October’s re-launch of For God and His Glory Alone reminded us of the key role that evangelicals have played in promoting reconciliation on this island.
But only a few short years ago, when I surveyed faith leaders (clergy, pastors, and ministers of various religions) and laity on the island of Ireland, I found that amongst all expressions of Christianity, evangelical men were the least likely to have a ‘high’ view of reconciliation.
Of course, such a stark statement needs qualification. The surveys, which were part of the Irish School of Ecumenics’ ‘Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism’ research project, asked specific questions about reconciliation, diversity and ecumenism.
Respondents had the opportunity to ‘write-in’ their own definitions of reconciliation. Then they were asked to tick boxes to indicate ‘how important’ (on a scale of 1 to 5) they thought various forms of reconciliation are, such as reconciliation between individuals and God, between individuals, between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, between Catholics and Protestants on the island of Ireland, between people of other religions, between other religions, and between people of different ethnic groups.
Christians across all denominations rated individual forms of reconciliation very highly. But when they were asked about social or group forms of reconciliation, their enthusiasm waned. Among self-identified evangelical men, group reconciliation barely seemed to register as important at all.
Non-evangelicals consistently thought that group forms of reconciliation were more important than evangelicals did. When all faith leaders, male and female, were considered together, 52% of non-evangelicals had a ‘high’ view of reconciliation compared to 39% of evangelicals. Among the laity, 45% of non-evangelicals had a ‘high’ view of reconciliation, compared to 31% of evangelicals.
But when the responses were broken down by gender, male evangelicals were almost off-the-charts in terms of their indifference (or perhaps hostility?) to (group) reconciliation. Among non-evangelical laity, 46% of women and 42% of men had a ‘high’ view of reconciliation. Among evangelical laity, 47% of women – but just 20% of men – had a ‘high’ view of reconciliation. The most striking figures are that among male evangelicals, 90% rated reconciliation with God as very important (selecting number five), 60% thought reconciliation between individuals was is very important, but only 13% thought reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland is very important.
Perhaps these findings are not surprising. After all, some expressions of evangelicalism are known for their focus on heaven and disregard for ‘the world’ (pietism).
By way of contrast, group reconciliation was important for the evangelicals who wrote For God and His Glory Alone. ‘Reconciliation’ is one of the 10 biblical principles discussed in the document, which emphasises assuming responsibility as a group and reconciling with another group: ‘As Evangelicals, we must accept our share of the blame for any way in which we have contributed to the alienation felt by many of the minority community in Northern Ireland.’
But the survey results should still give pause for thought. The message of For God and His Glory Alone has not gotten through to evangelicals on this island … except, perhaps, to some evangelical women.
If evangelical women are excluded from public debates on reconciliation, the insights they have accumulated through years of experience are in danger of being lost. For example, no women spoke publicly from the platform at the re-launch of For God and His Glory Alone.
That same evening at the Catherwood Lecture, the promotional video about For God and His Glory Alone featured only men. It was followed by a ceremonial handing over of the document by three men – to three younger men. I have no doubt that the three younger men are doing great work in their churches and communities. But surely, I thought, at least one young evangelical woman could have been found to join them.
Evangelical men are outnumbered by evangelical women who recognise the importance of group forms of reconciliation, especially between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. If most male evangelicals are not ready for reconciliation, can we better encourage evangelical women to lead the way?
Dr Gladys Ganiel lectures in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation at Trinity College Dublin at Belfast (the Irish School of Ecumenics) and is author of three books, including Evangelicalism and Conflict in Northern Ireland.
In publishing this PS we affirm what Gladys is saying about evangelical men and women and their attitudes towards reconciliation.
The small group of board members who organised the launch of For God and His Glory Alone also want to acknowledge what Gladys, and others, have pointed out about the all-male representation in the launch video and on the platform at the event. We realise that in an event highlighting one of our core values (reconciliation) we inadvertently actually worked against another (inclusion). The fact that we did this inadvertently shows us the importance for us, as much as anyone else, of our current conversations on faith and gender.
From 40 years’s experience, am not one bit surprised at the results of this research, but it is useful to have it crystalized on paper.
The distrust, which seems to underly the male, evangelical attitude, may have some grounds, but it does also display a pathetic understanding of God, of the Cross & Resurrection of Christ, and the co-operating forces of Justice and Grace. In other words, those things which make Biblical Christian faith uniquely powerful in human relationships.
Interesting and open article.
It speaks of the need to define ‘reconciliation’. For me (and others too I’m sure) it would be helpful to have a definition of ‘evangelical’ ? I will look forward to this, not least to knowing where I am perceived to belong !
Statistics : Basically I am so tired of academics or sueddo intellectuals doing “research” and quoting their “findings”. So much of this depends on the question,how it is phrased, and the perception people have of the concept. In other words what does reconciliation mean practically, theologically, socially etc. the problem is that contemporary Christianity has its own preconceived ideas about what many evangelicals believe and has itself propagated a slanted/biased view of what people actually believe , think and feel. For some reconciliation , in today’s climate ,may smack of the blurring of theological differences! ( ecumenism). For others it might simple mean the breaking down of barriers of misunderstanding and seeking to understand what the other person believes and where they are coming from! For reconciliation read friendship, respect, understanding,empathy….and we have a very different animal. Perception is everything in our culture. What are you doing to really change it rather than academically constantly challenging it. Your sphere of influence is often restricted to the converted and I’m not convinced over the decades that you have really tried to understand how ordinary evangelicals think or feel. Being closeted in thinking is not restricted to one particular branch of “evangelicalism”. Constantly been seen to take the high moral ground isn’t very “Christlike” or is that my false perception?