Archives for June 2008

The Bon Mots(on)

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William Crawley | 13:40 UK time, Monday, 30 June 2008

sfnmot130.jpgLet's take a break from all the controversy in the Anglican Communion following Gafcon and the formation of a new traditionalist "shadow communion" to pay our respects to the James Joyce of sports commentators, John Motson, who blew the final whistle on his commentating career last night (at least as far as big international fixtures is concerned). Motty has left us some unforgettable spoonerisms over the years, puns that pressed the English language to near breaking point, and paved the way for Bushisms as a form of political speech. Take his helpful guidance, in 1978, to TV viewers: "For those of you watching in black and white, Tottenham Hotspur are playing in yellow."

I understand that Motson will continue to offer commentary for Five Live, but if he's looking for extra work in his semi-retirement, perhaps we should sign him up for July's big international fixture, the Lambeth Conference. Can you imagine what Motty could say about that to the TV audiences around the world? Since some of my regular bloggers responded so brilliantly to my Lewis-Freud-Mugabe challenge, let's hear your suggested Motty-at-Lambeth carefully written ad libs.

GAFCON: The Jerusalem Declaration

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William Crawley | 08:13 UK time, Sunday, 29 June 2008

The Global Anglican Future Conference concludes today in Jerusalem with the release of a final communiqué. It has already earned the name "The Jerusalem Declaration" and, in essence, sketches in outline the creation of a communion within a communion comprising confessional Anglicans who regret the new direction of privinces such as The Episcopal Church in the United States. The full document is included below the fold.

Update: Rowan Williams has released a pretty strongly worded response to the Gafcon Statement.

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Analyse this ...

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William Crawley | 10:04 UK time, Saturday, 28 June 2008

el-profesor-freud.jpgIt's a packed programme this week. C.S. Lewis, Sigmund Freud and Robert Mugabe are all on the agenda. We'll be reviewing the second cinematic instalment of the Chronicles of Narnia and debating the ethics of psychoanalysis: just how scientific is the movement that was inspired by Sigmund Freud's groundbreaking work -- and should psychoanalysis be offered on the NHS? We'll also have the latest from GAFCON, the so-called "Alternative Lambeth" conference meeting in Jerusalem, and explore the impact of the debate over sexuality in the Church of Ireland specifically. And the election that never was: the journalist Matthew Parris, who grew up in what was then called Rhodesia, gives his reaction to the week's events in Zimbabwe.

Now that I think of it: Can you imagine the conversation over dinner with C.S. Lewis, Sigmund Freud and Robert Mugabe at the table? Feel free to leave some snippets of possible table talk below.

Evangelical bishop explains why he's going to Lambeth

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William Crawley | 00:12 UK time, Wednesday, 25 June 2008

_44103386_bishop_harold_miller203.jpgA leading evangelical bishop within the Church of Ireland has spoken of his personal struggles over his decision to attend the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops next month. In his Presidential Address to the Synod of the Diocese of Down and Dromore, Bishop Harold Miller explained: "Let me be honest with you: I thought long and hard before deciding to go to the Lambeth Conference this year. So long and so hard that, when I detailed my thinking of the issues I have been examining to the clergy in an Ad Clerum, several said to me: 'When we were reading it, we thought you weren't going, but then we got to the last sentence which said you were!' They were discerning people, and what they said made me think."

According to Bishop Miller, the absence of some 200 bishops from Lambeth will "undermine to some degree the moral authority" of the Conference and "will mean we are only a partial 'communion' gathered, as has happened before". Many of those bishops are attending the GAFCON gathering this week in Jerusalem and Bishop Miller says "many of us will be listening carefully at what they say".

The bishop is critical of the format of this year's Lambeth Conference: "It will be like a retreat-come-training-conference and a meeting and listening place for bishops. That bothers me, even if it is the only realistic thing which can happen. Again, I ask certain questions: Who is doing the 'training' and how is it going to be 'slanted, or is it, or will it be neutral? What exactly does 'listening' mean - when The Episcopal Church in the USA does not seem to have listened? Does it mean 'you must keep on listening till you come round to a particular point of view? Is it worth the vast sums of money being expended simply to do something to keep the show on the road!"

Why then is the bishop attending the Conference? This is part of the explanation he gives: "I'm prepared to give it another chance'. If I'm honest, I do not see how our Communion will, or can, hold together with people going more and more out on a limb. I am aware that such people are creating disunity within the Communion and ecumenical distress with other churches, and concern in other churches who relate to us. But I don't want to give up hope, just yet."

