The WCC says drones pose a “serious threats to humanity” while setting “dangerous precedents in inter-state relations”.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) Executive Committee has condemned the use of drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) saying that they pose “serious threats to humanity” and the “right to life” while setting “dangerous precedents in inter-state relations”.
These concerns were expressed by the WCC in a statement issued by its Executive Committee on 12 February 2014, when the committee was meeting in Bossey, Switzerland.
The statement adds that UAV technology is permitting countries like the “United States of America, Israel, Russia and the United Kingdom, to move towards systems that would give full combat autonomy to machines.”
The statement calls governments to “respect and recognise the duty to protect the right to life of their subjects and oppose the violation of human rights”.
“The use of UAVs, first made operational in the Balkans war, has subsequently escalated in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia and most recently in Pakistan.”
The WCC executive calls the international community to “oppose the unlawful policies and practices, particularly of US drone strikes in Pakistan”.
The statement urges the “US government to ensure justice for victims of unlawful drone strikes, including family members of the victims of unlawful killings” and to provide effective access to remedies, especially restitution, compensation to families of civilians killed or injured and adequate protection for their rehabilitation.
* Read the full text of the WCC statement on the use of drones: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/executive-committee/gene...
The response of the Department of Work and Pensions to Archbishop Vincent Nichol's criticism of welfare reform has come under fire from the Free Churches.
The response of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to Archbishop Vincent Nichol's criticism of welfare reform has come under fire from the Free Churches.
The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church say that the DWP's response to the Archbishop is misleading and only shows a carefully selected 'airbrushed' picture of UK welfare reform.
The DWP's failures in professional standards have been raised by a wide range of people recently, including the Christian think-tank Ekklesia.
The DWP has stated that 3 million households will be better off because of Universal Credit, but it neglects to mention that its own figures also state that over the long term 2.8 million families will be worse off under the new system. Universal Credit is only one part of the welfare reform programme. Analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows conclusively that, taken together, the raft of tax and benefit changes that make up welfare reform will increase the levels of both child and working age poverty.
"The DWP's response to the Archbishop's criticism is seriously misleading and disappointing," said Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser and author of The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty.
"The DWP states that Universal Credit will lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty. However, the other changes that are part of welfare reform are likely to push these children straight back down again. Indeed, welfare reform is the driving force behind the predicted increases in both relative and absolute poverty in families with children over the next decade.
"People are entitled to take different views on the merits of welfare reform, but they should be given a clear and fair picture of the reality. The British public deserve better than the diet of half-truths and skewed statistics they are currently being fed."
* DWP: public servant or propaganda vehicle? http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20051
* More on benefit and welfare issues from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/benefits
Amnesty has expressed concern that the Catholic Church body auditing internal child protection practice in Northern Ireland is having its work undermined and its funding cut.
Amnesty International has expressed concern at claims by the former head of the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church (NBSCCC) in Ireland that the Catholic Church body which audits internal child protection practice is having its work undermined and its funding cut.
The claims were made in a Sunday newspaper by Ian Elliott, NBSCCC chief executive for six years until last summer. He said religious bodies were undermining the work of the NBSCCC by consistently cutting its funding. He added he believed efforts had been made to curtail further probes of dioceses, missionary organisations and religious orders by starving investigators of resources.
Mr Elliott reportedly said he could "see no justification" for this "other than a desire to limit the role of the board by covert means". Mr Elliott was also critical of the insistence by Church authorities that the board must be invited in to Catholic bodies to conduct investigations.
"A review process that relies solely on consent being given by the reviewee is vulnerable at any time to someone withdrawing from it for the wrong reasons," he said. "Ideally the board should be given the authority to require access where they believe circumstances warrant it."
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International Programme Director for Northern Ireland, said: "From NSBCCC reports we know something of the horror of abuse suffered by children in Northern Ireland and the way the Church hierarchy permitted it.
“Any curtailment of its ability to protect children should be a matter of profound concern.
“But we need to be clear that this is an arm of the Catholic Church essentially investigating itself. It is not fit for the purpose of getting to the truth in this long and vile practice.
“It’s absurd that a body looking into such a grave and widespread matter should be reliant on Church patronage for access and funding.
"Church-approved reviews are absolutely no substitute for a proper, independent investigation into clerical child sex abuse throughout Northern Ireland.
"We know the abuse happened in Northern Ireland over many years and over many parishes – but only a proper State-instituted inquiry will tell us the extent of the abuse and help bring to account those responsible.
"That’s what abuse survivors want. And that’s what they have got in the Republic of Ireland, why not in Northern Ireland?
“It is up to the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver an independent and thorough inquiry into allegations of clerical abuse so that funding and independence are not in question.”
In May 2013, Amnesty published a research briefing into clerical child sex abuse in Northern Ireland, and launched a campaign with victims for independent and effective investigations into the alleged abuse. However, despite bringing abuse victims to meet Ministers at Stormont Castle last June and repeated follow-up letters, Amnesty has still received no commitment from the Executive to carry out any investigation.
Last summer the UN’s Committee Against Torture expressed regret that the Northern Ireland Executive had failed to establish an inquiry into clerical child sex abuse.
The tone of the Church of England's House of Bishop's 'Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage' is cold and legalistic, says Savi Hensman. She argues that it is in contrast to the more welcoming attitude of General Synod and that putting it into practice may prove harder than anticipated.
