Berlin, repentance and thoughts on Ireland

I had a few days in Berlin recently. Had never been before and had wanted to visit for a long time. I wasn’t disappointed. The whole history of Germany is there on display, from its monumental impressiveness, its awesome technological efficiency to its unimaginably dark past. A visit leaves much to think about.

cover-jpg-rendition-460-707Alongside the visit I read Neil MacGregor’s brilliant Germany: Memories of a Nation (2014) and the history parts of this post owe a lot to his book.

Way back in my PhD I studied nationalism and national identity, particularly the belief structures that are characteristic of ‘hot’ nationalisms.

They tend to construct a simple, glorious narrative of the past that legitimizes present political goals of ‘freedom’, ‘self-determination; ‘respect’, ‘autonomy’ and national pride. Alongside such political objectives are cultural markers like language, music, art, literature, food, and so on. Such a combination forms a potent mix that gives a sense of destiny, hope, unity and willingness to suffer – and inflict suffering – in the pursuit of the utopian nationalist myth.

Such memories are everywhere in Berlin. We stayed in Moabit, just outside the city centre in an apartment up 113 steps (!) with a great view of a huge prison across the road which is also Berlin’s central criminal court.

01 prison Moabit

Why mention this? Well, with a little bit of reading (i.e. wikipedia), I found out that this prison was rebuilt after the demolition of an older one just down the road. The memories of the Gestapo and prisoners murdered in the original prison were too awful – the old site is a now a memorial garden. The stories of two murdered prisoners stand out.

One is Albrecht Haushofer who wrote the ‘Moabit Sonnets’. Jailed for his involvement in the plot to kill Hitler, he had formerly been involved in the rise of the Nazis. He was executed by the Gestapo just as Berlin was falling. One of his sonnets was this one:

I am guilty,

But not in the way you think.

I should have earlier recognized my duty;

I should have more sharply called evil evil;

I reined in my judgment too long.

I did warn,

But not enough, and not clearly enough;

And today I know what I was guilty of.

The other was Klaus Bonhoeffer, Dietrich’s older brother, executed just two weeks after Dietrich’s hanging because of his part in the attempt to assassinate Hitler and just as Soviet troops were entering the city.

Germany only became a united Empire in 1871 under Bismarck. The Siegessäule (victory column) below commemorates this short glorious period of German unity.

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Yet, defeat in the first world war, subsequent humiliation, the rise of National Socialism and the evils of the Third Reich destroyed any narrative of national glory. The catastrophe of Hitler bequeathed immeasurable suffering on the Jews of Europe, cost millions of other lives and led to invasion, defeat and division of Germany between the Allies and Stalin’s Red Army.

Nowhere was this disaster more graphically played out than Berlin with the building of the Wall in 1961 – on one side a working democracy, on the other dictatorship, the Stasi and communist brutalism.

Berlin’s most famous building, the Brandenberg Gate, stood on the east side of the wall. This is where Napoleon entered Berlin in 1812, where the Nazi’s organised mass rallies and where the Russian conquest of Berlin reached its limit.

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Not much remains of the Wall. The longest section is in the east of the city and is decorated on its eastern side by art from a 2009 festival.

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Brezhnev and Honecker

What struck me is how pathetic a wall it was. Ugly, low and thin – it represented everything bad about Communism. Its cheap brutalism dividing people by pitiless and inhuman slabs of grey concrete.

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Modern Germany is therefore unlike any other Western European nation in its relationship to its past, present and future. What is, I think, tremendously impressive is how it has sought to reflect honesty on its shameful recent past – a past that implicated in some way pretty well every German family. As MacGregor says, that past is still highly charged, often silently so. Yet, there has also been a huge effort to deal publicly and corporately with its legacy.

As Berlin has been rebuilt there has been a conscious attempt to make public the most painful memories, the supreme example being the Holocaust Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe …. I know of no other country in the world that at the heart of its national capital erects monuments to its own shame. (MacGregor, Germany, xxiii)

The memorials include this one

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IMG_8532And this one to the Jews of Europe

Holocaust memorial berlin

Another striking theme is the public commitment towards openness and transparency in government. I visited the Bundestag museum telling the political story of Germany, warts and all in how Hitler was democratically elected and his plans for the Jews known by all.

