The Second Coming of Paisley. Militant Fundamentalism and Ulster Politics, Richard Lawrence Jordan
In claiming Paisley’s extraordinary volte face was based in theology, Jordan shows a poor understanding of Northern politics and Irish history
The Second Coming of Paisley: Militant Fundamentalism and Ulster Politics
Richard Lawrence Jordan
Syracuse University Press
Jordan claims that his book is the first to examine the relationship between Paisley and militant evangelical fundamentalists in the US in the period immediately predating the outbreak of the Northern Irish Troubles in the late 1960s. In fact, this relationship has been extensively discussed, by, in particular, Dennis Cooke in Persecuting Zeal, as well as Ed Moloney and Andy Pollak in their 1986 biography, Moloney in his 2007 sequel, and by Steve Bruce. Indeed, Bruce has been taken to task by William Brown in his study of Orangeism for exaggerating the role of evangelicalism in unionist politics. Jordan similarly exaggerates the role of American fundamentalism in the development of the young Paisley. Brown argues that far from regarding Paisley as one of their young disciples, the US fundamentalists looked up to him. Until they fell out, that is. Fundamentalists are quarrelsome folk.
Jordan is at his most interesting when he contradicts his own thesis. He provides good examples of the overt political activism of the US fundamentalists, and shows the convergence of views on communism, apostasy, ecumenism and Roman Catholicism, between Paisley and US segregationists such as the Reverend Carl McIntyre. He describes the mutual admiration which existed between Paisley and outrageous bigots like Lester Maddox, elected governor of Georgia in 1966, two years after he chased African-Americans from his restaurant in Alabama with pick-axe handles and hand guns. Paisley reprinted his speeches in the Protestant Telegraph.
Threat to Protestantism
He notes that Paisley was on a speaking tour in the southern states of the US in 1968, and spoke at a Bible conference at Bob Jones University two days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, but did not mention the murder nor its violent aftermath. Instead he focused on the threat to Protestantism in the US as in Ulster. (Back home, Paisley continually ignored loyalist violence when denouncing republican outrages.) He mentions men with wonderfully apt names, such as Bob Doom.
Jordan does not discuss Paisley’s use of Ecclesiastes in his inaugural speech as first minister, though it is surely of interest: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven . . . A time to kill and a time to heal . . . A time to love and a time to hate. A time of war and a time of peace.”
He quotes the Reverend Ivan Foster, a former disciple, who denounced Paisley for his change of heart, but ignores the fact that what Foster deplores is not that Paisley betrayed his premillenialism by engaging in politics – far from it – but for his decision to share power with “the godfathers of IRA murder and terror”.
There is a carelessness to this book that suggests a lack of local knowledge about Northern Ireland. Even its biggest fans would not describe Ballymena as a city. Crude chunks of history are poorly integrated. The book compares Paisley with other “political dissidents” including Éamonn de Valera and Michael Collins, in that he “accepted power when offered it”. It ends with pious words about the sincerity of Paisley’s religiosity, and his contribution to peace.
Susan McKay is the author of Northern Protestants - An Unsettled People (Blackstaff) and Bear in Mind These Dead (Faber). She is a former Northern editor of the Sunday Tribune