Category Archives: Christian News

Bishops concern over Budget and Sunday trading laws

The Bishop of Chichester has raised questions over the freeze on tax allowances for the over-65s and plans to relax Sunday trading laws for the Olympics.

The Chancellor has come under fire for the so-called ‘granny tax’ predicted to leave around five million pensioners worse off.

The move has been branded a “stealth” raid on middle-class pensioners by the media.

Addressing the House of Lords yesterday, the Rt Rev John Hind said: “When it comes to the proposal to freeze the tax allowances for the overᇕs, I need to declare a double interest.

“First, I am about to become one of [them], but secondly, and much more importantly, from my experience as the bishop of a diocese which contains a large number of pensioners who do not often have the benefit of occupational pension schemes and are struggling under the burden they are already bearing, I know of the fear which they experienced at hearing some of yesterday’s announcements.€

The bishop said it was understandable that the Government wanted to maximise commercial opportunities offered by the Olympic Games taking place in London this summer.

However, he questioned the motive behind relaxing trading laws across an eight-week period.

“I am well aware that any attempt to question what the Government have proposed in this regard will sound either like party-pooping or special pleading,” he said.

“I do not wish to speak against the principle of a strictly time-limited and tightly drawn element of deregulation while the Games are in progress and in locations close to the main events.

“To remove all restrictions for an eight-week period, however, sounds suspiciously like a stalking horse for the wider deregulation for which some large retailers have been campaigning for a long time. Therefore, we will watch this space with a degree of skepticism.”

Bishop Hind welcomed some aspects of the Budget, including the raising of the threshold of the basic rate of tax and the cut-off for child benefit payments.

“The higher figure removes the unfairness in the previous announcement, which would have created the perverse incentive for two parents on relatively low, modest salaries both to work outside the home rather than enabling one to be devoted to the care of very young children,â he said.

“It would also have hit a large number of middle-income families.”

He also welcomed new anti-tax avoidance measures, the introduction of a new gift aid small donations scheme, and more investment in Armed Forces accommodation.

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Church schools must maintain Christian ethos

Church schools must robustly assert their Christian ethos in the face of challenges and attacks from secularists, a Church of England report has warned.

Launched today at Lambeth Palace, The Church School of the Future report says that the challenge facing all Church schools is to maintain their distinctive character in an increasingly fragmented education system and increasingly secular society.

“Church schools must be responsive to parents and the communities they serve while celebrating their distinctive Christian ethos,” the report states.

“More than ever, as economic pressures drive a utilitarian approach to education, children in Church schools should experience Christianity as part of their moral and spiritual development, reflected throughout the curriculum.

“We believe that the opportunities afforded by such significant changes should be grasped confidently.”

The report is based on evidence from clergy, school leaders, politicians and other stakeholders in education.

Admissions arrangements “continue to be “contentiousâ€, the report states, with “renewed attacks on the principle of foundation places from parties hostile to Church schools”.

“Church schools continue to be popular with parents and to have good reputations and high standards.

“Nevertheless, there continues to be a concerted attack on the core elements of the Church school identity.

“Most of the challenges and claims made are without foundation or are matters of principle on which disagreement is always possible.”

Church schools are told, however, that the changes and challenges ahead “must not dilute or compromiseâ the distinctive brand of schools that the Church of England has successfully developed.

“Distinctiveness is about more than organisational arrangements and designation as a school of religious character.

“It must include a wholehearted commitment to putting faith and spiritual development at the heart of the curriculum and ensuring that a Christian ethos permeates the whole educational experience.”

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Church growing in Iran despite repression

Despite the Iranian government’s ongoing crackdown on Christians living in the primarily Islamic country, the number of Muslims converting to Christianity is growing at an explosive rate in Iran, says Open Doors USA.

There is even talk of witnessing a Christian revival, especially among young people living in the country, say Open Doors ministry workers in the Middle East.

A house church movement within Iran is part of that revival and has triggered “many secret meetings”. The growth in the number of Christians is reportedly happening in all regions, but mostly in larger cities.

Iran is ranked 5th on the Open Doors 썜 World Watch List of the top 50 worst persecutors of Christians.

“Open Doors workers think that the growth of Christianity has everything to do with Iranians getting to know the real face of Islam, the official religion of Iran, and the mistrust of the people toward the government and leaders following the fraudulent 2009 presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” said a Middle East worker for Open Doors, whose name has been withheld for security reasons.

There have been ongoing reports of the arrest and detention of Christians by the Iranian authorities.

