Religion news 22 February

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Church plan for eight million people in substandard housing

A Church of England report on the housing crisis recommends that affordable housing should be built on church land to help solve the problem of eight million people living in overcrowded, unaffordable or unsuitable housing.  In addition, it recommends that its billion-pound property portfolio be used for environmental and social benefits, which would require changes to current legal frameworks. The report says there should be a cross party strategy to tackle the crisis and the church has already appointed a bishop for housing, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, to take action on the strategy.

Archbishop appeals for robust roadmap out of lockdown to tackle social issues

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the coronavirus pandemic has “stripped the paper off the cracks” in society, with education, housing and the health service is crisis. In an interview on Sky News, Justin Welby said it was important that the government’s roadmap for coming out of lockdown, which is due to be make public today, commands public confidence. The reopening of schools had probably been the most urgent thing right through the pandemic.

Evangelist Ravi Zacharias sex scandal sends shockwaves around the world

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, at the centre of a sex scandal after its founder was unveiled as a serial sex abuser, has suspended fundraising. Ravi Zacharias, who died last year, has been posthumously defrocked. Its affiliates have responded in shock. RZIM Canada said it will shut down, RZIM in Africa issued an apology, is pausing activities for three months, and called for an investigation into the governance of the international organisation. RZIM Zachariah Trust in the United Kingdom announced it will separate from RZIM’s global organization. Read our report on the impact on its centre in Oxford here

Orthodox Jewish leaders warn against social gatherings for the festival of Purim

The Jewish festival of Purim is celebrated on Thursday (25 February),  a joyous colourful occasion with costumes, parades and parties. Last year the festival was held two weeks before lockdown, but there was a spike in the number of Jewish deaths immediately afterwards, and as the year progressed almost two-thirds of Orthodox Jews in Stamford Hill, north London, were infected. This year, rabbinical  leadership of the ultra Orthodox Jews in north London has issued guidance  which will be displayed in posters and distributed on social media, pleading with people to stay at home. The chief rabbi has also suggested giving traditional gifts of food to family and friends by leaving parcels on doorsteps and stepping back to a safe distance.

Cremation of Muslims in Sri Lanka continuing

Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, is due to visit Sri Lanka tomorrow and is being urged to raise the issue of the enforced cremation of those who have died of Covid-19. This has offended Muslims, as the religion requires burial. The government promised to stop the practice on 11 February but it is continuing, with the explanation that the matter has to go before a technical committee for approval.

British attitudes to church soften in the pandemic

The way churches have reacted in the pandemic has improved their perception among non-Christians, a poll has found. One in four people who do not identify as Christian believe churches are making a positive difference in the world, compared with 19 per cent three years ago. The poll by Savanta ComRes, was commissioned by World Vision and YourNeighbour, a network of 1,100 churches from more than 40 denominations, acting together to provide frontline support in the pandemic. Read our story here

Mosaic campaign launches to represent marginalised Anglicans

A coalition “Mosaic” has been set up to bring together campaigns for an inclusive Anglican church. It includes a range of marginalised groups within the church around issues of race, ability, sexuality and gender. It has conveners in 23 dioceses whose aim is to give voice to the silent majority

Controversial conservative cardinal resigns

 Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Robert Sarah as head of the Vatican office for liturgy. Known for conservative views, in contrast to the Pope, he once said of migrants that the west was opening its doors to new barbaric civilisations, and that abortion and homosexuality were apocalyptic beasts. His traditional views on liturgy also put him at odds with the Pope. He was reprimanded for suggesting priests start mass with their backs to the congregation, and for being slow to draw up plans for women to take part in ritual foot-washing on Holy Thursday.