United Society celebrates 300 years in Ireland with Dublin and Enniskillen services of thanksgiving
The Anglican mission agency, the United Society (Us.), has been continuing to celebrate its 300th anniversary in Ireland with recent services of thanksgiving in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen.
The organisation was originally formed in 1701 as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), becoming the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1965 and rebranding as Us. in November 2012.
FORGIVING A MASS MURDERER?
Bishop Desmond Tutu was last week reported by the Anglican Communion News Service and the Johannesburg-based The Sowetan newspaper as having urged Norwegians to forgive the mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, who in 2011 killed eight people in a bomb attack in Oslo before opening fire at a Workers’ Youth League camp on the island of Utøya, killing 69 people, mostly teenagers. Bishop Tutu was quoted as having added during a press conference at the Oslo Nobel Peace Centre: “God hates no one.”
The Sowetan also quoted Trond Henry Blattmann, President of the support group for relatives of the victims and the father of one of the dead, as saying he was unable to forgive a criminal who had shown no remorse, and as having added: “Quite the opposite, he says that he would have liked to take more lives and that he would gladly do it again.”
Of course, as Bishop Tutu said, God hates no one. Yet, does God forgive everyone, whether or not they are contrite? It is noteworthy, in this regard, that in the Book of Common Prayer, absolution always follows confession, the priest declaring that Almighty God forgives “all who truly repent”. Those who do not truly repent we must leave to God’s mercy.
In his book, God has a Dream, Bishop Tutu, while indicating that confession is not “absolutely indispensable” for forgiveness, apparently equivocated on this, writing that “forgiveness is based on true confession” and also stating: “Confession, forgiveness, and reparation, wherever feasible, form part of a continuum.” (Rider, 2005, pp. 53ff) However, there seems to be some frequent confusion between ‘forgiveness’ in its more secular and more religious meanings. In the Oxford English Dictionaries, the word ‘forgive’ is defined as: “Stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake”. Secular understandings of forgiveness tend to see it as essentially about the victim’s eschewing of bitterness, but in religious terms it is best understood as a part – an essential part – of the dynamic of reconciliation. This is the ‘continuum’ to which Bishop Tutu rightly referred.
A victim’s feelings may, of course, be helped by what is sometimes referred to as a ‘letting go’ of a wrong but this does not necessarily establish a new or renewed bond between victim and culprit. Further, it runs a certain danger – the danger of moral confusion through potentially signalling to the culprit that his or her wrongdoing didn’t really matter, or that it was not a wrong at all.
God has a forgiving heart, but he also makes demands on us. Likewise, Christians must have forgiving hearts, while remaining true to the Gospel that does make demands. The demand of God, as of the Gospel, is that we constantly examine ourselves and that when we see we have gone wrong, we should return to him. The father of the prodigal son had a forgiving heart – he was out there on the hills waiting and watching for his son to come back. Yet the two were not reunited until the prodigal son made that vital decision to return to his father. Then again, the example of Christ’s prayer from the Cross that the Father would forgive those who were crucifying him was voiced together with a mitigating reason – that they did not know what they were doing.
It is possible that Anders Behring Breivik did not truly know what he was doing on 22nd July 2011, although in the following year the Oslo court that found him guilty also found him to have been sane. However, he is still loved by God, as is every human being. God’s heart reaches out to him, and so must every Christian’s heart reach out to the wrongdoer, not only recognising wrongdoing but also with forgiveness-in-waiting, as it were, and with the desire for complete reconciliation.
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Letters to the Editor
Unity and diversity in the C of I
At the end of his ‘Rethinking Church ‘ column (Gazette, 19th September), Canon Stephen Neill asks the question: “Are we called to set ourselves apart from all that makes us feel uncomfortable or are we to dive into this messy and often confusing world and discover God afresh in new and unexpected places?”
The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’ to the second part of the question and an unequivocal ‘No’ to the first part. Jesus did the latter, living and ministering in a confusing, messy, unstable world.
At last, the reality of difference (let us not use the word ‘division’ which is too overstated) between North and South within the Church of Ireland has been named and grasped in the columns of our weekly North/South communicator.
I said such a thing 15 years ago at an inter-diocesan retreat and a bishop did a quick job of trying to cover up his embarrassment (and maybe that of others, too) in front of another bishop from a different part of the Anglican Communion.
I realise I am, generally speaking, an eclectic type of guy and some have questioned on which wing of theology and churchmanship I stand. Neither or none, I am glad to say.
I love God-given diversity. I enjoy gentle dialogue and lively debate. I love being changed by God through his servants, whether hierarchical or grass-roots.
Bishop Michael Marshall’s dictum in his book, The Gospel Connection, that to be a biblical Christian one has to be evangelical, catholic, pentecostal and ecumenical, has been an extremely important guiding principal for me. All this does not preclude unity – at the very least the unity of the love of Christ and his Gospel.
I imagine many have a linein- the-sand, as I have, but all the more we need to meet, consult, discuss, be honest, debate, and strive to stay together. More than that, we need to extend unity within the Church of God.
The more we break into ‘holy huddles’, the more sect-like and irrelevant we become. The world is messy and desperately needs the thread of Jesus’ Gospel of love, peace and reconciliation going through it, binding and stitching.
