Archives for September 2010

Eddie Long pledges to fight on

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William Crawley | 12:37 UK time, Thursday, 30 September 2010

The religion story dominating the US this week is the lawsuit facing "Bishop" Eddie Long, the pastor of one of America's biggest mega-churches (Read the legal complaint in full.). Eddie Long is also one of America's most outspoken opponents of gay rights. He once described homosexuality as "a spiritual abortion". The Southern Poverty Law Centre has described him as "one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement". But now he faces allegations from four young men, all members of his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, who say he abused his power and coerced them into sexual relationships.

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Religion and ethics in the news

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William Crawley | 23:17 UK time, Tuesday, 28 September 2010


This is my list of the top religion and ethics news stories of the week (so far). Use the thread to add your links to other stories worth noting. If they are interesting, I'll add them to the main page. We might even talk about them on this week's Sunday Sequence.

Panorama: The Secrets of Scientology.
Ed Miliband: 'I don't believe in God.'
Godless British politics: two out of three ain't bad.
'Atheists and agnostics know more about religion than Protestants and Catholics'. You can take the online quiz.
Ayodhya decision delayed.
Anti-gay pastor Eddie Long continues to deny sex claims from church members. (Watch press conference.)
Eddie Long addresses his church. (Watch full service.)
Faith in Britain after Ed Miliband.
In court: the Dead Sea Scrolls.
I'm a Christian by choice: Obama.
Anglicanism' latest episcopal splinter group.
Prince Charles says he believes in miracles.
Ruth Dudley Edwards on the Birmingham Three.
Australia's first saint to be canonized next Sunday.
Ground Zero Islamic centre developer defends plans.

Killing animals: an ethical question.
Should NHS fertility clinics provide pornography?
George W Bush's campaign manager comes out.

Thinking allowed
Staving Off Despair: On the Use and Abuse of Pessimism for Life.
When Baghdad was centre of the scientific world.
Where next for the God Debate?
Martin Rees: 'We shouldn't attach any weight to what Hawking says about god'.

Catching up on Sunday on radio and TV

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William Crawley | 18:58 UK time, Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Many thanks to Will Leitch for presenting Sunday Sequence this week, while I was presenting Radio 4's Sunday programme. You can listen again to both programmes on the BBC iPlayer, and to the most recent edition of The Book Programme, which was also broadcast on Sunday. While you're catching up on those, why not take a look at this week's Sunday Morning Live on BBC One, which featured debates on gay marriage, prostitution and whether we are 'soft on Islam'. Sunday Morning Live is produced and broadcast from Belfast and is proving to be a successful vehicle for debating ethical and religious questions on a weekly basis. But then I would say that -- I work on the programme as an associate producer. Click here for the programme website to find out how you can become involved in those debates. You can also watch the final part of our BBC Northern Ireland documentary series Our Man in the Vatican, which follows Francis Campbell, the British ambassador to the Holy See, as he prepares for Pope Benedict XVI's historic visit to the UK. And there's still time to catch The End of God?: A Horizon Guide to Science and Religion.

Religion and ethics in the news

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William Crawley | 19:20 UK time, Tuesday, 21 September 2010


This is my list of the top religion and ethics news stories of the week (so far). Use the thread to add your links to other stories worth noting. If they are interesting, I'll add them to the main page. We might even talk about them on this week's Sunday Sequence.

Pope visit: BBC receives 750 complaints.
Richard Dawkins on "Ratzinger".
Vatican Bank 'investigated over money-laundering'.
Deaf victim of abuse is suing pope.
Yoga poses dangers to genuine Christian faith, says theologian.
Northern Ireland churches claim banks drive customers to suicide.
Popular creationist writer brings his message to Belfast.
The end of New Atheism?
Are Sharia Law and Feminism mutually exclusive?
Pope 'may visit Ireland in 2012'.
Anglican bishop asked to resign over alleged abuse cover-up.
Male parishioners allege sex with anti-gay church campaigner.
Losing your faith is bad for your health.
"Rock of Ages" and other hymns get modern twist.

Exit Strategy: Choosing a Time to Die.
How much is a fair wage?
"My Lie": a writer explains why she falsely accused her father of sexual molestation.
Third Way interviews the moral theologian Stanley Hauerwas.
is the internet a moral free-for-all zone?
Size of UK gay population revealed.

