Irish Republican Jesus

13/02/10 | Posted by MattPage

Gerry Adams might not be someone you would expect to find talking about Jesus. Indeed the last Conservative government found him so despicable that they banned his voice from being broadcast. But next Sunday, Adams will be doing just that as part of Channel 4’s series, The Bible: A History.

 Photo by albertw, used under a Creative Commons Licence

The series has heard from three public figures so far. Last week’s episode featured a member of that last Tory government, Anne Widdecombe, looking at Exodus. She argued, in abrasive fashion, that the Ten Commandments should have a more important role in British life. Earlier instalments starred novelist Howard Jacobson looking at the creation story and journalist Rageh Omar looking at Abraham and his descendants.

It’s unclear what angle Adams’s programme will be taking, aside from the fact he will be looking at Jesus, the gospels and his core message “of love, forgiveness and advocacy of non-violence”.1 Whilst Adams was brought up a Roman Catholic, and still regularly attends mass, he is also very much his own man, expressing his admiration for the “democratic nature of the Presbyterian church” as well as the Methodist church.

He has spoken several times of his respect for Jesus and his teaching. In a recent interview with ex-talk show host Gay Byrne Adams declared that “Jesus Christ was a mighty man”, and that he was “entirely taken by so many of the parables”.2 And in a 1996 interview with Third Way magazine Adams noted out that Jesus

“never condemned anyone: he was at home with the zealots, the terrorists, the prostitutes, the thieves, the beggars, the sick – all the marginalised, he was in there with them. And he was an activist: he chased people out of the Temple – it wasn’t mere piety or passive lip-service. And also he dealt with the whole issue of peace-making”.3

At the same time, many see Adams as a man with blood on his hands. Whilst he has always denied any direct involvement with the IRA,  most remain sceptical, believing Sinn Fein (his political party) and the IRA to be linked. Is Adams really a fit person to be looking at the man who said “blessed are the peacemakers”?

One person who would answer that question “yes” is theologian Helen Bond. Bond was asked by Channel 4 to mentor Adams on his trip around the Holy Land, but found she learnt as much as he did. She found that Adams’s perspective as someone “who has been on the run from political authority, who has experienced internment, who has been shot at” helped her “feel how Jesus’ message might have been heard in first-century Galilee and Judaea. How could talk of a kingdom have been anything other than a threat to the existing rulers?”4

How widely Bond’s views will be agreed with remains to be seen, but it seems clear that the programme won’t be ducking the important issues. According to Channel 4’s website the programme closes with Adams meeting “victims of atrocities on both sides to examine how they have, or have not, managed to apply the lessons of Jesus’ teachings in light of their own experiences”.5 That, if nothing else, gives an insight into the power of Jesus’ example and Jesus’ message to bring hope and healing into the darkest of situations.

Gerry Adams will appear in The Bible: A History on Channel 4 on Sunday 21st February at 6:55pm

1 - Channel 4 website for The Bible: A History -
2 - Cited in “Gerry Adams cuts out middleman with ‘Protestant’ beliefs” by Lynne Kelleher, The Times, April 26, 2009
3 - “Talking of Peace” interview with Gerry Adams by Nelson González. Third Way magazine, 7th August 1996.
4 - “Jesus through the Eyes of an Irish Republican”.Helen Bond, The Bible and Interpretation, January 2010.
5 - Channel 4 website for The Bible: A History -

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