Religion news 9 July 2024

Image credit: RMC

CofE moves towards blessing same-sex couples in stand-alone’ services

The general synod of the Church of England has voted to remove restrictions on using prayers for same-sex blessings in “stand-alone services”, alongside provision for those who disagree. At present same-sex prayers of blessings are allowed within other services such as evensong, but the move to allow stand-alone services has been hotly contested, with speakers saying this amounts to a change of doctrine on marriage, and warning it is a decisive moment for the future unity of the church. One speaker at the synod meeting in York, predicted that the church will now split. The issue has been debated for years and there is no consensus with both sides remaining implacably opposed to each other, as illustrated in the vote. Bishops approved it by 22:12; clergy 99:88; and Laity 95:92. One speaker said the process was rushed and more work was needed to find a consensus. The working groups will provide documents on theology and doctrine, pastoral guidance, a code of practice for pastoral provision and a statement from the bishops, all of which will come back to synod in February 2025. A group of conservative evangelicals opposed to same-sex relationships, had earlier issued an open letter threatening schism, with the setting up of an alternative oversight structure from newly created “overseers” who agree with them. Even before this debate, a service has already been planned by opponents to create the first “overseers”, at All Souls Church, London, this Friday. Church Times report here

Bishops should press government to end two-child benefit cap

Members of the Church of England synod have voted to back a call for bishops to press the new Labour government to review social security provision and to do “everything possible” to bring an immediate end to the two child benefit cap. They are also urging the Government to consider the feasibility of introducing an “Essential Guarantee” which would tie the rate of benefits to the cost of essentials, measured through an independent process. The Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, supported the guarantee wholeheartedly, and said he had asked questions in Parliament about it. “It beggars belief but, for so many years, we’ve seen efforts to alleviate poverty not based on reality,” he said. Introducing the debate, the Archdeacon of Sheffield, the Ven Malcolm Chamberlain, told the Synod that the need for food banks was “nothing short of a scandal”. He quoted figures from the Trussell Trust charity that their food banks had distributed more than 3.1 million emergency food parcels during the year ending in March. He said this was the biggest number of parcels ever distributed in a single year – nearly double the number distributed five years ago with more than a million of these were to households with children. Church Times report here

European Jewish Congress says French far left alliance “serious cause for concern”

The European Jewish Congress says the success of the far-left alliance, the New Popular Front, in the French parliamentary elections “is a serious cause for concern”.   Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the largest group in the Alliance, France Unbowed (LFI), has faced allegations of underplaying antisemitism and playing into antisemitic stereotypes over many years – charges he denies. A spokesperson from the European Jewish Congress  told the Jewish Chronicle: “The decision of other left-wing parties to align with the LFI in these elections represents an abandonment of French Jews at a time when they are increasingly threatened by the far-left in the public sphere”. The article says that many French Jews “felt caught between two extremes, both of which have been accused of antisemitism”. The paper quotes Serge Klarsfeld, a Holocaust survivor and Nazi-hunter who had encouraged Jews to vote for the extreme right-wing National Rally party, led by Marine le Pen. “I would have no hesitation,” he said on French radio. “I would vote for the National Rally”.

New justice secretary backed by Jewish leaders despite settlements protest

Leading figures in the Jewish community have defended the record of the new Muslim Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Shabana Mahmood, after social media repeated criticism of events that happened ten years ago. Jewish News reports that stories have been recycled of a protest she took part in against the sale of goods from illegal settlements, which forced a branch of Sainsbury’s in Birmingham to close for several hours. She was also photographed carrying a Free Palestine placard at the time. As the MP for Birmingham Ladywood since 2010, her involvement in the protest was condemned by the Jewish Leadership Council. Her appointment into Starmer’s cabinet prompted renewed criticism on grassroots community social media groups. But Danny Stone, director of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, countered such criticism and wrote that Mahmood “has been kind, thoughtful, and supportive in all of my dealings with her, including on serious issues of conspiratorial antisemitism. She has been relentlessly abused and deserves some kindness”. He added that she has “taken direct action against antisemitism”. The chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, Mike Katz, also criticised the resurfacing of Mahmood’s decade old involvement with settlement boycott protests. He said the new cabinet minister “understands antisemitism and has taken action against it…. she’s shown enormous strength and resilience in the face of serious and personal attacks since 7 October simply because she is a senior Muslim Labour woman.”