Thinking allowed
The End of God?: A Horizon Guide to Science and Religion.
God² - how science and religion rub along.
Biblical parting of the Red Sea 'could have happened', say researchers.
Robots: an answer to human loneliness?
It's good to think - but not too much, scientists say.
Top 10 'unanswerable' questions revealed.
Should we be sceptical about science?

A sigh of relief at the Vatican

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William Crawley | 11:06 UK time, Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Vatican officials can be forgiven a little back-slapping this week as they look back on the visit of Pope Benedict to the UK. Yes, there were protests and public debates ahead of the visit, but when the Pope's plane landed at Edinburgh International Airport on Thursday the atmosphere seemed to transform before our eyes. (Read the full itinerary and replay the entire visit on the official papal visit website.)

Then came a meeting with the Queen and a St Ninian's Day Parade through the city, followed by a quick drive to Glasgow for mass Bellahouston Park. Friday and Saturday were spent in London: the Pope addressed politicians and civic leaders in Westminster Hall (read his speech, or watch it in full), where the Catholic (and Anglican) martyr-saint Sir Thomas More was condemned to death; he celebrated mass at Westminster Cathedral; lead worship in Hyde Park; and took part in ecumenical Evening Prayers at Westminster Abbey attended by Protestant and Catholic church leaders from across the UK and representatives of other faiths.

Sunday belonged to the Midlands: the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, the pastoral centre-peice of this papal visit. (We broadcast this week's edition of Sunday Sequence live from Birmingham: you can listen again to that programme, which includes our commentary on the beatification mass and Pope Benedict's homily.) And Pope Benedict visited the Birmingham Oratory, the religious community founded by John Henry Newman.

There were sermons and speeches in which Pope Benedict addressed the influence of "aggressive secularism" in British and European life and made an extended argument for spiritual values in public life. The Pope mentioned the clerical abuse crisis -- not once, but four times during this visit -- and met with victims and survivors of abuse; and he expressed "deep sorrow" and "shame" at the reality of abuse by some priests and acknowledged that the church had not addressed the crisis fast enough.

The visit ended at Birmingham International Airport with friendly departure speeches by Pope Benedict and Prime Minister David Cameron.

You can read all the Pope's UK speeches and addresses on the Vatican website, including video and audio.

Click here to go to the BBC microsite covering every aspect of the Pope's Visit to the UK.

What were your highlights of this papal visit? Has your attitude to Pope Benedict changed as a consequence of his visit to the UK?

Pope Benedict arrives in UK for state visit

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William Crawley | 11:42 UK time, Thursday, 16 September 2010

Pope Benedict is in the UK for the first-ever papal state visit. He is only the second Pope to make an official visit to these islands, and walks in the footsteps (though not the shoes) of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who visited Ireland in 1979 and Britain in 1982. He was welcomed at Edinburgh airport by Prince Phillip and formally greeted by The Queen at the Palace of Holyrood House. In his opening address, Pope Benedict paid tribute to Britain's Christian heritage and warned against the tide of "aggressive secularism" in the UK. His opening remarks have already angered some humanists, who accuse him of comparing atheism to Nazism. (Read the Pope's speech in full.)

Amongst those who met the Pope at the formal reception in Holyrood were representatives of the three main Protestant churches in Northern Ireland: Archbishop of Armagh Alan Harper, the Rev Donald Ker, a former Methodist president, and the Rev Dr Donald Watts, Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The Presbyterian Moderator made news this week by explaining why he has refused to meet the Pope in person and shake his hand. On live television a few minutes ago, the Presbyterian Church's General Secretary, Dr Watts, was shown doing just that -- and he appeared to have a very warm and courteous exchange with the pontiff. Dr Hamilton's decision has been criticised by the Prime Minister's representative in chrage of the state visit, Lord Patten. Now that the Presbyterian church's second most highly placed official has met the Pope in person there will be renewed pressure on Dr Hamilton to do the same. The leader of Scotland's Presbyterians also gave Pope Benedict a warm personal welcome to the country on behalf of his church, which is the mother church of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

The most commented-upon political absentees on Day One of the papal visit were Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers. Peter Robinson said he was too busy welcoming the launch of the New York Stock Exchange in Belfast; Martin McGuinness said he would be happy to attend a papal visit to Ireland but not a visit to Britain.

