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06 September 2012

Praying through parades, protests and riots

Praying through parades, protests and riots

An appeal following the rioting of recent days

David Smyth, public policy officer at the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, makes an appeal following the recent rioting in north Belfast.

Once more the spotlight falls on Northern Ireland for all the wrong reasons. Even the mention of our country's name outside of our small borders is often met with a half-sympathetic/half-tired sigh of 'not again'.

Now I could explain in great detail the history of what we euphemistically call 'The Troubles' here. Combining history, culture, religion and nationality I could weave a complicated Belfast tapestry that tells our shared story. But this would miss completely the nuances and inferences that are still part of our daily life. If you grow up here you unconsciously learn to make lots of tiny unintentional judgements every day. Someone's name, address, accent, the school they went to, the newspapers they read, the sports they follow – all this forms a perception of being from one side or the other. One side is then cast as familiar, trustworthy, safe and right.

The other as foreign, deceptive, dangerous and wrong.

We need a paradigm shift in our definition of sides and loyalty. This is difficult, in fact it would almost be easier if we had a new identity or were even born again….

Jesus-followers are called to live within this tangle of faith, politics and culture. We are called to live out kingdom citizenship above our cultural, political or religious upbringing. First century Jews struggled with this just like 21st century Protestants and it is not unique to Northern Ireland. Now this doesn't mean we withdraw and live piously in the clouds or cloisters. As citizens of the UK, Ireland or both we can't abdicate responsibility, we must engage meaningfully, peaceably and selflessly in the turbulence around us.

In the middle of the parading, protests and riots of recent days we would appeal to followers of Jesus in Northern Ireland to do several things with us:-

  1. Pray.
  2. Consider our identity in Christ. Put our eternal relationship with Jesus above our loyalty to a transient state, flag or party rosette.
  3. Move forward in an attitude of grace. It's is not a word or action we see much in politics, but what if both sides moved towards each other in an attitude of grace? Relationships built on legalism are shallow and cold but grace brings authenticity and compassion.
  4. Start new others-centred conversations and relationships.