This week we continue with Fr Martin Magill’s experiences of ecumenical tithing. Last night he visited Fitzroy Presbyterian in Belfast, where Prof John Brewer of Queen’s University spoke on the findings in his new book, Religion, Ex Combatants and Peace in Northern Ireland, co-authored with David Mitchell and Gerard Leavey. (I earlier reviewed the book on the Slugger O’Toole blog).
Visit to Fitzroy Presbyterian – Prof John Brewer on Religion and Ex Combatants
I went back to the evening service at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church last night as I was keen to hear Professor John Brewer on the role of religion in the lives of ex combatants in Northern Ireland. Paul Lutton, a member of the congregation, welcomed us and prayed for our time together – I was very struck by how skilfully Paul had constructed the prayer – I have included it in my next post.
John covered a variety of issues on the part religion played in the lives of ex combatants caught up in the conflict here. He quoted from some of the interviews he did with some ex combatants which raised various issues for the churches.
For the purposes of this post here are some of the issues which stood out for me:
1. Prisoners mattered to Jesus therefore they should matter to the institutional Church
2. Churches as institutions have played very little part in the peace process – there have been some prophetic people but by and large not prophetic leadership
3. Ex combatants find the institutional Church a cold environment
4. Beneath the rhetoric of the cause, there are profound issues of guilt and shame for some ex combatants
5. Some Church people don’t see beyond “the masks” of ex combatants
6. Brewer’s research indicated that some Churches did not want to hear the narratives of ex combatants
7. An invitation to “go alongside” ex combatants to hear their stories
8. Some prisoners have a need for forgiveness
9. Some Church leaders were very vocal in their condemnation of the ‘horrendous violence’ during the conflict but where are they now in the peace process? How come they are not in the public square leading discussions on forgiveness – tolerance – hope?
10. From the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 – Churches have a responsibility to deal with those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers or in prison.
Then there followed a time of questions (some very good ones) and reflection – Brewer suggested that the Church had not confronted its role in the conflict or dealt with the past.
There was a desire that Fitzroy provide an opportunity for ex combatants come and tell their story – one suggestion was that Fitzroy invite some Republican and Loyalist ex combatants to tell their stories together.
The above were the main points which were figural for me – I hope I have indicated that the event certainly gave much cause for thought and out of it John Brewer’s reflections will contribute to the responsibility which followers of Jesus have arising from Matthew 25.
Paul Lutton’s prayer for the evening service – “Faith on Trial” with Professor John Brewer
Thank you for John and for the challenge he will pose to us this evening. In our relatively peaceful society, it can be easy to ignore aspects of our past we would rather forget. And so we ask that we will learn from John and the time he has spent thinking about those who saw violence as a means to achieve their aims, perhaps even in the name of religion.
Amidst our discussion, may we be mindful of the words Jesus spoke when he called us to be peacemakers in a world of violence. Lord, this is not an easy task – it requires courage, commitment and self-sacrifice – qualities that do not come naturally to us. And yet, you are a God who works through us in spite of our inadequacies. Help us as individuals, and as a church, broken and imperfect as we may be, to take seriously your command to be builders of peace.
May we beware naivety and reject trite platitudes, as we think seriously about the role religion has played in conflict. In particular, let us not avoid uncomfortable truths or bury our heads in the sand when remembering the history of violence in this land. Instead, help us to learn and to grow to be peacemakers for your sake.