Haass has Gone, but the Responsibility Remains...

Yesterday my friend Lesley Carroll put out a blog post that went viral, deriding the church for not speaking out in the wake of the Haass debacle, and in other important public policy issues... It is a piece that I could see myself writing, although less coherently... However, I found myself in the unusual position of being unwilling to promote her post too widely as I had been part of a group who met to discuss a joint-churches response and had appointed a team to draft a response... They got the guts of it done relatively quickly, but for various reasons it didn't get finalised, signed off or distributed as quickly as many would have liked... But it was released today, and here is the text:
As Church leaders we encourage politicians to sustain the momentum and energy generated by the talks of the Panel of Parties in the Northern Ireland Executive, chaired and facilitated by Dr Richard Haass and his team. Significant work has been completed in recent months and we acknowledge the strenuous and sincere efforts put in by all involved in seeking to find solutions to some of the most contentious issues we face. This is an important time for our society; the momentum for building peace should not be lost. We are aware of the focus and effort that the forthcoming elections will require of our politicians but encourage all within the Executive to keep going with the work that has begun so that an acceptable process may be developed.
We firmly believe that a peaceful and reconciled society is possible. Responsibility for building peace and the development of mutual respect and tolerance in our society does not lie with our political leaders alone, but is shared by every individual. As Christians we emphasise the value of building trust, in a spirit of generosity and forgiveness. We encourage every member of our community, church and parishes to be instruments of reconciliation and peace-building. The Christian call to reconciliation, inspired by the example and sacrifice of Christ, is one that calls us to reach out to others in a spirit of understanding, seeking to be sensitive to their concerns and recognising our need for one another.
We appreciate that the issues addressed in the Haass process are profoundly challenging.  While recognising the significance many in our community attribute to issues of culture and identity, we affirm that for all Christians their primary loyalty is to the Lord Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. We continue to offer support to the many who carry deep and genuine hurts from the past and commit ourselves to continually strive together to address issues arising from the need to build a peaceful and reconciled society. We encourage all to do likewise. The deadline for the Haass negotiations may have passed but the responsibility to work for the common good remains. 

It isn't the first response, indeed the primates of the Church of Ireland and Catholic Church in Ireland, made similar pleas last week, and other individual Christians (including myself) have offered their tuppence worth... nor is it the final word, indeed there are supposed to be further discussions concerning how the churches might constructively facilitate thinking within their own constituency and wider civic society on the issues within the Haass proposals, and  how local churches might seek to make a positive difference in our province. 
However, coming back to Lesley's frustrations, I do think that we as churches need to speak into this morass, even if we believe that no-one is listening. We need to speak intelligently and prophetically into the complexity, not offering simplistic, moralistic solutions... We need to speak up for those who have no voice, not just those who have been hurt and feel disenfranchised, but those who cannot speak because they have not yet been born... And we need to speak, not from a safe distance, from pulpits , 6 feet above contradiction, or through mega-phones pointed at the other (whoever we define the other to be), but up close where we can really be heard and hear where others are coming from, starting by talking with "our own" about those difficult issues that no-one is prepared to name (not even me in this post... maybe another time)... 
We are calling on our political leaders to do this... but it is time for us as churches to live up to this responsibility to lead... And to lead as Christ taught us to lead... prophetically, pastorally, sacrificially...



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