Shame on leaders who show moral cowardice
Shame on leaders who show moral cowardice

By Jude Collins (for Daily Ireland)

I'd like to say that my reaction to the sight of unionist hooligans hurling bricks and bottles and petrol bombs and anything they could lay their hands on at the members of the PSNI recently filled me with bewilderment and disgust.

I'd like to say that, but I can't. If I were a young unionist living in the Shankill, say, with behind me an education career marked F for

Failure, living in an environment marked N for Neglect and looking forward to job prospects labelled L for Lousy, I'd welcome the excitement of stoning the peelers. If people around me told me that my marauding was a blow in the defence of my community and my culture, well hey, my throwing arm would have found renewed energy and accuracy.

Mindless violence? Don't be daft. The young rioters in west and east and north Belfast had their heads stuffed with approval and excitement.

I'd like to say the Orange Order has been unfairly blamed for the recent rioting, when all they did was protest against the cowardly rerouting of a traditional march.

What's more, if people wearing Orange collarettes were shown attacking the police, these were in fact thugs who had infiltrated the Orange Order, are not wanted by the Order, and are in every way the opposite of the decent, God-fearing men who form the backbone of the Order. I'd like to say that, but I can't.

Whatever about the innate decency of the average Orangeman, the truth is he belongs to an organisation that is anti-Catholic in its origins, its history and its present rules and actions. The organisation values highly a set of traditions, some of which are colourful, some comic and more triumphalist.

All are justified on the grounds that they are traditions. Daft or what? To justify a march in terms of tradition is no more convincing than a London mountebank protesting he's always used ten-year-old boys for chimney-sweeping, or a Yorkshire coal miner growling that beating the wife was a time-honoured practice in his village, or a Ku Klux Klan member saying that hanging blacks was a core tradition of the Klan.

I'd like to say the churches have played a valuable role in addressing the recent "social unrest" as it's been quaintly described in some quarters. I'd like to say we are lucky to have eminent churchmen to call us back to the values of our particular faith, when the temptation to surrender to savagery is strong. I'd like to say that but I can't.
The trouble with the church leaders here is that the kind of Christian leadership they offer on such occasions as these isn't worth a damn.

A leader, especially a moral leader, addresses the core issues of a problem and speaks out honestly, regardless of who it might offend. Did we hear the voice of honesty ring out from the hierarchical heights in recent days? Don't be daft.
There were muted murmurs from the Catholic church's Bishop Patrick Walsh, saying the violence and hatred shown in the street rioting was bad. In harmony with him, the usual sounds of sadness came from Lord Archbishop Eames, weary at the thought of young loyalists hell-bent on wrecking their own communities.

Did Bishop Walsh point to the Orange Order as a major contributory factor in the mayhem?

Did he declare that sectarian triumphalism stokes conflict and division and, in this case, violence, and should not happen? Um, no. Because that would have been seen as undiplomatic.

If it's a problem coming from the Protestant side, then maybe better maintain a discreet silence.

If an occasional Catholic priest should become critical of the Protestant side, should speak of Protestant churchmen more impressive as theologians than Christians, well, no point in adding fuel to the fire, continue the diplomatic sealed lips syndrome. Maybe you thought that church leaders should guide their speech by what is right and wrong rather than diplomatic and undiplomatic? Hey brother, get real.

As for the response of Protestant clergymen, some have been outstanding. The Protestant ministers who took off their collars and coats to help clean the sectarian slogans from an Antrim Catholic church showed Christianity in action.

What about the Protestant church leaders? Um, more diplomacy, I'm afraid. The Presbyterian church's moderator Harry Uprichard, given several opportunities to speak out against the part played by the Orange Order in stoking the flames, just couldn't find the words.

As for the Church of Ireland's Lord Archbishop Eames, since Drumcree and earlier we've become so used to his refusal to confront the unholy alliance between his church and the sectarian fault-line that runs through the Orange Order, we'd have been in shock if he had brought himself to utter even the gentlest reproof to the bigots in Orange.

It's a safe bet none of those involved in rioting on the streets of Belfast and elsewhere over the last couple of weeks felt shame when the pictures of flame and destruction were flashed round the world. Why should they? They more likely felt pride.

Shame belongs, not with the rioters, but with the moral cowardice of the Christian leaders who condemned them.

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