Church leaders call for political parties to ‘Go the extra mile’
Ireland’s Church leaders have written to the leaders of the ve main political parties involved in the Northern Ireland talks process. They strongly encouraged them “to go the extra mile” to create an accommodation that works “for the common good of all in our society”.
The letter, which was also copied to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, highlighted the fact that without an agreed budget, or Executive ministers in place to make crucial decisions, both the most vulnerable people, and the small voluntary and community groups that serve them are at risk.
Sent by the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, the President of the Irish Council of Churches and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the letter also made the point that “little co-ordinated local input into the Brexit discussions” has taken place “and even less detailed preparation for what
lies ahead for Northern Ireland and the island as a whole” can happen without a functioning Executive in place.
THE COST OF POLITICAL UNCERTAINTY
Does political uncertainty in Northern Ireland really matter? Is there a cost to not having a sustainable administration in Stormont? Ireland’s Church leaders obviously think so, given that they have written to the leaders of the five main political parties (front page). It is hard to disagree with them, no matter what part of this island we come from.
One person recently described to me how the lack of an administration was affecting government spending, with a direct impact on local businesses. The lack of political progress is having an effect on people’s livelihoods.
I heard another person talking of the impact of Brexit on businesses on both sides of the border. Uncertainty is never good for business and he talked of how preparations needed to be put in place to prepare for Brexit. This bears out the Church leaders comments that “little co-ordinated local input into the Brexit discussions” has taken place, “and even less detailed preparation for what lies ahead for Northern Ireland and the island as a whole” can happen without a functioning Executive in place. More impact on people’s livelihoods!
The absence of an agreed budget and a functioning Executive is also having a profound effect on the community and voluntary sector. Jobs are at risk and services to our most vulnerable are now endangered. It is not just livelihoods that are being affected, it is people’s wellbeing.
Something that the Church leaders did not reference but that is also worth mentioning is the effect on our international reputation. Political uncertainty is rarely a good backdrop when seeking to attract inward investment. However, it is about more than that. Is the uncertainty diminishing the reputation of our politics in the eyes of the rest of the world? Will others find it harder to take our political stalemate seriously as they manage their own challenges?
All the above, and more, are creating something else in our community. We are a people that love our politics – we feel passionately about it. But there is a jadedness creeping in as we realise that lack of progress has an impact that can be felt. On livelihoods. On businesses. On services to our most vulnerable. It is not just about politics anymore. It is affecting everyday life in very practical ways – no matter what our political persuasion or side of the border we live on.
We don’t envy the challenges that our political leaders face. It is a task few of us would relish, no matter how much we shout at the TV. In that sense the Church leaders’ letter struck the right note. Little would have been achieved by adding a hectoring or angry tone. Nevertheless, the start of their letter is straight and to the point when they state: “It has been some 114 days since March’s election to the Northern Ireland Assembly.” The end is equally to the point when they encourage the political parties to establish “a sustainable administration that will work for the common good of all in our society”.
The challenge the political parties face is about more than brokering a deal to get around the immediate impasse. It is about finding a way to break a cycle of mistrust and division that creates whatever the latest impasse happens to be. That requires more than leadership. It requires those who can to be statesmen or women. Otherwise we are condemned to watching history repeat itself politically.
Using the language of his time Winston Churchill describes the difference between political leadership and statesmanship. “The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next elections, while the statesman thinks about the next generations.”
We know the difference when we see it.
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Letters to the Editor
I WAS interested to read Muriel Armstrong’s letter (Beautification Service – 23rd June 2017) regarding Archbishop Michael Jackson’s presence at the beatification ceremony of Fr John Sullivan, S.J. on Saturday 13th May in St Francis Xavier Church, Dublin.
The Sullivan family had strong links as parishioners with Holy Trinity Church, Killiney. On 16th October 1877 an appalling accident took place in Killiney Bay in which Robert Sullivan, John’s brother, and Constance Exham, aged 17, were drowned when their hired sailing boat hit rocks in a strong and steady wind. Constance’s brother who was with them survived; their father was a leading Queen’s Counsel. Robert was the son of Edward Sullivan, then Master of the Rolls. Both families lived locally.
