The gospel injunction to “love our enemies” and “pray for those who persecute us” sits uneasily with modern sensibilities. In politics, such a modus operandi is perceived as weakness and may signal doom at the next election. Even in the Church, the words of our Lord are often qualified to the point where the evangelical imperative of His command loses its efficacy in a hundred nuances. It is therefore of real moment when a leader courageously steps forward in faith and extends the hand of friendship to those who had inflicted real suffering on her own family, while at the same time acknowledging the hurt and injustice of centuries between nations.

The late Queen Elizabeth had waited many decades before a visit to the Republic of Ireland was possible, but she grasped the opportunity to bring healing between nations. Her death was the subject of an extraordinary outpouring of reaction, comment and analysis, but for Christians she was truly one of us, and it is in her humble following of Christ that she shall remain in our memories. As Archbishop Welby has said …those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.”

In Ireland the requirement to love our enemies is, in the words of Thomas Aquinas… ”a challenge to our hearts long before it tests the strength of our legs”. Justice is paramount, but our justice is often inextricably linked to our political perspective, reminiscent perhaps of the widespread belief at the time of Jesus that the Messiah was focused on ridding Palestine of the hated Roman occupiers. The tendency to invoke the Almighty to our cause and view events through the lens of this present world is it would seem endemic even for Christians steeped in their knowledge of the scriptures.

In 2020 Eric Trump informed the world that his father had literally saved Christianity. Such hyperbole gives rise to a whole series of urgent questions for Christians. How does someone who has little religious sensibility invoke such rabid devotion from so many American Christians? The answer for some is the perception that Donald Trump is a modern-day King Cyrus, the ungodly Persian King, who nevertheless frees a group of Jews held captive in Babylon. They contend that ex-president Trump who alone can save America from certain cultural collapse and as it were ‘Make America Great Again.’

But as the US Catholic Bishops noted: “the Church cannot function as a mere political advocacy group or a proxy for one party or another.”

Such an observation is also highly apposite in Northern Ireland. The tortuous journey back to a power-sharing government, and the mutual veto that remains, reminds us of the fragility of making progress towards a deeper cooperation in a deeply divided society.

It is also why the words of those in political leadership matter and why the witness of the Church remains critical. Is it truly possible to forgive one’s own enemies? How can we recognise the workings of grace in our lives? How do we balance the demands of justice with the requirements of mercy? We can sometimes glimpse through a glass darkly as when we encounter the forgiveness of a Gordon Wilson, but too often we are hindered by the demands of our own political views. The constitutional issue in our society is important but it is subordinate to the injunction of the scriptures to see our primary identity in Christ. This was the penetrating insight of the Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI) 30 years ago when they brought a biblical lens to concepts of forgiveness peace and justice. More recently, I sense the same biblical focus in the significant public contributions by Wallace Thompson. Ironically, he was a critic of ECONI, but in his upholding of the “priceless evangelical heritage”, his commitment to Christ is demonstrated even if constitutional arrangements should change. (Now Mr Thompson would hardly approve of the writer’s own faith journey but that is a discussion for another day!)

In the interim, I can simply acknowledge in the spirit of John Wesley’s Letter to a Roman Catholic that Mr Thompson’s commitment to his faith above everything is entirely in line with the injunction of the scriptures. As Wesley put it: “A true Protestant believes in God, has a full confidence in His mercy, fears Him with a filial fear, and loves him with all His soul.” 

Northern Ireland needs good government and ensuring provision for health education and the economy is vital. That imperative has not prevented the constitutional issue from dominating our politics and relegating other arguably critical concerns. The perception grows that our national identity is paramount, but as Christians we must live as ambassadors for Christ pointing and living out the reality of a different kingdom, to which we owe our ultimate allegiance. Too often, that dimension and influence has been missing from public discourse even among professed followers of Christ. Its absence also impedes God’s grace which enables us not just to seek justice and love mercy but to exemplify Christ’s command to forgive our enemies and those who revile us.

In that spirit, one can rejoice when politicians and community leaders publicly demonstrate generosity of spirit. As followers of Christ, we are duty bound to contribute to the common good and the up building of a fair and just society for those of all faiths and none. However, as important as our national identity may be and how deeply it affects our views and actions, we must never forget that we are citizens of another kingdom.  Our primary calling is to Christ and His kingdom, and to view all other affections and identities as secondary. May the spirit of Christ enliven our political discourse and give us an eternal perspective that properly orders our loves and loyalties both locally and globally.


Rev Deacon Brett Lockhart, St Brigid’s Parish, Belfast.

Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article of those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.