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One fascinating model was of Albert Speer’s planned Great Hall of the People – a vast monument to the glory of the Third Reich. That’s the Brandenberg Gate in the foreground. If built it would have dwarfed even the mighty neighbouring Reichstag.

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Given the history of National Socialism and of a police state in the East, there is a deep public sense that government needs to be kept in check. Unlike surveillance UK, there are very few CCTV cameras on the streets and when there are there are signs to indicate you are in a CCTV zone (like the underground).

But the most symbolic image of transparency is the re-built Reichstag, the seat of the unified German Parliament after the fall of the Wall in 1989. The huge building has a complex history. It was redesigned by British architect Norman Foster in the early 1990s. You queue up to get a ticket to visit – you need ID but there is no charge – the building belongs to the people (Dem Deutscher Volke). Foster erected a vast glass dome above the parliament chamber, a cupola where via a series of mirrors and glass panes, the public look down on the political process below. It is literally transparent – the imagery that of accountability of power to the people.

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Some thoughts and questions stayed with me:

It was Hannah Arendt who talked about the “banality of evil” – how ordinary people do extraordinarily bad things. The Third Reich is one stark reminder (among many) of the accuracy of Genesis 1-11’s diagnosis of the human condition. Created in God’s image, we have an inbuilt turn to autonomy, pride, violence and injustice.

Haushofer and the Bonhoeffer brothers all lost their lives in standing up (in quite different ways) to a ‘hot’ nationalism gone toxic. As one of the great Christian theologians of the century who died for his faith, Dietrich’s refusal to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler stands as a challenge for all Christians if their national identity starts to claim ultimate allegiance. Christ is Lord, and that means Hitler and the Third Reich was idolatry.

The importance of public national recognition of past failures: of how rare it is for there to be a sense of humility and repentance in politics.  It takes huge political courage to confront the ghosts of the past. There are good reasons it happened in Germany, but what about nearer home?

What might be issues or events in 20th Century Ireland that need airing, discussion and some sort of ownership of past failures – not just past ‘glories’?

I’m not thinking of the failures of ‘others’ – the British Empire has rather a lot of its own past to deal with. I’m thinking of 20th Century Irish history – South and North.

Some starters for ten since we are in the decade of centenaries.

  • The “right to take life” by unelected republicans inspired by Pearse’s toxic brand of religious nationalism in 1916 was generally glossed over in the 2016 commemorations.
  • The Civil War was dealt with in silence for most of the century.
  • A consequence of 1916 was deep political ambiguity in the South about the IRA campaign in the North. This, I think, has never really been acknowledged or openly discussed, let alone owned.
  • And then there is the ‘dark side’ of Catholic Ireland, a culture that was freely chosen and almost universally embraced by the people as a whole. These days the Catholic Church gets all the blame, as if it staged a coup and took over the country like in Margaret Atwood’s Gilead of The Handmaid’s Tale. Yet such shifting of blame is too simple and too easy.
  • And year by year, month by month, day by day there are ongoing revelations of a deeply entrenched Irish culture of elites, secrecy, and ‘golden circles’ of business, bankers and politicians where practically no-one is ever held accountable.
  • Nowhere is the failure of the transparency of the Irish State more visible than the shambles that is the Garda Siochana. When the State Police force is itself involved in massive falsification of millions of pieces of evidence where no-one is held accountable (the breathalyzer scandal) it is a symptom of deep dysfunctionality. And that is just one scandal of a very long and very bizarre list. The current Charleton Tribunal heard eye-popping evidence this week of the then Garda Commissioner, his deputy (later Commissioner) and Garda Press Officer all conspiring to lie, misuse power and betray their duty (and country) in deliberately blackening the name of Sgt Maurice McCabe in order to discredit him and his allegations of Garda incompetence and illegality. No-one is holding their breath for anyone to be made accountable or for admission of failure or for the emergence of a deep-seated political will to effect reform and openness.

Then there is Northern Ireland.

Yes, there have been people of great courage and huge progress has been made. But the political culture is frozen. The past looms over the present. The Good Friday Agreement was a pragmatic deal that avoided deeper issues of reconciliation. That avoidance worked for a while but has run out of space. It will take acts of real political courage to confront failures of the past. And by courage I mean taking ownership of ‘my side’s’ participation in injustice. It is only humility and repentance that can unlock the future.

