Can the Churches Provide a Vision? Prof John Brewer on Religion, Conflict & Peace

john-brewerAre churches – in concert with other groups in civil society –better placed than our politicians to articulate a vision for the future that is gracious and hopeful?

John Brewer, Professor of Post Conflict Studies at the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen’s, thinks so. He has been among those contributing to discussions on the present role of our churches, which has gathered some momentum after the disturbances on the 12th.

Brewer’s interventions have included a blogged invitation to the Orange Order to start rethinking and remaking its role, and repeated calls to the universities to make their expertise available to church, civic and community leaders who are interested in constructive dialogue.

Brewer was on the platform last night at Féile an Phobail, with a lecture on ‘Religion, Conflict and Peace in the North of Ireland,’ at Oliver Plunkett Parish Hall.

The lecture encompassed research published in two recent books: Religion, Civil Society and Peace in Northern Ireland and Ex-Combatants, Religion and Peace in Northern Ireland.  

Brewer acknowledged that there’s a commonly held view that the churches ‘did nothing’ to contribute to peacemaking during the Troubles, serving merely as chaplains to the tribe and making division worse.

Part of the achievement of Religion, Civil Society and Peace was providing empirical evidence that this was not the case; for example through highlighting the behind-the-scenes work of priests at Clonard Monastery, the self-critical activism of Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI), and the courageous example of individuals.

Having said that, in the book and in this lecture, Brewer reiterated his finding that the ‘institutional churches’ were largely impotent as peacemakers – engaging in ‘speechifying’ rather than getting stuck in to the more difficult work at the coal face —  which means that now, as then:

‘The institutional churches have no legitimacy. … The institutional churches are incapable of helping us to inherit a shared future.’

Brewer claimed that the churches have ‘evacuated the public sphere’ on most issues related to peacebuilding and reconciliation, and that this is obvious in relation to its relationships with ex-combatants.

Indeed, some of the most important findings of Ex-Combatants, Religion and Peace were that in no cases did the witness of the institutional churches encourage combatants to forsake violence for peaceful methods, and that in many cases combatants and ex-combatants felt stigmatized and rejected by the churches, who they felt considered them ‘scum.’

Brewer said that in light of what the Bible has to say about the merciful treatment of prisoners, these seems an issue that the churches could bring to the public sphere, but:

‘The churches are not envisioning a shared future for us or saying ex-combatants should be part of it.’

This statement is no doubt controversial, and an understandable response might be that Christian advocacy for ex-combatants would be insensitive to victims and re-traumatize them.

While this was not a major focus of the lecture and discussion that followed, Brewer did cite an ongoing survey research project which revealed that in Northern Ireland, victims (those who had been directly harmed or had a person close to them harmed) were more tolerant of ex-combatants and less likely to advocate punitive measures against them (such as forcing them to emigrate or pay reparations).

Brewer said that this tendency may be linked to victims’ capacity for empathy, having suffered themselves, and suggested that their gracious example – while not always reflected in the public speeches of some victims’ group leaders – could serve as ‘moral beacons’ for the rest of us.

What remains interesting to me about Brewer’s work is that despite his consistent criticism of the ‘institutional churches’, he remains convinced that they can transform themselves, reoccupy the civil sphere, and provide some sort of example and direction for a better future. Brewer’s optimism about this may be rooted in comparative research on the role of institutional churches elsewhere, such as South Africa or Poland, which demonstrates that institutions aren’t always so hopelessly constrained that they can do nothing.

Having said that, Brewer lamented that this generation has not yet seemed to find its Alec Reids, Ken Newells, David Porters and John Dunlops. When it does, he said, he hoped those leaders would cooperate with a broader base of civil society activists than the previous generation, which he felt constrained its effectiveness through a ‘go it alone’ approach that centred too exclusively on Christian groups.

All of this suggests that even if the churches are ‘better placed’ than politicians not just to contribute, but to lead, debate on the thorny issues of the past that dog our present, it will be a huge challenge for them to gain legitimacy among secular actors and even among Christians who are disappointed with the historic record of the ‘institutional church.’