Read the full address by Bishop Harold Miller here.

GAFCON: No Entry

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William Crawley | 17:29 UK time, Monday, 23 June 2008

img00029_3.jpgRuth Gledhill reports on the eight people officially banned from GAFCON. The conference's security teams have been provided with this poster with images of those 'Not allowed in': Colorado Bishop Robert O'Neill, Nigerian gay activist Davis MacIyalla, the Church of England's Rev Colin Coward, American gay Christian campaigners Louie Crew, Rev Susan Russell, Rev Scott Gunn and Deborah and Rev Robert Edmunds.

Ruth writes: "Bishop O'Neill has been asked to serve as the 'eyes and ears' of the US church's Presiding Bishop and is staying with Jerusalem primate, Bishop Suheil Dawani, who never wanted the conference here in the first place."

Perhaps most curious of all, Robert Edmunds is the Jerusalem primate's new chaplain, which means that an Anglican conference has officially banned the bishop's chaplain in the bishop's own diocese.

GAFCON: "A rescue mission"

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William Crawley | 17:11 UK time, Monday, 23 June 2008

The latest from GAFCON, the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem: This is the text of the opening address given by Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria. Live streaming of the GAFCON meetings is also available.

Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney responds to press reports of a GAFCON schism here. As a consequence of recent disagreements across the Communion, Archbishop Jensen says be believes the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury has changed. The office of Archbishop of Canterbury may no longer enjoy the loyalty it was received from member provinces of the Communion. Interestingly, Peter Jensen links some of that cultural change to the fact that "the British Empire has now ceased to be and the British commonwealth of nations has come into existence or the nuclear family has turned into an extended family."

Also: Riazat Butt of The Guardian has a fascinating comment piece about how "clerics at the Global Anglican Futures Conference have been slow to condemn violence against gay people."

Belfast's healing revival

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William Crawley | 20:29 UK time, Sunday, 22 June 2008

On today's Sunday Sequence we reported from the Elim Christian Centre, a Pentecostal Church in north Belfast that is claiming to have witnessed some remarkable examples of faith healing in the past six weeks -- from chronic fatigue syndrome and depression to serious orthopaedic injuries, brain tumours and other cancers. Even more dramatically, one Belfast teenager, Andrew Duffin, says he was dead for 16 minutes in a hospital operating theatre but was revived after his father made an international appeal for prayer. The Elim Christian Centre has cancelled all its regular services and is now holding healing meetings every night of the week at half past seven -- and those services are being streamed live on the internet. Tonight is the 50th day in a row that those healing services have been held with scores of people coming each night for prayer.

The church's pastor, Brian Madden says the church is part of an international outpouring of miraculous healing that is connected to the Florida-based revivalist Todd Bentley. Sceptics will say the reported healings can be explained naturalistically: placebo effects, psychosomatic effects, super-positive thinking, the use of music and repetitive speech to create near-hypnotic effects on a group, and, more simply, by examples of a inexplicable spontaneous remission that is already well-known in many medical conditions. Pastor Brian Madden is not persuaded by those accounts, and it is clear that the scores of people who believe they have been healed are equally unpersuaded. Instead, Brian Madden is so convinced that God passionately wants to heal people today that he was prepared to visit the Belfast City Mortuary and pray for the resurrection of a dead body. One can only imagine the look on the faces of the staff at the City Mortuary when Pastor Madden arrived to pray for one of the bodies in their facility.

Jim Norton wins Tony Award

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William Crawley | 13:00 UK time, Saturday, 21 June 2008

norton.jpgThe Irish actor Jim Norton has won a distinguished Tony Award for his performance in Conor McPherson's The Seafarer. Jim is also the narrator for our Radio Ulster series In The Beginning (you can hear the next episode on Sunday at 4.30 pm). We are all delighted for Jim, who is one of Ireland's most highly-regarded actors and is now enjoying well-deserved success in New York.

Just before leaving for New York to begin rehearsals for The Seafarer, Jim recorded the book of Genesis, in the King James Version, in Studio 3 at Broadcasting House. The producer, John Simpson, called me in to advise on some of the more esoteric Hebrew pronunciations, and I knew, listening to Jim read, that we were on a winner. He has an extraordinary voice and the 17th century text of the Authorised Version sounded so fresh and alive in his hands that it could have been written yesterday.

During a coffee break, Jim told us about the play he was about to begin in New York, and we compared notes on a city we've both lived in. Everyone who knows his work knows that Jim Norton is an utter professional and a brilliant actor. Those who have met him personally also know he is utterly charming. We will proudly now boast that In The Beginning is narrated by the Tony Award-winning actor Jim Norton. Congratulations Jim!

