Saturday, November 19, 2011

Paisley and Co

Back in 1974 I was taking deputation meetings in Northern Ireland when on leave from Nigeria. In a Protestant estate of Londonderry I was able to hear Ian Paisley address a political rally. He had just marched up after leading a march in the city. Starting to speak he had a bit of a frog in his throat. Clearing it he started his speech with, "Sorry about that. I must have picked up something nasty in the Bogside". It was with a long drawn out Baaawgside. Brilliant!

A few years later, again on deputation, I had a free Sunday morning in Belfast. So I decided to try his Martyr's Memorial Free Presbyterian Church. I resisted the temptation to join the local tradition of mural painting. I would love to have done a mural of Big Ian with the caption, 'No other pope here!' But I am no artist. I did feel like smuggler though, hiding my RSV under my jacket on reading a notice saying 'AV only used here'. Inside I marvelled at all the busts of Protestant heroes. Not all were I think martyrs but my thought was that it was the papists who were supposed to have the images. Noting the hymnbook, often a good sign of theological pedigree, I reckoned IRKP owed more to his friend Bob Jones than to his Reformed Presbyterian seminary training.

But the man himself was away and a colleague preached from Daniel. The sermon was adequate except for one remark which to this day has left me with a regret. I regret I did not shout out and interrupt the preacher when he quoted, Prov. 6:16-17 'These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,' For he said, 'I think we can spiritalise " hands that shed innocent blood"'. I should have stood up and shouted,'OF ALL THE CHURCHES IN ALL THE PLACES IN THE WORLD, THIS IS WHERE YOU SHOULD NOT SPIRITUALISE, HANDS THAT SHED INNOCENT BLOOD'. I am not suggesting that Paisley supported Protestant paramilitaries but I am sure they derived much encouragement from his fiery anti-papist Unionism.

He has' I am afraid, given Presbyterianism a bad name. It is not much recognised in England. The Church of Scotland is known as C of S, not as Presbyterian. So if like me you are Presbyterian in England you are likely to be tarred from Paisley's strident brush. It would not be so bad if he really was Presbyterian. But I refuse to recognise as such a church which elected a man as moderator for life, though I believe he lost that post when he entered into a governing relationship with Adams et al. Also a church which reckons to be happy to have Baptists as elders cannot be credibly Presbyterian.

But now Paisley is retiring I for one will miss him. Who else would say when a prominent nationalist associated with the IRA was injured by Protestants, 'Those who live by the sword...'

But he is of course a Marmite man. You love him or hate him. I believe he preaches the gospel of grace though perhaps not in a way that many, especially Roman Catholics would deem to be gracious. I leave the last word to his son. 'My father's a quiet and stable man.' Ian Paisley Jnr The Times Magazine 18.1.97

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