Archives for September 2011

Are Christians really being persecuted in the UK?

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William Crawley | 13:11 UK time, Friday, 30 September 2011

Few doubt that the plight of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, the Iranian convert to Christianity now facing the death penalty for his refusal to recant, is an example of religious persecution. And organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide are seeking the public's help in campaigning for Pastor Nadarkhani's release.

But what about Christians in the UK? Dr Richard Scott, who told me his story on Sunday Sequence, is facing disciplinary action at the General Medical Council because he discussed his Christian faith with an emotionally distressed patient and suggested that the patient could find help in Christianity and in Jesus. He then suggested that the patient might benefit from a Christian faith above his own religion. (The patient's faith tradition has not been made public.)

It is for the General Medical Council to decide if Dr Scott is in violation of any professional ethical codes or standards, but this case has been cited as yet another example of Christians in Britain being persecuted or the Christian faith marginalised.

Some Christian leaders, including Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and Bishop Nick Baines, have cautioned against the use of the term "persecution" to describe the experience of Christians in the UK. That caution has also been recommended by the Christian think tank Ekklesia, who say persecution lanuage as mixing "up the inconveniences and challenges of living in a mixed society with the terror of living in a disintegrating or dictatorial one".

For its part, the Christian Institute says Christians in Britain are certainly being squeezed out of public life, and has published an 80-page report summarizing the evidence.

Are Christians really being persectued in the UK? Or are they simply being asked to follow the same anti-discrimination laws, and professional codes, that govern everyone else?

Blood sacrifice: banning gay blood in Northern Ireland

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William Crawley | 12:05 UK time, Friday, 23 September 2011

Northern Ireland's health minister, Edwin Poots MLA (pictured, right), has ruled that sexually active gay men will not be permitted to donate blood.

The health ministers in England, Scotland and Wales have already lifted the ban on the basis of a new review of the clinical evidence which concludes that there is no significant risk to public safety warranting a continuation of the ban.

Edwin Poots's decision dominated the Nolan Show on Monday and Tuesday of this week, with many callers ringing seeking an explanation from the minister. Some commentators argue that his decision reflects an "outdated and irrational prejudice" rather than a concern for public safety.

Read a background briefing on the issue from the Terrence Higgins Trust.

On Sunday, I'll be talking the new Chief Commissioner for Human Rights in Northern Ireland about whether he thinks the minister's decision raises any issues of concern.

Scientists call on government to ban "screatific" Creationism

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William Crawley | 14:01 UK time, Thursday, 22 September 2011

A group of distinguished scientists is calling on the government to require that every school in Britain should teach the theory of evolution, and to ban the teaching of Creationism "as a scientific theory" in all publicly-funded schools. The list of signatories includes some of the country's best-known scientists, and the organisations associated with the petition include both the British Humanist Association and Ekklesia, the Christian public theology think-tank.

Here's a summary of the Petition: "Creationism and 'intelligent design' are not scientific theories, but they are portrayed as scientific theories by some religious fundamentalists who attempt to have their views promoted in publicly-funded schools. There should be enforceable statutory guidance that they may not be presented as scientific theories in any publicly-funded school of whatever type. But this is not enough. An understanding of evolution is central to understanding all aspects of biology. The teaching of evolution should be included at both primary and secondary levels in the National Curriculum and in all schools."

A more detailed version of this statement is available here.

What do you think? Does creationism or intelligent design theory have any place in the science classrooms of a publicly-funded school? Should discussion of those accounts of the world be restricted to religion classrooms as an acknowledgement of the fact that they are non-sceintific explanations?

Darwin Templeton in conversation

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William Crawley | 12:40 UK time, Wednesday, 21 September 2011

This Friday, I'll be in conversation with Darwin Templeton, editor of the News Letter, as part of the BBC Writer-in-Residence series. I'll be standing-in on this occasion for Malachi O'Doherty, who is the current BBC Writer-in-Residence at Queen's University.

If you'd like to come along and ask Darwin some questions about journalism, the media and how we cover events in Northern Ireland particularly, tickets to this event may be booked in advance but will also be available from the venue on the day. Admission is on a first come, first served basis. You can apply for a free ticket here. The event begins at 1pm on Friday at the BBC Blackstaff Studios.