Waiting for Goddard

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William Crawley | 20:50 UK time, Friday, 20 June 2008

Here is proof that two people can have an extended disagreement about the theology of sexuality with enormous grace. Andrew Goddard is a lecturer in Christian Ethics and maintains a traditionalist perspective on homosexuality. Giles Goddard is Rector of a south London church, and chair of the pro-gay group Inclusive Church. They have been corresponding with each other by letter on their contrasting theological views since 19 December 2006. The most recent letter was published on 29 May 2008. Read it all here.

Episcopalian Endgame

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William Crawley | 21:24 UK time, Thursday, 19 June 2008

vlogo_clean_150.gifAhead of next month's Lambeth Conference, the official gathering of Anglican bishops from across the world, an "alternative Lambeth" will gather in Jerusalem on Sunday for a seven-day meeting attended by hundreds of Anglican bishops, most of whom plan to boycott Lambeth. GAFCON, the Global Anglican Future Conference, says it represents 75 percent of the Anglican Communion. About 280 bishops and 750 laypeople are expected to meet in Jerusalem.

I have just finished reading "The Way, the Truth and the Life", which is billed as "the official study document for the GAFCON Jerusalem Pilgrimage". In fact, the document reads more like a Declaration of Independence.

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Gay wedding priest sets the record straight

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William Crawley | 21:05 UK time, Thursday, 19 June 2008

20080617revdudley.jpg"Robustly heterosexual since early adolescence, unable to see that any love surpasses the love of women, and once branded by the odious Daily Mail as 'Dud the Stud', I may seem miscast in the role into which I have now been thrust, that of the turbulent rebellious priest who defies bishop and archbishop to bless two gay men, also priests, in their civil partnership."

So begins an article by Martin Dudley, the priest at the centre of the St Barts blessing controversy, as he explains, in The Spectator, why he agreed to officiate at the service. Read the full article.

The Lambeth Conference reaches facebook

William Crawley | 17:03 UK time, Thursday, 19 June 2008

lambeth.jpg650 Anglican bishops are expected to attend the Lambeth Conference, which meets from 16 Jult to 3 August at the University of Kent. An "alternative Lambeth" begins in Jerusalem on Sunday, involving those bishops and clergy who are outraged at the consecration of a gay priest, Gene Robinson, as Bishop of New Hampshire and the presence at the official Lambeth Conference of bishops who participated in his consecration. The 2008 Lambeth Conference could mark the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it. Sunday Sequence will be there to cover the event, and some Facebookers will be there too. Apparently, some organisers have used the social networking site to recruit 62 stewards for the gathering. The Facebook groups is called "Lambeth Conference Stewards 2008". I suspect it's too late to register your interest, though it's a great way to get a good seat. Fear not though, you can still join the "I listen to the BBC's Sunday Sequence programme" on Facebook, and you can still add me as a friend!

Iris Robinson gives her apologies ...

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William Crawley | 16:32 UK time, Thursday, 19 June 2008

_44248068_irisrobinson203.jpgNo, Mrs Robinson is not apologising for her recent comments about homosexuality. She has sent her apologies to the Assembly's Health committee, which met today for the first time since the controversy over Mrs Robinson's comments. The MP and MLA is also chair of that committee, but in her absence today the deputy chair, Michelle O'Neill of Sinn Fein, chaired the proceedings. We understand that Mrs Robinson was unable to chair the Assembly Health Committee because she was attending a meeting at Castlereagh Borough Council this afternoon.

By the way, so far more than six thousand people have signed an online petition calling on the Prime Minister to reprimand Mr Robinson for her comments about homosexuality.

The Father, the Son and the Housekeeper

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William Crawley | 19:06 UK time, Wednesday, 18 June 2008

If you missed it when it was screened on BBC NI earlier this year, you still have a chance to watch Alison Miller's fascinating documentary about the late Father Michael Cleary, the well-known Irish priest who had his own TV chat show. After his death, it emerged that the priest's housekeeper was actually his common-law wife, and her son was Michael Cleary's child. Watch the documentary here.

Bishops and fiefdoms

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William Crawley | 18:59 UK time, Wednesday, 18 June 2008

RichardChartresPA_228x396.jpgThe Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, has written a very strongly-worded letter of rebuke to the priest who conducted the same-sex service of blessing at St Bartholomew's Church. The letter to Dr Martin Dudley, which is included in full below the fold, ends with these pretty hard-hitting words:

"St Bartholomew's is not a personal fiefdom. You serve there as an ordained minister of the Church of England, under the authority of the Canons and as someone who enjoys my licence. I have already asked the Archdeacon of London to commence the investigation and I shall be referring the matter to the Chancellor of the Diocese. Before I do this, I am giving you an opportunity to make representations to me direct."

