There is a report on the Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine, USA) webpage about a public lecture I gave there last month, ‘How Some (But Only Some) Church Leaders Helped Build Peace in Northern Ireland.’
Bowdoin College is the alma mater of Senator George J Mitchell, who chaired the peace talks that produced the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.
Bowdoin staff reporter Tom Porter focuses on my account of the peacemaking work of Fr Alec Reid and Fr Gerry Reynolds at Clonard Monastery; as well as the efforts of the group Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI).
Porter concludes the article with some of my thoughts on the lessons that can be learned from Northern Ireland in terms of the role religion can play in making peace, which I have reproduced below. And while I by and large stand by my comment that ‘mainstream’ church leaders could have done more to make peace, I would add a caveat here that there was not enough time in my lecture to analyse the contributions that were made by other church leaders and even by some of the denominations themselves. Such could be the subject of many more books!
Does Religion Have a Role in Keeping the Peace? – Excerpt from Bowdoin College Report
There are some important lessons to be learned from the Northern Ireland experience about conflict resolution, said Ganiel. “One key point is that in situations where religion has played a role in the conflict, it also needs to play a part in the solution. Another key take-away is that you cannot make any progress until you’re prepared to talk to the practitioners of violence.”
These are not lessons that everyone has taken on board, she added. Although the peace has, by and large, held in Northern Ireland, the province remains a deeply segregated society, and the church on both sides of the divide shares some of the blame for this, said Ganiel.
“Religious leaders like those in ECONI and the Clonard Monastery played a crucial role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, but they were outliers. It was left to individuals like Reid, Reynolds, and others, to do what the mainstream church leaders themselves should have been doing. Many say the churches lost legitimacy during the troubles, and they have a point.”
(Image: Fr Gerry Reynolds and me outside Clonard Monastery in 2013)