In one city alone, Isfahan, more than a dozen Christians were arrested in less than a month, beginning in late February.

According to Open Doors USA President and CEO Carl Moeller, a stream of Christianity has arisen in the Middle East’s invisible church, sometimes referred to as the Muslim Background Believer Church.

“Men and women, out of emptiness of their current situation spiritually, are turning to faith in Jesus Christ despite the literally lethal risks in doing so,” Moeller said. “That’s only attributable to the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Also, at work is a common personality trait of the Iranian people, says another Open Doors worker from the Middle East region.

“Iranians are very outgoing and want to speak about their faith,” the ministry worker said. “That is why discipleship training (with elements of outreach and communications) for Iranian believers is successful. If you tell them that a Christian should share, the Iranian Christian shares.”

An estimated 200 Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) were living in Iran 40 years ago, according to Open Doors. Now, the number of MBBs is estimated to be 370,000.

Iran also has the presence of the traditional Armenian and Assyrian church with about 80,000 members, Open Doors reports. These churches are presently free to have meetings in the language of their members, but they are not allowed to reach out to the Farsi-speaking Muslims.

According to the Iranian government, there are about 200,000 Christians living in Iran, Open Doors stated.

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Government must not delay in implementing minimum price on alcohol

Churches and charities have given a cautious welcome to the Government’s plans to introduce a minimum price on alcohol sales.

Prime Minister David Cameron wants to introduce a minimum price of 40p per unit on all alcohol sold in England and Wales.

“We are delighted that the Government is resisting pressure from the drinks industry to take the action that is needed,” said Ruth Pickles, Vice President of the Methodist Conference, and a former alcohol misuse counsellor. “This move will save not only money, but lives.”

The Methodist Church was one of several major denominations in the UK to write to the Prime Minister last month asking for the introduction of minimum pricing on alcohol.

They expressed concern in their letter over the damage being done to the health of the nation and pointed to a survey commissioned by the Methodist Church and its partners last December, which found that 61% of British people believe excessive drinking to be a problem in their neighbourhood.

According to studies by Sheffield University, the introduction of a minimum price on alcohol could save the nation £546 million in healthcare costs, £140 million in the area of crime, and an estimated £80 million lost to workplace absence.

The Methodist Church warned that a long delay in the implementation of the minimum price could cost lives and exacerbate the damage caused by the sale of cheap alcohol.

“The evidence speaks for itself, added Ms Pickles. “We see no reason for a delay in implementing the measures when so many academics and health professionals are backing the move. We cannot act quick enough to save lives and safeguard the vulnerable.

“Things weren’t always like this. Over recent decades, Britain has developed an unhealthy drinking culture, fuelled by a drinks industry which aggressively markets its products. We would also like to see broader action taken to address the root causes of this damaging culture.”

Hope UK, a Christian drug and alcohol prevention charity, also welcomed the measure.

Marolin Watson, Business Manager at Hope UK, said: “If nothing else, it will make it harder for young people, with limited means at their disposal, to purchase cheap alcohol with the specific aim of getting drunk.

“With liver disease on the increase, any measure that defers drinking or reduces the amount consumed can only be good for the health of the nation.”

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300000 sign petition against plans to redefine marriage

A petition launched last month in opposition to the Government’s plans to redefine marriage has been signed by 300,000 people.

It surpasses the previous largest campaign to this Parliament, a petition asking for last summer’s rioters to be stripped of their benefits that was signed by more than 258,000 people.

The Coalition for Marriage (C4M), the group behind the marriage petition, has described the Government’s plan as “undemocratic” and said that the consultation launched this month was a “sham”.

The Government has faced strong criticism over its plans from Church leaders and pro-family groups.

Although it launched a consultation to hear public views, it stated at the time that its intention was not to decide whether marriage should be redefined to include same-sex couples, but to ascertain how the change should be implemented.

Colin Hart, C4M campaign director, said the huge numbers of people signing the petition was further evidence that the Government plans to redefine marriage are wrong and should be scrapped.

“There has been a staggering response to the C4M petition, launched last month, which shows just how many ordinary men and women care about this issue. What has been particularly interesting is the jump in numbers backing the petition since the Government unveiled its sham consultation,” said Mr Hart.

“I hope the Government will consider the growing opposition to their proposals which are being pushed without the British people being given an opportunity to make their views clear.

â€The Equalities Minister, who launched the Government consultation, has already made it clear that she will not listen to those who oppose the redefinition of marriage.

Their cause has been given a further boost after the European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling calling into question the legal basis of the Governments arguments for making the change.