There has been widespread hurt and anger at ‘Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage’ from the Church of England’s House of Bishops, dated 15 February. This is cold and legalistic in tone, in contrast to the more welcoming attitude to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people at general synod earlier that week.
However putting it into practice may prove harder than anticipated.
The bishops’ approach and the current position
The bishops’ guidance (a letter and appendix) begins by stating, “We write as fellow disciples of Jesus Christ who are called to love one another as Christ has loved us. Our vocation as disciples of Christ in God’s world is to hold out the offer of life in all its fullness. God delights always to give good gifts to his children.” However the effect is rather the opposite.
It spells out, at length, that only heterosexual couples can be validly married in church even after equal marriage takes effect – a painful reminder for some parishioners that they or their close relatives are excluded from what others take for granted.
Indeed it states that “The Lambeth Conference of 1998 said 'in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage'”, which “remains the declared position of the Anglican Communion.” This is confusing since the Church of England allows remarriage of divorced persons.
More positively, the guidance recognises that not all agree, and advises that married lay people and their children should be welcomed by local Christian communities and not barred from the sacraments. Priests will be able, if they wish, to offer “prayer” but not services of “blessing” for couples entering a committed partnership.
Clergy however will be forbidden to get married to partners of the same sex, and those in such marriages will not be considered for ordination, since they are supposed “to model the Church's teaching in their lives.” The guidance mentions that “At ordination clergy make a declaration that they will endeavour to fashion their own life and that of their household 'according to the way of Christ' that they may be 'a pattern and example to Christ's people'.”
Enforced celibacy for clergy for whom this is not part of their calling often works very badly, as the experience of the Roman Catholic Church demonstrates. Many gay and lesbian ordinands and clerics end up wrestling with frustration and loneliness, having occasional casual sex or living with a ‘lodger’ who is in fact their lover. Some are in civil partnerships, though even these are supposed to avoid having sex, and many dioceses operate a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.
For lay people, the experience varies from one parish to another. Many congregations, though not all, are accepting. However the church’s public image makes it appear unattractive to people who might be drawn to Christ but fear being rejected or regard exclusion as morally unacceptable.
Bishops who uphold the ‘party line’ in public may take a different stance in private, and a few are gay themselves. However the human cost of the official policy in sadness, stress and subterfuge is seldom acknowledged.
The bishops, in this guidance, appear to have been trying to placate those Anglicans most strongly opposed to same-sex partnerships, including senior clergy in certain provinces who back laws allowing their LGBT members to be jailed and make public statements that could inflame violence. But the guidance is harming the church’s mission and ministry and will prove difficult to enforce, since the bishops seem to have underestimated both the value and power of love.
Grace and transformation
24 Hours in A&E is a Channel 4 documentary series set in the busy emergency department of King’s College Hospital emergency department. A recent episode movingly depicted the relationship between a patient and his partner.
Viewers learnt that, after a grim childhood, he had become a violent criminal, spending most of his adult life in prison. But her love had enabled him to give up a life of crime and become a responsible, caring member of the community. Christians might perceive that the love they shared had become a vehicle of divine grace.
Feeling desire and falling in love can take selfish forms. Yet, in addition to offering joy and relief, these can lead to committed relationships of mutual self-giving which transform lives for the better. The love which couples have for each other can overflow to those around them – children or others for whom they care, members of the community and those in need. This is true of same-sex as well as opposite-sex relationships.
Of course friendship and other kinds of love can also be hugely important. But, for many people, marital or similar relationships are a crucial part of their spiritual growth, enabling them to understand and respond more profoundly to the tenderness and trustworthiness of God’s love, so that they may experience life in all its fullness.
Some Christians still hold the view that it is always wrong for same-sex couples to enter into such partnerships. But many now disagree, from biblical scholars and other theologians to ordinary churchgoers. Instead, they believe that the same standards should be expected of LGBT and heterosexual people.
While it can be difficult for some LGBT people to come out of the closet because of personal circumstances, many now wish to pledge their commitment to their partner publicly, seek the community’s support and thank and entrust their future to God. Already some clergy offer services of thanksgiving, and the demand is likely to increase as equal marriage takes effect.
In addition, a number of clergy who are LGBT themselves are likely to marry, feeling that this is the most loving and truthful course of action. Parishioners who love their priest will often rejoice that he or she is no longer lonely but has found a soul-mate who can help him or her cope with the stresses of ministry without getting burnt out; or, if in a civil partnership before, that the depth and meaning of the relationship is being more fully affirmed.
Christian parents who love their children, LGBT as well as heterosexual, will often be delighted if they meet someone special with whom they may enter into a lifelong partnership of discipline and sacrifice but also joy. They may be keen for their children to have the opportunity to be married in church or, if this is impossible, offered an appropriate form of service to mark what might be the most momentous day of their life. The first paragraph of the bishops’ letter rightly states that “God delights always to give good gifts to his children”; and perhaps the Heavenly Father shares the joy of earthly parents on such occasions.
If bishops try to discipline clergy for getting married to someone of the same sex, or for offering what is deemed to be a ‘service of blessing’ rather than just ‘prayer’, they may spark off something of a revolt by indignant parishioners. This could prove intensely embarrassing.
Meanwhile the church may find itself struggling with a shortage of suitable candidates for ordination, while people with a vocation to priesthood are turned away.
