Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010

Language of forgiveness based in faith

Peter and Iris Robinson
Peter and Iris Robinson are both born again Christians

Asking for God's forgiveness may seem an anachronistic action in a modern and increasingly secular society, but both Peter Robinson and his wife, who has admitted adultery, set great stock by the term.

When speaking about how he had forgiven his wife for cheating on him Mr Robinson said "more importantly" she had sought God's forgiveness.

In her statement Mrs Robinson said she was grieved that she had "damaged my profession in Christ, but I am comforted that He was able to forgive even me".

Both are born again Christians and have attended services at the pentecostal Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast, one of the churches outside the mainstream Protestant denominations.

The Robinson's minister, Pastor James McConnell, said that he knew Mrs Robinson was having problems but that he was unaware she had had an affair. The couple have not been at services for three weeks.

"For this to happen has brought great sadness to me," he said.

"And it also shows to me probably her mental condition, that she had this nervous breakdown and then these things happen.

"As a pastor, I've been a full time pastor for 56 years, I've dealt with every situation you can name and probably, people do things when they are under such pressure."

Northern Ireland has a population of more than 1,700,000 with 53% of people saying they come from a Protestant background.

In the census statistics for 2001 more than 100,000 people are listed as being members of other Christian denominations outside the Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and Methodist churches.

According to a survey by Tearfund in 2007, about 45% of the Northern Ireland population attends church regularly, compared to 14% in England.

Glen Jordan, whose book Not of this World studied evangelicalism in NI, said that while the couple would have hard work ahead of them they would also have much sympathy.

"I think the instinct will be a human instinct of real genuine sorrow and sympathy for both of them and for the pain they are both enduring and that they must now live through that in the public gaze," he said.


He said that the language used in born-again Christian and evangelical circles can be misunderstood.

"One of the things we believe is that grace is a scandalous thing, grace is for those who do not deserve it," he said.

"It doesn't make sense in the kind of economics where you always get what you deserve.

"When you have done wrong to somebody and that person turns round and for no good reason extends forgiveness and says 'Let's try and repair this relationship' you've experienced grace then and you have a responsibility to live out in the light of that."

Reverend David McIlveen, of Sandown Road Free Presbyterian Church, said that Mrs Robinson's faith community would not feel that she has let them down.

He said that it would be a lesson "not to follow the path of temptation".

"I believe that Mrs Robinson has learnt a great deal through a very agonising tormenting experience," he said.

"We can only but pray for them and pray for them with great compassion as we would do for any sinner no matter what sin they have committed.

"Acts we believe are contrary to the scriptures, but we don't in any way despise them - as individuals we reach out to them."

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