  • It was excellent. Which is not to say that I agree with all of it. The thought-provoking nature of it means that I have not fully formed a proper response to it.
    So just some off-the-cuff remarks.
    A key element of the lecture was the audience. Some academics like yourself, some St Oliver Plunkett parishioners, some cross – community “religious” folk and ne’er do wells like myself.
    But a key element was the number of men…all men….who probably made at least five or six of the fifteen contributions to the Q & A.
    Contributions which began “I am an ex-combatant, ex-prisoner, I am an athiest….and I would like the Churches to do A B and C”
    To me….I just couldnt see the relevance of professed athiests feeling a need to contribute …to that extent.
    Their organised voice seemed to squeeze out other opinions from people who were actually …religious.
    Professor Brewer did emphasise the role of ex-combatants in the Future. Without teasing this out, my observation last night was that the ex-combatant voice has been over-indulged to the extent that it feels no shame at speaking up on any issue, regardless of relevance.
    Indeed the entire week in West Belfast has been dominated by people who make speeches prefaced by the words ” Im an ex combatant….”
    They might be part of the process but they seem to want to make the entire process about them.

    One other point…on the generality of Conflict Resolution….I realise there are two distinct forms…the Religious and the Secular. The first seems to be church based (mavericks as Professor Brewer indicates) but people prepared to put GOD above the Mammon of unionism and nationalism. The Secular is a form of social engineering for a desired political outcome.

  • Turgon

    This analysis from Brewer is in some ways correct. Many churches tried to stay out of a conflict which was essentially ethnic not religious.

    The fundamental problem is that the majority in the mainstream Protestant churches and almost all in the smaller Protestant churches feel that the churches should not be involved in politics in the form which a tiny vocal minority advocated. I cannot comment on the Roman Catholic church but my impression is that they behaved very similarly.

    The point is that the churches consistently condemned violence and criminality. In this context that and that alone was their job. They had no mandate to do politics and as such (appropriately) tried to stay out of it.

    To the extent that a few clerics did involve themselves in politics their analysis was rejected by their own denominations. The reason there is no one to replace the likes of John Dunlop and Ken Newell is that most Presbyterian ministers want to get on with their proper jobs being ministers and not receive their money from the church to then go and play a specific sort of politics.

    Indeed although the drop in membership of the Presbyterian church is multifactorial part of it is people getting fed up with over prominent unrepresentative ministers playing politics and as such at times (in the view of many in Presbyterianism) bringing the denomination into disrepute by trying to politicise it.

    If the Presbyterian church wishes to improve its position it should look at preaching, teaching and also good works of the genuinely helpful and practical sort rather than political grandstanding. Exactly the sort of stuff Jesus did rather than being specifically political. The New Testament is full of examples of our Lord trying to steer people towards faith and a relationship with other individuals rather than outward political actions.

    Turning to the issue of “ex combatants”
    The churches also helped those terrorists in gaol and ex terrorists. It is simply a lie to state otherwise. What the churches did not do, however, was accept the narrative of the prominent “ex combatants” that they were not to blame etc. The churches advocated repentance which is far from popular with certain “ex combatants.” Repentance (i.e. decisively rejecting and turning away from ones previous actions) is what secular and religious society tends to ask of criminals. It is of course exactly not what the “ex combatants” want. It is, however, exactly what the reformed criminals I know of have done. Such people (and I know a number) would not self describe as ex combatants but rather as former terrorists who have turned away completely from their past lives (be that a religious conversion etc. or not).

    The idea of utilising the tiny study of “Ex-Combatants, Religion and Peace” to generalise that “in no cases did the witness of the institutional churches encourage combatants to forsake violence for peaceful methods” is totally disingenuous. The churches will have told them to forsake violence. That is the relevant bit. It is not for the churches to advocate the politics of “ex combatants” nor to suggest to them that they take up politics. Most church men tended to feel that people who had been involved in pseudo political criminality would be best advised to stay far away from politics of any sort. The happier better adjusted ex terrorists I know did exactly that and seem rather more useful members of society than the “ex combatants”.

    Furthermore clerics will not have treated them as “scum” but rather as sinners in need of salvation. Exactly the way a minister regards themselves and all other people. It is a pretty standard example of what is theologically called “Total Depravity”.

    Once again the mainstream religious position in Northern Ireland is that true religion is separate to politics. The Protestant churches (and the Catholic church) have people of all politics and none in their congregations. No matter how many times a certain group of politicised ecumenical Christians and certain secular others demand it, the simple fact is that most religious people in Northern Ireland simply reject this analysis.

    As a final aside: If the likes of the Irish School of Ecumenics wanted to do some interesting and novel research on churches in Northern Ireland they could look at the non political social good works done by the churches and any increase in church adherence which has resulted. That would be a lot more interesting than trying to rehash the role of the churches in the Troubles with the usual (rejected by almost all) narrative of the churches were part of the problem.

  • Turgon

    So to conclude my over long comment.

    “Can the churches provide a vision”.

    Religiously certainly: I hope and pray they have done and they must continue to do so.