Fear and love
“We all know that perfect love casts out fear. We know it although we don’t often apply it. We mostly know that perfect fear casts out love,” said Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at General Synod, calling for “gracious reconciliation” in a church that is sometimes untidy and inconsistent.
The bishops are understandably afraid of schism by the most vocal opponents of greater inclusion, and so have issued a document which comes across as unloving to many LGBT people and their friends, even if that was not the intention. For a number of years, such fears have played an important part in shaping church policy. Meanwhile numerous LGBT clergy and laypeople have faithfully served a church whose leadership appeared to pay little attention to their joys and longings.
However, the writers of this guidance seem to have underestimated the risks involved in further alienating those who believe that love requires a more inclusive stance. A different approach by the bishops that recognises diverse views and respects conscientious decisions, whether to celebrate or refrain from celebrating partnerships, would do more to promote gracious reconciliation and witness to God’s love for all.
© Savitri Hensman is a regular Christian commentator on politics, economics, society, welfare, sexuality, theology and religion. She is an Ekklesia associate and works in the equality and care sector.
Same-sex marriage will be made legal in England and Wales in March. However, Church of England bishops have issued guidance widely condemned as harsh and unjust.
Same-sex couples in England and Wales will be able to get legally married from the end of March. In response, Church of England diocesan bishops have issued guidance which has been widely condemned as harsh and unjust.
The House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage was published on 15 February, a few days after General Synod received the Pilling report, by a working party on sexuality. However the tone was very different.
The guidance warned clergy that they must not marry same-sex partners. Married lay people however would not be barred from sacraments, and clergy who wished to could offer prayers but not services of blessing for those entering committed partnerships.
There was widespread hurt and anger. Critics of the guidance included the LGB&TI Anglican Coalition, which brings together Accepting Evangelicals, Changing Attitude, the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians, Inclusive Church, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the Sibyls and the Two:23 Network.
“The new guidance emphasises the well?known fact that same?sex couples will not be able to marry in Church of England churches even when equal marriage takes effect. Furthermore, despite the recommendation of the Pilling Report, the prohibition on blessing same?sex couples is reinforced. While these iron exclusions are in place it is simply ludicrous to speak of the Church ‘Welcoming’ lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGB&TI) people, or to pretend that this statement is in any sense ‘pastoral’,” according to a Coalition statement.
It continued, “The guidance also excludes people married to members of the same sex from ordination, and forbids LGBT clergy to marry same?sex partners. This is cruel and unjust to clergy who have faithfully served the church, hitherto with the full knowledge and support of their bishops, and it will impoverish the ministry by driving away LGB&TI ordinands. Only those who are prepared to lie will remain.”
The statement’s position was described as being “partly or even mainly driven by fears about the unity of the Anglican Communion... In some large African provinces which are threatening to secede over this issue the Anglican Church helps supply the theology which backs the violent persecution of LGB&TI people. We believe that it is simply immoral for the Church of England to appease these provinces by sacrificing the rights and freedoms of LGB&TI people in this country or any other, or to place the cause of institutional unity above the cause of justice and humanity.”
The Coalition urged that the guidance be withdrawn.
The Rev Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said that “it is a pity that the House of Bishops letter takes such a negative stance, fails to show appreciation for the ministry of LGB&T clergy and seems unaware of the powerful theological and pastoral arguments put forward in recent decades for celebrating committed loving relationships, including marriage.”
Others have criticised it as historically inaccurate in claiming that “there will, for the first time, be a divergence between the general understanding and definition of marriage in England as enshrined in law and the doctrine of marriage held by the Church of England”. It has been pointed out that, on issues of remarriage after divorce and marrying a deceased wife’s sister, the church and state has sometimes been at odds.
Attacks by Islamist armed groups that have killed more than 200 people in recent weeks in northern Nigeria.
Attacks by Islamist armed groups that have killed more than 200 people in recent weeks in northern Nigeria have been increasingly deadly and sophisticated, and amount to crimes against humanity, Amnesty International says.
On 15 February 2014, more than 100 people were reportedly killed and hundreds of houses burnt as gunmen attacked Baga and Izge villages in Borno state. It is just the latest in a series of attacks the organization has documented there and in neighbouring Adamawa state over the past three weeks.
“These killings and the systematic campaign by armed groups targeting ordinary people constitute crimes against humanity. Perpetrators of these alleged crimes, including the leaders of the armed groups who are responsible, must be brought to justice in fair trials,” said Makmid Kamara, Nigeria Researcher at Amnesty.
On Tuesday 11 February, unknown gunmen killed more than 50 people and burnt scores of homes in the village of Konduga, also in Borno state. Two eyewitnesses in Konduga village told Amnesty International that between 30 to 40 girls were abducted and taken away by the gunmen during the attack on a government-run secondary school in the village. The Chief Nursing Officer of the General Hospital in Konduga was also reportedly kidnapped by the gunmen. Their whereabouts is still unknown.
Similar attacks have taken place in villages in Adamawa and Yobe states, leaving scores dead, injured and forcibly displaced. No group has claimed responsibility.
“The extension of the state of emergency has not helped to reduce the violence in northern Nigeria. Scores are dead, hundreds of families have been separated and many people have been forced to flee their homes,” said Makmid Kamara.
“We are particularly concerned about the lack of safety and security, especially for children, the elderly and women. The Nigerian government must take effective measures to provide better security and prevent further human rights abuses.”
Tributes have been paid to the Rev Dr Kenneth Greet, former distinguished Methodist leader, who died late last week.
