I was enjoying a pleasantly cool and overcast late summer afternoon. As I was scraping the side of an old house back in the woods, the news came over the radio...
Ian Paisley is dead at 88.
These moments always hit me. It will stay with me forever.
He was right about the Pope. He is little more than an evil agent of the Antichrist.
Though unlike Paisley, I wouldn't call the Pope 'the' Antichrist.
But as I grew and learned I realized Paisley though right about Rome had got it all wrong. Paisley's gospel was a gospel of power and the idolizing of a Protestant tradition that I don't think he really understood.
He understood the sociological implications. This was clear as he celebrated the 'progress' of Ulster, its industry etc... over and against the 'backwardness' of the Irish Republic.
But reading his material over the years and listening to his sermons his theological grasp was pretty poor. He was man of action, not a man of deep thinking.
He was leader... but I'm not sure his leadership qualities in any way benefited the Kingdom of Christ. In truth he was little more than a political demagogue though at times a formidable and dangerous one.
He viewed himself as a champion of historic Protestantism and to Paisley the streets of Ulster were the front line of the ongoing battle between Protestantism and the False Church of Rome.
In many ways he helped to foster and perpetuate many Protestant myths and not a few of its flaws.
The man had blood his hands. He and his followers try and deny it, but I don't think they can. He had ties to militia groups and his sermons promoted violence. You don't have to verbalize 'go bash some heads' to get your message across.
He wrongly believed the Kingdom of God could be built through the seizing of power, political alliance with Great Britain and frankly through violence.
This is not to defend the IRA. For a long time I've realized the only response is...
A plague on both of your houses!
In terms of history the plague goes back to Henry II, Henry VIII, Elizabeth and James I all of whom erroneously thought they had a right to conquer and steal land that did not belong to them.
The IRA has historical justification... but the new IRA of 'The Troubles', the IRA post-1960's lost its moral justification in the eyes of many.
The British started it all. You can't deny that.
And of course the worst villain of all... perhaps even worse than the IRA is Oliver Cromwell. I once admired him and but venerated John Owen the chaplain who accompanied him on his Irish campaign. It was mass murder and cannot be defended.
Of course how many Protestants were killed during the 1641 uprising? Two thousand or Forty thousand (if you're Paisley)... who knows?
Did it justify Cromwell's response? That's the question for Paisley.
I think it's the wrong question.
My own family history is heavily tied to the Ulster Plantation. Several lines of family departed in the 18th century and made their way to the green fields of America... happy to leave it all behind.
Of course then they proceeded to do to Blacks and American Indians what the English had done to them and what they had done to the Gaelic Irish.
Paisley was good friend with Bob Jones University in Greenville South Carolina and one of his congregations was established in that town. I attended there once and heard Alan Cairns preach. That was enough for me.
Juvenile Legalistic Political Premillennarian Presbyterianism? No thank you.
And since then I've met others in Pennsylvania who attend one of his 'Free' congregations. As I said, it's a unique blend of what can only be called Fundamentalist Presbyterianism. Only the Bible Presbyterians resemble them in any way.
Mostly they come across as Bob Jones-type Baptists.
Paisley influenced the American Church and it certainly influenced him.
It's interesting how the Irish Struggle played out in parallel across the Irish Sea in Southwestern Scotland and on the East Coast of the United States. From Presbyterian Congregations to the streets of Boston... the ghosts of Ireland haunt America.
To many people, Paisley was a staunch warrior for the Kingdom. To others he was a buffoon. To others, a force for evil and hate.
I guess I think of him as all of these at once. When Falwell and Colson died I felt burdened and I did today as well. Matthew 7 comes to mind. Perhaps he's in the Kingdom but I am confident that if he is, he has now learned that almost all that he built was hay and stubble for the burning. He's now learned that Great Britain isn't so great after all and the heritage he celebrated was largely a lie. The glory of Britain is actually a great source of shame.
Almost everything he laboured for was ultimately a waste of time and energy and harmful to the Church and to his fellow man.
Paisley is gone but he won't be missed.