    Politically (and lets be honest that is what Brewer means): I sincerely hope and pray not.

  • I would add just one thing.
    I know a retired prison chaplain. Did he get any gratitude? A little but not much.
    And to hear a succession of ex-combatant athiests bad-mouth prison chaplains last night was almost unbearable.
    They are utterly shameless.
    These are the same people who in the 1970s shamelessly used SDLP people to fight the cases of their wives and families and then picketed the houses of the people who supported them.
    Thats how they work.
    And they strut round West Belfast…and no doubt East Belfast…like they were some kinda oppressed minority.
    Undoubtedly many are genuine people…but there is a tendency to play the “old soldier” (as much as Market Garden survivors ironically) and too many have an unwarranted sense of entitlement.
    I dont blame academics for being unable to tell the difference.
    There needs to be some vetting procedure….Turgon and myself would be excellent at it.
    Gatekeepers…who can label them as “genuine” and “spoofer”.

  • For those interested, I neglected to put a link to a page with the full text of Brewer’s talk:

  • 241934 john brennan

    Turgon is right. The Christian Churches are not the cause of conflict and disorder, nor the failures of our quaintly named Peace Process. In a visit to England in 1982, Pope John Paul put the revere side:

    “The world has largely lost respect for the fundamental moral values that are essential t the Christian life. The world has largely lost respect for human life from the moment of conception. It is weak in upholding the indissoluble unity of marriage. It fails to support the stability and holiness of family life. There is a crisis of truth and responsibility in human relationships. Selfishness abounds. Sexual permissiveness and drug addiction ruin the lives of millions of human beings. International relations are fraught with tensions, often because of excessive inequalities and unjust economic, social, cultural and political structures, and because of the slowness in applying the needed remedies. Underlying all of this there is often a false concept of man and his unique dignity, and a thirst for power rather than a desire to serve.

    Are we Christian to agree with such a state of affairs? Are we to call this progress? Are we to shrug our shoulders and say that nothing can be done to change all this? ….. Work for peace starts when we listen to the urgent call of Christ: ‘Repent and believe in the gospel’. We must turn from domination to service: we must turn from violence to peace: we must turn from violence to peace”

    The body of the Church is made up by many diverse people. Some great peacemakers, known to me, got their formation and values from their parents (of course), but also from their Church, including Cathal Daly, Denis Faul, Brid Rodgers, Eddie McGrady, Seamus Mallon, John Hume etc. Are not their lives and work, including the Good Friday Agreement, testament to the Church as the leaven in society.

    ‘Are churches – in concert with other groups in civil society –better placed than our politicians to articulate a vision for the future that is gracious and hopeful?’ asks Paul Brewster. Are not the present selfish sectarian and party political tendencies, including political domination, rather than public service and promotion of the common good – as manifest by the SF/DUP duopoly, not the main cause of our perennial anti-Christian problems and conflicts?

  • There were moments last night when I was reminded of Monty Python Life of Brian.
    The ex-combatants of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Lenadoon were in full “what has the Catholic Church ever done for Ireland?” mode.
    Being well mannered and extremely sensible, I refrained from pointing out that they were making these points in St Oliver Plunketts…named for the Archbishop executed by hanging, drawing and quartering in 1681.
    But as these non-combatants knew nothing about Catholicism, they probably didnt know that much about Irish History…cept of course their own part in it.

  • Oops EX-combatants.

  • Brian Walker

    This seems a compelling analysis. It’s surely regrettable that the “ institutional “churches i.e. the leaderships, have so far failed to give an account of themselves and their failure to find firm common ground during the Troubles. Underlying the failure, how much was due to continuing Protestant “principled” dissent from Catholicism and Catholic authoritarianism?

    The ultimate dramatic futile gesture was JP2’s “ on my knees I beg you in language of passionate pleading” because the sentiment lacked a policy to back it up.

    Paisley was shrewd. His first target was ecumenism before republicanism. He had kicked the stuffing out of the main Protestant churches even before the Troubles started, thereby also letting the Catholic church off the hook.

    But there were many fine individual witnesses. It was I believe Eric Gallagher who coined the phrase that the Churches were as much “part of the problem as the solution.” Many of us can name many individual voices who stood out publicly against violence on their own side as much as on the other side. But the criticism they attracted on their own side is a depressing judgment on how so many of their flocks wanted victory rather than negotiation and revenge for deep hurt done. This was often disguised as upholding a straight – and of course utterly moral – law and order ticket.

