So Paisley died today. A truly enigmatic man. My attitude towards him has changed over time.
When I first went to live in the north (1996) I really struggled with him. I hated the fact that he tied Christianity to a certain political outlook. He talked about 'Protestant Culture', but I was a Protestant who did not identify with his culture. To me Protestantism was about the rediscovery of the truth of justification by grace through faith. So Protestant was a religious category rather than an ethnic grouping. I also didn't like his language. He would refer to 'the people of Ulster', but seemed only to be thinking about one section of the people of Ulster.
People who met him said that he was charming. He seems to have had a marvellous marriage. The RTE iplayer archive has a wonderful edition of the Saturday Live show where he is interviewed by his daughter Rhonda, and he comes across as likeable. He certainly had a change of heart in recent years, and I would like to believe that this was something to do with a work of God in his life.
I just wish he could have said 'sorry'. When Eammonn Mallie interviewed him for the BBC, Paisley admitted that the lack of social housing provided to Catholics and the lack of representation of nationalists in government were wrong. Yet when challenged about his own role in the troubles he would admit no wrongdoing. Of course we may not all agree as to the extent of his culpability for violence in the north. But his witness as a Christian would have been enhanced if he could have faced up to the fact that he said things that were unhelpful, unkind and unloving. After all a Christian is not someone who has done no wrong but someone who loves that Christ who has taken our wrongs upon himself on the cross.