Meanwhile, the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, has intervened in the "Third World Gaffe" story that has threatened to overshadow the start of this visit. Cardinal O'Brien (pictured, right) now says he expects Cardinal Walter Kasper to apologise for that arriving at Heathrow airport was like landing in a "Third World" country. Cardinal Kasper, on the other hand, doesn't appear to believe he has anything to apologise for.

The official website of the papal visit will be live streaming event moment of the visit 24/7 for the entire four-day trip. Watch live here.

Other key moments from Day 1 of the papal visit:

En route to the UK, Pope Benedict gave a press conference in which he acknowledged that the Catholic Church had not been "sufficiently vigilant" over clerical child abuse. (Read a transcript of the entire press conference.)

In his sermon in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, Pope Benedict urged Scottish and British citizens not to exclude believers from public life. (Read the Pope's homily in full.)

Watch a slide-show of the papal visit Day 1.

The Pope, the Moderator and the handshake

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William Crawley | 16:09 UK time, Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Our Talk Back phone lines went red hot today with calls from the public responding to the story we broke that the leader of Northern Ireland's largest Protestant church has refused to meet Pope Benedict in person during his papal visit.

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What did the Pope know?

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William Crawley | 10:09 UK time, Tuesday, 14 September 2010

On the eve of the first ever state visit by a Pope to the UK, the personality and record of Pope Benedict is under the microscope in two major TV documentaries. In last night's Panorama, Fergal Keane investigated "the Pope's personal track record of dealing with paedophile priests while an archbishop and top Vatican official. As the child sex abuse scandal continues to engulf the Catholic Church worldwide, he met victims who want an apology for the Pope's personal handling of some notorious cases." (Watch it here.)

In Benedict: Trials of a Pope, the former Dominican friar Mark Dowd looks at the life of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, and makes a journey from the Pope's personal beginnings in Bavaria to the heart of the Vatican itself. (Watch it here.)

And on Channel 4, Peter Tatchell's documentary, The Trouble with the Pope, offered us a depply personal and controversial perspective on Pope Benedict and his teachings. He meets victims of child abuse who want the Pope to release all Vatican files relating to abuse, assesses the Pope's culpability in respect of the global HIV crisis, given the church's opposition to the use of condoms, and asks why Catholicism is so anti-gay. (Watch it here.)

In Vatican: The Hidden World, BBC 4 offered us a lavish tour of the Vatican featuring unprecedented access to the world's smallest sovereign state and the people who live there. (Watch it here.)

On radio, Mark Dowd also investigates how British Catholicism has changed since the last Papal visit in 1982 in the Radio 4 documentary The Pope's British Divisions. (Listen to it here.)

Free Presbyterian leader challenges Moderator over service with Pope

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William Crawley | 19:14 UK time, Sunday, 12 September 2010

Dr Norman Hamilton says he will attend worship as part of the papal visit

The decision by the Moderator of the Irish Presbyterian Church to accept an invitation to attend a service involving the Pope has been strongly criticised by the leader of Northern Ireland's Free Presbyterians. The Reverend Ron Johnstone, who succeeded Ian Paisley as Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church in 2008, was responding to the news that Dr Norman Hamilton (pictured) has altered his travel plans in order to be present in Westminster Abbey next Friday for an invitation-only service of Evening Prayer which Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury will attend.

The Free Presbyterian Moderator told Sunday Sequence today: " I was going to say it shocks me, but I suppose it doesn't. I think it is very sad that he would go to such a thing. The Pope claims that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is a false church. He claims that we should recognise him as the head of all Christians. And surely the Westminster Confession that Mr Hamilton signed is totally opposed to the teachings of Rome. Both can't be right: either Romanism is right or the New Testament is right. And I'm sure a lot of Irish Presbyterians will be shocked that they are represented at a meeting with the Pope."

The Presbyterian Church's General Secretary and Clerk of the General Assembly Dr Donald Watts will also represent the denomination at a state reception in Edinburgh.

The founder of the Free Presbyterian Church, the Rev Ian Paisley, will participate in a protest service in Scotland later week.

British Catholics say abuse crisis has "shaken their faith"

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William Crawley | 16:48 UK time, Saturday, 11 September 2010

52 per cent of British Catholics say the scale of clerical abuse crisis, and the way it was handled, has "shaken their faith" in the Church leadership. That's according to a new BBC poll conducted by ComRes. A random sample of 500 Catholics across the UK were polled between 6 and 9 September 2010, a week ahead of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. Further results from the BBC poll will be revealed on BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme at 0710 on Sunday morning, with analysis on Sunday Sequence from 8.30 am. Then switch on the TV for further analysis on this week's Sunday Morning Live, on BBC1 at 10am, when Susanna Reid and her guests will examine the case for Pope Benedict as a force for good in the world and ask if the Catholic Church is too obsessed with sex.