Tributes have been paid to the Rev Dr Kenneth Greet, former President and Secretary of the Methodist Conference, who died late last week.
Dr Greet was also well known on the ecumenical scene in Britain and Ireland and internationally, and recognised as an author and encourager by many worldwide.
"Kenneth will be remembered with affection and with pride by the Methodist people," said the Rev Ruth Gee, current President of the Methodist Conference.
"He was eloquent in speech, a fine preacher, a great orator and a prolific writer. All these gifts were undergirded and enriched by his great personal faith and integrity," she continued.
Dr Greet "was passionate about social justice and deeply committed to working for peace, a commitment that was evident in every part of his life. He loved his family and he cared for and loved the Methodist people. Kenneth will be greatly missed, we thank God for his life and witness which will continue to inspire and challenge us," said Ms Gee.
Born in 1918, Kenneth Gerald Greet entered presbyteral ministry in 1943. After training at Handsworth College, he held early appointments in Herefordshire and Ogmore and in 1947 was appointed to the Central Hall in Tonypandy. This attracted one of the largest congregations in Wales and became well known for its extensive programme of social work.
After seven years, Dr Greet was taken out of this appointment to become Secretary of the Christian Citizenship Department (DCC). For the next thirty years his base was at 1 Central Buildings, Westminster. In 1971, he succeeded Dr Eric Baker as Secretary of the Methodist Conference, a post which he held until 1984. During this time, he was also elected President of the Conference 1980-81.
Dr Greet has held a large number of key offices during his ministry: Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council, Chairman of the Executive of the British Council of Churches, member of the Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Chairman of the Temperance Council of the Christian Churches, Chairman of the World Methodist Council, Chair of the European Methodist Youth Council and President of the Methodist Peace Fellowship. On his retirement, Greet became Chair of the Governors of Southlands College, seeing the college through its transition to become part of Roehampton University.
He travelled widely during his ministry, preaching and lecturing regularly. His most notable appointments include delivering the Beckly Lecture, the Willson Lecture (Kansas City) and the Cato Lecture (Sydney).
Dr Greet wrote a number of books on subjects ranging from ethics and morality to marriage, love and the Spirit as well as contributing a monthly article to the Methodist Recorder for over 25 years. He broadcast frequently on radio and television and held doctorates from the universities of Surrey and Ohio.
An 11 year old Muslim girl has been found isolated in a village west of Bangui following a massacre six days ago.
An 11 year old Muslim girl has been found hiding alone in a village west of Bangui surrounded by bodies and without any food or water following a massacre six days ago.
The traumatised girl had been in hiding since the brutal killing of her parents and neighbours. Nearby, dogs were feeding on some of the corpses. The bodies of more than 20 villagers who had been left lying on the streets.
An Amnesty International team found the girl in the village of Bouguere, west of Bangui, in the Central African Republic. She has been taken to a secure location.
“The girl was crouching in a corner in an abandoned, ransacked house. She was terrified and could barely speak. She had been hiding there since the massacre, four days before,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at the respected global human rights NGO.
“She had not drunk or eaten anything and was too weak to even stand up. She was the only Muslim survivor in the village. The others had either fled or been killed.
“The horrific scene we found in the village of Bouguere is illustrative of the horrors tens of thousands of Muslims are experiencing across the Central African Republic.
“If the international community is truly committed to stop any more massacres from taking place, it must ensure that peacekeepers are present where they are needed most. They must have the resources to carry out their mandate to protect civilians.”
Church leaders have urged David Cameron to rethink government policy on Britain accepting Syrian refugees.
Church leaders have urged David Cameron to rethink government policy on Britain accepting Syrian refugees.
Forty-eight Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic and United Reformed Church leaders from across Great Britain have written an open letter to the Prime Minister acknowledging the significant role that Britain has played in providing funds for refugees in countries around Syria. However, the letter also speaks of the "moral responsibility" to resettle a significant number of refugees in Britain.
The letter criticises the Government's initial commitment as falling a long way short of the contribution Britain should make given its size and resources. The leaders suggest that a proportionate figure well in excess of 1,000 would be far more appropriate and point out that following a major conflict most refugees are able and desire to return to their homes.
"We are proud of Britain's long heritage of welcoming refugees," said the Revd John Howard, Chair of the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury Methodist District, who coordinated the response. "We have an ethical duty to honour this tradition and play our part in caring for those displaced by this terrible conflict."
The full text of the letter follows:
The undersigned church leaders from the Baptist Union, Methodist, Roman Catholic and United Reformed Churches write to you out of concern for the stance being taken by the Government on the reception of refugees from the Syrian crisis to the United Kingdom. We understand that the Church of England bishops have already written to you on this matter.
We would like to begin by acknowledging the significant role that Britain has played in providing funds to meet the needs of the refugees presently in countries around Syria as a result of the conflict in that country. We are glad to be a part of a country which is willing to spend a significant resource in caring for refugees in this most terrible of crises.
However, it is our view that the extension of hospitality goes beyond financial and that there is a moral responsibility upon us as part of the international community to resettle a small but significant number of refugees fleeing Syria. We believe that it is an ethical duty for us as a responsible country to accept our part in the caring for these people.
As you are aware, following a major conflict it is usually the case that most refugees are able to return to their homes and most desire to do so. It is a small proportion who, as a result of experiences they have suffered or threats to their safety, are unable to return. It is out of concern for those individuals that we write to you, asking for a change in your government's policies on this matter.