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Iris and the Cardinal

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William Crawley | 12:50 UK time, Wednesday, 18 June 2008

In case you missed this on last week's BBC Hearts and Minds programme, here's my colleague Malachi O'Doherty reflecting on the Iris Robinson Affair and asking if it's a little "suspect" that so many people have been angered by Mrs Robinson's comments when her views represent the basic teaching of the Catholic Church on the theological status of same-sex sexual activities.

Some might respond that this public debate is not actually about religion and sexuality. No one has challenged the right of faith groups to maintain their own moral and religious views. The debate is about language (how a particular moral view is articulated) and it is about a the relationship between religion and politics (and whether politicians need to be careful to distinguish their public role as political leaders from their personal beliefs as private citizens).

Do people of faith need psychiatric help?

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William Crawley | 12:34 UK time, Wednesday, 18 June 2008

psychiatrist_small.gifThe Humanist Association of Northern Ireland has also entered the fray in the debate about Iris Robinson, with a statement that appears to suggest, by implication at least, that it is religious people who need psychological help rather than gay and lesbian people. The statement is issued in the name of their chair, Kevin Kerr. It reads:

"We in the Humanist Association of Northern Ireland (Humani) would like to express our deep concern at the recent comments made by Iris Robinson MLA. Her verbal attack on the gay community yet again shows that religious values are a dead weight which permeates the psyche of some of our politicians in a way that is extremely damaging for all. It is this psychological condition that is damaging, not homosexuality. The gay community in Northern Ireland has grown ever more confident in asserting its right to exist. Humani continues to support a pluralist society and we will attend this year's Gay Pride march in Belfast on Saturday, August 2nd. We hope that as the influence of religion in this country wanes, this kind of primitive belief will become history."

Catholic archbishop challenges Legionaries of Christ

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William Crawley | 16:56 UK time, Tuesday, 17 June 2008

apg_maciel_johnpaul_070827_mn.jpgJohn Allen has an interesting interview here with Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore after his call for greater "transparency and accountability" from the controversial religious order known as Legionaries of Christ and their lay movement, Regnum Christi. Archbishop O'Brien has also directed the groups to "disclose all activities within his archdiocese, and to refrain from one-on-one spiritual direction with anyone under 18" following reports of "heavily persuasive methods on young people, especially high schoolers, regarding vocations."

The Legionaries of Christ, an ultra-Conservative congregation within Catholicism, was founded by the late Father Marcial Maciel Degollado (pictured being received by the late Pope John Paul II). Fr Maciel, who died last January, was regarded by his many followers as a living saint until evidence emerged that the priest had sexually abused a number of children over many decades.

Always a bridesmaid ...

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William Crawley | 16:40 UK time, Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Sexuality disputes are in the air this month, it seems. One of the two gay Anglican priests who took civil partnership vows in a London church earlier this month has now resigned his clerical license. The Bishop of London has begun an investigation into the service, and, today, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York released a joint statement condemning the service (albeit in suitably careful Anglicanese). Meanwhile in Ireland, amid an escalating public debate about gay marriage, Catholic bishops have released a statement re-stating their historic opposition to same-sex marriage. While the bishops were releasing that statement, the National Library of Ireland was marking Bloomsday with the launch of the new Irish Queer Archive, a massive collection of material documenting the history of homosexuality in Ireland.

Hate crime complaints continue against Iris Robinson

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William Crawley | 16:22 UK time, Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Police Service of Northern Ireland have received more than one hundred complaints about comments made by the MP and MLA Iris Robinson. That's according to the Coalition on Sexual Orientation, a gay advocacy umbrella group in Northern Ireland, who say that figure was provided to them by the police. Some of those complaints were made in person by members of the public visiting a local police station, and some were made via the PSNI website. The PSNI have told the BBC that they have begun initial enquiries into the comments.

Meanwhile, the Belfast Humanist Group have issued a public response to Iris Robinson's comments, which is included below the fold. The Belfast Humanists condemn the comments and call on Mrs Robinson to make a public apology.

