Gerry Adams’ presentation of a programme on the Channel 4 series ‘The Bible: A History,’ has provoked a flurry of comment and indignation on this morning’s radio phone-in shows and in the blogosphere.
The subject of Adams’ programme was ‘Jesus.’ This has prompted the inevitable observations that Adams tries to equate the republican struggle with the situation of the Jews under Roman occupation during Jesus’ time. This could lead to some rather uncomfortable Adams-Jesus parallels. For example, there is debate over on Slugger O’Toole about whether Adams was really trying to massage the Christian message to justify the IRA campaign.
I think that the Channel 4 programme has, essentially, accomplished these things:
- In line with the other programmes in the series, it has taken a critical view of the bible – this time the Gospels and the historical Jesus. That’s fair enough, although in Northern Ireland, I suspect that some people who have judged Adams an ‘unrepentant terrorist’ would be unhappy with this sort of examination of biblical texts.
- Given us an insight into Gerry Adams’ personal Christian journey. Whether you like him or loathe him, we learned that he still feels the republican struggle was justified. He doesn’t think that he has blood on his hands. He refuses to ‘repent’ in the sort of public and abject way that some of his detractors long for. He has forgiven those who wronged him personally. He is not so forgiving of those who created the system that he sees as oppressing the Catholic minority. He sees himself as a peacemaker for helping to end the IRA’s armed campaign. He says he is at peace.
- The programme also has raised some uncomfortable questions about where Northern Ireland is when it comes to dealing with the past. That this programme has proved so controversial is not surprising. But this illustrates the deep disagreement about what victims, survivors, perpetrators, etc really need to say and do for there to be reconciliation.
During the programme, Adams speaks with Irish moral theologian Vincent Twomey. Twomey tells Adams that forgiveness is at the heart of the gospels. We also learn from the programme that societal forgiveness – the dealing with the past in Northern Ireland type of forgiveness – is certainly not easy.
Adams talked with some survivors of the conflict. Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the Shankill bomb, and Geraldine Finucane, the wife of murdered solicitor Pat Finucane, both said that they found it very hard to forgive the individuals who had carried out the deeds. But they had no desire for violence or revenge.
Adams said that he admires Jesus. The Jesus he describes is the Jesus I recognise. This is a Jesus who hangs out with all the wrong people and who takes the side of the oppressed and the marginalised. He doesn’t judge them. It’s a Jesus who, as Adams said, gives people another chance. And another one. And another one …
A question I have is whether it is possible that the Adams programme could help Northern Ireland to move on in the dealing with the past debate? Or has it simply demonstrated that it is better to forget about the past, or that Northern Ireland is ‘not ready’ to confront it?