Darwin Templeton has been editor of the News Letter since August 2006. In that time he has helped to establish the paper as one of the best-performing regional daily titles in the UK. Darwin began his career with the Belfast Telegraph in 1991, and progressed to the Sunday Life as news editor in 1996, before becoming Northern Ireland correspondent of the News of the World and The Sun and then returning to the Belfast Telegraph as Chief Reporter. Darwin is a regular contributor to news and current affairs shows on radio and television.

In the news this week ...

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William Crawley | 15:35 UK time, Thursday, 15 September 2011

Bishop Edward Daly has made the news this week with his call for a revolutionary change in the Catholic Church to permit priests to marry. I've posted a few links in this thread to coverage of that story, along with some of the other stories that got my attention this week. It's not a comprehensive list, just a taste of what's out there.

You can use the thread to suggest other news items and stories worth noting or debating. Your idea might even make it onto this week's Sunday Sequence programme.

Religion stories
Bishop Daly calls for an end to clerical celibacy.Analysis: Celibacy debate rages, but change unlikely.
Priest group backs Daly's calls for end to celibacy.
Orange Order action over UUP attendance at Kerr funeral.
Atheist Richard Dawkins blasts Catholic Church.
Abuse Victims Ask Court to Prosecute the Vatican.
Vatican gives traditionalists doctrinal statement to sign.

Ethics news
Johann Hari: A personal apology.

Thinking allowed
Philosophical counselors rely on eternal wisdom of great thinkers.

New York thanks Belfast on 9/11

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William Crawley | 10:45 UK time, Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, has sent this message to the City of Belfast on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The message is to be read publicly this afternoon at a special commemoration ceremony on the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

Dear Friends:

It is a great honor to join Lord Mayor Ó Donnghaile in welcoming everyone to Belfast's
September 11th Memorial Ceremony.

The attacks of September 11th, 2001 changed our world forever. The outpouring of
support New York City received from the international community during our darkest days was humbling and inspiring, and we deeply appreciate the extraordinary support we received from the citizens of Belfast and those across the Irish isle.

Today, we will open a beautiful memorial at the site of the World Trade Center. The 9/11
Memorial will provide a powerful and lasting place of reflection and remembrance, and it will help ensure that future generations know the story of what happened that day, and how the whole world responded. Given how many of those we lost that day had connections to your land, it seems only fitting that the memorial stands just one block away from the Irish Hunger Memorial.

Together, they will forever remind us of how indebted our city is to those who trace their roots to your shores. Today, as we reflect back on the horror and heroism of September 11th, let us remember not only how the Twin Towers fell, but how we rose up together-determined to defend our way of life and protect our freedoms. And as you pay tribute to those we lost, I join you in honoring their lives. I know we will find inspiration in their memories-and in the spirit of unity that brings Belfast and New York together once again today.


Michael R. Bloomberg
Mayor of New York City

Irish government responds to the Vatican (again)

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William Crawley | 17:54 UK time, Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Irish government has issued this statement in response to the Vatican's recent comments on the Cloyne Report.

"The Government of Ireland thanks the Holy See for its response of 3 September regarding the report of the Commission of Investigation into the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne (the Cloyne Report) and the representations made to it by the Tánaiste in this regard in his meeting with the Apostolic Nuncio on 14 July 2011.

The Government acknowledges and welcomes the statement in the response that the Holy See is sorry and ashamed for the terrible sufferings which the victims of abuse and their families have endured. The victims of abuse and their families must remain foremost in our considerations.

Having considered carefully the Cloyne Report and the response of the Holy See, the Government of Ireland remains of the view that the content of the confidential letter in 1997 from the then Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Storero , to the Irish Bishops, regardless of whether or not it was intended to do so, provided a pretext for some members of the clergy to evade full cooperation with the Irish civil authorities in regard to the abuse of minors. This is a matter of great concern to the Irish Government.

The Government of Ireland notes the comments in the Holy See's response on the political debate which ensued in Ireland after the publication of the Cloyne Report and in particular the statements made by the Taoiseach and other political leaders. The Government of Ireland must point out that the comments made by the Taoiseach and other political leaders accurately reflect the public anger of the overwhelming majority of Irish people at the failure of the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Holy See to deal adequately with clerical child sexual abuse and those who committed such appalling acts.