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Weddings and blessings

William Crawley | 15:58 UK time, Sunday, 15 June 2008

priests-marriage-19_679131e.jpgWhile we've been immersed in a public row about Iris Robinson's anti-gay rhetoric in Northern Ireland, an Anglican parish in London has made the news by hosting a service of blessing for a gay couple who previously contracted a civil partnership. The couple in question are themselves Anglican priests -- the Reverend Peter Cowell and the Reverend Dr David Lord (pictured)-- and the service was conducted by the Reverend Dr Martin Dudley, rector of St Bartholomew the Great Church in the City of London. The service used by Dr Dudley is based on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (with "marriage" words changed to "covenant" terminology). Thus, Dr Dudley addressed the congregation: "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together these men in a holy covenant of love and fidelity."

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Will George Bush become a Catholic?

William Crawley | 00:48 UK time, Sunday, 15 June 2008

_44744074_e19b1762-78a4-4891-ae68-9de88d7030b4.jpgCal Thomas, the syndicated columnist, joins me on Sunday Sequence this week to talk about President Bush's European tour and, amongst other things, the rumour that the US president, a lifelong Methodist, may, in retirement, follow Tony Blair into a new spiritual home -- the Catholic Church. George Bush's brother Jeb, the former governor of Florida, has already made that spiritual journey. Speculation has been encouraged by the unprecedented reception given to the president by Pope Benedict on Friday (watch here).

Sticks and stones may break my bones ...

William Crawley | 14:42 UK time, Saturday, 14 June 2008

bt-hnf.gif... but words will never harm me. Except that our words do have consequences and may incite hatred in others and possibly even violence. On tomorrow's Sunday Sequence, we'll be taking a close-up look at "hate speech". What does the law actually say about public speech that incites hatred? What kind of language can be considered an incitement to hatred? How does the language we use influence the kind of society we live in? How do we draw the line between free speech and irresponsible speech? And when language from the Bible enters a public controversy today (such as the word "abomination"), how should church leaders respond? My guests include the academic lawyer Rosemary Craig, who will be helping us to understand what our current laws say; Callum Webster from the Christian Institute; Grainne Close, one half of Northern Ireland's first same-sex civil partnership; and the Presbyterian minister Norman Hamilton, who was much involved in the Holy Cross dispute of 2001-2002.

Have you committed an "abomination" today?

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William Crawley | 18:12 UK time, Friday, 13 June 2008

leviticus-18-22-kjv.jpgThe Iris Robinson Affair, as it might be called, centres on this MP's use of the term "abomination" to describe homosexuality. Mrs Robinson believes that the term "abomination", as used in the Bible, means that an action is wicked, vile, disgusting, and morally wrong. It may be helpful to take a look at the term "abomination" as it is used in the Bible to explore its actual meaning (to the extent that we can). So let me set aside the hot and heavy debates about Iris Robinson's comments, and consider the term "abomination", as it appears in the Bible and as it is sometimes used in public speech today.

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Psychologists reject Iris Robinson's claims

William Crawley | 15:48 UK time, Friday, 13 June 2008

The professional body for Clinical Psychology in Northern Ireland has just released a statement to the press in which it rejects the call made by Iris Robinson, Chair of the Stormont Health Committee, that gay people should seek psychiatric counselling in an attempt to help them be "turned around".

The statement from the British Psychological Society's Division of Clinical Psychology's Northern Ireland Branch reads:

"Clinical psychologists and other health professionals recognise and value the full range of heterosexual, lesbian, gay and transgender sexual orientations. Clinical psychologists do not view these forms of sexual preferences as 'disorders' and do not see an individual's sexual orientations as something that can or should be changed. We know of no recognised or accredited forms of 'psychiatric counselling' that can help people 'turn round'."

"Of course, it is recognised that, especially in a homophobic society many people, whether gay or straight, have emotional problems associated with their sexuality. If a person is experiencing psychological problems because of their sexual orientation clinical psychologists work to promote a positive view of their sexual identity and to help resolve any difficulties."

Dr Nicola Rooney, Chair of the Division of Clinical Psychology's Northern Ireland Branch said:

"Personally, I see my role as a clinical psychologist as being one where I help people achieve the maximum possible sense of personal well-being, whatever their sexuality. If there is a role for 'psychiatric counselling' in this area, perhaps it might be better used in helping people develop a more tolerant and well-informed view of their fellow citizens".

Lawyers for Guantanamo detainees claim victory

William Crawley | 14:19 UK time, Friday, 13 June 2008

supreme_court_side_view_medium_web_view.jpgThe Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation's most egregious injustices. By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court recognises a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation's founding."

