“the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned…”

It’s worth remembering that Anna Lo presaged her first frustration with live in Northern Ireland by telling the Irish News, that “I’ve had enough of the inability of this society and its political leaders to escape from the past.”

Now here’s Tom Kelly defining the real failure to respond amongst Northern Ireland’s broad political leadership, but particular an opportunity evidently unseen by the First Minister to live up to the title he so jealously guards.

First the ‘offence’:

What kind of language or tolerance did our “good and the great” expect to hear from a firebrand, hillbilly, Calvinistic street preacher? The Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle looks like a magnificent monument to the glory that is James McConnell- a man called to ministry at a mere seventeen and whose website pays testimony to his congregations ability to pay off vast sums of money. McConnell seems a totally sincere man albeit blighted by that special form of myopia only gifted to those single minded and ignorant enough to believe themselves. And McConnell does believe himself.

He declares that like Christ- “I can afford to be intolerable.” And to an extent he can. We live in a free country and with that comes free speech. Nothing McConnell said, however distasteful would have him arrested in the USA. What gave media fuel to McConnell’s offensive comments were his close connections to senior DUP members.

Then the ‘politics’:

Quite rightly those charged with governing over us- impartially and without fear or favour to those of all religions and none; were asked where they stood in relation to McConnell’s comments. Their answers to that question should have framed what type of country we have spawned. They could have defended the erratic evangelists right to say what he said as part of free speech without agreeing with the sentiments of what he said. But they didn’t. They weighed in two feet first into a barrel of tripe that belittled their status as public representatives. Had they attempted to act statesmen like – McConnell would have looked like an out of his depth-ageing preacher with all the credibility of David Icke.

The First Minister added to the flames by making clumsy off the wall remarks about trusting Muslims to going shopping. In truth, it’s doubtful if he meant those words as they came out. His estranged partner in government, Martin McGuinness was presented with a penalty kick that he could not refuse. Robinson’s slowness to clarify his remarks and issue an apology were more to do with the current state of his relationship with McGuinness than any defence of McConnell. That he eventually met with and apologised to the local Muslim community was overdue but to be welcomed –as neither Sinn Fein or the DUP seem to find the word “sorry” easy to locate in their respective lexicons.

And ‘finally’:

There is no doubt Anna Lo exhausted from a gruelling election felt the pressure once again but that too is the fault of our society – politics and media included – that seems to have made her the focal point for every racial or minority issue, conveniently forgetting, she is a MLA who happens to be Chinese not because she is Chinese. As we are stuck here for better or worse, the late Maya Angelou may offer some solace “The ache for home lives in us all- the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” After this week we can only hope.

It was probably the clarity of the US Constitution on the matter of separation of church and state which helped JFK formulate his authoritative answer to the problem… Ironically, his address also noted that “it was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom.”

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  • Shibboleth

    I’m afraid to say that Tom Kelly ignorantly refers to McConnell as a Calvinistic street preacher. That error is the theological equivalent of calling Ian Paisley an Irish Republican.

  • Mick Fealty

    How so?

  • aquifer

    What about those two Muslim guys who were attacked not once but twice, and put out of their home? Outrageous.

    We need some prosecutions for this type of offence and fast.

    Surveillance equipment is cheap nowadays, so what is the problem?

  • Shibboleth

    Mick – McConnell is an Arminian. It’s a view that both man and God co-operate in achieving personal salvation even though it is recognised that only Christ lived a sinless life. Calvinism on the other hand believes that God draws sinners to salvation. The difference is sometimes seen in that Arminians may have a more emotional attempt to convince sinners to repent (this is not always the case of Arminians). McConnell has a reputation of emotional appeals. Most of Northern Ireland’s Evangelical Protestant churches are Arminian even where decades ago they were once Calvinist. Calvinism and Arminianism draw some of the most bitter disputes in theology with some Arminians accusing Calvinists of making God the author of evil and dehumanizing believers into robots.