Three memorials in Holy Trinity involving both families remind us of this tragedy. For many parishioners the tablet in memory of Robert contains a profundity rarely matched and the words from Isaiah strike deep. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.”
John Sullivan was in London with his father at the time. While it is impossible to say what effect this tragedy had on him, it must have been devastating. Some years later John converted to his mother’s religion; the rest is history.
I greatly appreciate Archbishop Jackson’s particularly appropriate participation at Fr Sullivan’s beatification ceremony, the first in Ireland.
David Millar Killiney Co. Dublin
Same-sex marriage debate
IN HIS letter of 23rd June, the Revd Trevor Johnston, taking issue with Canon Ginnie Kennerley, advocates that LGBT+ Christians in committed relationships should be proscribed from being members of the Church of Ireland based on historical and early 20th century interpretation of Scriptures, as he and others of this opinion understand them.
I believe that a central point has been lost in this debate and refer to a letter from the Very Revd David Godfrey (16th June) in which he posed what I believe is the fundamental question on which this issue rests: “What God do we believe in?”
What God has been revealed to us by loving parents and grandparents since childhood? What God has been expounded by such faithful pastors as the Revd Godfrey? What God were we taught about in Sunday School? As he rightly puts it, referring to the writings of St John the Evangelist, is it “the Lord of truth and love” or “the lord of lies and murder”?
For, we must ask ourselves, what God does the mother or father believe in, standing at their gay son or daughter’s bedside who, feeling unwanted by the Church which baptised them and fearing rejection by family, friends and congregation, decided their only option was to leave this world?
Or, what God do the grandparents believe in awaiting news of a transgender grandchild who, feeling too fearful to confide of the bullying in their Church run school, attempts to take their own life?
What God does the congregation believe in, learning of the death through a drugs overdose of one of their former young members who, because of the Church’s stance on homosexuality, rejected the Church as irrelevant in their life and seeking acceptance elsewhere, found themselves in a world of excess?
This is the reality of life in the 21st century, make no mistake about it!
The Christian Church must accept responsibility for the part it plays in these situations. If we do not look into our collective heart and ask: “What God do we believe in?”, then we are no better than the Pharisees of biblical times.
Do we as a Church believe in a God of love and mercy or do we believe in a God of legalism and condemnation?
I recall when I came to understand my relationship with Christ, rejoicing in the refrain of a hymn:
But I know whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that he is able
To keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.
I know the God in whom I believe!
Thomas W. Scott Golden Delgany
I refer to discussion on the topic of human sexuality in the Letters page of the Gazette. There are many passages in the Bible, on a variety of topics, that have varying and differing interpretations.
The Bible is not a tabula rasa – we all bring our presuppositions and experiences to our study of it. Resulting interpretations are equally valid. This too is true of those passages in the Bible that refer to, or have become associated with human sexuality.
It is possible to ‘prove’ any viewpoint by drawing on the interpretations of others.
One of the cornerstones of Anglicanism is its ability to accommodate and acknowledge differing theological viewpoints on so many matters.
The conclusions of the Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief acknowledge that its members hold differing views on the inclusion of LGBT people in the Church. All perspectives are held with equal passion and conviction.
I believe that it is possible for our Church to find a way forward that does not produce winners and losers, and that relegates human sexuality to be just another of the things that as Anglicans we have agreed to differ on.
I urge all in the debate to move beyond trying to prove that they are right on the matter and to instead put their energy into finding a way forward for all in the Church.
I concur with Bishop Trevor William’s recent useful comments asking everyone to remain respectful in the debate. I challenge those with an interest in these matters, to use this Letters page to propose constructive ways forward for the Church, rather than fill it with endless ire and disagreement.
Dr Leo Kilroy
Greenane Co. Wicklow
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