Vincent Warren, head of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, which represents dozens of prisoners at Guantanamo, welcoming the US Supreme Court ruling that 270 prisoners, held for more than six years on suspicion of terrorism or links to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, have a constitutional right to take their cases to US civilian courts. CCR describes the ruling as "one of the most important human rights cases of the decade".

The case before the Supreme Court which resulted in this landmark judgment -- a ruling which may signal the death knell of the controversial detention centre at Guantanamo Bay -- is Boumediene et al. v. Bush, President of the United States, et al. Read the entire judgment here.

The reaction of the human rights organisation Reprieve, which represents thirty-five of the detainees, is published here. Zachary Katznelson, Legal Director of Reprieve says: "Governments make mistakes. We all do. After today, Guantánamo Bay prisoners have the right to say: you made a mistake with me - set me free. Any one of us would want the same. Nonetheless, the Bush Administration has tried to put itself above the law again and again. While this is a great legal victory, it remains to be seen whether there will now be a move to justice on the ground. Justice in name only is still justice denied."

Supreme Court gives rights to Guantanamo detainees

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William Crawley | 00:09 UK time, Friday, 13 June 2008 US Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, against the Bush administration's arguments in defence of the legal status of the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. This is a phenomenally successful outcome for anti-Guantanamo campaigners. The upshot is that the remaining detainees now have the right to challenge their detention in US non-military courts. White House lawyers will now be carefully examining the decision to see if new legislation is necessary to counteract some of the implications of the decision.

Political undertakers?

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William Crawley | 22:47 UK time, Thursday, 12 June 2008

On tonight's BBC Question Time, Baroness Shirley Williams commented on the DUP's support for Gordon Brown's controversial 42-day detention legislation. She said, "The DUP are the undertakers of every government. They turn up just as a government is about to die, and I know that personally."

David Davis resigns (sort of)

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William Crawley | 16:59 UK time, Thursday, 12 June 2008

david_davis_080315.276.jpgIn a move that is (to my knowledge, at least) unprecedented in the history of British politics, David Davis, the shadow home secretary, has resigned as an MP to force a by-election in his own constituency as a test of support for his own party's opposition to the new 42-day anti-terror legislation. (Watch here.) Presumably, the Labour Party could decide to simply stand aside from this by-election and allow Mr Davis to be re-elected. That would put Mr Davis back in the House, but would it evacuate his gesture of political power?

A master class with Maeve Binchy

William Crawley | 19:47 UK time, Wednesday, 11 June 2008

jul07_binchy2.jpgThat's essentially what I had this morning in Dalkey, at the home of the bestselling novelist Maeve Binchy. I took the early morning train with my Book Programme producer Noel Russell, then caught the DART from Connolly Station, recording equipment in hand (okay, in Noel's hands!). It was a lovely visit. Everyone told me Maeve would be the personification of charm, and she certainly lived up to her reputation. We talked about why writers feel compelled to write, how they approach the necessarily isolating task of writing, and how they deal with the pitfalls of both success and failure. We also talked about Maeve's new novel, Heart and Soul, which is published next October -- and how the story, which concerns a heart-rate clinic, emerged from Maeve's own experience of medical treatment for a continuing heart condition. She sat in her writing chair, beside the laptop she uses to produce her phenomenally successful novels, and we were surrounded by her books, paintings, files, and clippings folders. She was very much at home -- in more than one sense -- in that writing space on the first floor of her house in Dalkey, and the interview is full of laughter, stories, insights and tricks of the writing trade. We'll be broadcasting the interview in the next few weeks.

DUP rescues Gordon Brown

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William Crawley | 19:18 UK time, Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Gordon Brown managed to fight off a Labour rebellion on the controversial 42-day anti-terror legislation by a majority of just nine votes. 37 Labour MPs voted against the government. All nine DUP MPs voted with the government, prompting allegations that the DUP had engaged in political horse-trading. The UUP's Lady Hermon also voted with the government. The SDLP's three MPs voted against the legislation in the face of apparently strenuous efforts by the Prime Minister to win their support. The Tory MP Ann Widdecombe also came to the Prime Minister's assistance on the day, along with the UKIP MP Bob Spink.

Can you "love the sinner and hate the sin"?

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William Crawley | 11:54 UK time, Tuesday, 10 June 2008

love-hate.jpgThere is continuing public debate about comments made by Iris Robinson MP MLA that homosexuality is disgusting, vile, nauseating, and to be loathed. Mrs Robinson has clearly deplored any acts of violence against gay and lesbian people, and she draws a distinction between "loving the sinner, and hating the sin".