We note that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has identified a figure of 30,000 refugees who are particularly vulnerable and require permanent residency in European countries. Different countries across Europe have varied in the contribution that they have made; examples include Norway accepting 1,000 and Germany 10,000. Figures such as these do make a significant contribution to the welcoming of these individuals.
We note also that the debate in this country is taking place and we would want to encourage your Government to think in terms of making a contribution appropriate to the size of our country, proportionate with these countries referred to above. The figure of up to 500 which appears to have been agreed by government with the United Nations recently seems to be a long way short of that. To be proportionate with these countries and some way above the Norway figure referred to above would seem to represent a responsible response to the present crisis, and one which would resonate with our historic tradition of welcoming refugees.
We remain yours faithfully,
Rev Geoffrey Colmer, Regional Minister Team Leader, Central Baptist Association
Rev Paul Hills, Regional Minister, Eastern Baptist Association
Rev Canon Keith Judson, Regional Minister Team Leader, Heart of England Baptist Association
Rev Adrian Argile, Regional Minister, Heart of England Baptist Association
Rev Barrie Smith, Regional Minister, Heart of England Baptist Association
Rev John Claydon, Regional Minister (Pastoral), Northern Baptist Association
Rev.Nigel Coles, Senior Regional Minister, West of England Baptist Association
Rev Ruth Gee, President of the Methodist Conference & Chair of the Darlington District
Rev Peter Barber, Chair of the Chester & Stoke District
Rev Jim Booth, Chair of the Liverpool District
Rev Anne Brown, Chair of the Bedfordshire, Essex and Hertfordshire District
Rev Stephen Burgess, Chair of the York and Hull District
Rev Keith Davies, Chair of the Manchester and Stockport District
Rev Paul Davis, Chair of the Lancashire District
Rev Dr. David Easton, Chair of the Synod of the Methodist Church in Scotland
Rev Richard Hall, Chair of the Isle of Man District
Rev Peter Hancock, Chair of the Northampton District
Rev John Hellyer, Chair of the South East District
Rev John Howard, Chair of the Wolverhampton & Shrewsbury District
Rev Ian Howarth, Chair of the Birmingham District
Rev Jennifer Hurd, Chair of Synod Cymru
Rev Jennifer Impey, Co-Chair of the London District
Rev Dr. Stuart Jordan,Co-Chair of the London District
Rev Paul Martin, Chair of the Bolton & Rochdale District
Rev Loraine Mellor, Chair of the Nottingham & Derby District
Rev Peter Pillinger, Chair of the Plymouth & Exeter District
Rev Dr. Elizabeth Smith, Chair of the Leeds District
Rev Richard Teal, Chair of the Cumbria District
Rev Bruce Thompson, Chair of the Lincolnshire District
Rev Graham Thompson, Chair of the East Anglia District
Rev Dr. Roger Walton, Chair of the West Yorkshire District
Rev Dr. Andrew Wood, Chair of the Southampton District
Bishop Patrick Lynch, Chair of the Office for Migration Policy for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales
Mr John Ellis, Moderator of the General Assembly of the URC 2013-16
Rev Michael Jagessar, Moderator of the General Assembly of the URC 2012 - 2014
Rev Richard Church, Moderator of the North Western Synod of the URC
Rev Clare Downing, Moderator of the Wessex Synod of the URC
Rev Nicola Furley-Smith, Moderator of the Southern Synod of the URC
Rev John Humphreys, Moderator of the Scotland Synod of the URC
Rev Roy Lowes, Moderator of the West Midlands Synod of the URC
Rev Peter Meek, Moderator of the East Midlands Synod of the URC
Rev Lis Mullen, Moderator of the Northern Synod of the URC
Rev Dr Andrew Prasad, Moderator of the Thames North Synod of the URC
Rev Howard Sharp, Moderator of the Mersey Synod of the URC
Rev Simon Walkling, Moderator of the Wales Synod of the URC
Rev Kevin Watson, Moderator of the Yorkshire Synod of the URC
Rev Ruth Whitehead, Moderator of the South Western Synod of the URC
Rev Paul Whittle, Moderator of the Eastern Synod of the URC
The immediate end of the suffering of the people in Syria “must now be the focus for all parties" says the WCC.
The immediate end of the suffering of the people in Syria “must now be the focus for all parties in the Geneva 2 talks,” World Council of Churches general secretary the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said in a meeting on 14 February in Geneva with members of the Syrian opposition. And “this includes all parties in the conflict,” he added.
Representatives of the Syrian opposition requested the meeting with Tveit after receiving a WCC message calling for an end to the conflict delivered to both sides of the Geneva 2 talks by Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN representative leading the talks and the United Nations-Arab League joint representative for Syria.
The message, which was given to Brahimi in mid-January before the talks, stresses the need for “immediate cessation of all armed confrontation and hostility within Syria” ensuring that “all vulnerable communities in Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries receive appropriate humanitarian assistance”. It urges “a comprehensive and inclusive process toward establishing a just peace and rebuilding Syria”.
Representatives from the Syrian opposition included Sheikh Dr Mohammad Abdel-Hady al-Yaaqubi, Islamic scholar, Dr Badr Jamous, vice-president of the Syrian National Coalition, Mr Abdul-Ahad Steifo from the Assyrian Democratic Organization, Mr Mohammad Farouk Tayfour, deputy leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Dr Imad Eldin Rashid, president of the Syrian National Movement.
