The Churches and Reconciliation in Ireland: Opportunities (at the Centre for the Study of Irish Protestantism)

gladysYesterday I blogged about the first part of a paper I presented at a colloquium organised by the new Centre for the Study of Irish Protestantism (CSIP) and the Kennedy Institute on Conflict Resolution at the National University of Ireland in Maynooth.

I spoke on ‘The Churches and Reconciliation in Ireland: Challenges and Opportunities,’ in an event that marked the visit of Rev Dr Roy Patton, the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, to the University. Today I continue with the second part of my talk, focusing on ‘Opportunities.’

The Churches and Reconciliation in Ireland: Opportunities

This portion of my talk covered much of the same ground as an earlier lecture I gave titled, Religion, Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Northern Ireland, at the ‘Religious Conflict and Difference’ conference at Stranmillis College in Belfast in September 2012.

A revised version of that lecture will be published in a forthcoming book edited by John Wolffe, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims: Irish “Religious” Conflict in Comparative Perspective (Palgrave).

I focused on reclaiming the ‘religious resources for reconciliation’ developed during the years of violence in Northern Ireland by groups such as Corrymeela, the Irish School of Ecumenics (ISE), and Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI).

I noted that from a sociological perspective, these groups have had much more flexibility and freedom than denominations, which makes them structurally better-disposed to get involved in reconciliation work.

For me, the key ‘religious resources’ to focus on are:

  1. How Corrymeela and ISE, in particular, emphasised the importance of reconciliation at different levels, i.e. individual, social, political, economic, etc. This is in contrast to the very individualistic conceptions of reconciliation that seem to predominate among Christians on this island, as I noted yesterday.
  2. How ECONI emphasised the importance of repentance. ECONI’s brand of repentance did not involve waiting for whoever was perceived as the ‘perpetrator’ to repent, so that they could then be forgiven. Rather, ECONI advocated a form of self-critical repentance, in which the churches should publicly repent for their role in contributing to division (and by extension violence), both through word and deed.

maynooth crowdI then asked whether the denominational churches in Ireland – especially the Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic – could overcome the structural barriers associated with being institutions and to contribute to reconciliation in our current, ‘post-violence’ phase. I suggested that the new Irish Churches Peace Project could be one such vehicle for this, but it is as yet just getting off the ground and therefore untested. Further, it seems to me one area where the churches – either through this project or by other means – could contribute is through raising issues of how to ‘deal with the past’ in the public sphere.

I concluded by briefly outlining other strategies I had discussed in more depth in Stranmillis, including (see the links at the end of today’s post to explore these points in more detail):

  • Educational programmes
  • Adopting Neo-Monastic principles
  • Liturgical Reforms

Finally, I closed with some further questions, including:

  • Do the churches have anything distinctive to offer in terms of visions for the future?
  • How can the churches listen to what others have to say about their role in conflict and reconciliation? (should churches repent, as institutions?)
  • How could churches, on an all-island basis, engage in a wider process of reconciliation?

If the churches wish to live out any credible witness on this island, they will need to provide some perspectives (even answers?) to those questions – or risk sliding further into irrelevance.

Other Resources – Series based on Stranmillis Lecture

Religion, Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Northern Ireland: Some Initial Reflections (Part 1) – includes a bibliography of academic research on religion and reconciliation in Northern Ireland

Churches and Reconciliation: Challenges for Christian Leadership? (Part 2)

Religion, Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Northern Ireland – The Role of Education for Reconciliation (Part 3)

Religion, Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Northern Ireland – Principles of Neo-Monastic Living (Part 4)

Religion, Reconciliation and Reconstruction in Northern Ireland – Liturgical Reforms and Conclusions (Part 5)

Further Resources

Irish School of Ecumenics’ Education for Reconciliation Programme

Review of Event Celebrating ISE’s Education for Reconciliation

Review of Johnston McMaster and Cathy Higgins’ Doing Community Theology

Download-able Text of Doing Community Theology

Online Courses Produced by ISE’s Education for Reconciliation

(Images – Gladys Ganiel speaking in Maynooth; Some of those present at the event, including front left to right – Dr Philip Nolan, President of NUI Maynooth, Rev Dr Roy Patton, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, next row – Tony Walsh, Academic Director of the Centre for the Study of Irish Protestantism, next row – Peter Cassells from the Kennedy Centre for Conflict Resolution)

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