    We can also recall the moving interviews imbued with what is called a Christian spirit from Gordon Wilson back to Rev Joe Parker in 1972 whose son was killed in Bloody Friday. His was one of the first outstanding examples of an individual effort which spawned a peace surge that died for want of systemic follow up. Indeed once such figures acquired a public platform they were quietly or not so quietly undermined by their own side. The Peace People might have been adopted by the Churches but were allowed to wither on the vine.

    Protestant clergy who wanted to tackle paramilitarism head on got a rough ride. Rev Billy Arlow of the Irish Council of Churches gathered up a representative group of church leaders to meet the IRA at Feakle, talks which although tiresomely broken up by Gardai led to a brief ceasefire at the end of 1974 – Jan 75 which in turn produced government talks with Sinn Fein that got nowhere. This was the last such initiative I can recall and required rare courage and leadership from the excellent Rev Jack Weir the long serving secretary of the Presbyterian General Assembly and Bishop Arthur Butler.

    The Presbyterians I felt greatly suffered from a lack of leadership from their rotating system of governance as against the episcopal tradition or the permanent moderatorship of Paisley. Few of them even tried to wrest the initiative from Paisley who terrified many of them and probably came to dominate the General Assembly by proxy.

    Are there excuses for such ineffectuality? Yes of course. Many clerics are by nature gentle people who lead by example and who have to minister to tormented, angry and frightened people.

    Not that the episcopal tradition was any guarantee of effectiveness. They all failed to build an image of unity even on basic community issues. A Christmas message from the four “ heads of churches “ actually petered out without comment.

    The Catholics struck me as altogether more muscular and still commanded more traditional respect than the unfortunate Prods. Their formal position was to deplore and condemn violence while continuing to minister to sinners (like that prominent communicant Gerry Adams). Cardinal Conway was a realist with a good political and diplomatic instinct. Cardinal O’Fee was an instinctive republican and a sheltered son of Crossmaglen who could easily be stereotyped as a provo sympathiser. It was at least partly his own fault that he had this reputation. Cardinal Daly derided by some on the Falls as “the Mekon” was made of sterner stuff and had the intellectual mastery of the political and communal complexities. Bishop Daly of Derry gave an honest running commentary and was one of those clerics whose decency shone through even when you disagreed with him (which in my case was seldom).

    The Redemptorists of Clonard adapted liberation theology to aspects of the armed struggle and eventually argued for peace on the same grounds. There was no equivalent ideology or intellectual rigour I could discover on the Protestant side. Arguing with them was like punching marshmallow.

    There were individual radicals. Fr Des Wilson once almost an ecumenist, was driven to radical republican despair. (Where is he now I wonder?) .He and the bearded southern Cof I cleric Brian Smeaton tried to build bridges in west Belfast in the 1970s. Smeaton was exiled to the placid waters of Ramelton in Donegal.

    PACE and Corrymeela were in the ecumenical tradition just about tolerated by an increasingly rightward drift in the Presbyterian church, because they were as apolitical as possible.

    It’s a fair question to ask – were all peace initiatives doomed anyway at least up to 2004? The short answer is you never know until you try. The apparent lack of close contacts between the churches was even more regrettable. This need not have been about airy fairy reconciliation. It could for example been about facing down Catholic toleration of wiping out the Protestant presence on the Fermanagh border.

    All in all it was a poor record for a privileged and well financed set of elites whose job it was to find the moral case and persuade others to follow it. The best that can be said is that some did good quietly and helped keep the show of normal life on the road, just about.

  • I was talking to Father Des Wilson a few weeks ago and he was in fine form. And I understand he was scheduled to speak at a Feile event this week.
    The point people miss is that no matter about GOD and Mammon…and theres a strong anti-politics thing in all churches, the young men (and women!) who set off to Maynooth, Presbyterian College at Botanic, Wesleyan College or Rathmines are from communities where they have parents, siblings, wider family circles, the local Padraig Pearse GAA Club or the YMCA Hockey Club.
    The extent to which Churches are detached from the Community or part of the Community.
    Priests, Sisters, Ministers walk into a polling booth just like everyone else and prolly vote no different from the community they serve.
    Should they be expected to vote other than their principles and self- interest.
    Surely nobody would claim that any of our political parties has a direct line to GOD.
    Surely no man or woman of the cloth should be ordered not to vote. Although maybe fair to point out that the Catholic Church has a convention that people dont stand for election….but we have had Rev Paisley, Rev Beattie in DUP, Rev Bradford in Vanguard, Rev Smyth and Rev Coulter in UUP. There are others Im sure.
    When Dr John Brewer mentioned mavericks like Fr Reid from Clonard and Rev Armstrong in Limavady…he could perhaps have added Rev Latimer who is a big fan of Martin McGuinness or the priest who floated the idea of voting DUP because of Abortion.

