We hear so much of the Orange Order’s marches and parades we tend to forget that Northern Ireland’s Republicans also do it; currently a controversial parade, backed by Sinn Fein, is proposed in Castlederg, County Tyrone. What makes it controversial is that it will honour “Tyrone’s republican dead, including two IRA members killed by their own bomb in 1973” (BBC Teletext). Already the proposed parade has been re-routed by the organisers to avoid “the town’s war memorial and Methodist church”. Despite that Unionists are still describing the parade as ‘grossly insensitive’ and wanted it prevented by the Parades Commission. In fact the Commission gave a ‘restricted go-ahead’.
Also, flashing onto teletext literally while I was writing that first paragraph, a DUP councillor was having to apologise over Facebook comments about the parade. Apparently someone else posted about an ‘imaginary attack’ on the parade in which Sinn Fein figures would be killed, and the councillor appeared to approve.
As you may have gathered I actually regard both sides as equally problematic. In recent history, as the group opposing the government the IRA have been ‘terrorists’ – but there has clearly also been terrorism from Unionists as well as their nominally lawful responses. This is pretty much a case of “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. Going back in history things get horrendously tangled and I really don’t want to go too deeply into it. Ultimately one can just about argue that the fault lies with Anglo-Norman freebooters in the medieval period, conquering bits of Ireland at a time when ‘Catholic and Protestant’ didn’t exist as such; indeed at that time, if anything the Anglo-Normans were fighting for the papal version of Christianity against the on-going remnants of a native dissenting ‘Celtic’ Christianity. This may have some relevance to rights and wrongs in terms of English ‘colonialism’, but for Christians the ‘Christian country’ aspect is wrong anyway, as explained elsewhere in my blog.
Of course the republican parade is ‘insensitive’ – you’d need to be naïve to think it’s intended otherwise! Loyalist parades are also insensitive and intended to be so; they’re clearly not intending just to entertain their Republican/Catholic neighbours. A marching band in such divided circumstances is pretty much a weapon. An Irish blogger tells me that the area in question sees some twenty Loyalist parades in a year; this will be the only parade by the republican faction.
On either side, these parades are not about ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ in the way Jesus taught, but very much the contrary. Nor are they fulfilling Paul’s wish in Romans 12 that ‘So far as it’s up to us, we’ll live in peace with you’. No, these parades are very much ‘so far as it’s up to us we will antagonise, provoke, annoy, and as near declare war as we dare’. And if anything they probably hope for a violent response, to confirm to themselves and the world the villainy and hatred of whichever is the other side in each case.
For this reason, churches and individual Christians on either side should avoid taking part in these parades, and should condemn them. The Orange Order should decide whether it is a Bible-believing Christian organisation – in which case it should give up the clearly provocative parades and pursue its goals by less antagonistic means – or whether it is merely a political body about union with the UK, perhaps including a secular anti-Catholic agenda. The Orange Order should also look deeper at its goals anyway, and reconsider whether a ‘Protestant country’ is a truly biblical idea, or whether it is actually a ‘Romanist’ heresy from the 4th Century which Bible-believing Protestants should reject. The Catholic Church perhaps has a bigger problem here; they are the descendants of the original imperial Roman state church and even after last century’s ‘Vatican II’ Council still look for a special place in a state.
For us on the mainland – what goes on in Ireland has in my lifetime been one of the major things putting people off the Christian faith this side of the Irish Sea, and it’s time we stop just watching from the sidelines and make some effort to put things right. Some of those involved are genuine but misguided Christians who we need to engage with and help them to free themselves from a terrible and all too often lethal mistake. Others are only nominal Christians who in a situation of conflict simply support in a worldly way the ‘tribe’ they happen to have been born in; they perhaps need our help and prayers even more. Whether genuine or nominal, the simple fact that they claim to follow Jesus makes them our business.
And here on the mainland some Christians actually support the violence in Ulster (often without realising they are doing so) by supporting here the same kind of ‘Christian country’ idea which is the root of the problem over there; such churches need to change. The Anglicans are an obvious example; but other denominations and many independent churches have similar ideas and need to rethink their position. UK Christians attending to these issues and becoming more biblical about them could be a major factor in preventing Ulster sliding back into a repeat of its bloody past. Evil may triumph if we don’t make the effort….