The group met for an hour and a half and then joined a press conference where Sheikh Dr Mohammad Abdel-Hady al-Yaaqubi made a strong plea for the release of kidnapped Syrian religious and laypersons.
In the meeting Tveit invoked prayers for peace in Syria, saying that with concern for security of all Syrians, including Christians, Muslims, and people of different faiths “we hope for a ‘just peace’ in Syria, a vision to which the WCC is deeply committed”.
We as religious leaders have to carry the hope that miracles are possible and that there will be peace,” he said. “If we are not doing this, who will?”
Dr Tveit said that “we must work together for a future for Syria, where equal rights, stability, democracy and freedom for religion and expression for all” can prevail.
The WCC and its member churches “believe we must work together as religious communities and leaders,” he said.
In discussions with the WCC staff members, the representatives of Syrian opposition each shared their perspectives on the current challenges of the dialogue process, as well as efforts aimed at defusing the conflict.
Sheikh Mohammad Abdel-Hady al-Yaaqubi, in his response affirmed the role of religious leaders in supporting efforts for peace, stability and democracy in Syria.
He said that all communities, regardless of their religious affiliations in Syria have suffered.
Yaaqubi, along with others in the group, highlighted the significance of common heritage of both Muslims and Christians, which he said has historical roots spanned over centuries in Syria and the Middle East.
On behalf of the members of the group, he also strongly condemned the kidnapping of the nuns of the Ste Thecla Convent in Maaloula, and the two Orthodox bishops from Aleppo last year in Syria.
In a press conference following the meeting, Yaaqubi made a strong statement on the kidnappings, “calling upon all Islamic militants to immediately release all those who are unjustly detained against their will, especially the innocent bishops, nuns and monks”. He emphasized that this sort of activity does not reflect the values of Islam.
In April 2013 Archbishop Mar Yohanna Gregorios Ibrahim from the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yazigi from the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch were kidnapped near Aleppo while returning from a humanitarian mission. Later in December 2013, 12 nuns were also kidnapped.
During the press conference Dr Tveit emphasized that the WCC condemns all violence perpetrated against the Syrian people, repeating that their suffering has to end.
* World Council of Churches: http://www.oikoumene.org/en
* More on Syria from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria
Amnesty International has expressed concern that the Bahraini authorities will use violence to quash demonstrations on the third anniversary of the uprising.
Amnesty International has expressed concern that the Bahraini authorities will use violence to quash planned demonstrations today (14 February), when thousands are expected to take to the streets to mark the third anniversary of the country’s uprising in 2011.
In the three years since the authorities crushed the 2011 mass demonstrations, the human rights situation in Bahrain has further deteriorated, with numerous opposition activists rounded up, in many cases merely for calling for peaceful anti-government protests. Last July, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa issued a draconian decree indefinitely banning all demonstrations, sit-ins and public gatherings in the capital Manama.
Among several children who have been detained for participating in demonstrations in the past year, are ten-year-old Jehad Nabeel al-Samee’ and 13-year-old ‘Abdullah Yousif al-Bahrani, who were arrested by riot police during a rally outside Manama in December. They were charged with “illegal gathering and rioting” and “attacking a police patrol with stones”. ‘Abdullah said that he was beaten, threatened with electric shocks and forced to sign a “confession”. He denied taking part in the march or throwing stones at the police. The boys have been released but will remain under supervision until a verdict is issued in their case.
Meanwhile, many others – including journalists and human rights activists – have also been targeted. On 26 December, Ahmad Fardan, a Bahraini photojournalist, was arrested and charged with “participating in a public gathering” after attempting to cover a demonstration in the village of Abu Saiba’. He was slapped on the face and beaten – including on his genitals – while in custody. Medical examinations have revealed he also sustained two broken ribs.
Last week, a two-year prison sentenced was upheld against the prominent human rights defender Nabeel Rajab for his participation in “illegal gatherings” and for “disturbing public order” between February and March 2012. Another activist – Zainab Al-Khawaja – was sentenced to four months in prison last month for “destroying government property” after she ripped up a picture of the Bahraini king. She has been in prison serving different sentences for different court cases since last February.
Amnesty believes that both Rajab and Al-Khawaja are prisoners of conscience who have been targeted for their human rights work and is calling for them to be immediately and unconditionally released.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Said Boumedouha said: “The authorities’ relentless repression of dissent continues unabated – with security forces repeatedly using excessive force to quash anti-government protests.
“The anniversary’s protests are a test for the authorities to demonstrate internationally that they are committed to protecting human rights. They must allow the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, association and assembly and release all prisoners of conscience.
“Scores of people, including dozens of children have been detained for participating in peaceful protests over the last year. Many of them alleged that they were tortured in detention. Protesters must be allowed to take part in peaceful demonstrations without the fear of reprisal or attack.”
New research published by the TUC today (14 February)) shows that tax credits and benefits play a crucial role in lifting low-paid workers out of poverty.
New research published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) today (14 February)) shows that tax credits and benefits play a crucial role in lifting low-paid workers out of poverty.
More than five million workers across the UK earn less than the living wage (£8.80 in London and £7.65 in the rest of the UK). The TUC says that their pay needs to increase as growth returns, and that every employer who can afford it should adopt the living wage as a minimum.