    No, on balance I dont think that the Church …any Church gets flak from outsiders over action or inaction. Any criticism should come from its own pews.

  • 241934 john brennan

    In BBC Sunday Sequence interview (30thJune), Bishop McKeown claimed that Peter Robinson had suggested that “certain vested interests, by implication the Catholic Church, were the ones who were blocking movements towards integrated education”.

    “That certainly was perceived in the Catholic community as nakedly sectarian – talking about reconciliation, but ultimately saying the fault is with the Catholics, they really are the ones who are to blame and, specifically, the Catholic Church.”

    “I suppose at the present time, kicking the Catholic Church really won’t lose you too many votes in many places.”

    He was also critical of both the DUP and Sinn Féin over plans for a shared future, claiming it was in the interests of both parties to maintain division. This latter remark was barely contested, by either of those parties.

  • ThomasMourne

    Turgon: “… the churches consistently condemned violence and criminality”.

    That is not my memory of the situation during the worst of the troubles. There certainly was denounciation of violence from church leaders – usually when someone leant on them to make a statement; consistent it was not.

    Absence of such condemnation was often noticeable at a local level and at national level it often was one-sided [as it still is in many cases].

    Church leaders have given very little guidance to the law-breakers in relation to the flag protests and Orange parades while I seem to have missed any comment about Castlederg from churchmen/women.

    John Brennan omitted from his list of peacemakers [probably deliberately] Tomas O’Fee. Under his ‘leadership’ there was no reason for his ‘underlings’ to condemn violent actions which he himself ignored.

    How can sectarian religious bodies provide a vision for the future any more than sectarian political parties work together for the benefit of everyone?

    Most N.I. people show they are not ready for change as they vote repeatedly for discredited politicians and give their support [and money] to narrow-minded clerics.

  • Theres a touching aspect of unionism which assumes that nice Catholics…the farmer in the next field, the Coronation Street viewer at the water cooler or the Man United supporter in the car-pool must surely be a unionist.
    The fact is that Cardinal O’Fiach blew that idea out of the water by being wonderfully indiscrete about his politics.

  • Turgon

    “That is not my memory of the situation during the worst of the troubles.”

    To be blunt in that case you are either gravely mistaken or dishonest. Almost every terrorist outrage was condemned by individual clergymen and often each denomination collectively. That pertained as much from the Catholic Church when Protestants were murdered by the IRA as it did from the Protestant churches when Catholics were murdered by the alphabet soup of loyalist terrorists. When a murder occurred the local ministers of both sides almost always condemned the murders in the strongest of terms. The example of the murder of Frank Hegarty being one example I remember particularly well.

    Brian Walker,
    “This seems a compelling analysis.”
    To you maybe but not to most people.

    ” failure to find firm common ground during the Troubles.”
    Utter rubbish. the churches had complete common ground opposing violence. They may well have had different political positions. Actually no: they tended to have no political position because they are not political parties and are composed of people with a multiplicity of views. They had very different views on religion for the simple reason that they are different religious positions.

    “We can also recall the moving interviews imbued with what is called a Christian spirit from Gordon Wilson”
    Yes but that was a religious position. Gordon Wilson did not advocate a political position after his daughter’s death. Indeed Gordon Wilson tended to try to avoid politics. One of his few political comments was to support internment but that of course is neatly forgotten in many people’s narrative of him.

    “The Presbyterians I felt greatly suffered from a lack of leadership from their rotating system of governance”
    Once again the moderator is emphatically not the leader of the Presbyterian Church. The church has no leaders beyond the elders. It is not the job of the Presbyterian Church to have political leaders: the clue is in the name – church.

    “Few of them even tried to wrest the initiative from Paisley who terrified many of them and probably came to dominate the General Assembly by proxy. “
    Rubbish. The General Assembly is all about reports from the assorted boards all but one of which have nothing whatsoever to do with politics. Dr. Paisley is not relevant to the Assembly’s deliberations. They were and are much more interested in the doings of Presbyterian missionaries in Kenya, Malawi and Nepal; the Board of Social Witness (actually helping poor people rather than politicking) etc. etc.

    The apparent lack of close contacts between the churches was even more regrettable.”
    No a lack of contacts is irrelevant. Both tried to lead their flocks in a manner appropriate to their understanding of appropriate Christian living. Some of that has some relevance to the Troubles: not killing people etc. Much had no relevance: the means of personal salvation.

