Returning to the Hard Gospel?

hardgospelChurch of Ireland Archbishop Michael Jackson’s recent comments about sectarianism and his unveiling (and critique) of the derogatory language of ‘Polyester Protestants’ has created quite a stir, as reflected in this morning’s Letters page in the Irish Times.

(An abridged version of my blog post from yesterday on this topic appears among the Letters. Thanks to Philip McKinley for suggesting I submit it.)

I concluded my post and letter by echoing Jackson’s recommendation that a good step forward for the Church of Ireland would be to pick up where its ‘Hard Gospel’ project had left off.

Jon Hatch, who recently completed his doctorate at the Irish School of Ecumenics, also commented on my post, and I think it’s worth highlighting what he said:

It’s depressing to think that a ‘sequel’ to the Hard Gospel project is what is needed, but as my own research explored, it’s part of an unfortunately familiar pattern. Having helped to develop similar resources for other organisations, the way I’d describe the situation is one where funding for a three-year project becomes available to develop a series of resources to help in the addressing of some important issue or another (sectarianism, diversity, racism, etc.). The production process is incredibly rewarding, and quality work is produced. When it’s all done, it is launched with a good deal of fanfare- developers, participants, stakeholders, perhaps even a government minister are all there.

But as we have now seen with ‘Hard Gospel’, every parish on the island has a large book and a box full of resources in a closet somewhere not doing a whole lot of anything.

In short, there’s a lot of energy and funding for the development of reconciliation resources, but not as much for the implementation of those resources. And I think that represents a serious gap.

Rather than roll out the whole process again, I think the C of I needs to ransack their parish hall cabinets, dust off all their Hard Gospel gear and give it another serious going-over. That stuff was too good to be let go to waste…

I have made a similar point before. In my address at the ‘Religious Conflict and Difference’ conference in Stranmillis last year, I argued that many of the resources for reconciliation that have been produced by the Irish churches are in danger of being forgotten.

In addition to Hard Gospel materials, these resources include an array of literature and training materials produced over the years by Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI), the Irish School of Ecumenics (ISE), and Corrymeela.

At the time, I urged Christians to return to some of these resources on reconciliation, the insights of which remain as pertinent today as they were when they were first produced during the Troubles.

But unfortunately it is clear to me (and confirmed by the survey results I quoted yesterday) that there is no enthusiastic ‘return to reconciliation’ among Christians on this island. Having said that, the new Irish Churches Peace Project was conceived, in part, to build on prior work on reconciliation.

In the manner of the past launches so aptly described by Jon, the recent launch of the Irish Churches Peace Project attracted ‘the great and the good’ from religious and political spheres. The Project has been generously funded for three years by the EU and OFMDFM.

Is there a place for a return to the original Hard Gospel materials in the wider work of the Irish Churches Peace Project? Or a reclaiming of the many other resources produced by ECONI, ISE, and Corrymeela?

Jon is right – much of the hard thinking has already been done. The difficulty remains in convincing Christians that living faithfully in a society has been violently divided for so long means working intentionally to transcend those divisions.

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