In terms of churches and Christians in the North – many have been outstanding and inspiring examples of courageous peace-making who have challenged their own ‘side’. But I am not at all so sure that Protestant denominations like the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) have really grappled with their relationship with political unionism. Back in that PhD (later published by OUP) I called a chapter on the PCI ‘At Ease in Zion‘ which concluded with this comment.

Volf has written that “the overriding commitment to their culture serves churches worst in situations of conflict. Churches, the presumed agents of reconciliation, are at best impotent and at worst accomplices in the strife.” Although it is apparent from my analysis that Irish Presbyterianism practised exclusion primarily through indifference rather than overt discrimination or domination, its spiritual bulwarking of the goals of Ulster unionism classify it as an accomplice during the Partition period and beyond. It can be said that the Church then represented a diluted form of belonging without distance. A significant reassessment of the PCI’s relationship with unionist identity has enabled Irish Presbyterianism to create significant distance from the ideology of its host culture. However, it seems that, as yet, the Church has only moved as far as a largely theoretical repudiation of a spiritual legitimation of national identity. As such, while no longer an accomplice, it continues to be, on this specific issue, largely impotent to confront the powerful emotive appeal of nationalism. It remains in open question whether distance, having once been lost, can be regained. (259)

Maybe you have your own suggestions?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

 

Ian Paisley and the politics of purity

Ian PaisleyOn hearing of the death yesterday of Ian Paisley, I went back and re-read the chapter I wrote on Paisleyism in my book Evangelicalism and National Identity in Ulster 1921-98. [I see it is a bargain at £132.50!]

The title of the chapter was ‘”Ourselves Alone”: Paisleyism and the Politics of Purity’. It feels like it was written in a previous lifetime and sparked some thoughts below.

Tributes pouring in for the ‘big man’ have pretty well all revolved around two things: the wit, humour and warmth of the man in person; and the fact of his finally, and remarkably, doing the ‘right thing’ and participating in power-sharing with Sinn Fein.

There is of course no little irony that this move –  coupled with his bonhomie relationship with Martin McGuinness – eventually cost him the leadership of the party he founded. For it was Paisley who, from the late 60s onwards, dispatched one Unionist leader after another for ‘betraying’ the cause of Ulster by doing some sort of deal with the British or the Irish Nationalists. Finally the ultimate outsider ended up centre-stage and did what he had vitriolically attacked those leaders for doing – dealing with the reality of some sort of power-sharing arrangement in Northern Ireland.

His later alienation from the DUP, and relative estrangement from the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster which he also founded, seemed to have left him feeling bitter and betrayed. That last interview he did on the BBC with Eamon Mallie seemed to surprise many people who, making assumptions about his joking around with McGuinness, jumped to the attractive conclusion that Paisley had suddenly become an avuncular liberal who had left behind those problematic and divisive religious and political convictions.

I don’t think I would revise too much of what I said back in 2003. His was a personal and political identity forged in conflict; given shape and content by separation from the impure Other. The Other included the mother of all harlots Rome,  ‘liberal’ (!) Irish Presbyterians, the WCC, Methodists, Baptists, the British, the Irish Govt, Irish nationalism, Irish Republicanism, weak Unionists, even the Orange Order, and, towards the end, fellow DUP leaders like Peter Robinson who turned, Brutus-like, on their leader.

Paisley’s sense of persecuted righteous prophet was there in that BBC interview. His career was built on personalized politics. In 2003 I looked at some of his rhetoric and concluded that by it

Paisley establishes that hostility to him is equivalent, not only to hostility to Christ, but to biblical truth, the values of the Reformation, and Ulster’s place within the United Kingdom. The power of ideology lies not only in its connection of contemporary political events with dramatic spiritual battles, but in its fusion of traditional Ulster siege mythology with Paisley’s own destiny and actions. He has personalized the Ulster unionist myth of the persecuted faithful. In a sense, his whole politico-religious career has been a conscious re-enactment of the past. (179)

The remarkable success of Paisleyism, I argued, was built primarily on it being a particular form of nationalism that was organized around a theological core of deeply held evangelical beliefs. The result was an innovative cocktail of fundamentalism and an intense localised form of nationalism. There is no room for doubt, complexity and shades of opinion within a nationalist myth. This was why, in a BBC vox pop after his death, ordinary Protestants, one after another, primarily talked of him as a great leader / defender of Ulster etc.  The breadth of his support was political and nationalistic rather than being based on his faithfulness to the Reformation solas.