Update: Read the BBC/ComRes poll results in full.

Read a BBC analysis of the poll.

Papal trials

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William Crawley | 09:31 UK time, Thursday, 9 September 2010

This day next week, Pope Benedict will arrive in Scotland for the start of a four-day state visit to the United Kingdom. In a sense, we've been covering this visit for years. First there were rumours -- that's all the were -- that a visit might be on the cards. Then it was suggested -- again, unofficially -- that Northern Ireland might be part of the trip: would Pope Benedict complete the visit of John Paul II in 1979? The Irish Catholic hierarchy even issued an official invitation to the Pope, but it was not to be. Within weeks of the announcement that Pope Benedict would visit Scotland and England as part of the first ever papal "state" visit, there was the first of a pretty steady flow of PR gaffes, by both the church and the foreign office, as the word "controversial" attached itself to many press reports of the papal visit. Church officials began to whisper allegations of anti-Catholic bias in the medisa and those whispers recently turned into open claims of misrepresentation. Commentators began to ask: Why is this so controversial? Those who were present for Pope John Paul II's visit to Ireland in 1979 or his trip to Britain in 1982 remember those pilgramages as occasions of pageantry; but Pope Benedict's visit was becoming embroiled in polemics.

The controversy continues. Channel Four is about to screen a documentary by Peter Tatchell questioning the Pope's role in the church's child abuse crisis, and the BBC will be broadcasting "Benedict - Trials Of A Pope", a documentary by film-maker Mark Dowd. (You can also hear Mark Dowd's Radio 4 excellent documentary "The Pope's British Divisions" here.) The newspapers are also beefing up their papal coverage, with large-scale reports on an almost-daily basis in the lead up to the visit, and we can expect blanket TV and radio coverage both before and during the visit.

Here's my question: Why is this visit, and this pope, so controversial?

Religion and ethics in the news

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William Crawley | 09:49 UK time, Monday, 6 September 2010

In exactly ten days, Pope Benedict will arrive in Britain on the first ever papal state visit. Cue lots of commentary in today's papers about whether the trip will be overshadowed by controversy. I'll add links to some of those stories here, along with the other top religion and ethics news stories of the week as they develop. You can use the thread to add your links to other stories worth noting. If they are interesting, I'll add them to the main page. We might even talk about them on this week's Sunday Sequence.

Religion: reporting the visit of Pope Benedict
Benedict: a profile by Eamon Duffy.
Geoffrey Robertson QC: the case against the Pope.
A church which still has influence.
Guardian editorial: Pope Benedict is a force who cannot be ignored.
He's not infallible: the Catholic critics of the Pope.
Tony Blair says he has not donated to papal visit.
The Vatican may intervene in Iran stoning case.
Catholic church accuses BBC of 'anti-Christian' bias.
Will the Pope meet abuse visits?
Cardinal Newman's journey from the shadows to beatification.
Peter Tatchell's The Trouble with The Pope: a review.
Catholic Voices challenges Johann Hari.

Religion: other stories
Canon law has allowed abuse priests to escape punishment, says lawyer.
God no longer male, Scottish Episcopal Church rules (except it doesn't).
Nick Spencer: what people really think about the pope.
Muslims gather in Mecca to perform Umrah.
American Muslims nervous about Ramadan's end coinciding with 9/11.
Vicar jailed for sham marriages.
Rowan Williams disputes Stephen Hawking's claims about God.
Burn a Koran protests endanger US troops.
Christopher Hitchens asks fans not to pray for him. (Read his Vanity Fair article.)
Vatican official warns that Islam will conquer Europe.
The Blitz commemorated at St Paul's.
Wycliffe Bible Translators celebrates 50 years.
Welsh Presbyterians support new powers for Welsh Assembly.
Sistine Chapel frescoes endangered by tourists: museum chief.
Hillary Clinton attacks plans to burn Koran.

Mary Warnock: we should learn ethics from each other, not God.
The ethics of mixed-wards.
Can the Ten Commandments be understood apart from religion?

