From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 09:02:12


                          by Alexa Smith 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--The Rev. Lesley Carroll broke up a name-calling and 
rock-chucking match between children on the peace line recently in North 
     The Tiger's Bay kids -- whose parents are Unionist (with Britain) 
sympathizers -- and the New Lodge youngsters -- with Republican (Northern 
Irish independence) parents -- gave one reason for the fight:  "We hate 
them because they hate us."  At least that's what they told Carroll. 
     "My greatest fear is that we're going slip back out of the comfort 
zone into all the old prejudices lying just under the surface somewhere," 
she told the Presbyterian News Service. Carroll  insisted that when peace 
is more secure, people living in border neighborhoods like Tiger's Bay, 
where Macrory Memorial Presbyterian Church sits, will be more secure and 
better  able to sit down together and talk. "But we're nowhere near that." 
     While Northern Ireland's paramilitary groups are quiet now, they are 
refusing to give up  their weapons -- not one bomb, not one ounce of 
explosives. The country's religious leaders concede that permanent peace 
may mean looking more deeply at the theological assumptions that have made 
genuine peace so fragile and lasting peace so remote. 
     "Nothing spreads easier than despair," said Father Gerry Reynolds of 
Clonnard Monastery in the heart of West Belfast's Catholic community. Many 
people are saying permanent peace will never be achieved, he added.  "There 
are always prophets of despair around who say it can't be done.  And your 
only strength is to say it can and to keep working it out." 
     Reynolds insisted all parties need to be at the table in order to be 
led by the Spirit into a creative solution that will bring some permanent 
peace to Northern Ireland's still tense economic and partisan struggle. 
"Part of it is a belief in human nature," he said. "If we believe God works 
in human affairs and helps when we try, we have to believe that [here]." 
     But many in Northern Ireland's Protestant circles resist such a 
rationale, arguing that it fails to distinguish between legitimate 
authority and terrorism.They are fearful of being too naive and being 
bombed again by paramilitary, or worse, finding out their suspicions are 
true -- that secret meetings between the British government and the Irish 
Republican Army (IRA) will result in  agreements that leave Northern 
Ireland's Unionist majority on the fringes of the country's governance. 
     "The [British government] has been economical with the truth," said 
the Rev. Samuel Hutchinson, clerk of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland 
(PCI), noting that secret meetings were first denied, then later confirmed.  
     News like that continues to erode the fragile trust in the Protestant 
community, which feels betrayed by both the British government and the now 
quiet paramilitaries who are demanding a voice in the negotiations. 
     What is emerging in theological circles, meanwhile,  is new 
conversation about what sacrifice and  surrender mean when both are framed 
by the deeper goals of reconciliation and hope. 
     "To extremists," said Archbishop Robin Eames of the Church of Ireland, 
"reconciliation means weakness, surrender."  That is particularly true in 
parishes that suffered losses during "the troubles,"  he said.  "But we're 
trying to build another community on trust and understanding that can be 
separated from the violent community -- those who want to dictate affairs 
from the barrel of a gun." 
     Creating such a community, Hutchinson observes, means acknowledging 
there may have to be sacrifices.  "Sacrifice is sometimes necessary ... and 
[Protestants] may have to surrender some of their legal rights in the 
interest of a higher purpose," Hutchinson told the Presbyterian News 
Service.  For instance, the PCI's moderator recently appealed to the 
members of the Orange Order, the largest Protestant organization in the 
country, to call off a march through Portadown, a historically explosive 
border town, even though they had a legal right to demonstrate. 
      Christopher G. Walpole, president of the Methodist Church in Ireland, 
says the country's 65,000 Methodists see themselves as a bridge community. 
They stand between Northern Ireland's Calvinists and Catholics,  the 
largest churches enmeshed in the turmoil, whose more dogmatic theologies 
differ greatly. 
     "Even in churches we have people with hard-line thinking," said 
Walpole. He says hope lies in solid preaching and compassionate pastoral 
work on behalf of all of Ireland's churches.  "People have been so 
conditioned over the past 25 years.  There are so many deep hatreds and 
suspicions ingrained in the lives of people. 
     "It's going to take quite a long time and it can't be rushed," he 
added. Last year's cease-fire was a concrete symbol of hope, he said. It 
testified that the grace of God is greater than the power of evil. 
     Cardinal Cahal Daly, archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland, 
says nearly everyone in Ireland realizes that peace will not come 
permanently without change.  Part of the problem in making that happen is 
ridding people of prejudices rooted in nontruths about half-remembered 
     The central issues of the Reformation are still under debate in 
Ireland, Daly said. The theological debate, however, "is overlaid with 
historical mistrust, with historical memory and hurt." Daly said the 
typical Protestant in Ireland will give both theological and political 
reasons for opposing nationalism. 
     "Truthfully, I don't find this [religious] bigotry among Roman 
Catholics ... but I do find political fanaticism sometimes," the cardinal 
told the Presbyterian News Service.  At the same time, he observes, both 
communities are ready for change -- more ready than political leaders 
     The extremists' adherence to Calvin's doctrine of predestination has 
rendered Protestants somewhat helpless in overcoming historical hurt in the 
region, Carroll said. "But where I come from resurrection is the driving 
force of our hope.  
     "There has to be possibility for resurrection -- something so radical, 
it throws the whole of darkness out the window." 

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   Web page: 


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