Religion news 9 February 2024

World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees, Westminster Cathedral. Image credit: © Mazur/ CCLicense2.0

Church leaders deny naively allowing false asylum conversion claims

Church leaders have hit back at allegations that they are naively backing fraudulent asylum claims by accepting the validity of fake conversions. In a Religion Media Centre briefing, Bishop Guli Francis Dehqani said there was no “cast-iron set of criteria to be 100 per cent sure of what’s going on in people’s hearts and minds”. On Wednesday, Tory MP Tim Loughton, asked the Prime Minister whether he thought the Archbishop of Canterbury was effectively “scamming the taxpayer” over fake asylum claims. In the briefing, Mr Loughton said Justin Welby had vociferously attacked the government’s Rwanda policy and therefore should expect pushback and challenge. “It’s nothing personal. It’s about having a robust debate.” He criticised the Church of England’s official guidance to clergy for not encouraging priests to test the validity of conversion and said it needed to be strengthened. The briefing heard from leaders representing thousands of churches involved in working with asylum seekers. Mr Loughton said it was clear that smaller church organisations needed to create their own set of guidelines and policies in association with the Home Office. You can view the briefing on our YouTube channel here and read Tim Wyatt’s report here

Archbishop and bishops comment on asylum criticism

 The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who is on a five day visit to Ukraine, said on Twitter / X: “Over the last week it has been disappointing to see the mischaracterisation of the role of churches and faith groups in the asylum system. Churches up and down the country are involved in caring for vulnerable people from all backgrounds. For refugees and those seeking asylum, we simply follow the teaching of the Bible which is to care for the stranger. It is the job of the Government to protect our borders and of the courts to judge asylum cases. The Church is called to love mercy and do justice. I encourage everyone to avoid irresponsible and inaccurate comments – and let us not forget that at the heart of this conversation are vulnerable people whose lives are precious in the sight of God.

The Bishop of Winchester Philip Mounstephen @pmounstephen “It’s worth remembering that Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the right to change one’s faith. That is a universal right, to which the UK is committed internationally. We need to be domestically too”.

The Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun, has written to the Home Secretary saying the political rhetoric surrounding asylum-seekers had reached new lows, with asylum seekers characterised as dishonest, undesirable and with values inferior to those born in Britain. The narrative relates to “less than considerate language used by members of the governing party, including former holders of the office of Principal Secretary of State.”

Catholic bishops reminder that migrants who cross the channel are of innate worth

Catholic bishops are reminding the faithful of their duty to look beyond the “often derogatory labels” given to people making dangerous journeys across the Channel to reach the UK and “see the person who has left their homeland in search of a better life”. A document “Love the Stranger”,  produced by the Department for International Affairs in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, says charities caring for people in the asylum system, parishes welcoming families through community sponsorship, aid agencies helping displaced people across the world, and countless volunteers, are genuinely manifesting faith. The report reviews issues such as modern slavery, trafficking, and the right to migrate and says: “Our countries are always better off for the presence of people born elsewhere, who bring their own talents, cultures, and knowledge”.

A “conveyor belt of asylum baptisms” in Darlington

The Telegraph carries an interview with the Rev Matthew Firth, who used to be vicar of St Cuthberts, Darlington, where he describes “a conveyor belt, a veritable industry of asylum baptisms”. He tells how groups of men from the Middle East attended church services and were baptised, posting pictures and banners on social media afterwards. He was then asked to give evidence to lawyers validating their asylum claims. He is now a vicar in the Free Church of England, an evangelical off shoot of the CofE established in 1844.

Inter Faith Network for the UK imminent closure

The Inter Faith Network for the UK has issued a statement about its move towards closure. “On 7 February, the Board of the Inter Faith Network for the UK took, with great regret, an in-principle decision to move towards closure of the organisation. That will be confirmed, on 22 February and greater detail provided subsequently – unless by that time the funding offered by the Government on 7 July 2023 for work from July 2023 to March 2024, subject to conditions, is made available or funds at an equivalent level are received from other quarters… In preparing for IFN’s likely closure, the Board will be looking across the coming weeks, with input from members and others, at whether and how particular strands of IFN’s work, including Inter Faith Week, may be taken forward for the future, as part of ensuring that positive inter faith relations in the UK can continue to be promoted effectively, particularly in the challenging environment we collectively face”.

Amnesty International tells India to stop demolishing Muslim properties

Amnesty International has called on Indian authorities to stop the “unlawful” demolition of Muslim properties. It released two reports describing the targeting of Muslim homes, businesses and places of worship across several states, calling the demolitions a form of extra-judicial punishment and demanding compensation to all those affected. Its conclusions follow the demolition of 128 properties in the states of Assam, Delhi, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh following communal violence and protests between April and June 2022.

Bill to ban conversion therapy comes before the Lords today

A bill to prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity conversion therapy is being put forward in the Lords today by Baroness Burt of Solihull, Liberal Democrat peer and patron of Humanists UK.  The Bishop of Bristol, Vivienne Faull, and the Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson, are among those due to speak. The Church of England has formally supported a ban on conversion therapy since a General Synod motion agreed in July 2017 and has contributed to a recent Government consultation on proposals. Simon Calvert, Deputy Director at The Christian Institute, said the bill would criminalise casual conversations and bring unlimited fines to people who have expressed the wrong opinions in the presence of a gay or trans person. He said there is growing anxiety that banning conversion therapy is really code for criminalising Christians and gender-critical parents.  

Conservative CofE bishops restate orthodox doctine ahead of synod same sex debate

Premier Christianity reports that seven conservative Church of England bishops have published a theological document outlining affirmations of belief on orthodox doctrine, the universal church, supernatural faith and self-sacrifice. The group comprises the bishops of Lancaster, Rochester, Islington, Chichester, Guildford, Sheffield, and Southwell and Nottingham. They say the document aims “to bring greater clarity to our points of convergence and divergence, and to encourage and equip those who remain committed to the Church’s inherited teaching”. The document, alongside another on marriage, is published two weeks before the February meeting of the General Synod which will, once more, discuss same sex blessings.

Father of boy allegedly abused by Cardinal George Pell wins right to sue

The father of a choirboy allegedly sexually abused by the late Cardinal George Pell, is seeking damages from the Catholic church, despite the fact that Pell’s convictions were overturned.  Cardinal Pell died in January 2023. His accuser has also died, but his father is claiming he suffered nervous shock and the Supreme Court in Australia is allowing him to sue. The Catholic church tried to stop the action but various appeals have failed.


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