Many will challenge that distinction, since they regard a person's sexuality as an aspect of an individual's sense of identity. Let me plunge into the deep end of theology and logic for a second and examine the internal coherence of the expression "love the sinner, hate the sin" when used in respect of gay and lesbian people.

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Dream ticket or nightmare?

William Crawley | 11:10 UK time, Tuesday, 10 June 2008

clinton_obama.jpg"It would be the worst mistake that could be made. That would just accumulate the negative aspects of both candidates. If you take the 50 percent of US voters [according to polls] who just don't want to vote for Clinton and add to it whatever element there might be who don't think Obama is white enough or old enough or experienced enough or because he he's got a middle name that sounds Arab, you could have the worst of both worlds."

Former US President Jimmy Carter explains why he thinks Barack Obama should pick someone else as his vice-presidential running mate. (Source: interview with Jonathan Freedland).

Police to investigate Iris Robinson

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William Crawley | 12:17 UK time, Monday, 9 June 2008

The MP and MLA Iris Robinson is to be investigated by the Northern Ireland Police following complaints about her recent comments about homosexuality. In a radio interview last Friday, Mrs Robinson called homosexuality "disgusting", "loathsome", "nauseating", "wicked", "vile" and "an abomination". I understand that at least two separate complaints have been made to the police and that police in south Belfast are dealing with the case. One complaint, at least, questions whether Mrs Robinson's comments are tantamount to a hate crime.

Without commenting on this incident specifically, it is certainly the case that, in a free society, politicians -- and everyone else -- have the right to express their deeply held religious convictions. The issue we all face in our increasingly diverse society is how to express our views responsibly. Some will question whether the courts are the best way to test the issue of responsible speech -- particularly in the case of politicians who regularly face the test of the ballot box. Others will claim that our words have consequences, and it is vital that we all avoid language that could foster further divisiveness in our society. That is not just the case with homosexuality: the language we use in addressing our diverse religious environment is implicated with precisely the same issues of sensitivity.

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Can gay people be 'straightened out'?

William Crawley | 16:06 UK time, Saturday, 7 June 2008

_1374047_iris150.jpgA Northern Irish MP has made national headlines this weekend by calling on gay people to seek psychiatric counselling in order to become heterosexual. The MP and MLA Iris Robinson is also chair of the Assembly's Health Committee -- and wife of the new First Minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson. She made the call while speaking on the Stephen Nolan Show on friday -- just two days after Stephen Scott, a young gay man in Newtownabbey, was subjected to a violent homophobic attack.

Mrs Robinson's comments have triggered an avalanche of media coverage across the UK, including Radio 4's Today programme. She defended her views as ethical implications of her fundamental Christian commitments (though many Christians would strongly disagree with her comments about homosexuality and some called the Nolan Show to explain why they are supportive of same-sex relationships).

Tomorrow, on Sunday Sequence, we will examine the case for 'reparative therapy' -- the claim that counselling and psychotherapy could enable someone with predominantly same-sex attractions and arousal patterns to manifest predeominantly heterosexual attractions and arousal patterns. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has already released a statement to the BBC in which it challenges the scientific and moral status of such therapies. According to their statement, 'homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder' and 'lesbian, gay and bisexual people should be regarded as valued members of society who have exactly similar rights and responsibilities as all other citizens ... [including] ... a right to protection from therapies that are potentially damagining, particularly those that purport to change sexual orientation.' (See below for full statement.)

paul.jpgMy guests tomorrow are Dr Paul Miller (pictured), a consultant psychiatrist who also serves as a senior advisor to iris Robinson, and also works in private practice offering a form of reparative therapy; and Dr Glenn Wilson from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London and co-author of Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation.

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Portadown churches will go it alone at Christmas

William Crawley | 15:10 UK time, Saturday, 7 June 2008

christinaB_262288d.jpgThe two Presbyterian churches in Portadown who became embroiled in a Christmas Day standoff over gender have come to a resolution. First Portadown and Armagh Road congregations made news headlines last January when the Reverend Stafford Carson of First Portadown explained to his Armagh Road colleague, the Reverend Christina Bradley, that his church could not allow a woman minister into his pulpit. After a number of private meetings between the two ministers since January, Christina Bradley has announced to her congregation that the 60-year tradition of a joint service is now to be discontinued. Henceforth, the two churches will run separate Christmas Day services.

StaffordCarson.jpgNevertheless, I understand that both ministers have met each month since the row broke in January and have enjoyed very positive and friendly meetings during which they have deepened their understanding of each other's ministries and perspectives. One could read the close of the annual joint service as a failure to reconcile; but there is another story here that is easily missed in media reporting: of two congregations, two ministers, and two quite contrasting worldviews now in conversation and now on a journey of understanding.

