Lord Mayor’s dinner: but who was graceless?

Disclosure:  I’m a member of the Alliance Party.  I am also a born-again evangelical Christian.

The first I heard was Naomi Long citing Matthew 6:5-6 on Facebook, concerning not praying in a manner to be seen by others.  It was later that day that I heard the full story:  Nuala McAllister had decided not to invite someone to say grace before the Lord Mayor’s dinner last Saturday night, and great was the gnashing of teeth over this break in tradition of about 25 years or so.

As a Christian, all I can see is virtue signalling.  And it’s ugly.

I imagine that if I were Lord Mayor (can’t see it), I would ask for grace to be said.  But you know what?  I’m not known for giving thanks to God before meals on my own.  On the other hand, I share willingly when others take time out to give thanks, and if asked I will say a simple grace.  I enjoy the rhythm of meals at Corrymeela where silence is called during the meal to give thanks, each in our own way.

However, this was different.

In the first place, Nuala is not a Christian.  As Lord Mayor, she will attend and has already attended religious services where God will be worshipped.  On the other hand, dinner is not a religious occasion.  It can be, but I don’t think a civic dinner could be so described.

And there is the crux of the matter.  As a friend of mine once pointed out from the pulpit, Christians cannot expect non-Christians to do what the Bible says.  Why would they?  I believe the Bible is true, but they don’t.

Would it have been wrong for Nuala to call on one of the Christians present to formally give thanks?  Of course it wouldn’t, although I think it shows great integrity that she wouldn’t just follow a tradition adhered to for rather less than my own short lifetime just to look “right” to the Christians.

But unless the Christians present at dinner who complained when interviewed by the Belfast Telegraph said grace before meals on a regular basis, it’s hypocrisy.  Saying things to look good in public, but not following up in private.

In a world where Christianity no longer dominates (to the extent that true faith ever dominated, as distinct to the habit of church-going), we are fighting to witness to the truth we believe about God and his salvation through Jesus.  I don’t believe that complaining about a non-Christian not arranging for prayers to be said at a secular occasion helps us witness to that truth.

But in the end, it comes down to this:

Christians cannot force non-Christians to do as a Christian would do.  We can’t even make other Christians follow biblical norms.

We can and must try to persuade non-Christians that specific Christian beliefs about how we should treat others are things they should agree with.  A great many of our laws are on the statute books because Christians and non-Christians agreed that values which happen to be in the Bible were in everybody’s interests.

But in the end, Christians need to allow non-Christians not to acknowledge God.  We still believe God exists.  It’s our job to honour and glorify him in our own lives, and to persuade others that God exists and is a great deal more than relevant.  But we cannot force everyone else to agree with us.

Andy has a very wide range of interests including Christianity, Lego, transport, music, and computers. Anything can appear in a post.

Andy tweets at @andyboal

  • Marcus Orr

    There are some examples of healings of amputees and other similar cases in Keener’s book. It will take me some work to find all the references as I have several cases in mind.

  • Roger

    It seems like I may have breached one of your rules and you may feel sore about it. Now that is a pity.

  • Marcus Orr

    No, don’t worry you haven’t.

    You’re just boring, slow-witted and never have anything remotely interesting to say, that’s all.

  • PeterBrown

    I agree unless they or their party specifically stand on that platform in which case are they entitled / obliged to maintain that stance? And of course despite abiding by your standard Tim Fallon was still ousted….

  • PeterBrown

    Neither of those comments answer my question – on abortion Alliance allows a free vote of MLAs who are all pro at least FFA abortion so it has in fact changed it policy by the back door by homogenising its MLAS. On SSM despite requesting (requiring) tolerance of the non irregular positions of it councillor from BCC and its former leader from PCI it does not extend the same courtesy to opponents (or is their position irregular?) who like pro life candidates have mysteriously disappeared from the Alliance ticket…

  • PeterBrown

    I’m not sure what you have given up on?

  • Aideen

    Agreed Claire! I’m glad someone else finds the lack of non-denominational toddler groups an issue. Other people seek to think I’m just being awkward when I say that! We have also found people’s reactions to our child not being baptised a little bit judgemental: ‘but you have to baptise her’ ‘sure everyone gets baptised’ ‘it’ll give her the best start in life.’ We are most definitely not the norm, more like the slightly crazy hippies of our families (in everyone else’s opinion, we think we’re perfectly normal), but sometimes you have to do what you believe in, and hope for a bit of tolerance.

  • William Kinmont

    I thought he couldn’t strike the balence and very honestly stood down. Poots and the Gay blood thing is an example where religious beliefs trumped all evidence and ability to play fair, costing us all huge amounts of money and perpetuating discrimination as long as possible.

