Twelfth Disturbances: Blessed are the Arrogant?

image There have been plenty of commentaries posted in cyber space, and angry calls to radio talk shows, about the violence around the Twelfth over the last few days. I will refrain from summarising this almost endless stream of information, or pointing fingers about who is to blame for the violence in in the run-up and the aftermath of the Twelfth parades.

There are plenty of others who have assigned the blame for the violence to one or the other ‘side.’ And others who have protested that the Orange Order itself doesn’t participate in or promote the violence that seems to inevitably accompany the Twelfth. After all, ‘Orange Fest’ is supposed to be a fun day out for all.

But writing in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph, Malachi O’Doherty is spot on in his judgement that what actually happens on the Twelfth sits uncomfortably with the Order’s Christian self-image:

When Orangemen urge us to respect their carnival, they try to turn our attention away from the drunkenness and the sectarian bonfire parties to the serious religious core of it.

…. While they want to be regarded as Christian, they are weak on their commitment to loving their neighbour. For years the lodges have taken the ambiguous position of insisting that they have no part in the sectarian brutishness of some of the bands and the hangers-on.

But the outsider sees only the one big festival and wonders why people who regard themselves as decent Christians don’t distance themselves from the hatemongers who want to join in.

But these are old questions that the Orange Order has had decades to reflect on and provide answers to and their failure suggests they aren’t bothered by them.

They will march and beat their drums through streets, indifferent to the fact that thousands of their neighbours have simply gone away for the week and left them to it.

And they will never ask themselves why they are unloved.

Of course, because that commentary was written by someone with a name that marks him out as from the ‘other side,’ some will question the legitimacy of his attempt to analyse the Twelfth.

But back in the mid-1990s, the group Evangelical Contribution to Northern Ireland (ECONI), now the Centre for Contemporary Christianity, wrote an Open Letter to the Orange Order, raising some of those very same questions.

Others from the Protestant traditions have also asked questions like:

  • Would Jesus have insisted on exercising his ‘rights’ if it meant that people were going to get hurt?
  • What makes the Orange Order so insecure that to re-route a parade is seen as a major ‘defeat’? Is this a genuinely Christian analysis?
  • What message do people get when the biblical motifs of the Orange banners are so strongly associated with the militarism of many of the flute bands that accompany the Orange lodges en route?

You can still read a 1997 edition of ECONI’s magazine Lion and Lamb online which reflects extensively on theologies and the actions of the Orange Order. Depressingly, much of the material in it could have been written this past week.

I am not one that thinks that the Orange tradition and the Twelfth holiday are hopelessly unredeemable or irrelevant; in fact, along with local historian Philip Orr I help to facilitate a summer school on ‘Understanding Loyalism’ for my students on our Master’s in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation. It ran this year the 9-12th July and included hearing from people who are working hard to promote peaceful and non-sectarian expressions of Protestant, Unionist, Loyalist and Orange traditions – especially this time of year.

But that 1997 edition of Lion and Lamb, now 14 years old, contains an apt poem by Steve Stockman (now the minister at Fitzroy Presbyterian but then a chaplain at Queen’s University). I think it’s worth another read in July 2011, and sadly suspect that this will be so come July 2012 (see page 7).

Blessed are the Arrogant

on these charred streets of belfast

there are scars on minds and hearts

the only thing we do together

is to rip one another apart

it’s hard to find the chinks of light

in this god forsaken place

if he don’t send his judgement down

it’s an even more amazing grace.

and cursed are the peace makers

for they might compromise

cursed are those who mourn

for they might apologise

cursed are the poor in spirit

for they might confess and regret

and cursed are the merciful

for they might forgive and forget

and cursed are the meek

for they won’t ride their high horse

but blessed are the arrogant

for they will maintain this curse.

on these broken hearts of belfast

there are spoken open lies

no matter what your fancy dress

the truth can’t be disguised

we belligerently spit in the face of god

and this miraculous peace time space

if god don’t send his judgement down

then it’s an even more amazing grace.

(From Steve Stockman’s poetry collection ‘skeletons’)

(Image of recent violence from BBC website.)