    Therein lies the problem for the opponents of religion and those who wanted them to have an overtly political role. The actual function of a church is to “Go and make disciples”. It is a religious function to do with saving immortal souls and indeed to make people better neighbours. What it is not is a political endeavour. More than anything when liberals, ecumenists and the irreligious complain about the churches that is actually what they do not like: the fact that the church has this annoying habit of focusing on the salvation of souls and other things that the complainers reject. By all means reject the claims of the church but do so because you reject such teaching. Do not reject the churches because they failed to fulfill a function that they said was not theirs and you have foisted upon them despite your rejection of them.

  • Brian Walker

    Turgon, look around you. All churches have had social and political messages from the beginning and are partly judged accordingly. Synods, presbyteries and general assemblies passed numerous motions on political topics down the years. Prayers for political causes are said regularly in services. The Church of England still retains a specific role in the British State.

    Indeed churches these days are more circumspect about adopting narrowly partisan positions than they were a century ago. That is one mercy although it has been accompanied by a decline in the influence of religion as a whole. There may be a connection there that isn’t entirely to their discredit.

    It is also wrong to pass judgement on the churches from their impact on society only and I haven’t done that. You are of course entitled to your own view of the role of churches and as usual you stand on the narrow ground. I wonder what Jesus would have thought of it.

  • Turgon

    “I wonder what Jesus would have thought of it.”
    Ah yes The standard answer of the intellectually bankrupt on a religious issue: providing a slightly pathetic attempt to condemn one’s opponent and promote oneself. interestingly a comment almost never made by any minister or preacher. They tend to be too humble.

    “Turgon, look around you”. Yes unlike you when I look around I do so in Northern Ireland. On Sundays in a church. That makes my looking around me rather more relevant to NI churches than when you look around you. I have attended churches (Presbyetrian of various sorts, Methodist of various sorts, CoI/CoE and non denominational) almost every Sunday for all my life. I suspect rather more frequently than you. Not that that makes me be any better than you: merely that it means I have a great deal more current experience of what actually happens in Protestant churches in Northern Ireland. Though as ever do not allow your lack of knowledge or experience stop you from having a strongly held view.

    I have never heard politics being promoted of the sort you would claim. The “politics” in church has always been praying for peace etc. not telling people how to achieve it. That is the vital point. That being a political issue which churches have wisely avoided: a wise position you clearly oppose.

    “The Church of England still retains a specific role in the British State.”
    Completely irrelevant to the current debate.

    “Prayers for political causes are said regularly in services.”
    Tell me when did you last attend a Northern Ireland church? The political “causes” are peace on earth etc. not political positions on Northern Ireland (or elsewhere).

    You have completely failed to address my point about Paisley not “dominating the General Assembly by proxy.” same with my points about the late Gordon Wilson.

    As to the position of the churches a century ago. You are altering the debate. That is not directly relevant to the churches role during the Troubles.

    You claim I stand on narrow ground: that is the traditional ground of churches in Northern Ireland. That ground is that their job is about preaching salvation and helping people to live Godly lives: not involving themselves in politics. That narrow ground is the same as that adopted by most religious people of all denominations in Northern Ireland. In actual fact it is the ground stood on by many politicians in Northern Ireland. Much as I may disagree with his politics the likes of David Ford do not coat trail their religious views into politics. Nor in actual fact do a large number of unionist or nationalist politicians. I salute all of them for that. God is the God of members of all political parties. He is not, however, a supporter or member of any.

    This so called narrow ground is not the ground you stand on which is fair enough. What is not fair is for you to castigate the churches or their members for failing to move onto the ground you would have them move to. It is not for you to tell the churches or their members how they should have behaved or now should behave.

    Your admonition to the churches that they failed to do what you feel they should have done is invalid. The churches do not wish to stand on that ground. You yourself do not stand on that ground. for you to demand that they do is base hypocrisy from you.

  • Brian Walker


    What we mean by “politics” here is peace making. I know of many senior church people who regret that more was not attempted to fulfil what is obviously part of a Christian mission and not the narrow definition you impose upon it.

    But what is regrettable is not your obviously sincere and deeply held opinions but your angry and insulting refusal to accept and accommodate the good faith of other viewpoints particularly those which tread on what your regard as your own area.That remains one of Northern Ireland’s besetting problems and one you should address in quiet contemplation, rather than in a blog .

  • Turgon

    Having failed to address any of my points you now descend to condescending man playing.

    “What we mean by “politics” here is peace making”
    No what we mean is a specific set of liberal political viewpoints espoused by a tiny minority of people (some of them clerics) who have claimed that their views and policies were “peacemaking” hence, somehow claiming that they were and are morally superior to the views of others who non violently pursued different political aims. In a democracy one argues for one’s point of view and electoral success is the determinant of political success. The assorted “peacemakers” had no mandate. Most pontificated about politics, condemning all round them, without even seeking, let alone achieving, such a mandate.

