The ‘We are More than Orange & Green’ Facebook page has been asking people from various walks of life and professions to answer four questions about contemporary Northern Ireland.
If you are on Facebook, like the page to make sure you don’t miss any responses.
Here’s my contribution:
“Christians need to get that sense that we are all in this together, and take deliberate steps to live that way.”
Gladys Ganiel, Research Fellow in the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s takes on the four questions…
1. In relation to NI, from your professional perspective, what do you see happening right now that causes you concern?
I am an academic, and my main area of research is the role of religion in conflict and reconciliation – with a focus on Northern Ireland. What concerns me is that I don’t see much happening at all. Churches and Christian organizations don’t seem to be promoting reconciliation or participating in public debates about our future, to the extent that they did in the past. (You can see an article I wrote with John Brewer about this)
There are some notable exceptions – like Corrymeela, which recently seems to have upped its game with public engagement around key issues like Brexit. And there are prominent individual clergy promoting reconciliation and living it out. But they are a minority.
The promised upcoming consultation on how we deal with our past could be an opportunity for the churches to draw on their experiences of providing pastoral care and support during the Troubles, and promoting reconciliation (to the extent that they did this during the Troubles – which is debateable), and contribute constructively to public debate. But I am not confident that churches and Christian organizations will seize this opportunity. (You can see an article I wrote about this here)
2. How do you feel about that?
It is frustrating. There is so much within our Christian traditions that could help our society as we struggle to address trauma and learn how to live together. Jesus talked a lot about forgiveness and loving your enemy; the Psalmists show us that it is legitimate to grieve, to be angry, and to question why God allows evil in this world.
3. What does the field in which you work need?
I would love to see the churches commit to the idea that if you are a Christian in Northern Ireland, promoting reconciliation should be central to your Christian identity. It is not an optional add-on, something you do after some other religious obligations are fulfilled. Right now, I am writing a biography of the late Fr Gerry Reynolds, who served in Clonard Monastery. In his diaries, he once wrote of his dismay that many Catholics he knew (including other priests), only thought of Catholics as ‘our people.’ When he looked out the windows of Clonard, over the peace wall and into the Shankill, he thought of the Protestants who lived there as ‘our people’ too. Christians need to get that sense that we are all in this together, and take deliberate steps to live that way.
I would love to see all our denominations taking issues of reconciliation more seriously as they train ministers. This includes preparing ministers to provide pastoral care to victims who are still suffering, many decades after injury or bereavement. Those wounds don’t just go away. But it can’t be left entirely up to ministers – laity have to begin to see societal reconciliation as more important or we won’t get anywhere.
4. What requests are you making, both to our elected representatives and to people in general?
Our elected representatives aren’t really the ones to take on this work; unless they consider themselves Christians. If they do, I would include them in this quest to make reconciliation central to what it means to be a Christian here. The ‘people in general’ who need to take this on are the ones who are sitting in the pews every Sunday. That’s the challenge.