However, let us not ignore reality. Let’s call difference what it is and engage at all levels in the full glare of a world that lives in continual tensions and confusion, and is not interested, except to ridicule, in our doctrinal squabbles.
Are General Synod, central bodies (usually with the same people appearing again and again!), and the Church of Ireland Gazette enough engagement between the Church of Ireland, North and South?
Colin Hall-Thompson (The Revd) The Flying Angel Centre Princes Dock Street Belfast BT1 3AA
I absorbed the death of the Revd Dr Ian Paisley, or Lord Bannside, with shock and disbelief. I think everyone expected this fiery politician turned gentle giant to be around forever, but at 88 the Lord called him home to a higher calling.
The tributes on television were poignant and the words from Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were very moving. It showed just how far the people of Northern Ireland have moved on since the troubled days and Dr Paisley’s positive relationship with Mr McGuinness served as an example of this for all to see, even earning them the nickname of ‘the Chuckle Brothers’.
I had one opportunity to meet Lord Bannside. It was at an event about two years ago or more in a Belfast hotel, at which the former Israeli Ambassador to the UK, His Excellency Mr Ron Proser, was giving an address and I was also speaking. I was sitting on the front row in a large function suite when Dr Paisley walked up and sat down beside me. “I’ve been asked to sit beside you, young man,” he said in that instantly recognisable voice that was his and his alone. I explained that I had been asked to give a tenminute resume of my 10 years working in Israel as a Northern Irish person (non-Jewish) for the Hilton Tel-Aviv during some very difficult times. He related his support for Israel and admiration for Jewish entrepreneurship and pointed out how many times he had visited the country where the well-known Bible stories took place long before Britain even existed.
I asked the ‘Doctor’ for some tips on public speaking, as I was rather nervous about getting up in front of so many people and in front of dignitaries. True to form, he instructed me almost in a gulder: “Just get up there and don’t let them get a word in edgeways!”
That could certainly be said for his own methods over the years which he claimed were instilled into him by his father on top of a mountain. The familiar booming voice will always be remembered and be a part of Ulster history.
I think a more mellow Dr Paisley in his later years helped to formulate and clinch the success of the peace process that only he could have brought about. His lasting legacy will be that peace, which in Hebrew is the beautiful word ‘shalom’. “Shalom, Dr Paisley, it was really nice to have met you.”
Colin Nevin Bangor Co Down BT19
The Provocative Church Author: Graham Tomlin Publisher: SPCK Price: £10.99
STEEL ANGELS: THE PERSONAL QUALITIES OF A PRIEST Author: Magdalen Smith Publisher: SPCK
Ann Travers voices support for Lord Eames over NI definition of victim
Ann Travers, the inspiration behind Stormont’s ‘Ann’s law’ – last year’s Civil Service (Special Advisers) Bill, barring ex-prisoners jailed for five years or more from becoming special political advisers to ministers – has voiced support to the Gazette for former Primate Lord Eames’ recent call for the statutory definition of a victim during Northern Ireland’s Troubles to be changed.
Ms Travers’ sister, Mary, was killed by the Provisional IRA in 1984 at the age of 23 coming out of St Brigid’s church in south Belfast after Mass. Her father, Tom Travers, a magistrate, was shot six times in the attack. An attempt was also made to murder his wife, but the gun misfired twice.
The current definition, in the Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, defines a victim and survivor as someone injured as a result of “a conflict-related incident”, someone who provides a substantial amount of care on a regular basis for such an individual or someone bereaved as a result of such an incident.
Last July, we reported how Lord Eames had told the Gazette that, “despite the difficulties in drafting”, the statutory definition of a victim during the Northern Ireland Troubles needed to take account of a distinction between those who were engaged in lawful activity and those who were engaged in unlawful activity, revealing that he had “argued the point with politicians frequently” and had discussed drafting problems, including those around the term ‘victim’, with civil servants.
In a 2nd July article, the Belfast Telegraph’s political editor, Liam Clarke, wrote that Lord Eames’ comments to us were “a reversal of the position that the former Archbishop adopted in the 2009 report of the Consultative Group on the Past which he co-authored with Denis Bradley”, quoting Mr Bradley as having said he wanted to meet Lord Eames to “clarify his comments”. Mr Clarke also pointed out that the issue of defining victims had “largely led to the shelving of the [CGP] report”. The issue was also a sticking point in last year’s Haass discussions.
However, Ms Travers has now responded to Lord Eames’ call, telling the Gazette: “I welcome Lord Eames’ view. In no way can perpetrators be equated with their victims.”
She said that, regarding victims, there was “a moral differentiation” to be made, with perpetrators being victims of their own “poor choices, circumstances and perhaps brainwashing by others”, but adding that they nonetheless had chosen “to get up that morning, get ready for their day with the full knowledge another human being would be dead by the evening”.
Ms Travers acknowledged that “the family members of perpetrators are also victims in their own ways, made so by the consequences of the perpetrators’ actions”. She said she felt that if there was to be progress on the matter, a moral differentiation of victims had to be “recognised and acknowledged by all and reflected by legislation”.
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