On a Monday May 10, 2010 our Volunteer In Missions group met at 3 pm with Reverend Harold Good who is a Winner of the World Methodist Peace Prize and was involved in decommissioning of IRA weapons. This is the fifth in a series relating his talk. In the prior blog posting we learned of the how Reverend Good and his congregation kept their church open for all denominations when there was a serious rumor something bad would happen in the Shankill Road neighborhood. Next we heard about stumbling blocks and stepping stones, in the history of indigenous and settler people in Ireland:
Our lives are filled with stumbling blocks and stepping stones – the stumbling blocks in Ireland are its history . The history of Ireland is a story of two peoples trying to share the same land. At this basic level, it is a fairly familiar story around the world, as well as part of the history in America. There are an indigenous people and a settler people. In the case of Ireland, the settler people coming from Scotland and England, and the indigenous people being the native people of Ireland before the settlers came. Each of these people having their respective distinctive cultures and traditions. The settler people being mainly Protestant, mainly Presbyterian and Episcopal. The indigenous people being Catholic. Those are their distinctive traditions.
It's too simple to say it is Catholic and Protestant. For many of the people involved in the conflict, and for many of the people involved in the violence, Church is far removed from their agenda, let alone their understanding of Christian faith. Someone who might state they are fiercely Protestant, perhaps hasn't been in Church since they were baptized at all. Also, there are Catholics who adhere to their Church nominally who didn't adhere to their Church or to the teachings of their Pastors about violence, and may do quite the opposite of those teachings. So it is too simple to say it is Catholic and Protestant.
What people are saying is that Catholic represents the Nationalist, indigenous, Catholic people of Ireland. And Protestant represents the settler people. When there was conflict over land, there was said to be conflict between Catholic and Protestant, in a shorthand way of referring to the sides.
That is not to say that religion has not been used. He already spoke of the Protestant clergyman who said it was okay to take tea together but not to pray together. Religion has been used by the Church leaders in the past to add to the conflict. Certainly, among the Protestants it was not considered wise to be too close to the Catholics who were so lost in their beliefs. The Catholic Church once had the position that Catholics cannot go the weddings or funerals of Protestants. They weren't to go into a Protestant Church. And it is wrong to marry a Protestant, and if you do, the children must be raised Catholic. All of that contributes to suspicion, division, and fear, and this very quickly can turn into hatred. On the other hand, a Church which has as a statement of belief that the Pope is the anti-Christ or Satan, as the Protestants once did, that doesn't do much for building good relations, does it?
It all gets mixed up. On the one hand we want to say it has much more to do with territory than theology, it has much more to do with culture than with creed. That's true! But on the other hand that religion has been used as a wedge to put suspicion and fear between people. And its gone unchallenged by the Churches, largely, and they allowed it to brew. They allowed people like Mr. Paisley to build their empires upon that kind of fear and suspicion.
Whether it's America or South Africa or Ireland, the settlers tend to have the feeling they are a chosen people. The Protestants in Ireland will tell you they have a responsibility because this is the land that God gave them. You may think that's ignorant. Reverend Good was in Texas recently he noticed on the breakfast table a little carton. It was from the Promised Land Dairy. There was a quotation from Deuteronomy (26:9), “He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey;”
We all have to think about how our religion, our biblical journey has impacted upon our politics. That is what has happened in Ireland. The Irish don't have a dairy called The Promised Land Dairy, but there are people who think this is the land that God gave them and that nobody can challenge that. They feel they have a right to be here and they had a right to take somebody else's land because it was God who gave it to them. (For those who don't know, the northern province of Ireland, called Ulster, was colonized, to use a neutral term, by peoples from Great Britain, mostly from Scotland, where they originally moved mostly into unoccupied areas, after the Flight of the Earls. This colonization took place in the 1600s.)
In 1922 the indigenous people wanted to become independent of Great Britain and came to be called Republicans as they were committed to a new republic. They happened to be mostly (Roman) Catholic. The settlers wanted to stay in union with Great Britain and came to be called Unionists as they wanted to stay in union. They were mostly Protestant. The simple seeming solution in 1922 was to draw a line and say those south of this line would be in an independent republic and those north would stay in a relationship with Great Britain. But the populace wasn't so neatly divided; therein lies the recipe for continued conflict.
This talk is continued at a blog posting entitled "First Stepping Stones to Peace In Ireland".