We'll have a fuller update on the Portadown developments on tomorrow's Sunday Sequence.

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Life imitates art

William Crawley | 20:55 UK time, Wednesday, 4 June 2008

"We can do it!". "Change." Simple aspirational expressions that have proved very successful for Barack Obama in securing the Democratic nomination -- and key elements of the "narrative" of Obama with which the electorate has become familiar. I say "narrative" because this is what a successful candidate has to offer voters as part of the modern race for the US presidency. It's not enough to merely present policy plans; the public want a story they can understand, admire, and embrace. That's what Obama's team offered more successfully than Hillary's campaign. The Hillary Story was more complex in some ways than The Obama Story; it was certainly less attractive. The Obama Story is a variation on America's most admired story: the unlikely rise of the underdog. Hillary's story seemed, to many, a little imperialistic: the story of a presumed manifest destiny.

We shouldn't be surprised by the success of Obama's story, since one of its "authors" was a script adviser for The West Wing. It's said that David Axelrod helped scriptwriters base the character of Matt Santos, the presidential candidate who succeeded President Bartlett, on a rising star of the Democratic Party by the name of Barack Obama. Axelrod is now an adviser to Senator Obama and seems to have drawn from the fictional character of Matt Santos in developing a successful '"public narrative" for Barack Obama.

Hillary: the end game

William Crawley | 22:11 UK time, Tuesday, 3 June 2008

It's over for Hillary Clinton's presidential bid, and she now appears to realise that herself. With almost all the votes in, Barack Obama's lead is well-confirmed, and with every news report we hear of yet another significant voice joining his chorus. The latest is former president Jimmy Carter; and, just as significantly, some of Hillary's leading fundraisers seem now to be moving to Obama's support. Hillary may make her concession speech (or something approaching a concession speech) in the next day or two.

Hillary seems willing to serve as Obama's vice-presidential running mate, but it's not certain that Obama would welcome her on board at this point. Every criticism Hillary made of Obama during an extremely negative nomination process -- his lack of judgment, his inexperience, and much more -- would then resurface in the general election. At that point, Senator Clinton would have to explain why she wants an inexperienced candidate with poor judgement (in his previous analysis) to be elected as president.

Against that, Senator Obama knows he has to overcome the divisiveness of this campaign, and having Hillary as his running mate would certainly help to heal the wounds of the nomination process. But would Hillary bring in more states (and other significant constituencies) than another running mate such as Jim Webb, John Edwards, or Bill Richardson? Barack Obama is now facing perhaps the most significant decision he will have to take between now and the November election.

Blueprint and tractors

William Crawley | 21:58 UK time, Tuesday, 3 June 2008

My friend and colleague Padraig Coyle called me tonight from the Grand Opera House, in the interval during Grimes and McKee's Tractor Show. Apparently, the show includes a sketch based on our Blueprint natural history series. Padraig assures me that imitation is the highest form of flattery. I remain to be convinced! I may have to buy a disguise and check out the sketch in person.

Bishop Gene Robinson on alcoholism

William Crawley | 21:34 UK time, Tuesday, 3 June 2008

275px-Bishop_Gene_Robinson_portrait_2005.pngYou can still listen to my most recent interview with Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, at the Sunday Sequence website. Bishop Robinson talks about his sexuality, his upcoming civil partnership, the ecclesiastical state of play as we approach Lambeth 2008, and his battle with alcoholism.

Obama's troublesome priests

William Crawley | 09:13 UK time, Sunday, 1 June 2008

Barack Obama resigned, yesterday, from Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, where controversial sermons by his former pastor Jeremiah Wright have caused emormous problems for his campaign. Obama's resignation comes less than a week after Fr Michael Pfleger, a white Catholic priest with an impressive social action record, preached a racially charged sermon from the pulpit of the same church.

Addressing Hillary Clinton's bid for the Democratic nomination, Fr Pfleger said: " "When Hillary was crying, and people said that was put on, I really don't believe it was put on. I really believe that she just always thought: 'This is mine! I'm Bill's wife, I'm white and this is mine! I just gotta get up and step into the plate.' And then out of nowhere came, 'Hey, I'm Barack Obama,' and she said: 'Oh, damn. Where did you come from? I'm white! I'm entitled! There's a black man stealing my show!'

Obama distanced himself from Fr Pfleger, describing the comments as "divisive". The priest, whose words have since been criticised by Catholic leaders, was speaking on the topic of white entitlement. Watch part of his sermon below.

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