“You can get the smell of the animals here, because the Kilkenny mart is just beside us,” Noreen Mulhall announces, before she starts swaying in her chair to the hymn How Great Thou Art.
It’s Wednesday evening, and Mulhall has come to the Hub in Kilkenny to hear controversial South African pastor, Angus Buchan. Prior to the event, some 40 people marched to the gates of the venue to protest the fact that Buchan has preached in the past that homosexuality can be cured through prayer.
Rosemary Parle from Kildare and her friend Hilary Anderson from Lisburn describe themselves as Disciples of Christ. They have arranged their holiday together especially to coincide with Buchan’s appearance in Kilkenny. Why?
“It shows how much God loves Ireland. That’s why Angus is here, because God wants us to hear good news, among all the bad news,” Parle explains.
“Unfortunately, Ireland has become so liberal in its thinking that we have strayed from the teachings of the Lord and taken on a humanistic view instead. A homosexual lifestyle goes against the covenant of marriage.”
Even though marriage between same-sex couples in Ireland is now legal?
“That’s not marriage,” Parle says. “Marriage is one man and one woman. Their bodies fit together. I’m sorry to sound crude, but it’s true.”
A group of friends have come from Carlow. Before Buchan ever takes the stage, Maria Doyle says she has already got everything she came for.
“We’re meeting our family,” is how she puts it. “Say someone went away to Australia, and then they came home. The whole family would come together to celebrate. That’s what it’s like here.”
What do they think of Buchan’s views on homosexuality? “Homosexuality is a sin in God’s eyes,” her friend Julie Power explains. “Not the fact that two men love each other. The act. Sex together.”
By the time the event begins, the Hub, which has seating for 1,400 is full, including several children. Buchan jumps on stage and bellows, “I love the Irish, I really do! You are the most passionate people I have ever met.” He falls to his knees before the audience.
The crowd go mad. Camera phones flash.Buchan commands the crowd to stand up, and they spring to their feet as one. He paces the stage, Bible in hand, and ends every sentence with a shout.
“This is a much bigger crowd than I had last time,” he says appreciatively. “I’m speaking to bigger crowds now than I’ve ever done before in my life.” People whistle.
Then he gets going, on a speech that lasts for an hour, and during which nobody leaves the arena. “The Bible tells me to love my wife,” Buchan says. “I love my wife. If I love my wife, she will gladly submit to me.” He says this twice. The crowd roar. “My wife is two years younger than me. She looks like she’s 20 years younger than me. Do you know why? Because I love her. I look after her. I protect her. I provide for her, I put food on the table.”
Later he returns to the topic of a wife submitting to her husband, saying, “It’s very hard for a lady to submit to a man who is lazy, who doesn’t have the authority in the home, where the kids are running wild and tearing the house apart, and he won’t get out of his bed in the morning. I’m telling you the reality of life. So boys, it comes back to us, get off your behinds, do some work and put some food on the table, get that house looking good, and give your wife a chance to look feminine and beautiful.”
He continues, “My wife is beautiful. She smells nice. Her hair looks beautiful. She looks like a lady. I don’t want her to compete with me. I don’t want to go to a ladies prayer group. I’m a man. Do I look feminine?” He shrugs his shoulders in mock questioning, slapping his thighs, as his waits for a reply. “No!” shout the crowd back to him.
“Children, respect your elders. Respect your father and your mother. I discipline my children when they are naughty. I don’t beat them up, I discipline them. I give them a good hiding and then I love them to bits.” Loud guffaws from crowd. Pause from Buchan. “They’re all grown up now, and all my children are serving God, every single one of them, and that’s no coincidence, because Jesus is my friend.” Applause. It’s unclear if Buchan is referring to the fact he used to discipline his now grow-up children, or if he still does, but the crowd love his revelations anyway.
’Mouths washed out with Holy Ghost soap’
In an aside that refers to the media coverage he received in advance of his visit, he says, “Some of us are so negative that the devil has no work to do. Those people need their mouths washed out with Holy Ghost soap.”
“When you hear the name of Jesus, does a tear come into your eye? “Yes!” someone roars with a sob from the crowd. “Yes!” comes the sound of more voices. People near me start crying.
“I love families and I hate divorce. I think abortion is legalised murder. Why? Because the Bible tells me that. (This gets the loudest cheer of the evening.)
These are some of the other things Buchan says in his speech:
“I will pray tonight that God will give a baby to all those people who can’t have babies, I have done this all over the world. People have conceived because of my prayers.”
“What does a fundamentalist mean? It means I believe every word in this Book, the Bible!”
“Faith is contagious, just like doubt is contagious. I don’t want to be around doubt.”
“You have to lead from the front. There are people outside that need you. They are lost. If you don’t help them, who is going to help these people?”
“I’m the most peaceful man you’ll ever meet.”
“I love young people.”
“Believers go to Heaven, not good people.”
In between cheering, the audience are totally silent. They’re listening closely, leaning forwards. The evening ends with the crowd on their feet, assembling before Buchan for a collective blessing.
It’s hot in the Hub, with the crowds of people on a humid evening. Noreen Mulhall is right. The smell of the mart is unmistakable.