(This open letter first appeared in Steve Stockman’s blog and is reproduced by permission)
Dear Political Leaders
As you go into intensive talks this week to save the political institutions and our unraveling peace process I want to assure you of my prayers. I will not lie to you. I feel disappointed and a little let down by the current crisis. I have invested a little bit of my time on the peace process and this was not what I had hoped for.
I am aware that not all of you have time for Christianity, the Church or clergy. I also know that some of you do. Whether you do or not I want to ask you to ponder some wisdom from an ancient text. Whatever your view of the Scriptures please reflect on this wisdom, an alternative view of life that might just bring some needed imagination into our current inertia. You might think it naive. I believe it to be prophetically profound and a formula that would guarantee success in the coming talks.
In the New Testament book of James we read,
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
(James 3: 13-18).
This is radical stuff. Revolutionary even. It smashes all of our default positions and shines another light on attitude and motive.
I would ask, of you all, two things this week. First, to come to the talks in humility and without any selfish ambition. Humility is a powerful thing. Please look into the depth of your own souls and ask where it is that you have caused our crisis. I believe that all of you are to blame to some extent. As the ancient text says elsewhere, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). I pray that you will find where you need to seek forgiveness and that you will find forgiveness graciously offered by the other.
Second, and most crucial, to all of this, is your motivation. The ancient text is a revelation on that. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3:18). That last word is just as easily translated justice. I believe that at times some of you are focused on righteousness and others of you on justice. The wisdom of this text says that when we put peacemaking first the righteousness or justice will come.
My frustration with most of the language that comes out of Stormont is that Peacemaking is not the first thing on the agenda. Who is to blame or which side is right or has the high moral ground is not the right agenda. I am praying that you all choose the peace that will be for the common good of all our people as the very first aim of all your deliberations. How can you get the best result this week for Northern Ireland/The North? Put our peace before anything else!
Can I finished by saying that I will be looking into my own soul too. Every one of us in our wee country should be doing the same. You all take the criticism but we all have to take our share of the blame. We are a country too comfortable in the destructive evil of sectarianism. I will be searching deep into my own heart and soul as I pray for all of you to do the imaginative and courageous thing.
Grace to you all. May grace indeed be amazing enough to interrupt our past and wonderfully usher in a grace centred future.
Steve Stockman is minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church