Justice and mercy

Yesterday, there were headlines stating that a soldier was to be tried for his involvement in the killing of a boy in Derry in 1972. No doubt, defenders of the soldier would argue he was acting in the line of duty, in operations to break into so-called ‘no-go areas’ that were Republican strongholds. Those who are less inclined to defend him will point to the age of the boy who was shot and killed (15) and the age of his wounded cousin (17). They will argue that the actions were unnecessary and, proving fatal, amount to unlawful killing.

It would, naturally, be highly inappropriate to begin suggesting where the truth lies at this point. The Public Prosecution Service have only just granted the right for a prosecution to be sought. So no trial has even commenced yet, let alone reached any sort of verdict.

But it seemed appropriate to share this video, from a couple of years ago, about my friend, Billy McCurrie. Billy lost his father as a young lad who was shot and killed by the IRA. Billy subsequently joined the Ulster Volunteer Force in a bid for revenge, eventually ending up in the Maze Prison. Like almost all Northern Irish paramilitary men, Billy went into prison an Atheist. Unlike many of them, he converted to Christianity whilst in prison and now pastors a church in the North of England.

What is striking about Billy’s testimony is that he freely admits, if justice was to be done, he should still be prison. He considers himself fortunate to be out at all. He doesn’t mention it in the video, but he was set free under a scheme that viewed minors involved in paramilitary activities as under the influence of others and thus eligible for release.

I think this is noteworthy because it is noteworthy that schemes such as the one Billy was released under – and the prisoner releases that came about as a result of the Good Friday Agreement – are hard to view as anything other than inherently unjust. It was this repeated refrain that saw the DUP sweep to power and render the Ulster Unionsts a spent force under the leadership of David Trimble, the co-signatory to the GFA. We are currently in the process of prosecuting soldiers – sent to Northern Ireland during The Troubles to restore order during a period (that Sinn Fein/IRA openly called ‘war’ – whilst releasing from prison, and even now giving political power, to those who admit to the killing of civilians. It is interesting that Billy notes this very injustice.

But, more importantly still, Billy’s testimony speaks to the power of the gospel. A violent, Atheistic paramilitary man bent on vengeance was dramatically changed by a work of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Lord saved the Apostle Paul in the first century – a terrorist bent on destroying the fledgling Christian church – he saved Billy McCurrie, a 20th century terrorist bent on destroying those he viewed as his enemies. Just as Paul was saved from persecuting the church so that he could take the life-giving message of the gospel to build the church, so the Lord has saved Billy and led him into pastoral ministry to do the same.

Whether in the first century or the 21st century, nobody is beyond the power of the gospel. The Lord can save the very greatest of sinners and can use them greatly for his glory. Here is Billy’s story:

Here is another video of an interview with Billy: