Religion news 4 March 2024

PM’s speech on forces tearing apart multi-faith Britain meets mixed response

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s speech on the steps of Downing Street, that there are forces trying to undermine and tear apart Britain, “the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi faith democracy”, have met a mixed response. He spoke hours after George Galloway won the Rochdale by-election, following a week of turmoil in the Conservative party when Lee Anderson was sacked for saying Sadiq Khan was controlled by Islamists, and chaos in the Commons over a vote on Gaza, with the Speaker saying MPs had received death threats. The PM said the pro-Palestine protests had descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence, and now “our democracy itself is a target”, but he said Britain is a country of kind, decent, tolerant people. 

Sir Keir Starmer: “The Prime Minister is right to advocate unity and to condemn the unacceptable and intimidatory behaviour that we have seen recently. It is an important task of leadership to defend our values and the common bonds that hold us together.”

The Community Security Trust which protects Jewish communities, said: “Over the past few weeks we have seen the extremism on our streets penetrate our politics. Now it has entered Parliament. We know, as the Prime Minister does, that nothing is likely to change without firm action from his Government and the authorities. We look forward to learning what measures will be introduced”.

The Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti, interviewed by Sky News:  “In a liberal democracy, we don’t have prime ministers interfering with operational policing. It’s also a bit of a cheek for the prime minister to be talking about these things when so many of his ministers and senior Conservatives have been pouring fuel on the flames of polarisation, on culture war division in our country.”

Green MP Caroline Lucas said she was reeling from a shameless, dangerous speech: “He dared to criticise others for being divisive and separating Muslims from the rest of society, having spent the past few weeks failing to call out and condemn Islamophobia within the ranks of his own party”.

Campaign urges all Muslims to vote as one in general election

A new campaign “The Muslim Vote”, backed by 25 Muslim organisations, has been launched to persuade Muslims to vote for a candidate in the general election who can commit to three pledges: Peace in Palestine – ceasefire, sanction Israel, and a state for the Palestinians; Discrimination Ended: root out Islamophobia and discrimination across healthcare, education, political, media, employment and justice systems; and Investment to end Inequities: substantial increase in funding and investment for the NHS, local businesses, home building and home ownership in the 10 per cent poorest constituencies in the UK. The movement’s website gives details of all constituencies where the voting population is more than ten per cent Muslim, and lists which MPs voted against an immediate ceasefire in Gaza on 15 November 2023. It offers help in questioning candidates on their stand and advice on which candidate to back. Among the organisations endorsing this campaign are the Muslim Councils of Wales and Scotland, MEND – Muslim engagement and development, the Islam Channel, Muslim Census and the Muslim Association of Britain. The name or organising group behind the movement is not stated, but a statement on the website says: “Ultimately success is that the Muslim vote acts as one and emphatically supports those MPs who backed the ceasefire and protests against those who did not”.

Understanding British Jews’ deep connection to Israel

The close links between the British Jewish community, its cultural identity and Israel are explained in an article on our website here. Reporting conversations with many community leaders, the article explains that for most British Jews, Israel forms an important, even central part of their Jewishness, because of its deep theological significance and as a haven of safety. Among the quotes: “Even though they may be enraged by it, or despair at the direction it has taken, they are deeply connected to it”. The article is here

Survey finds best faith and belief friendly workplaces in the UK

A new way of identifying UK businesses that are “faith and belief friendly workplaces” has found that Rolls Royce and Baringa Partners LLP take the first prize. The top group also includes the BT Group, Schroders, Whitbread, HSBC, Thames Water, Ocado Group, Phoenix, Anglo American, United Utilities and St. James Place. The businesses were assessed using a new REDI (Religious, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) index, promoted by the US based Religious Freedom and Business Foundation led by Brian Grim. The REDI index looks at a number of indicators including the place of religion in diversity initiatives, sponsorship of active faith and belief employee resource groups, provision of access to spiritual care, accommodating the religious needs of employees and having clear procedures for reporting discrimination. This was the first year to monitor the FTSE 100 and the first study of its kind in the UK. 79 per cent of FTSE 100 companies make some reference to religion on their main diversity pages, compared to 73 per cent in the United States. Full survey results here

Multi Brit award winner Raye credits Christian faith for her love of music

The pop singer Raye, who made history by winning six Brit awards at a ceremony this weekend, has given an interview to the BBC about the way her music is rooted in her Christian faith. She is managed by her father, the music director at a local Pentecostal church where her mother is in the choir. She has explained how she has always been surrounded by music and her father showed her from an early age how to play worship songs on the piano. She has dealt with anxiety and drug addiction and says her Christian faith rescued her: “There’s a lot of demons trying to claw at you and drag you to somewhere you don’t belong, so I’m really grateful I have this faith. It’s honestly pulled me out of a really dark place.” She is a prolific composer as well as a singer, and has written songs which have been hits for many other artists. Her six Brit awards were for: song of the year, best new artist, British album of the year, British artist of the year, songwriter of the year, R&B act.

Rowan Williams supports clergy in row over wedding photography

The Times reports that a petition has been signed by 900 photographers complaining about the behaviour of clergy towards them during wedding services. They said some clergymen and women were making it impossible for them to take pictures inside churches because of their “rude, humiliating, aggressive and abusive behaviour”. In a video shared on social media, one US clergyman stopped mid ceremony and refused to continue until the photographer stopped shooting. Now the Times reports that the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has entered the fray, saying that couples’ demands for the perfect shot can lead to simmering tensions during services. Asking for a photographer to behave was “not unreasonable”. Story is here


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