By Rev Dr Timothy Bradshaw, Oxford University theology department

Religious stories hitting the news headlines recently have been disturbing.

The horrifying shootings of black Methodist Christians by a white supremacist in Charleston, USA, shocked the world.

These Methodists had welcomed the stranger into their midst with kindness and hospitality only to receive his murderous bullets of hate. The victims had done nothing whatsoever to antagonise their killer, who killed them for their racial origins.

President Obama and others pointed to the gun laws in the USA where it is easy to buy such weapons, and no doubt that is a relevant factor, but why should anyone think in terms of such racial hatred? That surely is the question to be faced by US leaders at every level.

Here in the UK, the question is being asked why so many young Muslims are drawn to joining Islamic State and fighting against the western culture.

Some of the families blame the police for not stopping them travelling.

But the Prime Minister recently issued a rebuttal of that line of thinking and told the community to ask itself hard questions as to why IS had such potent attraction.

This then provoked cries of "Islamophobia" by many Muslims, who said the attraction of IS was nothing to do with Islam at all.

Connected with this issue is that of young Muslims leaving their faith and wanting to live a secular lifestyle in the UK, but being shunned by their families under the apostasy laws, laws which could mean death in Islamic societies such as Saudi Arabia.

The new BBC Two current affairs programme, hosted by Victoria Derbyshire, ran a piece in which several such people were interviewed and stated their problem of being rejected by their Muslim families and friends, because quitting the faith was dishonouring and shaming the faith and Mohammed, and so the family.

Just as IS seems to attract some Muslims, so it also drives away others from the faith.

Child abuse sex scandals have plagued churches recently, possibly leading to the Irish deciding to embrace gay marriage in their referendum by an overwhelming majority, to the surprise of the world looking on.

Methodism in the UK has repented of its own part in child abuse and no denomination is free of the taint, including my own CofE, I hasten to add.

Institutions find it very hard to admit wrong, as they think admission will undermine their credibility.

The reverse is true, as the Roman Catholic Church discovered when the policy of cover-up and payment to sex abuse victims to keep quiet broke down – that did far worse damage to their moral credibility and probably led to the rejection of priestly teaching in the Irish referendum.

Pope Francis’s recent "green" teaching document does try to engage with modern science, reversing a long trend of denial, although he does not abolish the ban on artificial birth control, surely relevant to the eco system and pressure on resources?

An apparently liberal Muslim journalist, Mehdi Hassan, wrote in The Guardian that Islam did not need any "reformation", and so he joined the ranks of those denying the Prime Minister’s call for Muslim questioning about their faith when it can produce young jihadi warriors, whether it can be modernised and improved: it is absolutely fine as it is, he says.

It is a profound spiritual and moral mistake to make any earthly institution infallible and beyond critical questioning.

The churches all need to return to the figure of the crucified and powerless Jesus as their criterion of truth and goodness – the reverse of a power-loving manager.

But the church is always in need of reformation and repentance, if it is following Jesus. Religions cannot afford to be frozen in the past. They need to listen to the Spirit as new developments open up in God’s world.