From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
CHURCH LEADER FEARS "STAGNATION"
04 May 1996 21:50:33
95396 CHURCH LEADER FEARS "STAGNATION"
IN NORTHERN IRELAND POLITICAL SITUATION
by Jerry L. Van Marter
BELFAST, Northern Ireland--The cease-fire between the Catholic Irish
Republican Army (IRA) and various Protestant militias is a little over a
year old now, but the euphoria over the end of the violence is in danger of
giving way to apathy as long-term political solutions to "the troubles"
here fail to emerge.
"The euphoria after the cease-fire was wonderful," said David Stevens,
a Presbyterian lay person who is executive director of the Irish Council of
Churches, in an Oct. 18 interview with the Presbyterian News Service. "But
that is now creeping into stagnation and complacency and should not be the
order of the day."
The range of options advocated by various parties in Northern Ireland
is vast and the complexities of each option -- from unification with the
Republic of Ireland (Republicanism) to union with Great Britain (Unionism)
to various limited self-rule options in between -- are so tangled that
"all-party" talks have not been agreed on as yet.
With the cease-fire holding but the political process stalled, Stevens
said, sectarianism has become more overt. "Protestants and Catholics alike
feel freer to desecrate churches or burn Orange Halls (Protestant clubs
similar to Masonic lodges) because they don't have to fear that the guns
will come out."
People in "normal" societies take much for granted, Stevens said.
Government, for example, transcends internal divisions among people to
provide for the perceived "common good." But in a divided society like
Northern Ireland, "fear and threat overcome the common interest," further
exacerbating the internal conflicts.
What people in Northern Ireland have to come to realize, Stevens
continued, is that "compromise is not about loving your neighbor -- it's
about conceding space to others in order to guarantee your own."
This inability to compromise for the common good extends to Northern
Ireland's churches. The Irish Council of Churches, founded in 1922,
includes the Presbyerians, Anglicans and Methodists -- more than half the
population of Northern Ireland, which is about 1.5 million. "The
question," said Stevens, "is whether we can create one body, including the
The burden for such cooperation falls most heavily on the Protestants,
Stevens continued, who he described as having generally "strong
anti-ecumenical, anti-Catholic feelings." In contrast, he has not found
Catholics to be particularly anti-Protestant.
"Presbyterians have made strong statements about particular instances
of injustice in Northern Ireland," he said, "but have not been as insistent
about addressing systematic patterns of injustice here."
Stevens said the key to long-term political solutions is the building
up of trust between the Protestant and Catholic communities of Northern
Ireland. "With trust everything is possible," he said. "Without trust
nothing is possible."
And so far those politicians willing to take the first trusting steps
toward reconciliation commit political suicide. "History shows that voters
will not support risk-takers," said Stevens wistfully.
"There are three motivators in human nature -- fear, self-interest and
altruism," Stevens concluded, "and unfortunately altruism is the weakest."
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
Browse month . . .
Browse month (sort by Source) . . .
Advanced Search & Browse . . .