    To turn to your man playing. You have advised me to “address in quiet contemplation” The arrogance behind that is breath taking. Since you have played the man it is only reasonable to remind you of a few home truths about yourself. Your prominence and journalistic success are based on you being a voyeur of the Troubles. Your personal professional and even financial successes are almost as much based on the campaign of terrorism here as those of assorted exterrorist politicians. Had there been no Troubles you would have been a very minor league journalist in an obscure provincial part of the UK. You are in no position to lecture anyone about the Troubles and if anyone should “address in quiet contemplation” their relationship to “Northern Ireland’s besetting problems” it should be you.

  • Brian Walker

    Turgon, “Rubbish” ” intellectually bankrupt” you say? and that’s not “playing the man”? Not that I mind a bit of personal criticism. Yet again you make my point for me., There is something worth debating here but not at diatribe level. I only persisted on this occasion in the forlorn hope of a reasonable exchange. Silly of me, I admit it. .

  • Turgon

    Of course making statements like “I wonder what Jesus would have thought of it.” is intellectually bankrupt as it means nothing in this context. It is a means of projecting one’s own moral superiority and one’s opponents moral inferiority. It is indeed intellectually bankrupt. To observe that is not man playing.

    Stating that “Paisley…dominated the general assembly by proxy” is indeed rubbish as the general assembly’s main interest has always been to do with missionaries, boards of evangelism, social witness; finance, new hymn books and the like. Stuff utterly unrelated to the Free Presbyterian church or Dr. Paisley.

    You also previously tried to make Gordon Wilson’s religious comments political and conveniently ignored the few actual political comments he ever made.

    This was further man playing from you ” your angry and insulting refusal to accept and accommodate the good faith of other viewpoints”

    No: my annoyance is when some outside the church along with a tiny unrepresentative group of church people denounce all the rest of the church attenders of all denominations for not pursuing a specific political agenda. That agenda they claim to be “peace making” (when it is actually a specific political position) and then denounce Christians for failing a Christian requirement: one they have dishonestly perverted to create a stick to beat those who do not hold their view. That is hypocrisy and judging fellow Christians from the church types and simply dishonest hypocrisy from those outside the church.

    Then finally you man play by stating I should “address in quiet contemplation”. That is a breath taking level of arrogance and having thrown that at me it is only reasonable for me to point out that throughout the Troubles you were not a “peace maker” (following the claims of the self appointed unrepresentative highly politicised “peace makers”) rather you have the Troubles to thank for your reputation.

    In actual fact I do not begrudge you that although I note you did not spout this sort of politicised attack on all and sundry (including the churches) when you were a journalist. However, you are now calling for other people to accept that they did things wrong during the Troubles when in actual fact the people you blame are individually and collectively blameless. In light of that it is entirely reasonable to throw the accusation back in your face.

    That you cannot debate facts and when called on the facts descend to condescending man playing is not my fault. I will, however, happily point out your high handed hypocrisy. On here, unlike in your journalistic life we, the mere audience, have the right of reply.

  • FDM

    Spurious article.

    The modern troubles were/are nothing to do with religion.


    It was about bread, money, land, power and primacy.

  • In his introductory remarks, Professor Brewer acknowledged that he was off his usual academic beat and used the expression “firm opinions, wrongly held”. I think this was partly tongue in cheek and accepted as such by his audience.
    Nevertheless it did give the impression that the opinions of academics…and he did say these debates were usually confined to academics….were of more value than the opinions than the rest of us.
    That was perhaps slightly disturbing.
    In a sense I would have to say that the life experiences of an elderly and under-educated person in East or West Belfast are as important as the interpretation put upon them by Academics. Such people cannot be used as mere “source fodder”.
    I cant see how Conflict Resolution is an exact science.
    There are areas on which people can agree….Mathematics tells us that 1 plus 1 is 2.
    I can see how a mathematician can say that “3” would be a “firm opinion wrongly held” but our diverse views on the origins and settlement or future of this part of the world…can they be so dismissed?
    Of course “Turgon” and I disagree on many things but our skepticism of the Science….and indeed Motivation or Intent of Conflict Resolution is I think evidence of a wider public skepticism.
    Clearly to be attacked from two directions is a comfort to (say) the referee who justifies his performance on the grounds that he was booed by both sets of supporters. But thats just silly.
    There is nothing new about Conflict Resolution. Reconstruction after American Civil War. De- Nazification after WW2, Re-Education in a jungle in Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon.
    It falls to the Victor to impose the Resolution.
    In our own stale-mated Conflict, we are being asked to accept a series of measures people on one side or other find intolerable. We are being told on one hand that Nobody won and Nobody lost…and that we are all victims and worse all to blame.
    Most people are neither Victims or ex-Combatants.
    Neither deserve a veto.
    Not least because they have no unified voice.
    Some victims merely want to get on with their lives, some want justice, some want cash, some want revenge.
    And likewise the ex-combatants …some are living in perfect anonymity and others want to have a veto.
    For “Turgon” and me….the future is bleak. We will surely be carted off to a letsgetalongerist summer school to learn the error of our ways.

