Billy Wright & Heaven

Forgiveness – now that can be the elephant in the theological room at times in the Christian community. In his Fearless Flying Column today, political commentator Dr John Coulter recalls an awkward interview he did in which a cleric maintained why he believes murderers, including murdered loyalist terror boss Billy Wright – dubbed King Rat – are now in Heaven.

I’m doing a Bible study course at the moment and one of the topics concerns the at times thorny subject of justification – or to put it in everyday Christian English, how can someone be sure they are getting into Heaven?

As my thoughts wandered through this subject, I recalled a number of stories which have caused me difficulty during my four decades in journalism – all of them in Ireland. There was the time a Baptist evangelist told me that my youngest son’s severe autism was a punishment from God and that he would never see Heaven.

Whilst not naming the evangelist, I wrote about him in a national tabloid newspaper. He contacted me very soon after to say that he had changed his theological opinion on the matter and he now believed my son would be in Heaven! Did the Lord really speak to him, or was he simply scared I would name him in my next tabloid article on the matter? You decide!

But the most awkward interview I’ve ever done was with a Protestant cleric who maintained that murdered loyalist terror boss Billy Wright was a ‘born again’, although backslidden, Christian who is now in Heaven.

The interview was done in 2007 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Wright’s murder of in the Maze jail by three INLA prisoners on 27 December, 1997. In terms of ethics, I even asked that cleric if he was sure he wanted me to quote him on the ‘Billy Wright’s in Heaven’ stance and he said he was. Needless to say, the lid came off after publication!

After falling out with the Belfast leadership of the UVF after the 1994 Combined Loyalist Military Command ceasefire, Wright then set up the breakaway Loyalist Volunteer Force in the mid-1990s. This cleric was no street corner tub thumper. Although he possessed an honours degree, masters and doctorates in theology, his comments on the former Mid-Ulster LVF boss Wright being in heaven sparked an uproar in both nationalist and Protestant church circles.

Speaking exclusively to me at that time in 2007, the cleric said: “99 per cent of what has been written about Billy Wright has been written by Billy Wright’s enemies.

I believe Billy Wright is in Heaven right now – perhaps even sat next to the ‘repentant thief’ who died on a cruel Roman cross next to Christ on the day of Crucifixion. The repentant thief couldn’t do any good works, get baptised in water, lead a pure and exemplary life, or contribute any other thing towards the salvation of his soul or, through religious rituals, keep himself in ‘a state of continuing grace‘. Jesus did it all for him. He did it all for me and for Billy Wright and for an innumerable host of repentant souls whom He alone could save.

And the cleric also claimed many other, internationally well-known murderers, are also in Heaven!

Moses, Ehud, Samson, the prophet Samuel, Israel’s King David, and for evangelicals, Saul of Tarsus who later became the apostle Paul - all these murderers are in Heaven also, according to the Word of God contained in our Bibles.

He quoted a series of Bible verses as proof of his views: (Exodus 2:11-15) (Judges 3:20-26) (Judges 14:11-20) (1 Samuel 15:32-33) (Acts 7:55-60; Acts 8:1-3).

It was clear to me that the cleric knew Wright personally. Wright, he claimed, joined the UVF aged 15 on 31 July 1975. The cleric said he first met Wright in the late 1970s in Belfast’s now closed Crumlin Road jail.

The cleric even quoted from a letter which he said Wright wrote to him in the early 1980s. “I believe the Lord is once again using you and what has happened in your life to speak to my heart and to show me my need of Salvation in and through the Cross of Jesus Christ,” wrote Wright.

Describing Wright as “a son in the faith”, the cleric said to me: 

Billy caused me much spiritual joy when the Lord Jesus saved him and called him to be a witness to many with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As I, and all Christians, have no doubt caused God, our Heavenly Father, much consternation over the past 28 years since He saved me, Billy also caused me much spiritual and emotional consternation during his chequered and often turbulent young life from 1983 to 1997. For three years between 1983 and 1986 my late friend and ‘son in the faith’ Billy Wright proved to be a tremendous evangelist and lay-preacher in the service of his Saviour. There are countless Christians throughout Northern Ireland and beyond who willingly testify today concerning Billy’s genuine conversion to Christ and his forthright manner of sincere preaching and witnessing at church meetings and Christian missions.