Thinking allowed
Meet the Taliban: not as bad as you think.
Is the age of retirement a thing of the past?
A history of Catholicism in the UK.
The Perversion of the Shari'ah and the Limits of Tolerance.
The New Yorker reviews Tony Blair's memoirs.
The 2010 Booker Prize shortlist.
Raphael: Cartoons and Tapestries for the Sistine Chapel.

"It all looks a bit pagan to me ..."

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William Crawley | 14:36 UK time, Saturday, 4 September 2010

Photo by Danny Bolin. Courtesy of PCUSA.

That's the reaction of a former Moderator of the Irish Presbyterian Church to the opening celebrations of his American sister church's General Assembly. Dr Stafford Carson, who stepped down as Moderator in June, has posted a video clip of the Opening Worship Processional from this year's PCUSA General Assembly (watch it here) on his personal blog with this commentary:

"Here is a sample of what went on at this year's PCUSA's General Assembly. People dressed up as animals, and figures from what looks like a Mardi Gras procession, mixed with ministers and others in an attempt to celebrate what apologists for this scene say is just PCUSA's way of paying homage to "native American spirituality". It all looks a bit pagan to me, and certainly out of place in a denomination that claims to be Christian and reformed."

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"Jesus was HIV-positive"

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William Crawley | 13:42 UK time, Saturday, 4 September 2010

That's the title of a sermon by the Reverend Xola Skosana (pictured) of the Way of Life Church in Khayelitsha, near Cape Town, a township with one of the highest rates of HIV in South Africa, who says he preached the sermon to challenge the conspiracy of silence over HIV by South African churches. The pastor also took an HIV test in front of his congregation and encouraged worshippers to follow his example.

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Britons object to paying for the Pope's visit

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William Crawley | 11:42 UK time, Saturday, 4 September 2010

Three-quarters of Britons object to taxpayers' money being used to pay for Pope Benedict's visit to Scotland and England. That's one of the findings of an online poll of 2,005 adults commissioned by the public theology think tank Theos. The survey also finds that 79% of the public have "no personal interest" in the papal visit. The findings suggest that the British public is disengaged rather than hostile to the papal visit; and perhaps also that many are unaware of that Pope Benedict is a head of state as well as a religious leader. On this week's Sunday Sequence, we'll discuss the findings with the director of Theos Paul Woolley. Read more about the Theos-ComRes poll here.

Presbyterian Church calls for swift action on PMS

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William Crawley | 14:50 UK time, Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has called on the Ministerial Working Group dealing with the Presbyterian Mutual Society crisis to live up to the Prime Minister's pre-election pledge "to ensure a just and fair resolution of the PMS issue."

Former moderator Dr Stafford Carson (pictured) made the call in a statement issued ahead of the next meeting of the Ministerial Working Group, chaired by the Secretary of State, on 8 September.

Read his statement in full below the fold.

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God, Hawking and the Universe

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William Crawley | 10:08 UK time, Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Stephen Hawking story is front page news today, with radio shows and news programmes also carrying it. But what is the story? If you trust some press coverage, Hawking claims that modern science forces the conclusion that "God did not create the Universe". If you read other press coverage, he has concluded that "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going." These are two very different claims. The first claim is as difficult to prove (some would say as impossible to defend) as the claim that God did create the Universe; I suspect Hawking is actually arguing for the latter claim. But notice that the former claim is not logically entailed by the latter.

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"God is not a negotiator"

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William Crawley | 17:04 UK time, Wednesday, 1 September 2010

In Tony Blair's autobiography, The Journey, which was published today, he says this of the Reverend Ian Paisley:

"He is a genuine and committed Christian, a true God fearing man; he is a passionate Unionist; he is clever, shrewd, occasionally even sly . . . Once, near the end, he asked me whether I thought God wanted him to make the deal that would seal the peace process. I wanted to say yes, but I hesitated; though I was sure God would want peace, God is not a negotiator. I felt it would be wrong, manipulative, to say yes, and so I said I couldn't answer that question, that only he could and I hoped he would let God guide him."

The former Prime Minister also reveals that, during the Northern Ireland peace talks, he often "stretched the truth past breaking point" in order to secure the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

You can read the chapter in The Journey dealing with Northern Ireland here.

Andrew Marr's interview with Tony Blair is on BBC 2 tonight at 7pm.

"You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it." Tony Blair's assessment of his government's decision to introduce the Freedom of Information Act. Read Martin Rosenbaum's Open Secret's blog analysis.

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