Religion news 17 August

Image credit: Christian Today

Calls for an apology to students for “A-level mess

 Steve Chalke, the Baptist minister and founder of Oasis Trust which runs 52 schools in England, has called on the government to apologise for the “A-level mess” and promise a serious consultation about how to put it right. Students did not sit A level exams in the summer because of coronavirus, so their grades were assessed by teachers but then ‘standardised’ by the regulator using an algorithm, which resulted in downgrades especially for children from disadvantaged schools.  In a series of tweets, he said: “If this doesn’t shine a light on prejudice and inequality what does?” He has also called for a rethink of the forthcoming GCSE results, before they are announced. He says children should get back into school from September has called for the government to produce immediately “a proper national strategy for full time education from next month”.  

Pope seeks justice and dialogue in Belarus

The Pope has called for respect, justice and dialogue in Belarus, which has witnessed days of violent clashes and demonstrations following the re-election of its president Alexander Lukashenko. 6,700 people have been arrested in protests and police have been accused of using excessive violence in response. Belarus is 48% Eastern Orthodox and 7% Catholic.

Interim compensation scheme for Church of England abuse victims

Dr Jonathan Gibbs, Bishop of Huddersfield and lead Church of England bishop on safeguarding, says the church’s systems have failed the survivors of sexual abuse in the church. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse took evidence about sex abuse in the Church of England and is due to issue its report soon. The Bishop told the Sunday programme on Radio 4, that there is always resistance to change in large organisations, but he welcomed an open letter which criticised the church’s response. He said it would help bring about root and branch change to respond to survivors, deal with complaints and change the culture of the church. He told the BBC that he and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby were deeply frustrated that change was so slow. He agreed that not enough has been done about compensation and he would like to see an interim compensation scheme, as the full redress scheme would take time to set up.  

Reform Judaism welcomes Israel / UAE deal

Reform Judaism has welcomed the news that Israel and the United Arab Emirates are to normalise relations. It says: “We pray daily for peace in the Middle East and between Israel and her neighbours – we are delighted to see any small step towards this hope. Having open relations and working together is a vital first step to building the foundations of a peaceful relationship: understanding and trust. We are also glad to hear that Israel has stepped back from the immediate annexation of the West Bank. Reform Judaism believes that the only viable path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is through two secure and stable states able to live side-by-side. Unilateral steps such as annexation would only harm the possibility of making this a reality. Whilst the halt to annexation is welcome, it alone is not enough. This news does nothing to change the on-the-ground reality of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. We continue to support Israelis and Palestinians who are striving to end this status quo and lay the groundwork for a peaceful resolution to this conflict at long last.”

Founder of Sojourner magazine forced to resign after 49 years

Jim Wallis, the founder of the American progressive Christian magazine ‘Sojourners’ has been replaced as editor in chief following a row over a story about white supremacists. He had removed an essay criticizing white supremacists within the Catholic Church, which led two members of staff resigning. The Religion News Service says he had served as editor since 1971 and will continue as president of the Sojourners organization. The row was over an essay by Eric Martin, “The Catholic Church has a Visible White-Power Faction.” Wallis removed the article and defended his decision in editorials, saying it “made unwarranted insinuations and allegations against many Catholics.” The article has now been restored to the site. Jim Wallis has since said he has “never felt such agonizing pain over any editorial decision in my 49 years here.” The decision to remove the article was wrong, he said, and had “damaged our journalistic integrity, betrayed the trust of our authors, and undermined our editorial team”.

Singing in church again

Choirs and worship groups were allowed to sing in church for the first time this weekend. The government relaxed its guidelines  for places of worship, alongside rules to allow indoor theatres, bowling alleys and music venues to re-open with restrictions. It allows small groups of professional or non-professional singers to sing in front of worshippers outdoors and indoors. Congregations are still not allowed to sing because of the risk of spreading coronavirus.