William Scholes: What do the Churches have to do with the Maze Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre?

Maze_Prison_-_geograph_-_341034Yesterday’s Irish News carried an intriguing piece by Religion Correspondent William Scholes on the Maze Peace building and Conflict Resolution Centre, and the potential role of the churches in leading debate around what will happen at the site.

In light of recent discussions around how churches and Christians can contribute to reconciliation, Scholes asserts that the Protestant churches, in particular, could ‘counterbalance … fears that the peace centre will be little more than a shrine to terrorism.’

Such a proposition is interesting, but ambitious.

Scholes argues that the DUP has gone out on a limb in supporting the centre, facing lots of opposition from within Protestantism/Unionism/Loyalism. He thinks that the Protestant churches might be the DUP’s only friends when it comes to thinking about ways in which people all across the community could identify with the centre.

Scholes writes:

This presents a challenge to the mainstream Protestant churches within which the Orange Order is embedded, particularly the Church of Ireland and Presbyterian Church. In the interests of reconciliation, will Protestant church leaders have the courage to support the DUP and Sinn Fein peace centre plan or will fear of the Orange Order and its influence within their structures and congregations lead to equivocation?

Support from the Protestant Churches could be a hefty counterbalance to fears that the peace centre will be little more than a shrine to terrorism.

It would also be an example of the sort of prophetic leadership that the Churches are mandated to model.

Properly dealing with the past, confronting sectarianism and building peace will, if it is to bring reconciliation, bring us all into difficult places. The Maze prison is one of them.

I am far from certain that church leaders (ones with wide legitimacy) are willing or able to take up the challenge Scholes suggests – though I would welcome it if they could. Scholes rightly identifies some of the challenges faced in Protestant congregations, and I heard about many more such challenges Friday when I attended a talk by Keith Hamilton, the director of the new Irish Churches Peace Project (which I will blog about in the coming week).

One way that I think that Christians and church leaders could constructively begin talking about the past, and how to commemorate it (not just in the Maze but in other ways and places), is through the language of lament.

The Hebrew Bible is full of passages recounting grief and suffering, reminding us of the tremendous waste of life that follows in the wake of conflict. That’s what comes to my mind when I think of the Maze.

(Image of the Maze sourced on Wikipedia)

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