  • Mick Fealty

    That figures… A religious equivalent to political populism?

  • GEF

    Mick – McConnell is an Arminian.

    News Update: Pastor McConnell has received a package.

    “It is understood the package did not contain anything explosive but rather a sinister message…….That included a black rose, a joker card from a pack of cards as well as a message which read, “you will reap what you sow”.


  • SeaanUiNeill

    Shibboleth, excellent pointer to one of the hidden historical debates that underlie conflicting modern attitudes to politics, just as much as religion, within Ulster Protestantism.

    “Calvinism on the other hand believes that God draws sinners to salvation.” Perhaps this might be more forcefully stated as “Calvanism believes in doctrines of predestination to varying degrees.” At its core the strictist form of Calvanism believes that the salvation of any man is pre-known by God and that nothing anyone can do can act to change this existing state of grace or damnation. Rather than draw sinners to salvation God already has knowledge of who will enter heaven and who will be damned. In some extreme Manichaen forms this might even convince the Elect that nothing they do can conflict with God’s true will, even when they enact those things others might consider to be sinful.

    I doubt if the Pastor has carefully evaluated all the arguements within an Arminian/Calvanist debate that would take him back to an initial conflict of ideas between the British monk Pelagius (free-will) and St Augustine of Hippo (pre-destination), although, surprisingly, one finds some Ulster Calvanists claiming some decent from Pelagius simply because he (in their eyes) challenged Roman doctrine.

    Most modern Evangelical churches are historically offshoots of Wesley’s Methodism which took a strong position on espousing Arminean freewill against eighteenth century Calvanism. As evangelicals moved further and further into an emotional approach to these ideas, the entire concept of personal sin became something that might be sloughed of by a simple charasmatic leap of faith. So once you are “saved” all your sins are washed away. It becomes a matter of what you feel to be true and good rather than a careful analysis of personal faultedness that might guide and amend future behaviour.

    How this affects politics is quite obvious. where Calvanists in a very general sense think of their politics as moving in fulfilment of Gods plan, the evangelicals consider, like Pastor McConnell, that the reveiled “truth” of their own inner vision, as granted by God, is the actual truth that should guide their words and actions.

    Both, taken to their logical conclusions, reject any form of pluralism that does not question the right of someone to differ from us. Both offer “final solutions” of final unchallengable truths. Against this, Mediaeval Islam held the lands it controlled together by considering that other “People of the Book”, ie Jews with the Talmud, Christians with the Bible, were participants within an unfolding revelation, although they thought that the Koran was more authoratative. Unfortunately a great movement within modern Islam has chosen intolerence, but there are many other strands of thought within Islam that have true continuity with older, more tolerant thinking.

    So Mick, yes, Arminianism can be “A religious equivalent to political populism” in all its forms. But it has considerably more manifestations that articulate many other historical debates, than Paster McConnell’s version!!!

  • theblackman

    Worst… Tom Kelly joins two styles of ministry together that you seldom see. Calvinistic preaching and itinerant street preachers don’t really gel. Not to run down either but the reformed Church has classically placed a great emphasis on theological training and the notion of call into church office. Street preachers would traditionally be lay members of congregations and hold to unlimited atonement.

    Indeed, in Northern Ireland, we are not quite representative of global Christianity. Presbyterianism is the largest protestant denomination here but actually on the world scale McConnell’s Pentecostal denomination is larger and growing alot faster. It is quite remarkable the speed at which it is growing and able to respond to need. Perhap this is because their ministers can self appoint and there isn’t a great weight placed on theological training, whereas the reformed Church traditionally takes many years to become a minister of Word and Sacrament.

  • DogInTheStreet

    Don’t mind my asking a silly question but if Calvinists et al believe in predestination then why do they bother preaching and attending church? It’s like studying for an exam for which the teacher will pass you no matter what.

  • DogInTheStreet

    Are the moderate Protestant churches failing in something that leads to growing attendance of rather extreme forms of belief and rhetoric?

