Until the last few days, virtually nobody in the UK – still less the rest of the world – had ever heard of Iris Robinson, wife of the first minister of the devolved assembly in Northern Ireland. Today, the news is full of nothing else, and the reason is not hard to find. In most circumstances, an older woman having an affair with a youth of nineteen would probably hardly merit a mention – just another example of how our relational preferences have changed. A politician would perhaps make the headlines for a day (and she is a member of the Westminster parliament as well as of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and apparently of a local council as well), but the fuss would soon die down. Except that in this case, it’s also overlaid with religion – and that makes it ever so interesting not only to the media but to the wider public. Not only is Iris Robinson an ardent Protestant, and her lover a Roman Catholic (a surprising enough liaison in itself), but this is also the woman who, just a few weeks before she started the aforementioned affair, made a public denunciation of homosexual people and their lifestyle – something for which she was named ‘UK bigot of the year’ in 2008.
You can’t help feeling some sympathy for Mrs Robinson, whose strident religious beliefs and the conflict they created apparently led her to contemplate suicide when her double standards first came to light. As one of those Christians who like to distinguish themselves from the rest of us by saying they are ‘Bible-believing’, she and her family will be well familiar with Jesus’ advice to the Pharisees not to throw stones at others if they themselves were less than perfect (John 8:7) – a truth which always comes back to haunt those who ignore it, as some commentators are now pointing out. ’Bible-believing’ Christians are usually less than enamoured of movies like ‘The Graduate, but the message of its iconic song might just be what this family need to hear right now: ‘here’s to you Mrs Robinson – Jesus loves you more than you will know’.