  • Brendan Heading

    so it has in fact changed it policy by the back door by homogenising its MLAS.

    Again – you are alleging an active move by the party to freeze out certain views without any evidence.

    On SSM despite requesting (requiring) tolerance of the non irregular positions of it councillor from BCC

    This sentence doesn’t quite parse, but are you suggesting – again – that there is something unusual about asking that an councillor’s religious view be tolerated ?

    and its former leader from PCI it does not extend the same courtesy to opponents (or is their position irregular?) who like pro life candidates have mysteriously disappeared from the Alliance ticket…

    I don’t know what I can tell you Peter. Party policy allows people who are pro life to stand for election and keep their views. But the reality is that the ground on this is changing. In the Assembly, the last time the issue of abortion reform was tested, 40 MLAs voted in favour of an incremental reform; 8 of them were Alliance. That would not have happened ten years ago.

  • AndyB

    The pro-life MLAs would find that extremely offensive if not libellous, Peter. Just be aware of that.

  • The worm!

    Firstly on the baptism thing, yes it’s ridiculous. Neither of our two were baptised as babies, and they’ve both gone on (of their own choice!) as young people to be believers, it is indeed shallow and meaningless.

    The toddler groups etc, is a different matter. Instead of being critical, maybe you should ask what is it about churches and other Christian organisations that inspires people to give up their time so freely to help provide a service to the community. If a person, or group of people, is sufficiently concerned about the lack of non-demoninational child care, then set something up. Too often I hear people criticise yet are still happy to avail of the service or do nothing to provide an alternative, be it child care, youth activities, even help during a bereavement. Churches do many things which have nothing at all to do with indoctrination, sometimes people just genuinely want to help, and strangely enough, there still seems to be no scarcity of people happy to accept it.

  • AndyB

    “The done thing” is the wrong reason to get children baptised, unless you plan to keep the promises you are asked to make about bringing them up in the Christian faith. But this particular “done thing” is dying, as is the old habit of going to church whether you believe or not.

    The worm points out that toddler groups tend to be provided by churches, and this is for two reasons: first of all, they have the space in their premises, and secondly, because few others are volunteering to provide it instead.

  • AndyB

    Put slightly differently, I respect your integrity. 🙂

  • PeterBrown

    Andy stop throwing libel which you clearly do not understand around as a weapon and actually deal with the point – where have the non conformist MLAs gone? The Alliance Party is as diverse as a Model T Ford yet expects others to acoomodate their diversity – the more appropriate biblical quote is about logs and splinters

  • AndyB

    I’m not thinking in the Mrs Doyle oh you’ll have a cup of tea way – I meant in the broad range of ways of witnessing, most of which require relationship, integrity and vulnerability. Does that make sense?

  • AndyB

    I might happen to be splitting hairs too!

  • AndyB

    Peter, libel is recorded defamation, whether on the printed page, audio recording, online, or in any other recorded format. You tell lies about MLAs to blacken their reputation, that seems libellous to me.

    I’m afraid you’re quite incorrect about logs and splinters. You complain that because we don’t oppose abortions in all circumstances, we are not pro-life, and presumably you don’t believe any political party in Great Britain is pro-life on the same basis, and because we have this thing called compassion for people whose babies cannot live, we cannot be pro-life. That is an offensive lie.

    So presumably you support a party that opposes abortion. Are we to suppose that this might be a party that is propping up a right wing Government that opposes life by impoverishing the poor and enriching the rich, besides their treatment of those of a different political persuasion from themselves; a party that opposed life throughout the Troubles by supporting terrorists and now failing to oppose the right wing Government in Westminster; or any other party that makes nationality their main priority, instead of actually being pro-life for those who are born?

  • PeterBrown

    I know what libel is and having accused me of telling lies please be more specific

  • AndyB

    You have said that no Alliance MLA is pro-life. That is a lie.

  • Claire Mitchell

    This isn’t a criticism of churches provision of toddler groups. People giving up their time to help others is, like you say, one of the best things about churches. But I think the observation that churches are still hugely important in the organisation of family life and childcare is interesting if you’re debating how secular or faith-based NI is today.

    I also found having a toddler or two eliminated any potential time/energy to set up a whole new secular group 😉

  • The worm!

    Certainly, but I’m sure you’ll equally realise that the entire concept of Christianity is under attack like never before.

    People will seize on anything said or written, no matter how well meaningly, and use it as a stick to beat with. When you use the word “persuade”, no matter how benign you envisage the outworking of that, many will see “ram it down my throat”.

