Gerry Adams & Forgiveness: Alan McBride on the Channel 4 series ‘The Bible: A History’

image Tomorrow, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams will be the featured guest on the Channel 4 series, ‘The Bible: A History.’ The series bills itself as, ‘the story of the most influential book ever written, interpreted by seven prominent figures from different walks of life.’

Friday’s Belfast Telegraph carries an interview with Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the IRA Shankill bomb in 1993. McBride, a graduate of my School’s master’s in Reconciliation Studies, now works at the WAVE Trauma Centre and is a member of the Northern Ireland Victims Forum. He has dedicated his life to building peace.

McBride participated in the filming of the Channel 4 programme. Prior to the filming he talked with Adams in a meeting facilitated by Methodist minister Harold Good. He told the Telegraph that he is nervous and apprehensive about the broadcast,

“It’s not easy to do these things. You try to do them for the right reasons, but sometimes you can end up hurting the people you love the most, my family.”

Channel 4’s choice of Adams to talk about what is such a sensitive topic is a controversial one. Back in December, the popular blogger Cranmer expressed it this way:

It beggars belief that Channel 4 have decided to help rehabilitate the man who has been president of Sinn Fein for 26 years and directly implicated in the murder of almost 2000 people. What is Christian about planting bombs which kill children and pregnant women?

Although I don’t take the view that Channel 4 has a hidden agenda to ‘rehabilitate’ Adams, I am curious about what he has to say about forgiveness.

McBride’s perspective on forgiveness has been out there in the public domain for quite some years. It is simply, as he has told the Telegraph, about making peace with his enemies. But McBride is never going to attract the attention of Gerry Adams, who has near celebrity-level status.

The first time I heard McBride tell his story was at a ‘One Small Step’ campaign event in a church in Belfast. He told how he sought over the years to draw Adams’ attention to the effects of IRA bombings on those left behind, once even attempting to write to the Sinn Fein president in Irish. He sent Adams photographs of his wife to him on her birthdays, anniversary, and at Christmas.

Back in December, the Belfast Telegraph ran a longer piece by Brian Rowan about McBride’s encounter with Adams for the programme. This is how McBride described his first ever meeting with him,

“He acknowledged my pain, my hurt, and he apologised to me. I thought he was respectful. I did find him genuine. I don’t see Gerry Adams as the pariah that I once saw him as. Nor does that mean everything that happened in the conflict was right, none of it was justified.”

McBride’s story of his encounter with Adams may get lost in the discussion that is sure to follow the programme, which will surely be about Adam’s perspective on forgiveness. But I hope that McBride’s participation will help us remember:

  • There is no one-size-fits all solution for healing the hurts of the victims of the Northern Ireland conflict. McBride has been and remains an inspiring figure for those who believe in the power of forgiveness and making peace with their enemies. But not everyone is ready to take those steps right now.
  • Not everyone thinks the reconciliatory steps McBride has taken have been the right thing to do. They are the voices who insist on ‘repentance’ from the IRA. (There will be many watching tomorrow to see if Adams says anything about ‘repentance.’)
  • There are many victims out there in need of support, for personal healing and for getting on with their lives.
  • We won’t get very far in dealing with Northern Ireland’s past unless we listen to and seriously engage with victims’ and survivors’ needs.

Alan McBride’s example demonstrates that forgiveness can result in a life dedicated to reconciliatory action. I hope that his perspective is faithfully represented on the programme.

(Photo of McBride at the memorial to his wife, from the BBC website)

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