An iron constitution, a phlegmatic personality and a clean conscience means that it is rather hard to wind me up over a news story. When I start on my morning newspapers my strength is as the strength of ten, because my heart is pure. Yet some stories do set me going. An Associated Press story from Northern Ireland today elicited a sharp laugh, which brought on tears, a coughing fit and and produced a purplish hue in my normally rose colored countenance. I am now quite recovered, thank you, but I ask if you see what I see in this story about the Rev. Ian Paisley (or the Lord Bannside as he is now called.)
DUBLIN (AP) — Northern Ireland politician Ian Paisley is recovering from his recent near-death experience and remains a "hearty and strong man," one of his sons said Tuesday in the family's first comment on the Protestant evangelist's 16-day hospitalization.
Is Ian Paisley an "evangelist"? He is an "evangelical." Calling him an evangelist would be a pointed political statement. Or again, it might be a confusion of language. I'm not quite sure what the author intended.
An example of an evangelist would be Dr. Billy Graham, Luis Pilau, Charles Stanley -- an apologist for the Christian faith -- who seeks to win souls for Christ. The word is also used in a secular sense to describe someone keen to convert or present their cause. Joseph Stalin and W.H. Auden have been described as Marxist evangelists, the Los Angeles Times ran a profile recently on a climate change evangelist, while Matthew Arnold is described as an evangelist of culture.
My colleague tmatt has covered this confusion of words in GetReligion before, but I found this error particularly interesting given Paisley's history.
An ordained minister, Paisley founded and served as moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. While he may have been an active minister throughout his adult life, he is better known for his political work -- founder and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), member of Parliament from 1970 to 2010, member of the European Parliament from 1979 to 2004, member of the Northern Ireland Assembly from 1998 to 2011, and First Minister of Northern Ireland from 2007-2008.
For 40 years he was the public political face of Protestantism and Unionism in Northern Ireland. And has also been a trenchant critic of Irish Nationalists and the Roman Catholic Church. One notable moment (among many in his colorful career) occurred in 1988. Pope John Paul II was addressing the European Parliament when Dr. Paisley rose from his seat and shouted "I renounce you as the Antichrist" and held up a placard stating "Pope John Paul II ANTICHRIST."
Paisley continued to heckle the pope throughout the speech, until he was removed from the chamber by a number of irate MEPs including Otto von Habsburg.
As the long time leader of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, which identifies itself as being ...
Fundamental in Doctrine Evangelical in Outreach Sanctified in Behaviour Presbyterian in Government Protestant in Conviction Separatist in Practice
... it is fair to call Paisley an evangelical. To describe him as a Protestant evangelist, however, is a mistake -- unless the intent was to make a point about the Ulsterman's mixing of religion and politics.
The AP article noted:
Paisley spent four decades blocking political compromise in Northern Ireland as founder of the hard-line Democratic Unionist Party and his stridently anti-Catholic denomination, the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. He refused any contact with Sinn Fein, the public face of the outlawed Irish Republican Army.
But after the IRA disarmed and renounced violence, Paisley stunned the world by forming a power-sharing government alongside Sinn Fein in 2007, a surprise triumph for peacemaking in the British territory.
Perhaps the use of the word was deliberate. Was Paisley's volte face a result of his Protestant Christian faith, or was it a political calculation? As an aside, I believe the image many Americans have of Northern Ireland misses the changes that have taken place over the past twenty years. While you can still buy bumper stickers in South Boston that read 26+6=1, you will find only a few takers in Belfast.
The News Letter, a Belfast newspaper, ran a fascinating interview with a young Roman Catholic priest entitled "Border debate is irrelevant -- Priest" on the same day as the AP story.
No Roman Catholic priests under the age of 45 are interested in removing the border and many Catholics are re-thinking their nationalism, a Catholic priest has said.
Fr Eugene O’Neill said that many Catholics were questioning whether as Catholics they necessarily had to be nationalist and look to Dublin when the United Kingdom was more respectful of Christian churches.
Fr O’Neill was speaking to the News Letter following a broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster’s Thought For The Day earlier yesterday morning.
In comments backing up polls which suggest that many Catholics would now vote to retain the border, Fr O’Neill said that as an Irish passport-holder he saw the Queen and senior British government figures as defenders of faith in the UK.
And, in a blistering attack on the Dublin government which shows how far the church and the state have moved apart in the Republic, Fr O’Neill claimed that there were similarities between how the Irish government is making life difficult for churches and how repressive communist regimes have persecuted Christians.
The Republic is now “a cold house for Catholicism”, he told the News Letter, singling out the atheistic Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore for particular rebuke.
By contrast, he said that the UK Government had demonstrated a respect and appreciation for the role of Christian churches which Catholics could support.
Time (and a secular Irish government) may have healed the wounds of Ulster. But Paisley may have done his part as well. Perhaps I responded too quickly to the AP story. It could be that the writer intended to say that Ulster's "Dr. No"'s change from rejection to accommodation with Sinn Fein was the act of an evangelist.
Then again, it may have been sloppy writing.