Rev Chris Hudson: 'I really do wish more people would stop taking offence'
In our continuing series, we talk to leading figures about their faith
Rev Chris Hudson is minister of All Souls Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Belfast. He was installed as Moderator of the General Synod of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on June 11. He is married to Dr Isabella Evangelisti, an art historian.
Q. Can you tell us something about your background?
A. My father was Brian Michael Hudson, a well-respected builder in Dun Laoghaire, a founder member of Fianna Fail and a local councillor for many years. My mother was Mary Barnes, from the Holyland in Belfast. She managed a bakery for many years before she married.
My parents taught me how to build a good home and, as my mother always said, to "have some manners". I am the second-youngest of five children and my siblings are Muriel, Brian, Maurice and Fintan. They still live in south Co Dublin.
I worked for many years as a trades union official in Dublin and I was a conduit between various Dublin governments and the UVF. I am involved in community projects in loyalist neighbourhoods and I have been very supportive to the LGBTQ community.
As a Dublin man, I am looking forward, as Moderator, to meeting all our congregations. We are non-creedal and it will be interesting to hear the diverse views regarding social change, considering my own view of inclusivity with respect to LGBTQ people.
Q. How and when did you come to faith?
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A. I was brought up as a Catholic, but gave up on that at a very young age. I then discovered Unitarianism, through a play I was acting in during the Dublin Theatre Festival, and I felt drawn to the idea of faith that was not dependent on a prescribed creed.
I was amazed to discover that there was a Unitarian church in Dublin. First, it was sort of a philosophical journey, but later my understanding of God was revealed in a way I never imagined.
My faith informs my interaction with others, but I fail quite a lot on that. I have been influenced by the Social Gospel movement among American Protestants.
This applied Christian ethics to social problems, not unlike today with Christians on the left; issues such as economic inequality, poverty, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environment, child labour, the rights of labour unions and today the inclusion of those who are marginalised. I visited Central America in the Eighties, because of my interest in liberation theology. I have since modified some of those views, but still hold to the principles.
Q. Have you ever had a crisis of faith, or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A. Yes, and I believe it is important to entertain doubts. Indeed, I have preached many a time on that theme. It is good that my faith is tested and this forces me to consider matters in a more rigorous manner.
Q. Have you ever been angry with God? And, if so, why?
A. Quite a bit. I love the Jewish idea of arguing with God. But then my anger is measured by my understanding that God's intervention is that of love and hope. When we have to face disaster, natural or man-made, we turn to human solidarity, which, in my opinion, is how I define the intervention of divine love.
Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith? And are you able to live with that criticism?
A. Usually by other Christians, who question the integrity of my faith and, because it does not compare with their interpretation, or understanding, of Christianity, they question its validity.
I have no difficulty with that. Indeed, I defend others' rights to disagree fundamentally with me. I make a point of not taking offence and I really do wish more people would stop taking offence. What really amuses me is when someone takes offence on behalf of God. Poor God ... is He that sensitive?
Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A. I am very proud of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, which has been a beacon for many years on social issues, including those related to women and now LGBT issues. It stood against slavery with Thomas McCabe from First Church Rosemary Street. I like to think of our churches/meeting houses as a sanctuary for those who wish to worship free from creeds. The Church has also been outspoken on social issues and active on integrated education.
Q. Are you afraid to die? Can you look beyond death?
A. I am not afraid to die, but I feel I still have a lot in me, so I hope I am spared for a good few active years yet. I love life and sharing it with my wife, Isabella. I really don't speculate beyond death. One life at a time suits me fine.
Q. Do you believe in a resurrection? And, if so, what will it be like?
A. The word resurrection literally means 'rise again' and, for many Christians, the image of the resurrection of Jesus physically rising from the grave is very important. I understand that and it is the case for many in my Church, All Souls.
I have been attracted by Doubting Thomas in the Gospel. He does not believe until he allegedly touches the wounds in Jesus. I am literalist in that sense, but understand the poetry of resurrection.
I do submit to the idea that we can live in God's light and that Jesus is the way we understand the light of God's inclusiveness. That is as near as I come to understanding the resurrection.
Q. What do you think about people of other denominations and other faiths?
A. I really enjoy interacting with other faiths. I recently attended a major conference in Washington with the title 'Reimagining Interfaith'. It brought together Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others to work out how we can engage with each other, while respecting each other's unique religious beliefs.
We equally have to be realistic about the tensions that exist between us, as well, on worship and social issues.
Q. Would you be comfortable in stepping out from your own faith and trying to learn something from other people?
A. I hope I do and I attempt to do it all the time.
Q. Do you think that the Churches here are fulfilling their mission?
A. Religious communities in Northern Ireland do a lot behind the scenes and to the best of their ability - working with refugees, charitable works, providing community. Churches get unfairly blamed for divisions which are not of their making, such as ethnic and political. They could be more committed to educating children together.
Q. Why are many people turning their back on organised religion?
A. If I knew that, I would have the answer to a lot of empty pews in churches. So, I can only speculate. Many young people today believe they have the moral integrity to make their minds up on complex issues around same-sex marriage and, of course, abortion. The Churches don't trust the idea of individual conscience. Particularly in Ireland, the double standards of many clergy have really shocked people.
Q. Has religion helped, or hindered, the people of Northern Ireland?
A. In many cases, it has sustained people through very difficult times. Faith has been a great comfort to those who lost loved ones. There have been some men of the cloth who have added to our difficulties, but most have championed cross-community activities and working for peace.
Q. What is your favourite film, book and music, and why?
A. A favourite theologian is Crossan and his very specific approach in taking the words that Jesus actually said and building from that an understanding of the man we call The Christ; such books as The Historical Jesus, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, and The Power of Parable.
Berlin Rules by Paul Lever, a former British Ambassador to Germany, outlines brilliantly how the European Union project reflects German structures and aspirations. It's a must-read for anyone interested in the Brexit debate. I enjoy the cinema and try to see a movie at least once a fortnight. I liked A Star Is Born - Lady Gaga is amazing.
Q. Finally, have you any regrets?
A. I may have been too hesitant in acting on some of my more inspired ideas - 'inspired' in my opinion. Really, I have no regrets, because I am where I am today because of the decisions I took, good or bad. I am happy where I am with my wife and best friend, Isabella, and honoured to be minister of All Souls and now Moderator.