At the end of the chapter I wrote that Paisleyism would lose its coherence and potency without the threat of imminent betrayal. I think this has happened. Paisleyism had gone as a movement well before yesterday. The DUP continues to struggle out of the shadow of the big man and chart its way in a new power-sharing era. A key to the future in the North will be how successful it can be in leaving behind the ‘politics of holiness’ – as well as how successful Sinn Fein can be on the other side of leaving behind its own toxic nationalist myths.

Comments, as ever, welcome

Evangelical Journeys

I had the great pleasure of speaking yesterday at the Dublin book launch of Claire Mitchell and Gladys Ganiel’s Evangelical Journeys: choice and change in a Northern Irish Religious Subculture (UCD Press, 2011).

It is based on sociological analysis of interviews with 95 people: from those ‘deepening’ their faith (in fundamentalist/very conservative direction), to those ‘maintaining a steady faith’, to those ‘moderating’ and adapting their faith, to those that are engaged in ‘transforming evangelicalism’ (effectively post-evangelicals) to those that have left evangelicalism (and Christianity) altogether.

Gladys has put up notes of my remarks at her website. It is a very good book; easy to read and full of stories of people’s journeys of faith. It’s valuable for those in Christian ministry as a listening exercise to what people really think about God and especially their experience of church.

Some sociology of religion can be completely reductionistic. A bit like the science and faith debate, the assumption seems to be because we can explain how things work (in this case how humans behave in regard to religious choices and behaviour) that we have ‘explained away’  any need for God. Gladys (a Christian) and Claire (an agnostic) don’t do this.

They identify and describe a spectrum of evangelical (and post-evangelical) beliefs and behaviour and highlight how where you are on it is to a significant degree a matter of personal choice. And moving from one part of the spectrum to another is usually the result of a process over time – and this includes conversion and deconversion.

Often what appears like a sudden change has been building for quite a period.

Makes you ask yourself,  ‘Where am I on the spectrum?’

 

 

 

 

 

Ireland’s financial apocalypse?

The  ‘Saturday Story of the Week’ is this analysis from Morgan Kelly, professor of economics in University College Dublin.

[this is edited from when first posted – forgot!]

Here’s a few clips from what he said. Basically it is no longer a question of whether Ireland will go bust, but when. …. (Sorry to dampen your Saturday).

When you compare the leviathan that is America to the minnow that is Ireland, you find that the Irish Government has

“already committed itself to spend … 10 times per head of population the amount the US spent to rescue itself from its worst banking crisis since the Great Depression.”

That’s worth pausing to ponder.

He then does a few sums on how much Irish taxpayers are set to lose in the bailout and concludes:

“So between developers, businesses, and personal loans, Irish banks are on track to lose nearly €50 billion if we are optimistic (and more likely closer to €70 billion), which translates into a bill for the taxpayer of over 30 per cent of GDP …. Adding these bank losses on to the national debt means we are facing a debt by late 2012 of 115 per cent of GDP …

And when you calculate the debt based on taxes raised here in Ireland the

“optimistic debt to GDP forecast of 115 per cent translates into a debt to GNP ratio of 140 per cent, worse than where Greece is now. And even this catastrophic number assumes that our economy does not contract further.”

Over the last two years Ireland has suffered

“the deepest and swiftest falls in a western economy since the Great Depression” and the contraction is far from over. There is likely to be “a borrowing crisis for Ireland. The first torpedo, most probably, will be a run on Irish banks in inter-bank markets, of the sort that sank Anglo in 2008.”

“We have long since left the realm of easy alternatives, and will soon face a choice between national bankruptcy and admitting the bank guarantee was a mistake. Either we cut the banks loose, or we sink ourselves … Our crisis stems entirely from the Government’s gratuitous decision on September 29th, 2008, to transform the IOUs of Seán FitzPatrick, Dermot Gleeson and their peers into quasi-sovereign instruments of the Irish state.”

“the State is a distinct entity from its banks and, having learned the extent of the banks’ recklessness, we now have no choice but to allow the bank guarantee to lapse and to share the banks’ losses with their bondholders….”

Of course, expecting politicians to sort out the Irish banks is pure fantasy. Like their British and American counterparts, Irish politicians have spent too long believing that banks were the root of national prosperity to understand that their interests are frequently inimical to those of the rest of the economy.

