From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
ROAD TO PEACE IS STILL ROCKY FOR NORTHERN IRELAND
05 May 1996 09:02:12
95309 ROAD TO PEACE IS STILL ROCKY FOR NORTHERN IRELAND
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
"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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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