Displaying items by tag: Religion
On 25 March Parliament rose for Easter recess. Please pray that all our politicians may continue to serve their constituents and make decisions for our country, and that they will be refreshed over the Easter break. Please be praying in particular that they, as well as others across our nation, will be encouraged by the hope of the Easter story, amidst all the challenges of the last year. In this vein, Christians in Parliament have gathered together a group of Christian MPs and peers from across the political parties to share a message of renewed hope this Easter, through a recording of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Pray that this video will be a great comfort and encouragement to all who view it. The National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast on 25 June has Rt Revd Prof Tom Wright speaking on ‘Life after Covid: a renewed hope’.
The Diocese of London has partnered with the mental health text support service Shout 85258 to assist those experiencing mental health challenges. The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, has formally launched 'Neighbour'. Now, if anyone within the Diocese of London texts the word 'neighbour’ to 85258 any time of the day or night, they will be connected to a trained Shout volunteer who will chat by text and listen to them. They aim to help people think more clearly, enabling them to know what steps could be taken next to feeling better. It is a confidential service which can be used free on most mobile phone networks. While Shout is for anyone, to date 65% of those who have texted Shout 85258 are aged under 25; 7% are aged 13 or under.
On 22 March the European Union announced a number of sanctions on Eritrea’s national security office. This positive EU move should hardly be a surprise to the Eritrean government. It has faced sanctions for its human rights and religious freedom violations in the past, earning the nickname of ‘Africa’s North Korea’ for its systematic flaunting of international standards and its insular foreign policy. The recent sanctions target arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of persons, and torture committed by its agents. Eritrea has a well-documented history of treating its prisoners inhumanely and of targeting religious minorities for particularly harsh treatment. Me’eter Prison, the customary holding place for Eritrean prisoners of conscience, is notorious for its regular use of torture, for example to induce religious recantations. Prisoners are kept in metal shipping containers placed on the open desert floor.
Just one of the Christian prisoners in China is Pastor John Cao (60), serving a seven-year prison sentence for ‘organising illegal border crossings’ between China and Myanmar. He made many trips from America to his native China to establish schools and work among the poor before expanding his humanitarian work into Myanmar. He was detained in 2017 while returning to China from Myanmar and sentenced a year later. His defence lawyer and his mother asked prison authorities to deliver a Bible to him. They refused. His mother writes Bible verses in each letter she sends. Please ask God to bless Pastor John and keep his faith strong, and pray for healing from his various health problems. Pray that he will be released early. Pray for his witness to prisoners and guards, and that others would continue his ministry to the poor.
Government proposals to ban all forms of conversion therapy for LGBT people could ‘restrict individual freedom’ and ‘criminalise Christians and common church activities’, said Peter Lynas, director of the Evangelical Alliance. A public petition to make the practice illegal in the UK, which gained more than 250,000 signatures, was debated in the House of Commons last week. The equalities minister said that the Government was committed to outlawing the ‘abhorrent’ practice, and would shortly be bringing forward plans to do so. Mr Lynas argues that, while electro-shock treatment and corrective rape should be ended, the lack of a clear definition of conversion therapy by the Government was challenging: ‘Many lobbying for change are seeking an expansive definition that we could not support.’ Current proposals could restrict individual freedom and impinge on essential religious liberty, potentially criminalising Christians and common church activities.
As Church of England cathedrals and parishes prepare to mark the first anniversary of lockdown with a National Day of Reflection on 23 March, they released findings from a survey of over 2,000. Seven in ten wanted to attend a funeral but were unable to do so. 89% had not been able to say goodbye properly while 84% said they had not been able to fulfil the funeral wishes of the person who died. The majority of those surveyed said they believed the CofE should provide both outdoor and indoor spaces for quiet reflection and prayer for those coping with death, dying and grief. The chair of the Churches Funeral Group said, ‘The Day of Reflection will prompt us to remember and reflect on so much that’s happened in the past year. Nothing will be more poignant and heartfelt than our treasured memories of those who have died during the year.’
Concerns have been raised over new laws being proposed in Denmark to monitor all foreign- language sermons. Under the draft legislation, all sermons in languages other than Danish will have to be translated and submitted to the authorities for inspection. The Danish government says it wants to curb Islamic extremism, but a number of Christian denominations have warned that it poses a threat to religious freedom. Dr Albert Mohler, president of one of the largest evangelical Bible colleges in the USA, described the proposed law as something that was almost ‘unprecedented in modern church history’.
As the church’s global growth continues, leaders must disentangle its ‘health message’ from views on salvation. Many Seventh-day Adventists believe you must be vegan to be saved. While Adventists around the world have heeded their co-founder’s teachings on eating a plant-based diet, for some of them veganism has risen to a place next to godliness. Researchers found that many members in South Asia believe salvation is ensured two ways: through Jesus Christ (92%), and through giving up meat, animal products, alcohol, and tobacco (80%). Within the denomination’s East-Central Africa division - which has the second-most vegan or vegetarian members (42%) - 74% of members maintain that dietary choices contribute to salvation. Adherents in North America and Europe were far less likely to believe their healthy lifestyle contributes to salvation. While over half of Adventists in North American are vegetarian or vegan - more than any other region of the church - just 4% see the diet as necessary for salvation.
Archbishop Justin Welby has declined to comment on the claim that he officiated over Harry and Meghan's vows three days before their royal wedding at Windsor Castle. According to the Duchess of Sussex, the secret ceremony took place in the couple's garden with only Welby in attendance. The details were revealed in the couple's interview with Oprah Winfrey, which aired at the weekend. ‘You know, three days before our wedding, we got married’, Meghan explained. ‘We called the archbishop, and we just said, 'Look, this thing, this spectacle is for the world, but we want our union between us. ‘However, some have pointed out that the couple were not technically wedded at the alleged ceremony, as the CofE stipulates that weddings must take place in the presence of at least two witnesses. In addition, wedding ceremonies are not allowed to take place in outdoor venues such as gardens, though this limitation is under review.
There is refreshing news of Covid infections decreasing, and talk of a financial recovery as affluent households are ready to spend again. However, families on the very lowest incomes have been more impacted and will face even more hardships in 2021. The Body of Christ plays a vital role in ministering to those around us in distress and shining the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This challenge will be discussed at a free London City Mission webinar, ‘Hope for those in financial distress’, on 25 March. It will be a chance to put questions to a panel of missionaries and a training director. They will discuss how churches can build new connections with people, and opportunities to develop a culture of loving, committed gospel outreach.