    It’s not fair, but it’s how it is.

  • The worm!

    Many who attend churches and avail of their services are charlatans and/or hypocrites.

    I think that pretty much explains it?

  • Granni Trixie

    You undermine any validity in your argument or point you are trying to make by not accepting the factual inaccuracies I and others have brought to your attention. I conclude that you have not the will to engage in a fair exchange.

  • The worm!

    Would have to agree with that. So many who “preach” just talk down to people from a self-constructed plinth of their own sanctimony.

    It is very annoying and is generally completely at odds with the very aim which they profess to have,

  • PeterBrown

    As per AndyB what are the inaccuracies / lies?

  • Claire Mitchell

    Ah ok, sorry. I didn’t get what you meant by UKNI. And yes, you’re right, there’s definitely a disjuncture. It’s already interesting to see, with the Conservative and DUP deal, how the wider UK’s more secular norms are brushing up against NI’s more conservative ones.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Ok. Send on your links to verified examples of the restoring of limbs to amputees.

  • Marcus Orr

    Here’s the best I can do at short notice, these only some of the examples (I leave aside 2 cases of reported healings of amputees, because in looking at these in Keener’s book he is citing different authors, i.e. these are not direct references from him. Also some of these are not limb healings, but do go in the same general direction):

    On page 705: a woman who had her fingers amputated on one hand was healed of her cancer, and after prayer her fingers grew back. A man who had no legs, as attested by 2 surgeons, grew them back miraculously. The gradual re-formation of an adult’s bones and leg after an amputation beneath the knee.

    On page 706 half-inch fingers grow out to 3 inches length during a one and a half hour prayer session. Also on 706, a severed thumb grew back instantly after prayer, and a misshapen skull was healed visibly.

    On page 334 we have something like the creation of a new uterus (woman with uterus removed having a child).

    On page 433 we have a case of rapid bone generation.

    On page 519 we have a case of an eye that was blinded by lacerations from barbed wire being fully restored.

    For more details you’d really need to go and read the book. I freely admit that I personally haven’t verified all of these eye-witness claims. However, given that your original claim was “everyone now knows that the Christian God lacks even the power to restore a missing little finger never mind an amputated arm or a blown off leg.” I would suggest you would need to at least back off or water down that original assertion quite a bit.

  • Badjumbly

    Christians must feel terribly excluded and hurt whenever they go to cinema screenings, theatrical performances and sport events and find there’s no preliminary prayer thanking God for the entertainment they’re about to receive.

  • Gaygael

    My critique from the other side on these two issues is that Alliance likes to label itself as progressive. These issues and voting record on them suggest otherwise.

    Despite party policy being set in favour of same-sex marriage in 2012, Alliance did not whip any votes on the issue. Across the 5 votes during the 2011-2016 mandate, Alliance support for SSM hangs marginally above 50%.

    As for abortion, the party leaves the issue to conscience. We are currently judged to be in breach of a minimum human rights standard on this issue. That the party can’t support a minimum human rights standard is very disappointing.

    There is an all-party group on Human Life. It only exists because Chris Lyttle is the sole ‘other’ on it.

  • Ryan A

    Define pro-life. He is correct as far as all Alliance MLA’s and Candidates are in favour of supporting reform for FFA as a minimum; with I believe 17 of 18 incases of rape and the majority of the rest are pro choice / pro decriminalisation.


  • PeterBrown

    As per my reply to AndyB himself – what factual inaccuracies?

  • Peter Ryan

    The problem with NI is that this is even an issue.

  • NotNowJohnny

    First, thank you for taking the time to source these. However I won’t be backing down on my assertion. Only the ones on pages 705 and 706 relate to the issue in hand and I note the caveat re the verification. Do you have the name of the man whose two legs grew back and the names of the two surgeons who verified this so I can do a search?

  • Marcus Orr

    No the names are not given in the text.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Ok. Do you have the name of the man on page 706 whose severed thumb grew back immediately after prayer?

  • Marcus Orr

    No, I only have that it happened in San Diego and it was attested to in Bill Johnson’s healing ministries in October 2007 by Pastor Kevin.

  • NotNowJohnny

    So we have a story of an unidentified man having both his legs grow back verified by two unidentifed surgeons and another unverified story of an unidentified man having his thumb grow back published in a book by a man who wants you to believe that god has the power to restore amputated limbs. And this is all the evidence you have to challenge my claim that god lacks the power to restore amputated limbs? Have I got that right? Can you understand why I am not at all persuaded by this?