3 Responses to Twelfth Disturbances: Blessed are the Arrogant?

  1. rodney neill July 15, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    An excellent post!

    Rodney

  2. rhodian July 16, 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    hmmm… I think it’s a mistake to associate stocki’s poem necessarily with the orange order, but that said, if they’re not irredeemable or irrelevant, what are some of the good things about them?

  3. Tanya July 18, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Thanks for this post, Gladys; I would agree with your analysis and the importance of the questions you raise. I’d just like to add a couple of comments from our perspective as English Catholics in County Fermanagh. My husband is in the unusual position of being a member of a local silver band which plays on the Twelfth and at other Orange Order events and so is able to see the day from a few interestingly contrasting points of view.

    The first thing to mention is that the Twelfth here doesn’t come with the weight of bitterness and conflict that it carries in Belfast. The main marches change their location from year to year and generally avoid the more Catholic towns and villages. The overall attitude among Catholics is a tolerant ‘live and let live’ one, and most, as in Belfast, simply melt away on holiday or keep a carefully low profile. I think that there is hurt, though; I certainly feel it myself. Principally this stems from seeing what the marchers are doing in Belfast and the hatred which they are knowingly provoking. But it’s also personal. The Orange Order claim to have no animosity towards individual Catholics, only to the Church. How does that work? “I’ve got nothing against you but your faith is fundamentally in error and your collective prayers misguided (if not worse).” Can any Christian hear that message without pain? It’s like walking into a pub and saying to the man beside you at the bar, “I’m sure you’re a good bloke but your mum’s a bit of a slapper,” and being righteously indignant at the punch to your nose. Fermanagh Catholics don’t do much nose-punching but it’s an odd sensation, especially when, like me, you move in mainly ‘integrated’ circles to have a few friends suddenly celebrating the highlight of their year from which the rest are excluded.

    And the exclusion is real, perhaps the more so for not always being spelled out. The local tourist board includes the marches on their website though tellingly with few details. At the moment the events exist in a conveniently ambiguous space, boxed in by conveniently vague and emotive words like ‘tradition’ and ‘heritage’. To move on, they really need to become one thing or the other. If they are genuine community festivals, then others need not simply to be tolerated but actively to be welcomed, with specific invitations to Catholic and non-Christian participants. A model for this kind of event would be the very successful Saint Patrick’s Day parade held in Enniskillen this year, which included bands from both ‘sides’ along with the prize-winning float from the multi-ethnic, inter-faith Women of the World. If not, then this should be made clear and tourists advised that they are watching the remnant of a centuries-old grudge. What is more, leaders of churches which pride themselves upon their fellowship and dialogue with their Catholic brethren should consider their positions – is it really appropriate to be lending credence to an expression so at odds with the inter-church endeavour?

    There’s also the question of money. I don’t know how the finances work, but would be very surprised if the Orange Order paid for the policing of these events. And, if they are truly open, free, community celebrations, there is no reason why they should. But if not… As in many things, money probably matters more than we realise. I was slightly shocked to read in Malachi O’Doherty’s piece that the bandsmen in Belfast can be significantly more sectarian than the Lodge members themselves. In the West, at least among the brass bands, this is emphatically not the case. It takes over five years to become a proficient player of a brass instrument, especially to master the co-ordination and agility required simultaneously to read music, play, march, follow directions and avoid tripping over small children and dogs. The bands meet every week to practice, all year round, and their commitment is to the music and to one another, not to the Protestant cause. Of course some players are individual members of Lodges, but more and more are seeking out opportunities for cross-community activities and for positive partnerships mirroring those experienced by schools across the county which take part in the extraordinarily successful Shared Education Programme. Sadly, instruments and uniforms are expensive, and the Orange Order holds the purse strings. Many, probably most, bands could not survive without their financial support. But if the Orange Order were to pay its way, public money might be liberated to support more integrated musical events and relationships.

    Personally, I would like to see the inclusive option chosen and ‘Orange Fest’ become a reality. I’d like to see the Lodges follow the example set by local children, parents, schools, musicians, students, clergy, and all those who have been willing to set aside a little of their certainty in love of their neighbour. Perhaps it will happen – stranger things have. And, after all, Ulster could always do with a bit more carnival…

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