So what’s the hope? Kelly puts his in the new independent regulator and governor of the central bank who now hold huge political power.

“We can only hope that the Central Bank is using whatever time remains to us as an independent State to devise an intelligent Plan B – or is it Plan C?”

How does this make you feel? Helpless as this all unfolds in the remote corridors of power? Angry over the future this heralds for children and young people for years ahead; for the poor and the dependent? Fearful? Just hoping that it will all turn out all right somehow? Bewildered at the complexity of it all and not sure what to believe.

How should Christians be thinking about this stuff?

I’m no economist but the mega-shift (there is no word big enough even with a makey-up one like that one) from private debt run up by out of control banks to public debt owned by the State (you and me) seems to me deeply, profoundly and absolutely iniquitous.

So I’m with Kelly – cut the banks loose to take more responsibility for their recklessness.

Irish identity stereotypes – same old same old?

A friend (tks Steven) drew my attention to a review in the Irish Independent of a just published book by Heather Crawford called Outside the Glow: Protestants and Irishness in Independent Ireland (UCD Press).

Its findings are, on the face of it, surprising. Despite surface change, attitudes that defined Catholic-Protestant relations in the 1950s are as deeply entrenched and as stereotypical as ever. The author notes how these attitudes are present in younger generations. [Note: I haven’t read the book so this is second hand]. For example:

– Protestants are still seen as ‘Anglo’ and their religion seen as inferior

– They are perceived as rich, snobbish and elitist, irrespective of their actual circumstances

– They are thought to be universally hostile to Irish culture and sport

– They are seen as antagonistic to the Irish language

– They are viewed as lacking ‘Irishness’ and are perceived as somehow ‘alien’.

In other words, Irish national identity is still interpreted in terms of being Catholic, nationalist and Gaelic.

Does this sound right from your experience? And I wonder how’s it connected to how local non-Catholic churches are perceived in their communities? And I wonder what about all those other ‘Protestants’ – from Africa, Romania, China etc ….

Way back in ancient history I spent a lot of time thinking about nationalism and identity. National identities are deeply rooted and change very slowly so I don’t find the continued existence of negative stereotypes that surprising.

However such has been the dramatic unravelling of’ old Ireland’,  I would be pretty surprised if those attitudes are as common and deeply held as ever, especially in Dublin and other urban areas.

Immigration, secularisation, pluralism, post-Christendom, globalisation, the rise and fall of the Catholic Church – all these have had a profound effect in broadening once narrow dualistic horizons.

Or is Ireland less changed than we think? Are changes more at surface level and does the more liberal, pluralist media give a misleading impression of life on the ground?

An aside: – stereotypes are exactly that – an exaggeration of a grain of truth: Martin Maguire is a historian who has done work on how Partition and the subsequent Protestant exodus meant the departure of what had been a working class Protestant population mainly associated with the British military presence. The remaining Protestant population was far more mixed than the stereotype of aristocratic landlords with posh West-Brit accents riding horses down to the local shop to buy their prawn sandwiches . Most were small farmers struggling to survive.

Postmodernism, the IRA and the myth of redemptive violence

SATURDAY STORY OF THE WEEK

I’m overlooking the breakout of resignations among Irish politicians (who would have believed it? Like waiting for a Dublin Bus. None for ages despite being well overdue, then four all arrive together) .

What I’d like to comment on briefly is this: a friend told me this week he heard a noise that he hasn’t heard in years and his young children never have – the concussion of a car bomb exploding in Newry, over 15 miles from where he lives.

The escalating threat of dissident republicans is traced here. The Real IRA, the organisation behind the 1998 Omagh Bomb, seems determined to record another mass killing. What their strategic goals are is opaque – apart from some sort of Pearsean fundamentalist republican purity that glorifies violence even if doomed to failure, or even because it is doomed to failure. The ‘glory’ is belonging to the last remnant [since Sinn Fein and the IRA have betrayed the cause] of those engaged in a ‘noble’ and ‘just’ fight for Irish freedom, whatever the cost [and how wonderfully convenient that the cost is borne by the blood of other people].

And of course this is giving them the benefit of the doubt of being motivated by some sort of ideal, however twisted. Money, power, racketeering and drugs are more material objectives. The brutal murder on Wednesday night of Kieran Doherty by the Real IRA looked far more likely to be connected to mafia like activity – the very brutality being a graphic warning to others not to cross the mob.

