For God and Ulster!" Protestants made this a battle cry early
this century when they formed a volunteer force to take control of
the north if Parliament gave home rule to Ireland.
It became a political mantra in recent decades, as the Rev. Ian
Paisley galvanized resistance to the Catholic civil rights movement
and the slightest shift in the status quo in Northern Ireland.
The provocative face of religion - mirrored in many parts of the
world today - has given Northern Ireland a black eye. Yet here, as
elsewhere, many point out, it's not religion itself, but religious
nationalism that's the culprit - a call to political allegiance
cloaked in the robes of religion.
"To say 'For God and Ulster' is an idolatry," says David Porter,
director of Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI).
"Once you elevate the tribe, the nation, the land into your
then you are participating in idolatry. If the individual challenge
to Christian discipleship is the world, the flesh, and the devil,
then the communal challenge to Christian discipleship is God and the
Nation. And that must be challenged at every level."
Mr. Porter and others here are challenging that divisive use of
faith, showing by courageous and creative actions that religion can
become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Some have chosen witnessing, forming small communities in which
Protestants and Catholics live together and offer others
opportunities for interaction and sanctuary from violence (see story
at right). A few priests and ministers have played behind-the-
roles opening links to Sinn Fein. Mennonites and Quakers from
outside Northern Ireland have facilitated difficult discussions and
inspired new ways of understanding the situation.
And one local group, ECONI (pronounced ee-CONE-eye), has directly
taken on religious nationalism, stirring thought within the
evangelical Protestant community to reexamine attitudes and actions
from a biblical basis. It has grappled with the issues of how
Christianity and politics do or don't mix, and how a person of faith
brings that to bear on healing a divided society. "We would long to
see a similar work within the Catholic community," Porter says.
The spark was the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which gave
Ireland a consultative role in British rule of Northern Ireland.
"The signing of the agreement triggered probably the most overt
expression of religious nationalism in the Protestant community in
the 30 years of the Troubles," says Porter. "It became a test of
your Protestant Christian faith whether you were for or against the
agreement, and one-half million people turned up at City Hall to
But he and evangelical Protestant friends "had come to realize
that sort of mixing of faith and politics was deeply flawed." They
began praying and studying the Bible together in 1986, and in 1988
published a statement called "For God and His Glory Alone." It was
"an obvious counterpoise to 'For God and Ulster,' " Porter says in
interview. Some 200 local leaders signed it.
The statement pointed to the Christian's first allegiance to
Christ, not to a specific political outlook, and called on them to
"demonstrate values dependent on the nature of God himself" in
community life. It provided a study guide to 10 biblical principles
(i.e. love, forgiveness, reconciliation, citizenship, servanthood,
hope) and invited a commitment to becoming active peacemakers.
That began a movement. Within six months, a thousand copies had
been requested for Bible study. Soon they were asked for more
materials and invited to speak at church meetings. They had no
intent to form an organization.
But the Downing Street Declaration of 1993 - in which Britain
stated it had no strategic interest in maintaining its rule, yet
promised that Ulster's future would be decided by referendum -
brought "the second most overt expression of religious nationalism,"
Porter says. …