But analysis by economist Howard Reed for the TUC shows that low-paid workers need both decent pay rises and help from tax credits and benefits if they are to make ends meet.
Low-paid families with children are in particular need of tax credit and benefit help as their extra outgoings are unlikely to be met by the living wage alone. With most welfare cuts hitting people in work, the TUC is warning that the fight against in-work poverty needs both better pay and decent benefits to succeed. Even with pay rises, low earning households need benefits to survive.
The TUC research features a range of fictional households to show the importance of wages, in-work benefits and tax credits. It also shows that further increases in the personal income tax allowance will have limited impact for many low-wage households (as they only pay income tax on a small proportion of their earnings, if at all) and that in-work benefits are a far more important was to increase the incomes of low earning families than tax cuts:
- Jean lives in Manchester and is a single parent with two children. She works 40 hours a week in a minimum wage cleaning job, and pays £100 a week in rent. Jean has a pay boost when her employer decides to pay the living wage, receiving an extra £45.60 a week. As her pay goes up, she pays an extra £9.12 in income tax and an additional £5.47 in national insurance each week, but her benefits also change as a result of her pay rise and she loses £18.70 a week in working tax credit. This means she gets a welcome £12.31 extra a week in her pocket, but her earnings are still too little to cover her rent and her family’s living costs. That’s why even after the pay rise, it is vital that Jean is still entitled to £166.53 a week she was getting in child benefit and tax credits.
Mark and Heather live in Stratford, East London and have two young children. They own their terraced house, and spend £200 a week on their mortgage and £120 a week in childcare. Mark works 40 hours a week as a security guard, earning £8 an hour. Heather works part-time as a shop assistant for 24 hours a week. Both Mark’s and Heather’s employers decide to pay the London living wage. This means that Mark’s earnings increase by £22 a week and Heather gets a £53.70 a week pay rise. In total, their earnings go up by £75.76 a week, although as a result their income tax and national insurance contributions also rise, while their benefits and tax credits reduce slightly. In total, their pay rise means that they are £22.08 better off a week. The pay rises help Mark and Heather out a little but without extra help their income is still too low to cover their living costs, and they still need £148.36 a week in benefits and tax credits. Without this help their income would fall substantially as Heather would not be able to cover the childcare costs that allow her to work.
- Jessica lives in Margate with her two children and works 24 hours a week as a care assistant on the minimum wage. Her rent is £110 a week, which pays for a two bedroom flat and her childcare costs are £170 a week. Jessica’s employer increases her hourly pay to the living wage, which raises her earnings by £27.36 a week. Because of the higher pay, her national insurance contributions rise by £3.29 a week, but her housing benefit falls by £8.36 and her working tax credit entitlement declines by £11.21 a week. Her original pay rise is valuable and as a result Jessica has £4.50 a week more to spend (£234 a year). But at the same time, benefits and tax credits still make a bigger contribution to her household income than her earnings, and she continues to receive £170.78 a week in working tax credit – in addition to child tax credit and child benefit to help with the costs of clothes, nappies and food.
- Fatima and Ali live in Glasgow with their children. Ali works 40 hours a week in a restaurant, earning just above the minimum wage, while Fatima looks after their children. Ali’s employer starts to pay the living wage, which means that Ali’s earnings rise by £38 a week. As a result his income tax also goes up (by £7.60 a week), as do his national insurance contributions (by £4.56). Higher earnings also mean that some of the benefits and tax credits his family receive are reduced, with their housing benefit falling £6.67 a week and their working tax credit by £15.58. Overall, the pay rise is worth an extra £3.59 a week to Ali and his family (£186.68 a year) but Ali and Fatima continue to receive £217.68 a week in benefits and credits. This allows them to cover their £125 a-week rent as well as school uniform and food costs.
The TUC says that tax credits and benefits are vital to hardworking low-income families with children – and in particular for single parents with childcare needs who would not be able to work without them. They must go hand-in-hand with pay rises to lift working people out of in-work poverty. With more than half of benefit cuts hitting working people, any real programme to lift the low-paid out of poverty and enable them to share in the recovery needs increases in pay and a reversal of recent cuts to in-work benefits.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The economic crash has led to the longest decline in living standards since the 1870s. Britain needs a pay rise but we must also defend and extend the in-work benefits that lift families – particularly those with children – out of poverty. The best way to make work pay is not only to spread the living wage, but also to reverse cuts in tax credits and make Universal Credit more generous for the working poor.”
Loud protests at an anti-poaching conference in London today highlighted the devastating impact of a hunting ban on Africa’s last hunting Bushmen in Botswana.
Loud protests at an anti-poaching conference in London today (13 February) highlighted the devastating impact of a hunting ban on Africa’s last hunting Bushmen in Botswana. Ian Khama, President of Botswana, was reported to be attending alongside Prince Charles and Prince William.
Protesters outside the ‘London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade 2014’, chanted slogans and carried placards reading ‘Botswana: Bushmen hunters are not poachers’.
Botswana is persecuting the Bushmen of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) in the name of wildlife conservation by stopping them from hunting game. But the Bushmen pose no threat to the wildlife of the CKGR, alongside which they have lived sustainably for centuries.
Survival International, the organisation which campaigns for the rights of tribal people, says Botswana government’s hypocrisy was recently exposed by revelations that large parts of the CKGR have been leased out for fracking, and a mine by Gem Diamonds is projected to start operations inside the CKGR in October 2014.