The Court ruled that Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights pertaining to the right of men and women to marry should not be interpreted to mean marriage between people of the same sex.

Mr Hart continued, “There is no need to redefine marriage as civil partnerships already give all the legal rights of marriage to same sex couples.

“Redefining marriage would have all sorts of unintended consequences as the institution of marriage is woven into 800 years of our laws, history, education system and culture.”

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Church must expose lies fuelling Mexicos drug violence says Pope

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of the Church’s responsibility in helping Mexico’s young people stay out of deadly drug cartels.

The Pope travelled to Mexico today for the first leg of a visit to Latin America. Speaking to reporters aboard the papal plane, he blamed part of the country’s notorious drug problem on the “worship of money which enslaves men”.

Around 50,000 people have been killed in Mexicos drug wars in the last five years, with the scale and brutality of the violence casting a shadow of fear over many communities.

The Pope warned that the young in particular were at risk of joining the drug gangs.

“We must do everything possible to fight this evil which destroys our young. We must unmask this evil, these false promises and lies,” the Pope was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

“Our duty, our great responsibility, is to educate consciences, to teach our young moral responsibility” and turn them away from “the worship of money which enslaves men.

“I share Mexicans’ joy and hope but also their anguish and grief.”

The Pope is to meet President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa on Saturday, before presiding at Mass in the Parque Bicentenario on Sunday. On Monday, the Pope will travel to Cuba, where he will spend two days.

He told reporters that it was evident that Marxist ideology “no longer corresponds to reality” in the country and that “new models” needed to be found.

The Church, he added, wants to help in the spirit of dialogue to avoid trauma and to help bring about a just and fraternal society, as we want in the whole world”.

“We want to collaborate in this sense, and it’s obvious that the Church is always on the side of freedom, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion.”

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The Afters join October Baby soundtrack

Music from The Afters has been added to the soundtrack of upcoming feature film October Baby.

Their single, “Life Is Beautiful”, will play out the closing credits to the Provident Films release.

The movie tells the story of 19-year-old college student, Hannah, who embarks on a journey to discover the truth about her roots after finding out that she was adopted after a failed abortion attempt.

Although the journey starts out as a search for her birth mother, what Hannah truly discovers is the power of forgiveness.

“Life Is Beautiful” comes from the band’s next studio album release, due out in the autumn.

A music video for the track features footage from the film and is available to view online at www.theafters.com

“It’s an honour to be able to partner with a movie that promotes love, acceptance, forgiveness, and mercy in such a poignant and effective way,” says lead singer Josh Havens.

“We hope that the song and the movie remind people of all the things that make every life beautiful!”

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Budget 2012 Whats in it

George Osborne’s Budget increases personal allowance, a move welcomed by the Association of Christian Financial Advisers.

They are concerned, however, by the phasing out of age-related benefit, saying that this penalises those who have contributed the most to society.

The changes to child benefit look set to be “expensive” and riddled with “red tape”, the ACFA further warns.

The group is also “disappointed” that the Chancellor did not include stricter regulations on payday loans.

The ACFA’s Arwyn Bailey said: “The Chancellor has had a difficult balancing act and only time will ultimately tell whether his fiscal policy will be effective in assisting the lower income groups, and raising sufficient tax revenue to fund the reduced public spending programme.

“Encouraging growth, whilst reducing debt and developing personal responsibility is a tall order.”

He breaks down the Budget and offers his opinion on what some of the changes could mean.

1. Personal Allowances:

Personal allowance increased significantly toward the £10,000 figure. Age allowances for the elderly are also to be phased out.

This increase is very welcome news and a good reflection of a caring society. However, abolishing the benefit given to those who have contributed to society the most throughout their lives, seems to be a little harsh, and is possibly hidden behind the need to simplify taxation in retirement.

2. Child Benefit to be Phasing:

When someone in a household has an income of more than £50,000, child benefit will be cut by 1% of every £100 earned above £50,000. Those earning more than £60,000 will lose the benefit entirely.

Assisting those on lower income is a good ideal as: œIt takes a whole village to raise a child”. An effective “means testing” of this benefit for middle-earners appears to be fair. However, our worry is how will this “test” be administered and will it bring more complexity. Red tape often means cost.

3. 50% Tax Rate:

As expected, this rate of tax will be reduced. It will be 45% from April 2013.

What has not be said, thus far, is that most employees pay NI, and therefore the tax rate is already above 50% for more than the top 1% earners whose income is around £150,ዀ or more.

4. Tax Avoidance:

As expected, a severe clampdown on certain avoidance schemes was announced.

