murder in the church

51vMXu2odeL._SX309_BO1 204 203 200_Blake Morrison at The Guardian:

Should a murderer be allowed to serve as a minister of the church? Is such a person suitable to conduct marriages, open coffee mornings and suffer little children to come to them? Such were the questions facing the Church of Scotland in 1984, when a licence was sought by James Nelson, who after his release from prison on parole, having served a 10-year sentence, had studied divinity at St Andrews and taken up preaching. With the tabloids closely following the story (Nelson, not averse to publicity, had given an interview to the Glasgow Herald the year before), the Kirk’s General Assembly knew it would be criticised, whatever its decision. But after a three-hour debate, by 622 votes to 425, with a courage it’s hard to imagine today, they gave their approval to Nelson, thus making him, it seems, the first convicted killer to be ordained into the Christian church.

The Nelson case is the core of Stuart Kelly’s fascinating book. But it ranges widely, digressively, Shandyesequely even, to encompass so much more: theology, philosophy, literary criticism, the nature of evil and Kelly’s own intellectual development and struggle with faith: “Nelson for me is the keyhole through which I can see issues and ideas that have troubled and intrigued me for decades.”