  • “Once again the mainstream religious position in Northern Ireland is that true religion is separate to politics.”

    Turgon, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland takes a different line:

    A Church that is secure and confident in its Christian identity, so that all other identities(national, cultural,social and political) are secondary .. PCI Annual Report 2012 p32

    ie politics is not separate but secondary.

    However, the PCI in the same report (p202) endorses continuing separation/mutual apartheid in education:

    Of major consequence is the setting up for the first time of a controlled sector support body which will, to a considerable degree, match a similarly proposed Catholic Trustee Support Body. The Council for Catholic Maintained Schools(CCMS) will lose its statutory basis and become a voluntary body.

    You’ve finger-pointed John Dunlop and Lesley Carroll yet these two good folks were appointed by PCI as co-convenors of its Church and Society Committee. I understand membership of any committee is limited to nine years. Norman Hamilton and Alan Boal are named as co-convenors in the 2013 report.

    The actions of folks like the late Ray Davey, John Dunlop and Lesley Carroll were endorsed in the PCI Coleraine Declaration:

    We urge our people to act with equal courage also in finding new ways forward, playing whatever part they can in public life for the future good of all. To practise neighbourliness, and to bridge divisions with friendship, and care for ‘enemies’, is the clear command of the gospel.

  • Give yourself a Slap

    Is this a Joke? Very very few of the men of violence are religious in any sense of the word. They may turn to religion to satisfy a sense of forgiveness and closure for their deeds eventually
    They are not driven by protestant or Roman catholic or indeed Muslim or Jewish teaching.
    They are driven by hatred and fear.

    Religion is not the answer for it too is a false Man made systematic belief to encourage the feeling of well being as a member of the chosen society.

    All of us need to catch ourselves on and treat each other with a little bit respect.

    By this stage of the game we should have reached a much higher level of maturity as a race.

    So why are we so greedy and self centered?

    It’s a mystery.

    But it’s no wonder that those who you steal from want to bite the hand that feeds them.

    We are not all fools.

    Give yourself a good Slap and wake up.

  • “Give Yourself A Slap” is only half right.
    I have no idea how committed to athieism the “ex combatant athiests” from Thursday were. What I do know is, they were in a Catholic Church Hall discussing what the Church/Churches should be doing.
    More than one invoked the Hunger Strikers. I was at two of those funerals and both had Catholic Church involvement.
    Indeed all but one of the Republican funerals I have attended had Catholic involvement. I think was in St Oliver Plunketts.
    I would be curious to know how many of the ten Hunger Strikers received the last rites. Most if not all.
    Id be curious to know how many of those who ever went on Hunger Strike received the last rites.
    The ex combatant athiests might know better than me.
    But it slipped their minds to mention it.
    As my Auntie Sheila would have put it ” they will die roaring for a priest”.
    Academics…especially from Christian backgrounds …are too esily bluffed by ex-combatants of all sides and indeed victims from all sides.

  • Tochais Síoraí

    For the likes of Auntie Sheila and maybe even yourself, it ain’t 1981 anymore. Catholic church brainwashing (and I don’t use that term lightly) doesn’t have the same effect anymore.

    Off topic, but a bit of common courtesy wouldn’t go astray now and again. Brian is merely disagreeing with you. Addressing contributors (who have the guts to identify themselves unlike yourself and myself) by their surnames is a nasty touch.

  • I think the people that most need to know that it isnt 1981 is the old soldier, blanket men, ex-combatant “athiests” with a peculiar interest in what the Catholic Church should be doing.
    Time they stopped spoofing every Conflict Resolutionist they come across.
    Brain-washing? Well certainly Christening.
    Was at one two weeks ago…five babies….ten families including the Polish families. And does it surprise me that one of the families was fervently “Chucky”? No not at all.

  • Can Churches provide Vision?

    No. Absolutely not.