Eleven Vietnamese Christians ‘disappeared’ in prison system

The Christian Post reports on the alleged disappearance of eleven Vietnamese Christians, sentenced to more than 90 years in prison for their religious activities and who are now “unaccounted for” in the country’s prison system. The group, arrested between 2011 and 2016, includes six Protestants and five Catholics. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has reported continuous violations in Vietnam, including the destruction of homes and expulsion of families to suppress Christian activities. The latest annual USCIRF report, released in May, states that religious freedom violations in Vietnam have persisted, with ongoing persecution of independent religious communities. It says the Communist government has been particularly aggressive The US-based International Christian Concern, says both religious groups lack official recognition from the authorities which they say frequently target faith groups under accusations of “undermining national unity policy.

Guardian investigation into Brethren schools in Australia

The Guardian has launched an investigation into a network of private schools in Australia set up by the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, where it’s claimed students are subject to near constant surveillance. In the latest of three reports, the paper says school-issued laptops are closely monitored by a rota of church members, and parents are watched by “device monitors” to ensure they are checking the internet use of their children. The schools network says there is “no involvement from any church” in the surveillance procedures.  Now known as the One School Global Network, the Brethren schools have 120 campuses across 20 countries teaching almost 10,000 children. In Australia, the schools operate in six states with 31 separate campuses serving their followers. The former prime minister Kevin Rudd once accused the Brethren of being an “extremist cult”. Former members say it separates itself from the world, not socialising with non-members and controlling the internet.  The group replies that it is a mainstream Christian church, its members work with people outside the church and the cult accusation is not factual.

Australian art exhibition removes Looney Tune Christian cartoons after protests

A painting in which Jesus and other biblical figures are portrayed with faces from Looney Tunes cartoon characters has been removed from an art exhibition in Sydney after protesters said it “mocked” Christianity, reports The Telegraph. The painting, Jesus Speaks to the Daughters of Jerusalem, by 48-year-old artist Phil James, was on display at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in western Sydney.  A group of conservative Catholics, “Christian Lives Matter”, strongly objected to the artwork, so much so that the mayor of the local council, Ned Mannoun, ordered that it be taken down. The council’s decision was criticised by John McDonald, the Sydney Morning Herald’s art critic. “It’s totally out of line,” he said. “There should not be a public safety issue about a satirical painting in an art exhibition in a public place. That’s completely ludicrous.” Charlie Bakhos from CLM said in a post on Facebook: “This is another attack on Christianity that we have managed to put a stop to thanks to everyone’s support. Let’s keep defending our faith respectfully. No faith, no religion, no race, no one should be mocked.”

King’s XI beats Vatican cricket team ‘whose vocation has been the priesthood

The Times reports on how the Vatican’s cricketers – officially known as the Vatican (St Peter’s) Cricket Team – have been on a tour of Britain, to promote friendship between the Catholic Church and the UK (and also to beat the host nation at their own sacred sport). As the team prepared to face the King’s XI, the Pope expressed his hope that the match might serve to “promote Christian unity”, an allusion to the King’s role as supreme governor of the Church of England. In his own message, the King said he was “delighted” that the two sides had “been brought together by a love of cricket”. The UK’s ambassador to the Holy See, Chris Trott, said the visit would help build diplomatic links as well as relations between the two churches. The Vatican team coach, Dane Kirby, an Australian layman based in Rome, said the priests and seminarians have the instincts for cricket, “but obviously their vocation from a young age has been the priesthood”. After a spell of rain “caused difficulties for the Vatican’s bowlers”, it was the King’s side — comprising members of his household — that triumphed in a tense 20-over match that came down to the last few balls. St Peter’s however did beat St Mary’s University in their previous match.


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