It is the Government of Ireland's hope that, in spite of outstanding differences, lessons have been learned from appalling past failures. In this regard, it welcomes the commitment in the concluding remarks of the Holy See's response to a constructive dialogue and cooperation with the Government. In welcoming this commitment the Government expects the fullest cooperation from the Holy See, the Catholic Church in Ireland and all other relevant bodies with a view to ensuing that Ireland is a society fully safe for children and minors and that all of those with responsibility for the welfare and care of children in this country are fully subject to Irish laws and requirements."

Irish church leader says talk of a split is "premature"

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William Crawley | 13:37 UK time, Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, The Most Revd Alan Harper, says he hopes suggestions that the Church of Ireland may split over the decision of a cathedral dean to enter a civil partnership are "premature". Is he right?

Here's the Archbishop's statement in full:

"The recent civil partnership of a serving ordained Church of Ireland clergyman presents a new situation within the Church of Ireland. It is true to say that within the Church there is a range of views on same-sex relationships and there will also be a range of views and reactions to civil partnerships concerning clergy. I acknowledge that this issue has caused strong feelings and concern. While there are acknowledged differences of opinion within the Church, suggestions that it might split are, I hope, premature. In 2003 the Bishops of the Church of Ireland issued a pastoral letter on human sexuality which reflected the varied spectrum of views within the Church. The General Synod of the Church of Ireland has not made any statement or decision in addition to that. The Bishops will be addressing the matter again shortly. I trust that the Church and its bishops will continue to address this subject with mutual respect. The state has provided a right in law for same gender persons to have their partnerships recognized and specific rights conferred through civil partnership, This is not recognized as marriage by the Church of Ireland or by the civil authorities in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Marriage is understood by the Church to comprise a lifelong and exclusive commitment by one man and one woman to each other. The Church is no provision or proposals for any liturgy for the blessing of civil partnerships and there are no authorized public rites of blessing for same-gender relationships."

Further reporting from BBC Newsline.

Conservative Anglicans respond to cleric's civil partnership

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William Crawley | 11:48 UK time, Wednesday, 7 September 2011

This statement us been jointly issued by the committees of the Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship, the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy, New Wine (Ireland) and Reform Ireland in response to the news that Dean Tom Gordon (pictured) has entered a civil partnership. You can listen again to my interview with Tom Gordon on last week's Sunday Sequence.

The statement from the four conservative groups reads:

"As groups representing a significant number of both ordained and non-ordained members of the Church of Ireland we wish to express our sorrow at the announcement that a serving cleric of the Church of Ireland has entered into a Civil Partnership with another man. This raises specific questions and highlights issues that go beyond the particular circumstances of the individual concerned.

The specific questions: Did Dean Gordon inform his Diocesan Bishop of his intention to enter into a Civil Partnership? Is this a celibate relationship? While the latter question may seem intrusive it is a recognition that a Civil Partnership does not necessarily presume a relationship that involves sexual intimacy and is beyond the Biblical mandate for sexual activity. If Dean Gordon's relationship does include sexual expression then what are the implications for his pastoral and diocesan roles?

The wider issues are already being played out in other parts of the world. Divisiveness and legal battles within the Anglican churches in both the United States and Canada; individual ministers and congregations seceding from the Church of Scotland. In the Church of Ireland there has been something of a stand-off on these matters yet if the orthodox view of marriage and sexuality is allowed to be shattered by the actions of Dean Gordon and others then it is difficult to see how a respectful fellowship can be maintained.

Our desire is for a continuing and growing unity within the Church of Ireland and to see such unity expressed in a holiness and morality that is both personal and corporate. We acknowledge our common fallenness and acknowledge too that sexual sin is neither the only digression from God's design for humanity nor is homosexual activity the only way God's gift of sex is debased.

We fear Dean Gordon's action will cause pain and grief within our Church and damage relationships with other Christian traditions in Ireland with whom we work closely at local as well as regional level.

A fuller version of this statement will follow."

Being gay at church

William Crawley | 10:18 UK time, Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Irish Peace Centres have released the report "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Communites' Experiences of Faith and Church in Northern Ireland" (read the report in full here). We've asked Pádraig Ó Tuama, from Irish Peace Centres, to introduce the report. Please feel free to discuss the report on this thread and, if you feel comfortable, to share your experiences too.

