Religion news 25 August

Image credit: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

American evangelical Jerry Falwell resigns after sex scandal

Jerry Falwell Jr, a prominent American evangelical Christian leader and son of a wealthy televangelist, has resigned from Liberty University following a sensational story of lust and voyeurism. His former business partner, Giancarlo Granda, claimed he had a six year sexual relationship with Falwell’s wife, Becki, and Falwell had looked on. Granda gave the story to Reuters news agency and hours later, Falwell issued a statement to the Washington Examiner, saying the story of the affair was true, but he was not involved and Granda was trying to blackmail him – which Granda denies. Falwell, a strong supporter of President Trump, was suspended earlier this month from his role as President of the conservative evangelical Liberty University founded by his father, after photos emerged of him with his arm round the waist of a young woman, while his flies were undone.  Last night, the Religion News Service got the story that he had resigned.

One in four worship online in the UK

One in four people in the UK have engaged in some form of online worship since lockdown began, according to researchers at Durham University. The study, conducted with Savanta ComRes, found that 26% of respondents in July and 29% in August said they had engaged in worship online at least once a month – usually the figure is 1:10. Interestingly, the research also indicates that up to 30% of churchgoers have not switched to online worship. The survey also suggests that London is the top city for engagement with faith-related activities. Rev Dr Peter Phillips, Director of the Centre for Digital Theology at Durham University, said this trend has been analysed before, but the survey confirms it, showing up to 50% engaging in online worship every week in London. The survey also suggests that half of all 18-34 year olds regularly pray or worship. Full press release here. Dr Peter Phillips

Roman Catholic Archbishop objects to foetus cells used in vaccines

In Australia, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, has called on the government to fund an ethical coronavirus vaccine not derived from the cells of aborted children. The Catholic News Agency reports that he wrote an open letter saying this would raise serious issues of conscience. Some vaccines use the cell-line HEK-293, cultured from an electively aborted human foetus. The Archbishop said he was a strong advocate of vaccines as long as they were safe and ethically obtained, adding that he did not think it would be unethical to use this vaccine if there was no alternative available. The government said vaccine researchers abide by ethical guidelines.  

Islamic Relief has entirely new board

Islamic Relief, Britain’s biggest Muslim charity, has appointed an entirely new board after the previous members resigned en masse. The former leadership of Islamic Relief Worldwide stepped down on Saturday after reports emerged of antisemitism and the glorification of terrorism. An investigation by The Times revealed that the charity’s director Heshmat Khalifa was forced to step down after calling Israelis the “grandchildren of monkeys and pigs”. He was replaced by Almoutaz Tayara, the chairman of Islamic Relief Germany, who it emerges, had previously taken to Facebook to praise the leaders of the militant Palestinian organisation, Hamas. In a statement, the new set of  trustees said action had been taken quickly once the posts became known, and reiterated its apology for any offence caused. The new trustees are Dr Ihab Saad – Chair (USA), Lamia El Amri – Vice Chair (Sweden), Dr Nora Amath- Secretary (Australia) and Nurhayati Hassan- Treasurer (Malaysia). Islamic Relief had an annual income of £128million in 2018. Launched in 1984, it works to relieve poverty and hunger in more than 40 countries, with partner organisations. Full story here.

Cow yoga in Lancashire

And finally, Lancashire Farm Dairies, which produces natural yoghurt has apologised for holding a cow yoga session at their Leyland farm, after Hindus said it trivialized their faith. Rajan Zed, President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, based in Nevada, said the cow was regarded as embodying many deities, and is sacred and venerated in his faith. Real yogis, he said, should not attend such events. A spokesman for Lancashire Farm Dairies apologised for any offence and said this was not the intent, promising there would be no repeat.