When he was 24 years old, James Nelson killed his mother with a truncheon. After serving 10 years in prison, he claimed God’s forgivenessby Elizabeth Oldfield / February 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Stuart Kelly’s new book tells the story of convicted murderer James Nelson, who in 1984 divided the Church of Scotland when he was appointed as a minister. Kelly, literary editor of the Scotland on Sunday, uses this compelling story as an organising theme for one of the most honest and humane books I’ve read in years.
When he was 24 years old, Nelson killed his mother with a truncheon. After admitting the crime and serving 10 years in prison, he claimed God’s forgiveness—adding that he had forgiven himself. But in public, he didn’t seem particularly repentant. So was he a charlatan seeking safe harbour? Or was there something more profound going on? Could faith really transform a man—forgiveness truly wipe the slate clean?
Alongside the rights and wrongs of Nelson’s story, Kelly describes his own religious journey: as a youth he was, in own words, a “pious little shit”; then he became an insufferable unbeliever, before turning “apostate on atheism” and returning to Christianity. Both sides of the book illuminate the other.