For God and his Glory Alone

28 years ago I headed off to university in Edinburgh kicking the dust of Northern Ireland off my proverbial sandals, never intending to return, like many of my generation, particularly on the Protestant/Unionist side of the divide. I had had enough of the Troubles in my native statelet... they had been going on for most of my life, and by that stage I felt, quoting the words of my least favourite Shakespeare play "A plague on both your houses."
3 years later, however, a group of people some of whom I knew, most of whom I didn't, came together as Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI) to draft and release a document entitled "For God and his Glory Alone". The title was a conscious and direct challenge to the motto of the UVF and mental framework of many Ulster protestants brought up on the mythologuy of Carson and the Somme etc - "For God and Ulster", which too often got reversed in practice with people putting Ulster (or at least the stunted post-partition form of Ulster) first, and God a long way behind in second...
Someone gave me a copy... I can't remember now who it was... But I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Actually at times I felt that I owed them a punch in the face, because without that document I probably wouldn't be back in Northern Ireland today... It contributed to a Scotch broth of thoughts and emotions going on in my heart and head over the previous year... Starting with the Remembrance Sunday bombing in Enniskillen and Gordon Wilson's words of forgiveness, then the Gibraltar shootings, and subsequent Milltown Cemetery attack and the later killing of Corporals David Howes and Derek Wood in March... Then came this document out of the evangelical camp that I considered my own, but speaking language and dealing with issues I had never heard in any evangelical meeting to date, under 10 headings:
  • LOVE - for God and neighbour and enemy (even if that enemy is a terrorist)
  • FORGIVENESS - to be offered unconditionally (even to terrorists)
  • RECONCILIATION - with God and others... including the revolutionary idea that "as evangelicals we must accept our share of the blare for... the alienation felt by many of the minority community in Northern Ireland."
  • PEACE - the imperative of peacemaking and the rejection of violence, even in the guise of self-defense
  • CITIZENSHIP - including the revolutionary idea that you could be evangelical and Irish
  • TRUTH - that the truth of the Gospel is far greater than any of our formulations of it
  • SERVANTHOOD - rather than triumphalism
  • JUSTICE & RIGHTEOUSNESS - including the idea that any form of exploitation, oppression or discrimination is a denial of the intrinsic dignity of every human being, requiring a commitment to the human rights of others, particularly the poor and powerless
  • HOPE - in God, not any nationality, politics or culture.
  • REPENTANCE - humble acknowledgement of fault
In many ways this document changed my mindset with regard to this province, so that when I experienced a sense of call to ministry, and ultimately to ministry back here, it was with these imperatives echoing in my head, and in many ways my almost 20 years of Methodist ministry has been made up of trying to work these things out, in my head and heart, in my sermons and in my engagement with the wider community. Even today I was writing a sermon and a separate liturgy that reflects the language of this short document, and involved with 2 meetings that touched on many of the same issues 25 years further down the line.
If you haven't read it before you can either download the 15th anniversary revised edition, or come along to Skainos later this morning and buy a 25th Anniversary brand new re-release of the original, for the same price as it was back then - a whole £1.
My prayer is that in 25 years such a book will be no longer needed... Not because it is irrelevant, but because the issues within it are so mainstreamed within church and society that we don't need to articulate them.
We're not there yet...


Shalom

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