  • Marcus Orr

    I’m not expecting or asking you to be persuaded by these examples. In a book which documents hundreds, if not thousands of healings and other miracles, it is impossible to provide all the details – that would make the book into a 20 volume encyclopedia. Some cases are very well documented, some cases are people that the author knows well, some cases were apparently even documented in local newspapers or other media. The goal of Keener (a scholar in Biblical studies who was an atheist until his studies led him to believe otherwise) was stated as not being to try to convince non-believers, but rather to challenge the in his opinion false paradigm in place amongst historians since David Hume, that miracles should be assumed to not be possible. Given the thousands of examples, many testified by rational and sober people who have nothing to gain from their claim, one ought to be open to the mere possibility he says.

    Your position initially stated was that we know this God cannot do anything, not even heal a little finger. I don’t know how you can claim to “know” that. It seems to me the best you can claim is that there are hundreds of claims out there, mostly unverified therefore difficult to prove, and so the question is open, but you choose to not believe, just as I choose to believe.
    What I find interesting is that there seem to be very few miracle claims at all coming from the Muslim world or from other non Christian beliefs. There are some but not many. I find that intriguing.

  • Granni Trixie

    Why do you keep linking two distinct issues of abortion and SSM, the former being the more difficult to get consensus on?

  • Granni Trixie

    I can’t believe you really put ‘saying grace’ on the same level as aborting the unborn, have some respect.

  • Granni Trixie

    I suppose in its own way, by intention or not, ‘not saying grace’ challenged the default position in public life. I think this has been a healthy debate.

  • Ryan A

    And we can read that critique on a billion other threads, any views on the matter in hand or article above..

  • Gaygael

    I commended Nuala elsewhere.

    It is entirely fitting with her theme of global Belfast that she should not privilege one brand of faith. I think she acted in good conscience. Well done to her.

    I replied to the other side attack on Alliance that they had sidelined anti-equality MLAs. In my opinion, they failed LGBTQ people repeatedly and should have enforced policy since 2012.
    There is also the duplicity that all candidates should support party policy. Trevor Lunn stood for WM in 2015, despite at that stage opposing party policy. Another broken promise to LGBTQ people by Alliance.

  • LighterSide…

    I hope that people realise that the conception of God as a being who appreciates meek and mild humble offerings of thanks is only one point of view.
    I firmly believe in God.
    I don’t believe that God give a rat’s ass if anyone says grace.

  • William Kinmont

    i dont seek to prevent or even discourage anyone from practising their own religious beliefs. i would just like a level playing field where those of none do not have the beliefs forced on them by assumption or even by use of the state and the law. Locally i am seeing schools begin to use the term christian ethos to allow them to discriminate in their employment activities

  • PeterBrown

    I did not put them on the same level – I do not even mention abortion in my post!

    I am contrasting the accomodate our atheist mayor and our former leader who ahs changed his position on SSM and is therefore in breach of his undertakings to his church but meanwhile we will not tolerate any divergence from our policy on SSM and abortion.

    Let’s deal with what I actually say instead of making hysterical and false accusations (though at least you are not falsely accusig me of defamaing the entire Alliance Assembly Group!)

  • PeterBrown

    I am contrasting Alliance calls for toleration of Alliance members (non) religious beliefs and those Alliance members who seek to be in breach of the policies of the churches in which they hold leadership positions with their lack of tolerance of those now former elected representatives who do not agree with their own policy on SSM and abortion.

    I believe the technical term for such a position is hypocrisy and Naomi is very keen to quote the bible on prayer but seems to have overlooked the fact that it has much more to say about hypocritical leaders!

  • Mister_Joe

    I’m not a Christian, indeed don’t adhere to any religious sect. It’s my firm belief that most people have certain moral values and that they learn these from their parents. Alas, these sometimes don’t take, often due to bad influence from peers. For me, saying grace is meaningless but sometimes I have Christians for supper and I do ask them to say grace if they wish. Anything else would simply be rude.

  • PeterBrown

    Fallon did strike the balance – his voting record was apparently very different from his personal views but his personal views still rankled with some and so the whispering campaign which led to his departure was started….in relation to gay blood you do realise the ban was UK wide and only relaxed there in 2011 and then again earlier this year?

  • William Kinmont


  • William Kinmont

    He largely did but eventially couldnt continue with his confliction. The whispers if such existed were questioning if his religious views were compatible with public representation which as his confliction shows eventially they were not. He couldnt continue to be true to his religion and continue to make reasonable public decisions.
    The review of scientific evidence resulted in the change of the blood laws , this evidence was not affected by the Irish just the religious views of the minister.