A 2006 high court ruling confirmed the Bushmen’s right to live and hunt in the CKGR, but the government continues to intimidate, torture and arrest Bushmen for hunting. The majority of Bushmen are forced to apply for restrictive permits to enter their ancestral land in the CKGR – a policy which has been likened to the hated Pass Laws under apartheid South Africa.
A high court judge involved in the 2006 court case said that the government’s refusal to allow the Bushmen to hunt ‘was tantamount to condemning the [Bushmen] to death by starvation.’
Survival has launched a travel boycott of Botswana and an ad campaign highlighting the government’s drive to deport the Bushmen from their land. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/201090) The boycott has been supported by thousands of travelers and by celebrities Gillian Anderson, Quentin Blake, Joanna Lumley, Sophie Okonedo, and Mark Rylance.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, "President Khama should not hide the persecution of the Bushmen behind the mask of conservation. To ban the Bushmen from hunting while at the same time opening up the reserve to fracking and mining is sheer hypocrisy."
A Pakistani judge has ordered intelligence services to produce a victim of CIA drone strikes, missing since being seized from his Rawalpindi home a week ago.
A Pakistani judge yesterday (12 February) ordered the country’s intelligence services to produce a victim of CIA drone strikes who has been missing since being seized from his Rawalpindi home a week ago.
Kareem Khan, who lost his son and brother to a 2009 CIA drone strike in North Waziristan, had been due to travel to Europe to discuss his experience with parliamentarians in a number of countries later this month. However, he has not been heard from since being detained by a group of men in police uniforms and plain clothes in the early hours of 5 February. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20125)
The Rawalpindi Bench of the Lahore High Court was today hearing a Habeas petition brought by Mr Khan’s lawyer and fellow of the legal charity Reprieve, Shahzad Akbar. Mr Akbar argued that the intelligence services must have been responsible for Mr Khan’s arrest, as responses filed by the police indicated that they were unaware of the incident. As a result, the judge ordered the various intelligence services overseen by Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior to produce Mr Khan by Thursday February 20.
Mr. Khan was due to travel to Europe this Saturday (15 February), where he was scheduled to speak with German, Dutch and British parliamentarians about his personal experience with drone strikes and and his work as a freelance journalist investigating other strikes in the region.
Mr Khan is also involved in legal proceedings on behalf of his brother, Asif Iqbal, a teacher, and his son Zahinullah. Mr Khan has asked the courts to order the Pakistani police to launch a criminal investigation into the strike, arguing it constitutes murder under domestic law.
Commenting, Shahzad Akbar said: “Kareem Khan has already lost a brother and son to US drone strikes. Now, he too has disappeared. All because he had the courage to speak out about what happened to him and about the terrible civilian toll such strikes are having. Pakistan’s Prime Minister must launch an immediate investigation into which part of his government abducted Kareem and secure his release.”
Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar said: “It has now been a week since anyone has seen or heard from Kareem Khan. The Pakistani Government must immediately tell us where he is and why they have tried to silence such an important anti-drones voice. Failure to do so raises disturbing questions of continued PK complicity in the US drone programme.”
Operation Noah has welcomed today’s decision at the Church of England’s General Synod to engage seriously with the issue of climate change.
Operation Noah has welcomed today’s (12 February) decision at the Church of England’s General Synod to engage seriously with the issue of climate change.
This afternoon, Synod voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion to ensure that Church of England investment policy is aligned with their policies on climate change, and to establish a working group on the environment to monitor this and other environmental issues.
"Today the Church of England has taken the first step to re-engaging with the issue of climate change,’ said Dr Isabel Carter, Chair of Operation Noah. "This vote commits the Church to seriously consider how its investments reflect the urgency of climate change, including the option of disinvestment from fossil fuels.
"As Canon Goddard’s resolution made very clear, we need to make a series of radical transformations in our economy and society if we are to avert catastrophic and uncontrolled changes to the climate system. That is going to require leadership from the Church.
"We are delighted with the backing from Synod, and particularly welcome the support from the Ethical Investment Advisory Group."
The motion debated today follows a resolution passed by Lambeth North Deanery for Southwark Diocesan Synod, calling on the Church’s national investment bodies to ensure that their investment policy is aligned with the theological, moral and social priorities of the Church.
Canon Giles Goddard, who presented the motion, said: "This vote proves that there is a hunger for us to do more on climate change as a church. But this is not the end, it's the beginning."
Speaking at a fringe meeting shortly after the debate, Mark Letcher, Vice Chair of Operation Noah said, "The record-breaking weather in the UK this winter, and statistics that show both the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events to be increasing, provides an opportunity for a step change in the debate on climate change.
"There is now recognition of the need for a fresh public conversation about climate change and the future habitability of our planet, and whether we want a future for our children which is cleaner, safer and healthier. There is a need for the government to be willing to take responsibility for change. The Church could help lead that conversation. The need for leadership has never been greater. We look forward to working with the Church of England on this issue."
Last year, Operation Noah launched their campaign ‘Bright Now: towards fossil free churches’, calling on Churches in the UK to disinvest from companies involved in the extraction of fossil fuels, take a leading and influential role in the national debate on the ethics of investment in fossil fuels, and support the development of clean alternatives to fossil fuels through their investment policies.
* See Ekklesia's research paper Where is the Church of England's heart invested/ http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/church_of_englands_investments