What kind of Christians would be offended by a television programme exploring the life and teachings of Jesus? Well, some unionist Christians would be, if the programme in question was called ‘The Bible: A History’ and presented by Gerry Adams. The day after the programme was shown, one woman contacted a radio phone-in. “That man was born evil, he lived evil and he’ll die evil. And I hope he roasts in hell”.
Her views, less colourfully expressed, are shared by a number of unionists. Adams, they say, masterminded the IRA campaign of violence that led to the death of thousands of people. How dare he appear on a programme and try to draw comparisons between himself and Jesus!
In fact the Sinn Fein man’s role in the programme was to discover the historical Jesus and to ponder on the value and applicability of his teaching. As part of that he visited the Holy Land, where he was able to draw implicit Irish parallels by learning how the Jews coped with the occupation of their country by the Romans, and how present-day Palestinians cope with the occupation of their land by the Israelis.
Closer to home, he met with Alan McBride and Geraldine Finucane. McBride’s wife and father-in-law were both killed in the Shankill bomb in 1993; Finucane’s barrister husband Pat was killed by a loyalist gang in 1989, as he sat having dinner with his family. McBride is well-known for his openness to those who have hurt him – his meeting with Gerry Adams was part of that. Finucane, in contrast, can’t forgive any of those involved at any level in the death of her husband (‘Right up to the Cabinet table’), but concedes we must learn to live with our enemies.
So why were unionists like Jim Allister, leader of the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice party (TUV) so incensed by Mr Adams’s appearance? Because they argue that the violence of the past forty years was exclusively the work of republicans. Attempts to draw comparisons between Adams and Jesus are ‘blasphemous’. If you take a broader and more historically accurate view, then you list the IRA among a number of warlike groupings, including the RUC, the UDR, the British Army and loyalist paramilitaries, and you come to a conclusion similar to that articulated by the Sinn Fein president: ‘We all have a lot to forgive and a lot to be forgiven for’.
Footnote: In the course of the programme, Mr Adams had extensive discussion about the life of Jesus with Dr Helen Bond, a senior lecturer in the New Testament at the University of Edinburgh. On her website Dr Bond credits Gerry Adams with a new insight into Judas: Adams is convinced Judas was ‘turned’, pressured into co-operating with the occupying forces against his own people. A new light on an old story. Nice one, Gerry.