We all give our lives to some story. Maybe it is the myth of western capitalism that more is better. Maybe it is the story that all that really counts is friends and family. Maybe it is the individualist story of ‘my life’ being at the centre of reality. Christians believe in the story of Jesus and are called become his followers in the non-violent kingdom of God.

For the people who planted this week’s bomb, it is the story of nationalism – that the utopian abstract idea of ‘free Ireland’ is of such value that it demands blood sacrifice and justifies threat, terror and brutal violence to achieve ‘justice’.

Some stories do more damage than other stories. Nationalism isn’t intrinsically ‘bad’, it can do a lot of good. But Ireland has been plagued by the poisonous sort (and while I’m talking about Irish republicanism, the poison has infected more than one side).

The IRA campaign ground to a halt for many reasons. One, I think, was because fewer and fewer people kept believing in the utopian mythology of the nationalist dream as the bodies piled up. Put it another way – postmodernism eroded the sand from beneath the feet of the IRA. Their nationalist meta-narrative had become corrupted to be all about power, force and killing. However, while the IRA’s campaign of armed resistance may have stopped, the underlying mythology of redemptive violence was left intact.

The myth of redemptive violence is that good things like peace, justice, equality and reconciliation can come through pain, fear, death and intimidation. This belief remains embedded deep down in psychology of Irish republicanism. It has never been repudiated.

The Real IRA are no morally different from the IRA. The former just happen to believe that the political conditions remain to justify their ‘right’ to impose their story on others by force and fear.

It is one of the ironies of the ‘Peace Process’ that just about everyone’s version of the past seems to remain largely unchanged. Maybe I’m wrong here (I have not lived in the North for a long time) but you get the impression that, if similar circumstances dictated, many would repeat the violence of the past. Put it another way – hearts have not been changed. Little wonder that, while there has been pragmatic political progress, trust and reconciliation remain in short supply 12 years after the Belfast Agreement.

In Christian terms, what would have a profoundly healing effect is repentance: – a turning away from a previously wrong belief and action to walk in a different path. It is probably a totally naïve hope that one day the republican movement might not only ‘regret’ the past, but turn away from the myth of redemptive violence that underpinned it. To do so would be at enormous cost since it would undermine the ‘legitimacy’ of 30 years of ‘armed struggle’. But until that myth is repudiated, there will continue to be new generations of deluded ‘believers’ like the Real IRA all too willing to kill in the name of Ireland.

Northern Politics, Relationships and Tiger Woods

Some weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Schluter, a remarkable person who has lived a fascinating life and tells great stories! One of Michael’s interests is the Relationships Foundation and he has written extensively on the importance of relationships in business and church life. I plan to post soon on ‘relationalism’ and talk more about this.

I mention relationships because, while it takes a lot to surprise us in these days of global news and information overload, I watched in disbelief the other night as the BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme unfolded the astonishing story of Iris Robinson, wife of First Minister Peter Robinson, and until very recently, minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, MP and councillor. Known as an extremely conservative evangelical Christian, core member of Ian Paisley’s political party the DUP, famous for her outspoken views on the evils of homosexuality, she now finds herself at the centre of a bizzare, lurid and destructive story revolving around money, sex and power. Northern politics is bitter at the best of times and Peter Robinson is one of the toughest, but watching him talk you’d have to be pretty hard not to feel some sympathy. The fallout could well impact the already fragile government as he could be implicated in the story, he acknowledges his marriage needs saving and his wife has withdrawn from politics for mental health reasons.

This comes hard on the heels of personal revelations on the Republican side of the North’s divide with Gerry Adams facing scrutiny over how he handled news that his father abused family members and that his brother is wanted in connection with abuse charges. Adams, as the key leader of the Republican movement during most of the Troubles, has a well earned reputation as being cold, calculating and unemotional but the relational damage he and his wider family are dealing with is awful.

What is your response to these stories? What’s a gospel response?

One simple point: relationships are the glue that holds life together. When they ‘go bad’, damage is done in multiple directions. Apparent ‘success’  in life – whether in politics or business or sport – can rarely be sustained if personal relationships crumble. Just ask Tiger Woods. And of course, this is even more true for Christian ministry since loving relationships with God and with others lie at the heart of the Christian faith.  But that’s for another day.