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Former policeman says unconditional forgiveness teachings drove NI terrorism victims away from their faith

by Will Hobbs

A former policeman has accused church leaders in Northern Ireland of forcing victims of terrorism to walk away from their faith.

Ken McFarland, a leader in his local Presbyterian church, said calling for unconditional forgiveness for the people behind terror attacks had "re-traumatised victims and survivors".

McFarland was on duty in the town centre when the Omagh bomb exploded on Saturday, August 15, 1998, killing 29 people and two unborn babies.

In a new book published this week, Mr McFarland, who also volunteers with Faith Mission Bookshops, wrote: “The prevailing theological view that biblical forgiveness must be unconditionally granted in every circumstance, regardless of the seriousness of the crime, has re-traumatised many victims and survivors.

“This has thrown many victims and survivors, particularly those from within the faith community, into a state of confusion, with many more simply walking away from their faith altogether.”

His book, Forgiveness Through the Lens of Heaven, continues: “While many again well-meaning church leaders will point out they always called for justice, the fact remains that when it comes to calling on the perpetrators to repent, the voices tend to die down or worse still, by promoting unconditional forgiveness, the blame is shifted to the victims and survivors by inferring that it is a sin not to forgive the unrepentant terrorist who has caused them so much pain.”

McFarland concluded that “regrettably” forgiveness which leads ultimately to reconciliation “is not always achievable in the real world in which we live”.

Enniskillen Presbyterian minister the Rev David Cupples added: “Whatever your thoughts are on forgiveness, this reflection will enlighten, edify and help you examine your views again.

“It contains both comfort and challenge.”

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