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.)