  • socaire

    Is it possible that people have been/are being/will be killed over this sh*t?

  • BarneyT

    11th century…when we were all fenians? 🙂

  • SeaanUiNeill

    DogInTheStreet, while the Elect may have been chosen for blisss from time before time, they will not know for certain until they die. However, some are more certain than others, and may even use their self percieved status as a badge of moral superiority.

    Seriously, there are long, complex arguements within historical theological speculation on these issues which I’m simplifying unforgivably. Please feel free to examine them in depth on the first floor of the McClay Library….

  • MF Robinson’s tardy realisation that he had to fix a problem reminds me of one of those tv ads or public information films on UTV in the late 60s one of which was an object lesson in dealing with a burst pipe. the narrator praises the family for fixing it but then came the punchline ‘but what a pity you let it happen in the first place’ Robinson studiously avoided for a painful week adding to his words about free peech that with the right comes responsibility. He finally added that last night but the damage to his name was already done. Hopefully his dup colleagues will learn the lesson he refused to heed for a week.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    What Peter really needs is a good marketing strategy. Rather than spending his money on a few old (or young) cronies in the Party that have no idea what the world out there is thinking about, to prepare his speeches, he needs someone professional such as Saatchi and Saatchi or Bartle Bogle Hegarty. With all the money some his friends have made in property speculation (let me make it perfectly clear, I am making no insinuations whatsoever about Peter or anyone else in mentioning this) I’m sure someone public spirited enough could find enough cash to rebrand the DUP as a progressive, modern European party and to provide Peter and the other party luminaries with well constructed speeches that have been fully vetted for faux pas comments.

    Just look at what Freud Communications are rumoured to have done for certain important Conservative grandees! It would be money well spent. And far better spent than on trivial status symbols such as the Shah’s old armoured Mercedes.

  • ayeYerMa

    Somehow I doubt the DUP shall be taking advice from Irish Republicans nor any of the other dominant neo-Marxist voices on this site.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, ayeYerMa, over on the “#800babies, racism, homophobia: the cancer of absolutism” thread Alan N/Ards, hardly an Irish Republican or a neo-Marxist if I’m reading his other comments correctly says: “Robinson is an embarrassment to us all. He should never have made the comments. He can’t be trusted to hold the position of FM. He needs to resign.”

    Which is how anyone who is both Unionist and basically decent will feel. Robinson is such an enormous liability that if I were a flakey conspiricy theorist, I’d think he was a sleeper programmed by agents of Dev back in the 1960s to discredit Unionism by facing it up with his own unique brand of uncious greyness. But its all too obvious that he’s simply another perfectly normal post Thatcher cloned managerial robot promoted well above his moral intellegence quota.

    And I’m curious about how many dominant neo-Marxists you know sincerely recommend clients to Saachi & Saachi, BBH and Matthew Freud! Please tell!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    And, ayeYerMa, the whole Pastor McConnell experience highlights exactly what you’re saying, but not in any good way. Perhaps the integral problem the DUP faces over this issue, as over so many others, is that will only take advice from those who say what it wants to hear, those who confirm its long entrenched attitudes.

    The international success of Sein Féin’s self promotion has grown from their willingness to quickly respond to what others are thinking about them across borders, and to successfully play down their old links with violence, the notable exception to this rule being their unwillingness to face up to just how utterly compromised Gerry Adams has become internationally, as well as locally.

    The DUP demands that the world loves them just as they are, and seem incapable of seeing just how unattractive their undisguised self-interest and venality are. Clever politicians nowadays look to experts to disguise these characteristics from their public under carefully constructed moral camouflage, but, undeterred by any objective consideration the DUP brazen it out, seemingly not caring what others think in their certainty that they are right in everything they do. There’s not a lot of blue water between the general approach of the DUP today and the approach of the kind of ingrained Stalinist I used to meet holding forth just up the pavement from the Reform Club on Saturday afternoons in the 1960s. And they were very passé even then……