There is no reason why a property, held within a pseudo company, should escape stamp duty. The announcement today effectively makes this type of scheme too expensive to be tax-efficient.

5. Corporation Tax Cut:

The rate is to be cut, from April 2012, to 24%, and by 2014 it will fall to 22%. Banks will not benefit from this decrease, as their levy will be increased to compensate for the reduction. There was also the announcement to simplify tax systems for small firms with a turnover less than £77,000.

Encouraging and stimulating growth, especially for SMEs, is welcome news, especially at this time. Less administration is also welcome, as small businesses need to be freed up from excessive regulation and red tape.

6. Single Tier State Pension:

There is to be a simplifying of the state pension for future pensioners. Income will be set at about £140 a week and will be based upon contributions.

Benefits should not only be based upon what someone pays in. There is a need to also pay out when someone is in need, irrelevant of their fiscal contribution.

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EU called to act on corruption

Christian campaigners have delivered 10,000 calls to action on corruption to the European Union.

Representatives of Micah Challenge, Mission-Net, Tearfund and Exposed presented the postcards to EU decision-makers in Brussels on Wednesday.

The postcards had messages written on them from supporters across 22 member states urging the EU to pass strong laws that would force oil, gas and mining companies on the European Stock Exchanges to publish what they pay goverments for access to the natural resources.

Joel Edwards, the International Director of Micah Challenge, said: “This is a scandal of our times and EU leaders have a responsibility to ensure corruption does not blight the lives of the poor across the world.

“Some 3.5 billion people live in countries which are rich in oil, gas and mineral resources. Tragically, money from these areas often doesn’t benefit the poor communities who live nearby. EU leaders have to act now and ensure money ends up in right places.”

Many of the postcards were signed by young Christians from across Europe who attended the Mission-Net Conference in Erfurt, Germany, last December.

Evi Rodemann, Director of Mission-Net, argues that the impact of changing the law would be significant enough to meet the Millennium Development Goals, set by world leaders in 2000 to eradicate extreme poverty within a 15-year time frame.

“Christians across the world are uniting in action to shine a light on corruption. This is what these 10,0Ǡ messages symbolise,” she said.

“The evidence is strong. If all payments were made public, revenue would be sufficient to meet the Millennium Development Goals and provide everyone living with HIV with vital drugs for overಞ years.”

Churches in Denmark, Germany, the UK, France, Portugal are among those supporting the campaign.

The European Parliament is currently considering legislation on financial transparency and accountability. A decision is expected in the next few months.

The campaign groups said the legislation would enable churches to hold governments to account and ensure that revenue was being spent to help achieve the MDGs.

Bishop Dr Stephen Munga, from Tanzania, who was part of the Brussels delegation, said: “Local communities should be able to hold their governments to account on these issues, which will improve their lives. That’s what this campaign is all about.”

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Irish Church found to be negligent over sex abuse

Church leaders were negligent when suspected incidents of sex abuse were brought to their attention, a Vatican report has concluded .

The admission was made in a report published on Tuesday examining the causes of the Irish sex abuse scandal that erupted several years ago.

The Apostolic Visitation is the culmination of a two-year investigation initiated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 following a crisis meeting with Irish bishops at the Vatican.

At the time, the Pope expressed his dismay at the extent of the abuse and subsequent cover-up exposed in the Ryan and Murphy reports.

Tuesday’s report echoed these sentiments, conveying the “great sense of pain and shame” over the abuse scandal that “opened wounds” and caused people to lose trust in clergy.

“Innocent young people were abused by clerics and religious to whose care they had been entrusted, while those who should have exercised vigilance often failed to do so effectively,” the report found.

“For these faults, forgiveness must once more be asked: from God and from the victims.”

The investigation was conducted by a delegation of seven Vatican-appointed church leaders and spanned the four archdioceses in Ireland.

Investigators spent the last two years in conversation with clergy, seminarians, congregations and victims.

The report commended the Church for the support it was providing to victims and recommended that authorities “continue to devote much time listening to and receiving victims, and providing support for them and their families”.

While many Catholics have felt “unjustly tainted” by the scandal, the report points to “signs of hope” within the Church, including the “human and spiritual bonds among the faithful at a time of crisis” and the “remarkable level of lay involvement in the structures of child protection”.

Catholic primate Cardinal Sean Brady welcomed the findings.

He said: “In expressing true sorrow and regret, we make our own the heartfelt plea for forgiveness from the victims, and from God, for these terrible crimes and sins.”

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