Religion News 15 July

Pic: The Guardian

Bristol Black Lives Matter statue replaces Edward Colston

In Bristol, early this morning, a statue of a black lives matter protester Jen Reid, was placed on the plinth where the statue of slave trader Edward Colston had stood until it was toppled last month. Titled ‘A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020’ by artist Marc Quinn, it was erected in a 15 minute operation at dawn, without official permission, surprising the authorities. Jen Reid, a stylist who had attended the demonstrations in Bristol,  stood in front of the statue with her fist in the air, was photographed by the Guardian and Press Association and said: “Being up there, with my fist raised – it was an amazing moment, and this captures it.” Statues and windows in memory of slave traders in Bristol, have been removed by churches. The Bishop of Bristol Vivienne Faull said the city should repent of the “evils of our slave trading past”.

UK to play “leading role” in Freedom of Religion and Belief

The Bishop of Truro Philip Mounstephen, who is to chair the newly former UK Freedom of Religion and Belief Forum (FoRB) says he will work with representatives of faith communities and religious freedom charities “to ensure the UK plays a leading role in global efforts to advance religious freedom or belief around the world”.  In an interview with the Religion Media Centre, he said the UK stance against worldwide persecution of faiths is long overdue and he hopes it will enable the problem to be faced down and not overlooked. The Forum was created after a report initiated by the then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, but it will be an organisation independent of the government.

Christian campaign group welcomes Facebook ban on conversion therapy

Campaigners against ‘conversion therapy’, which aims to change a person’s sexuality or gender, have welcomed a decision by Instagram and Facebook that it will block its promotion on their platforms. They are now urging the UK government to act on a promise made two years ago, that it would ban the practice in this country. Jayne Ozanne, who is gay, evangelical and a prominent member of the Church of England, started a foundation to end discrimination based on sexuality or gender, and welcomed the move: “The international community is clear – conversion therapy is torture and it must be banned.  Every day that the UK government procrastinates we put more young people’s lives at risk, which is completely unacceptable. I am grateful that the Bishop of Newcastle urged Synod to note that it has now been two years since the government announced  its intentions.  For those whose lives are being severely impacted this ban won’t come soon enough”. The decision follows Facebook’s action in removing posts from The Core Issues Trust approach, a Christian group in Belfast which supports people who “voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression”. Facebook said: “We don’t allow attacks against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and are updating our policies to ban the promotion of conversion therapy services.”


Millenials stop attending virtual church

A survey of churchgoers in America suggests that a third of practising Christians have not been engaging with online church services since the start of lockdown. And more than half of millennials (born 1981-96) surveyed,  said they had stopped attending virtual church services altogether.  Older worshippers born between 1946-81 also said they stepped back from church when it shifted online. The report from Barna research interviewed 1000 people in April and May. It suggests that younger people fell away from church because they have a “tenuous relationship with institutions”. The results fly in the face of other research in this country, which has suggested that more people take part in virtual services that usually enter a church building.

Tunisia blogger failed for Facebook post in style of Koran

A Tunisian court has sentenced blogger Emna Chargui to six months in prison and a $700 fine for reposting a Facebook joke about the coronavirus written as if it was a Koranic verse. Reuters reports that the sentence was on charges of inciting hate between religions and races. Chargui, aged 27, is now appealing against the ruling and said: “This is unfair and unjust … this proves that there is no freedom here,”

Hagia Sophia – rectifying a mistake

The president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has defended the decision to return the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul into a mosque. The internationally renowned building began as a Christian Cathedral in the year 537, became a mosque in 1483 and a museum in 1934 when Turkey became a republic. In a televised address, President Erdogan said: “We are rectifying a mistake. It’s as simple as that”. But the move has caused widespread condemnation from the Pope, the EU, the United States, Greece, and Orthodox Christian leaders.  The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “With this setback, Turkey is choosing to sever ties with the Western world and its values. It abandons a cultural direction of many centuries, preferring introversion. And it wraps with an artificial mantle of strength over its weakness.”
The Presidents of Churches Together in England, have issued a statement saying they are “saddened” at the decision. “For a long period of time Hagia Sophia has been a unique centre symbolising a co-existence of people of faith. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, as a place where the rich history of Istanbul is told visually, can be a living example of religious tolerance and respect. The decision to alter the status quo in this way is a powerful, symbolic change that is lamentable and painful for many people of faith the world over.”  UNESCO says it is reviewing the status of the site following the decision to turn it back into a mosque.