It is no good for the churches in Northern Ireland to wring their hands over sectarian killings, says Paul Handley, Editor of the Church Times. The violence is their fault.
Last week was a pretty spectacular week for Christian unity. On Monday the Irish National Liberation Army and (probably) the Ulster Freedom Fighters acted in concert. They both killed somebody. Just to prove this wasn't a fluke, on Wednesday they did it again.
Of course, Christianity is not the sole, nor even the chief, reason why a carpet salesman, a taxi driver and three others now lie dead, but it is deeply implicated in any sectarian act in Northern Ireland. If the gunmen aren't adherents, their parents most likely are, and their neighbours, and the various people who formed their character and opinions. And if, by the slightest chance, none of these had been touched by faith, there are so many believers in the province and on the mainland, that the violence should have been stopped long ago. Not, on balance, a good moment, then, in the history of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which this is. It is 90 years since the idea of a such a week was first tried out, and you would be forgiven for asking what, if anything, all those prayers for all those years had achieved. But never mind the 90 years: the search for Christian unity stretches back nearly 2,000 years, to those awkward commands of Jesus and Paul which suggest (to paraphrase) that any team which can't handle unity is heading for relegation. It's not Kenny Dalglish who should be worried about keeping his job, but George Carey, John Paul II and all the rest. For an aide-memoire to those biblical sayings, one need only look down the list of texts chosen by the ecumenical group which prepares study material for Christian unity week. 1967 - "Called to one hope"; 1970 - "We are fellow workers for God"; 1984 - "Called to be one"; 1989 - "One body in Christ"; 1990 - "That they all may be one". Why does this make such depressing reading? Because if everybody had taken the first week seriously, they wouldn't have needed any more. The text for 1996 was "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." It doesn't seem to have occurred to anybody that Christ might actually like a door or two to be opened. It would be unfair to suggest that nothing has happened. There are now hundreds of examples of local churches of different denominations sharing buildings and resources, sometimes even ministers. …