I was speaking with a church leader about this report yesterday. He said to me "I'm sure it'll be a damning condemnation of the church". Actually, it isn't. It is a multi-layered report that represents many different experiences of church and faith. Many of the most difficult stories are made more difficult because the people who had been asked to leave churches loved that church. At times it is full of love, and at other times, that love is full of sadness.

Dr Claire Mitchell & Dr. Gail McConnell have written a compelling piece of research. The stories speak of the lived-reality of what is sometimes called the "gay debate". Participants describe having to come out as gay to their Christian friends, and come at as Christian to their gay friends. The participants speak of how they wish to be named, and how they wish to be treated. The participants define themselves, with their own words, and with their own faith stories. The participants tell the stories of what it's like to be on the receiving end of "Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner".

Why is a peace organisation like the Irish Peace Centres concerning itself with questions of LGBT discussions with Religious leadership? Part of the answer comes from the priorities set by the SEUPB, who tasked IPC to address divides - the traditional ones, as well as emerging "social and psychological divides".

At the end of his year as moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev. Dr. Norman Hamilton spoke with Alan Meban about religious conservatism in Northern Ireland. His words are enlightening. "There's just an in-built conservatism in our DNA and I think that has been accentuated by the Troubles. The need to be protective of who we are and what we stand for."

Clearly some people wish for more inclusion of LGBT people, and others are dismayed by it. What interests me is the following question - how do we speak with each other?

What has often passed for public discourse has been little more than the mutual exchange of insult. Accusations of bigotry and perversion can be exchanged from one side to another. What is achieved through this? It seems to me that little is achieved. Furthermore, the ones who bear the fallout of this mutual exchange of insults are the ones whose lives are most affected - the ones who may have to fear for the safety of their own home, their jobs, and their relationships.

The word 'fear' is an important one. There are some who fear that society-wide inclusion of LGBT people will bring with it things that are fearsome. There are others who fear that ongoing secrecy and exclusion of LGBT will continue to affect peoples' lives detrimentally. Whatever it is that we may fear, we must talk to one another. We must find ways to speak, using our own words for ourselves, and using words to describe someone else that are generous to them, rather than insulting to them.

In this report, there is an abundance of faith. There is a deep sense of hope for inclusion and for the way forward. There is a rich sense of love - love for partners, love for faith, churches, and love for a flourishing life.

The report will be launched at 3.30pm on Wednesday 7 September at the Crescent Arts Centre. You can contact Pádraig Ó Tuama on

The Vatican fights back

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William Crawley | 09:46 UK time, Sunday, 4 September 2011

Toaiseach Enda Kenny's unprecedented assault on the Vatican has clearly infuriated the Pope's advisers. Here's the full text of the Vatican's response to the Irish government's analysis of the Cloyne Report. The Holy See denies that it, in any way, frustratrated Irish efforts to protect children and pursue clerical abusers.

In the news this week ...

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William Crawley | 16:18 UK time, Thursday, 1 September 2011

Here are some of the stories that got my attention this week.

It's not a comprehensive list, just a taste of what's out there.

You can use the thread to suggest other news items and stories worth noting or debating.

Your idea might even make it onto this week's Sunday Sequence programme.

Ethics in the news
Tobacco firm demands university's research on children and smoking
Another century of unequal pay
Government adviser: Give patients 'choice' over when they die
Saif Gaddafi's PhD dissertation
US Politics: A Christian manifesto?

Religion stories
Evangelicals Question the Existence of Adam and Eve
Libya crisis: Colonel Gaddafi says he will fight on
Polygamist Warren Jeffs critically ill amid prison fast
Why Is It So Hard to Find a Suicide Bomber These Days?

Thinking allowed
We Can't Teach Students to Love Reading
Why Atheists need to read more
The Michael Ignatieff Experiment.
A digital pioneer questions what technology has wrought.

Open Thread

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William Crawley | 15:25 UK time, Thursday, 1 September 2011

talktalk.jpgI don't often post an open thread, but some of you tell me it's a good idea because it lets you get stuff off your chest without throwing the direction of other threads. It also permits you to make suggestions about subjects we might give some more substantial space to on Will & Testament. Let's see. Expatiate at will (sorry about the pun). Keep it legal. The house rules still apply.

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