This question has been raised in a number of debates over the last few months: online, on the air, and in newspapers. But believe it or not, there is a precedent for Christians in Northern Ireland making a significant contribution to conflict transformation. Probably the best example of this is the organisation Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI), the heyday of which was the mid 1980s to about 2005.
My first book, Evangelicalism and Conflict in Northern Ireland (Palgrave, 2008) featured the work of ECONI and in the two-minute video below, I explain what I think it was that made ECONI so effective:
- It was a religious organisation rather than a denomination or an ecumenical body – this made it more dynamic and flexible. So ECONI was able to ask more challenging questions and to better engage in grassroots work than other types of religious structures.
- It was a self-critical religious organisation. What was so important about ECONI is that it articulated a critique of traditional Northern Irish evangelical theologies, which are based on Calvinist concepts that equate Ulster Protestants with God’s ‘Chosen People.’ ECONI argued, from the Bible, that these ideas were wrong. It also articulated alternative Biblical visions, often drawn from the Anabaptist tradition, of Christians as a ‘model’ alternative community, repenting for their own sins and reaching out to the traditional ‘enemy.’
What was formerly ECONI now exists as ‘Contemporary Christianity,’ and on Thursday 10 October the group will have a 25th Anniversary Re-Launch of what might be considered its founding document, For God and His Glory Alone. Originally signed by 200 evangelical leaders, more than 10,000 copies were eventually distributed.
Astute readers will immediately see how For God and His Glory Alone is a re-stating of the infamous For God and Ulster slogan – a slogan which ECONI consistently critiqued as a distorted and idolatrous form of religious nationalism.
The re-launch will happen at 10.30 am at Skainos, 239 Newtownards Road in Belfast. Contemporary Christianity have this to say about the event:
We are delighted that at this re-launch we will have some people who were instrumental in developing this booklet 25 years ago alongside some contemporary leaders who feel that the need for this booklet today is as urgent as it was when originally published.
I am among those who think that there is still an urgent need for Christian activism. If the re-launch can draw further attention to the need for Christian activism – as has been an aim of the recent ‘Hope and History’ campaign – it could be the beginning of a more focused and committed approach among Christians in what remains a still very much divided society.
Copies of For God and His Glory Alone will be available at the launch and it is also accessible online. The booklet offers reflections on ten biblical principles relevant to Christian witness in a divided community:
- Justice and Righteousness
Catherwood Lecture by David Porter, Thursday 10 October
Then at 8 pm on 10 October, also at Skainos, Canon David Porter will deliver Contemporary Christianity’s annual Catherwood Lecture on ‘Justice, Mercy and Walking with God: The Mission of the Church and the Future of Reconciliation in Northern Ireland.’
Porter is a co-founder and former director of ECONI, who served on the Community Relations Council, the Civic Forum and the Consultative Group on the Past (Eames/Bradley). Since 2008, he has been the Canon Director for Reconciliation Ministry at Coventry Cathedral and in February 2013 was appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director for Reconciliation. In Lambeth he is one of three advisors supporting Archbishop Justin Welby.
The lecture seems like a good opportunity to further reflect on themes that will no doubt be raised at the For God and His Glory Alone re-launch.
In Conversation with Fran Porter, Tuesday 8 October
And if that’s not enough for one week, on Tuesday 8 October at 7.30 pm at their offices at 21 Ormeau Avenue in Belfast, Contemporary Christianity hosts one of its regular ‘Conversations.’ This time it features Dr Fran Porter on ‘Disorderly Women and Men: Gender Relations After Christendom: Thinking about Gender the Bible and Christian Mission.’
Fran Porter is a freelance social and theological researcher, writer and teacher. Fran has carried out two research projects for the Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland, published as Changing Women, Changing Worlds: Evangelical Women in Church, Community and Politics (2002), and Faith in A Plural Society: The Values, Attitudes and Practices of Churches in Protecting Minority Participation (2008). She is now living in the Midlands, England where she is a Research Scholar at The Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Foundation in Birmingham and an Associate at Coventry University’s Applied Research Centre in Sustainable Regeneration. Fran is currently writing Women and Men After Christendom for the Paternoster After Christendom series.