There was a hint of specks and planks (Matthew 7: 2-5) in recent statements in the Northern Ireland Assembly by unionist political representatives. Demanding apologies from the Irish government about their predecessors’ undoubted ambivalence towards IRA activity in the border areas in the past rings a bit hollow when David Cameron’s apologies for what happened on Bloody Sunday were, at best, reluctantly accepted by unionist politicians. Their cause is also weakened by the fact that no Northern unionist political leader has yet acknowledge anything more than Northern Ireland being a “cold house” for Catholics. It would be so much more impressive if unionist politicians made a committment to support, for example, the cause of the relatives of victims of loyalist atrocities in Dublin and Monaghan in 1973 and 1974. It would greatly increase their credibility in their stated wish to bring more Roman Catholic people into the unionist fold if they were to put as much effort into seeking justice for victims of the violence perpetrated by those from broadly their own communities.
Many of our representatives have yet to show that they are capable of genuinely reaching out across the religious/cultural divide in more than token ways – it is relatively easy for unionist leaders to attend Gaelic football or republican leaders Northern Ireland soccer matches. Too often real concern for the “other” is missing in public pronouncements by leaders from both sides of our community. As for ourselves we may say we want our leaders to tell the truth, but too often don’t want to hear the truth when it convicts us. Sadly our leaders are inclined to only tell us what we want to hear.
It is because the primary allegiance of Christians should be to a higher Kingdom that it is the responsibility of each of us to challenge hypocritical attitudes in the community to which we are perceived to hold allegiance. And we must do so even more assuredly than we challenge such attitudes in the other community. It also needs to be stated over and over again that there are no innocents in the history of our troubled province. Awful attitudes lurk in all of us: I was a student in Dublin at the time of the 1973/4 Dublin/Monaghan bombings and I have to admit to allowing myself at the time to indulge a fleeting shameful thought that now “they” know what “we” have been suffering in the North. I deeply regret that thought.
Whatever our religious/cultural background, those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ must be prepared to take risks for Him on whom alone all our hope and security should depend (Psalm 62:5, 6). We must seek God’s grace to enable us to resist the temptation to blame the other side, or to excuse our own attitudes and actions in the light of the attitudes and actions of the other. We must examine ourselves for the ‘offensive ways’ (Psalm 139:24) in our hearts, individually and collectively. Following Christ demands that seeking justice for the other should be as much a concern for the believer as seeking it for their own side. Jesus denied Himself the right to justice in human affairs and authentic discipleship requires that we be prepared to follow His example. This may even involve treating others better than they deserve to be treated – to let them hold us to a higher standard than they may have for themselves. While it may be hard for some to accept the ‘no hierarchy of victims’ line, there is no excuse for failing to speak about, and promote, justice for ‘the other side’ especially when they were subjected to indiscriminate acts of violence just because they were ‘the other’. Our pursuit of justice must never be for just us.
Noel McCune is Chairman of the Board of Contemporary Christianity. He worked as a Consultant Psychiatrist in the NHS. He is associated with Newry Baptist Church and is also closely involved with Interserve Ireland.