Religion News 10 July

New Archbishop of York confirmed over zoom

Stephen Cottrell was formally confirmed as the new Archbishop of York in a zoom call, an anti-climactic event replacing the usual pomp and ceremony of a massive service in York Minster. During the virtual service, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said this ministry – the second highest office in the Church of England – was centred in the north of England “with global reach”. Being in the Church of England “brings baggage”, he said. “We find saints and slave traders, the proud with the humble servant of the people. They are part of us, of our inheritance, to be reformed, repented of and imitated”.  In an interview with PA Media after the ceremony, Stephen Cottrell said: “I suppose I’m not going to apologise for being a bit of an idealist. I think we can build a better world, a fairer world, a more just world, a world where status and privilege don’t count so much, where everybody has an equal opportunity.”

Places of worship a ‘strategic priority’ for funding

The government needs to help places of worship hit financially by Covid-19, according to an influential peer who says the role of religion is crucial in the post-pandemic world.  Lord Black of Brentwood, a Conservative, raised the loss of church income in a House of Lords debate, calling on the government to make the issue a “strategic priority”. Coronavirus restrictions have dealt a bitter blow to the balance sheets of religious groups that receive little or no state funding with some churches and mosques fighting for survival. During the debate, the Lords were told that Westminster Abbey will have a £12m shortfall this year, and £9m the next. In an interview with the Religion Media Centre,  Lord Black said:  “Churches are the places, of course, where we go to pray but they are places also of quiet reflection where we can gather. People are really going to want that as we move out of this terrible emergency.” Full story here

Hateful extremists exploiting the pandemic

The Commission for Countering Extremism says “hateful extremists” are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to sow division in society, in the UK and around the world.  In a report published yesterday, it says it has heard of British Far Right activists and Neo-Nazi groups encouraging users to deliberately infect groups, including Jewish communities; Islamists claiming that COVID-19 is divine punishment on the West for their alleged ‘degeneracy’; Islamists claiming COVID-19 is punishment on China for their treatment of Uighurs Muslims; and conspiracy theories that the virus is part of a Jewish plot or 5G is to blame. Fake news on social media is whipping up hatred alongside anti-immigrant and populist messages. The Commission is now charting this phenomenon to understand it and develop a more effective response.  It says the Government should always include clear plans to counter and prevent extremism as part of its response to this and future crises.

Places of worship in Scotland re-open next week

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has told the Scottish parliament that places of worship can re-open for communal prayer, congregational services and contemplation from Wednesday 15 July. Restrictions include a limit on numbers and collecting contact details of worshippers.  Church leaders welcomed the news, saying it would bring spiritual and mental-health benefits, with the absence of mass “a source of real sadness”.

GLOBAL

Millions for controversial American groups

An investigation by the Guardian says more than 10,600 religious organizations in America, including controversial and wealthy groups,  have taken advantage of the coronavirus payment protection programme, amounting to at least $3 billion.  They include churches, synagogues, temples, private religious schools, televangelist organisations and a sect. Information released by the Small Businesses Association, which is overseeing the distribution of loans, says 19 organisations including seven affiliated to the Roman Catholic church,  ‘Life.Church’ and the wealthy ‘Joyce Meyer Ministries’ received the highest loans – between $5m and $10m. Aid also went to organisations headed by controversial televangelists Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Peter Popoff.

California teachers are ministers

The United States Supreme Court has said teachers in religious schools are exempt from employment law because they are regarded as fulfilling a religious function. The Catholic News Agency reports that two California Catholic schools did not renew the contracts of two teachers in 2014 and 2015. In separate cases combined by the Supreme Court, the teachers alleged that their dismissals were based on disability and age, not poor performance. The schools claimed they were exempt from employment discrimination laws under the “ministerial exception”, the legal doctrine under which the government cannot interfere in the employment decisions of churches and religious institutions. The court concluded that “when a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.”