However, the cleric also noted that, in March and April 1986, as a result of serious clashes in Portadown between loyalists and the then RUC, “Billy seriously backslid from his faith”.

The death of Portadown teenager Keith White from an RUC plastic batten round “was the last straw used to break the sincere Christian resolve and full commitment of Billy Wright”.

Justifying his belief Wright was still a Christian and now in Heaven, the cleric told me in 2007: “How then can one, even one like the late Billy Wright, lose something that has not ever been his to have – outside the sovereign grace of Almighty God?"

He quoted from his Bible: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

“If Eternal Salvation be the gift of God and not of works, then how would it be possible for Billy Wright - or any other believer in Christ - to lose that which has never belonged to him in the first place?” said the cleric in 2007.

After the interview was published, the cleric never spoke to me again. Ethically, I feel as a journalist, I did my duty by advising this cleric that expressing that honestly held opinion of Wright’s location in the afterlife would spark rage.

I do not mean to re-open a can of worms by reproducing extracts from that interview in 2007 in this column, but merely to illustrate the theological debate in my own mind over the subject of justification in relation to my own spiritual beliefs as an evangelical Christian and my work as a journalist.

So here’s the key question – if someone becomes ‘saved’ or ‘born again’ according to the Biblical Salvationist theology; then ‘backslide’ or ‘lose their faith’ and commit a litany of crimes, can they still get into Heaven? Is this a case of what is known in Scripture as The Unpardonable Sin? Or is it a case of ‘Once saved, always saved’?

Yup, theology can become a real mind-melter at times!

Dr John Coulter has been a journalist working in Northern Ireland since 1978. As well as being a former weekly newspaper editor, he has served as Religious Affairs Correspondent of the News Letter and is a past Director of Operations for Christian Communication Network television. He currently also writes political analysis articles for national newspaper titles. He is author of the ebook, An Saise Glas’: The Road to National Republicanism, available on Amazon Kindle.

Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter. @JohnAHCoulter

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

4 comments to ''Billy Wright & Heaven"

  1. I still reckon Crip could get him there too

  2. John said:
    'So here’s the key question – if someone becomes ‘saved’ or ‘born again’ according to the Biblical Salvationist theology; then ‘backslide’ or ‘lose their faith’ and commit a litany of crimes, can they still get into Heaven? Is this a case of what is known in Scripture as The Unpardonable Sin? Or is it a case of ‘Once saved, always saved’?'

    The Billy Wright example is a fine illustration of this theological question. John will know that living the Christian life - loving God with all one's being and loving one's neighbour as oneself - is the fruit and proof of the reality of one's conversion. But the reality of the conversion and its permanent nature is brought into question when one falls into sin and stays in it. An ungodly life gives no evidence of conversion to Christ.

    But that fall into sin does not prove one is not converted, not saved by God's grace. Like David, who committed adultery with Uriah's wife and later had him killed to cover up the sin, truly converted men and women may fall drastically. God did not tell David he was no longer His child - rather, God rebuked him and restored him, while also punishing him for the crimes.

    Other true Christians are recorded as having sinned in a grievous way, yet are seen to be still regarded as remaining believers in God's sight. The Corinthian church had many who abused the Lord's Table by ignoring their poorer brethren:

    1 Corinthians 11:20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. 21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you...
    30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.

    Many were weak and sick under God's chastisement - and many died! Yet all who were thus judged by God are said to have been chastened SO THAT they would not be condemned at the Judgment. Is that the case with Billy Wright? Did God permit him to be assassinated in order to remove him from his sin? Quite possibly. But we cannot know. Billy's profession might have been bogus or half-hearted and now he is in hell. Or he was genuinely converted and he is now in heaven. His sinful life in the LVF has removed certainty about his state. The only indication that he might be a child of God is the fact that he was killed, removed from his sin as the sinning Corinthian believers were.

    The theological arguments concerning sinners who profess faith in Christ range from the Calvinist, where the true believer will manifest holiness and if he falls in sin will repent or will be removed from his sin; the Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS), where if you are saved you can be as wicked as you please and still get to heaven; to the Arminian, where you lose your salvation when you sin, but gain it again if you repent. My explanation above is the Calvinist one.

  3. Such theology is dangerously close to the promise given by Wahhabist clerics to jihadi terrorists of 72 virgins in Heaven as rewards for martyrdom operations.


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