watching BBC Spotlight devote an entire edition
to the fire and brimstone Christians of the Bethal
evangelical church on the Shankill Road's Berlin
Street I was asked was there any point to the media
expending time and energy dwelling on singing bigots
and their opponents. What Henry Kissinger once said
of university politics as easily applies to evangelical
disputes. They are 'so vicious precisely because
the stakes are so small.'
the intrigue at the Bethal seemed as bizarre as
internal discussions among any of the cults from
the range of Trot groups that populate the Belfast
squabble scene. Why would anybody be remotely interested?
The dysfunctional types that often flock to the
certainty of the sect share the same fervour for
the absurd. Whom they worship, Christ or Trotsky,
is secondary to the need to worship. Uproarious
viewing maybe, but what Spotlight did was to lance
the boil of fundamentalist bigotry allowing the
viewer to see the poisonous puss that festered within.
two years ago myself and Phil McCullough from the
Markets ended up in Crumlin Road Prison's D Wing,
having been temporarily transferred there from the
H-Blocks to stand trial on the basis of allegations
made by a born again Christian. The charges were
meaningless as both of us were serving life anyway.
Still, it was an inconvenience for which we were
willing to assign the blame to the Christian who
had his Damascus road conversion in the unlikely
setting of Amsterdam.
Wing had its fair share of burning bush merchants
all in need of some solace to get them through their
burd. In truth they were not all that different
from prison Marxists. The books were different but
the motivation was the same. The message was for
the most part abandoned once the jail gates slammed
behind them. Skills other than those acquired from
reading Das Kapital or the Bible were the currency
of the street.
the jail house jokes that warn against picking up
soap in the washrooms, my sole concern when standing
in the next shower cubicle to a raving evangelical
one day in the Crum was that he might assault me
with his prayer, not his pecker. Like Elwood of
Blues Brothers fame this redneck believed he was
on 'a mission from God'. Preacher men like their
meat young. I was twenty five at the time which
probably made me about eighteen years too old to
arouse the lecherous bible thumpers. Even were I
to have made the grade, a broken nose would have
dampened the Lord lover's ardour. That hardly spared
me the fifteen minutes of listening to unadulterated
tripe about 'the Lord'. His gobbledegook about being
'saved' left me as nonplussed as rants on the need
for the dictatorship of the proletariat. It amazed
me that adults can spew such tripe. Although in
some countries they make you president for it. In
others your head is hacked off for denouncing it.
Not content at being afflicted they seem intent
on inflicting whatever it is that ails them on the
rest of us.
the Crum Christians in action left the acrid taste
of scepticism in my mouth. Theirs was a burn the
sinner mentality coupled with a devotion to a simple-minded
know nothingness; a belief in Adam and Eve, the
power of snakes and apples coupled with a literal
biblical interpretation of creation. Most crucially,
at the core of their belief system sat a hate rationalised
as Christian love. Four years later, and long since
back in the blocks, I was shown a letter by a born
againer who had become a gone againer and had abandoned
the good ship Jesus. He was now reading porn books
rather than the bible, having suddenly discovered
that his tongue had potentially more uses than spouting
gibberish. The letter he displayed was from Kenny
McClinton, a convicted Catholic killer. What struck
me about McClinton was that his hatred was as pathological
as ever. It was also a safer bet given that no sanction
was applied to the purveyor of a hate masked in
theological terms. 'Just hating for the Lord, brother.'
It was a safe way for McClinton to carry on venting
the sentiments he held before arrest and subsequent
conviction. For the targets of his bile, the outcome
was hardly innocuous.
of this fundamentalist embracing of hatred was exposed
in the Spotlight feature, which focussed on Pastor
Clifford Peeples. Having read a finely crafted article
in Fortnight by Peeples during his imprisonment
in Maghaberry, the thought struck me that he might
have found an outlet for his energy, channelling
it into writing for which he seemed to have quite
a talent. Sensitive writing for the pastor, however,
proved nothing other than a chicane that he came
across on his otherwise unbroken biblical journey
of hating with a perfect hatred.
This particular devotee of the Lord remains a raving
bigot who seems to have taken his spiritual direction
on Catholicism from the late George Seawright. George's
bible might easily have been written in a German
prison in the 1920s. The theology was stark but
simple: all Catholics should be burned along with
their priests. Spotlight was uncompromising in its
narrative: Pastor Peeples and his hillbilly sidekick,
'Preacher John' Sommerville have merely found new
outlets for their hatred.
and Somerville - a hybrid combination cemented by
a viscous and visceral hatred. Peeples likes to
sing while Sommerville made his name murdering singers.
In a normal world it is not over until the fat pastor
sings. But what if he hits the wrong note in the
ear of Preacher John? Will that old murderous hatred
of singers kick in?
the congregation of the Bethal resolve their power
struggle is, after Spotlight, unlikely to be done
behind closed doors. The one positive sign was that
the former pastor, John Hull, and his supporters
seemed horrified by the nefarious anti-Catholicism
of Peeples and his cabal. But they must fear a sign
from God encased in a pipe tossed through the windows
of their homes or church. Some reports have suggested
that the local UVF may arbitrate by casting Peeples
off to the desert.
if the loyalist group were to do this, there remain
42 churches on the Shankill. Small wonder that some
loyalists complain about the poor educational attainment
level of working class Protestants. A much healthier
intellectual atmosphere would prevail in the area
were there 42 pubs rather than the current proliferation
of centres for the promotion of superstition.