A Presbyterian take on mercy
Rev Alan Boal is a Presbyterian minister in Findlater’s church in north inner city Dublin. It’s a stones throw away from the scene of the latest killing in a feud between two families from the area. In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, as part of their ‘Ecumenism and Mercy’ podcast series, he reflects on the Presbyterian understanding of mercy in the light of Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy.
He says that the Pope’s call to gangland criminals and organised crime bosses speaks to him as a minister in an area where local people have taken to the streets to call for an end to the merciless killings. Mercilessness has no hope and no life and there are no winners, he says, adding that Christian churches are called to be subversive in bringing about God’s vision of a loving and forgiving world. “And that involves small people doing small things that can bring about change, like the people who processed the streets demanding an end to the shootings so their families and the local community could live in peace”.
He also talks about the importance of mercy in the Presbyterian tradition noting that their Westminster Confession of Faith contains many references to it. “Mercy is not what I deserve”, he says, “but rather a surprising thing that I desperately need. And when I receive it I am more likely to give it.”
He says the concept of ‘Jubilee’ too is very important for Presbyterians. It’s based on the Old Testament custom of the cancellation of debts and releasing of prisoners every fifty years – a way of breaking the cycle of poverty and restoring peace, harmony and a community of equals in a society that may have become divided by injustice and greed.
He is originally from Northern Ireland and is keenly aware that words like mercy and forgiveness are easy to speak but much harder to put into action. He talks about the difficulties still facing the Presbyterian Church there as they try to come to terms with the painful legacy of the troubles and the gospel call to be merciful and just. But he sees no real conflict between mercy and justice because, “God’s justice is about putting things right and mercy and justice are part of that same hope.”