care would not be in place for three years, with initial money going to the NHS Covid backlog: “We are acutely aware that systemic problems within our social-care system, made even more manifest by the pandemic, need to be addressed with real urgency”.

Religious leaders unite to save the planet

Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox church, and the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, have issued an unprecedented joint statement to save the planet and protect creation. Speaking weeks before the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, they say: “This is a critical moment. Our children’s future and the future of our common home depend on it..We have greedily consumed more of the Earth’s resources than the planet can endure. But we also face a profound injustice: the people bearing the most catastrophic consequences of these abuses are the poorest on the planet and have been the least responsible for causing them.”

Continuing religious discrimination post 9/11

As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, academics Elizabeth Poole and Milly Williamson say the negative media coverage of Muslims since 9/11 has become more entrenched during the coronavirus pandemic. In an academic article they say “It appeared initially that the COVID-19 crisis might provide an opportunity to challenge norms and reframe news discourses about Muslims in the UK with coverage which generally casts healthcare workers as ‘heroes’ (also problematic). However, the signifier ‘Muslim’, so heavily imbued with negative connotations and functioning to signify ‘otherness’, was often left out of these stories. Meanwhile the press reverted back to familiar narratives drawing on and reworking wider longstanding tropes in which marginalised groups are ‘othered’, subject to moral panics, and accused of refusing to integrate”.

Sikhs in America say that a generation after 9/11, they are still experiencing discrimination  as people blamed them for crimes.  The Associated Press reports that in one case, a Sikh was murdered by a man who mistook him for an Arab Muslim. Younger Sikhs want hate crimes to be recorded against their community so the extent of the problem can be understood.

Macron supports Christians in Iraq as French troops remain

On a visit to Mosul in Iraq, the French President Emmanuel Macron urged Iraq’s religious communities to work together to rebuild the country. France 24 reports that in a speech at the damaged Church of Our Lady of the Hour, he pledged to bring back a French consulate and schools, while criticising the slow pace of reconstruction in the region, where Islamtic State fighters fought their last urban battle. He sent a message of moral support to Christians and marginalised communities in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

Pope forced to clarify comments on the Torah

The Jewish News says Pope Francis has sought to reconcile with Israel’s chief rabbinate after suggesting that he believed Judaism’s body of law, the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), was obsolete. In an audience in August, he said the Torah “does not give life .. It does not offer the fulfilment of the promise because it is not capable of being able to fulfil it. Those who seek life need to look to the promise and to its fulfilment in Christ”. The Pope’s comments prompted a stern letter from Israel’s chief rabbinate calling on him to “ensure that any derogatory conclusions drawn from this homily are clearly repudiated”. The Pope’s aide replied that he was reflecting on St Paul and had not intended his remarks to be taken as a judgment on Jewish law. Jewish sources told Reuters news agency this was a “sign of reconciliation”.

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