ARE you a Christian? If that question sounds like one of the Saved Brethren on your doorstep, I apologise – few enjoy having their East Enders interrupted. No, it’s a question I had to ask myself after listening to the Orange Order’s Grand Chaplain, Reverend Mervyn Gibson.
Mervyn was on BBC Radio Ulster/Raidió Uladh’s Talk Back last week, and William Crawley had touched delicately on whether the Grand Chaplain would feel comfortable getting together with Catholic clergymen as fellow-Christians in an act of worship. For a big man, the Grand Master is remarkably nimble. He danced around that question with an agility that’d make a man half his age and half his weight green with envy. But why didn’t he just answer the question?
It’s a mystery to many, what thoughts wander and collide in the brain of the Grand Chaplain. I suspect that his answer might have been “No, we in the Orange Order don’t consider Catholics Christians.” Something to do with the Mass, I think. As you probably know, Orangemen are not permitted to attend Catholic acts of worship.
But to give Mervyn his due, he did tell William Crawley that he’d like to see that rule keeping Orangemen out of Catholic churches changed. Alas, not all Orangemen are as liberal in their thinking as the Grand Chaplain (do be quiet, Virginia).
When Ballymoney councillor John Finlay got to hear about it, he wasn’t a bit pleased. “Some Protestants accept that the mass (sic) is blasphemous, but they justify attendance at a funeral by asserting that they are only there to pay their respects and do not participate in any way in the mass (sic) itself. But to my mind, that is a bridge too far. Surely, out of respect for our Saviour, we must never willingly be present at any such act of blasphemy.”
Right. You can see what the Grand Chaplain is up against. He’s also up against some pretty stern stuff in the Orange Order’s rule-book. Like this, for example:
“I do declare that I am not, nor ever was, a Roman Catholic or Papist; that I was not, am not, or ever will be, a member of the society called ‘United Irishmen’, nor any other society or body of men, who are enemies to his Majesty, or the glorious constitution of these realms; and that I never took the oath to that or any other treasonable society.”
I’d venture even Councillor Finlay would be unperturbed if the Order snipped out the bit about the United Irishmen, since such men appear to be thin on the ground for over two hundred years now. But I’d suspect that he and the Grand Chaplain would be as one in their commitment to the am-not-and-never-was-a-Roman-Catholic-or-Papist bit.
There are high hopes that as we’ve (presumably) seen the last of the Drumcree stand-off, we will now have seen the back of the Ardoyne stand-off. So you could say that the few Orange marches that were contentious have now been resolved.
You could, but you’d still be left with this question: Does the Orange Order serve to bring our divided community together, or does it prefer to separate the sheep from the goats? I think it’s safe to say that it’s the latter rather than the former. The Orange Order yearly provides marches that bring colour and music and general excitement into lives which are otherwise starved of these things. Unfortunately, it does so while glorying in a history littered with sectarianism, has rules which clearly aim to present Catholicism as close-as-bedamned to the Devil’s empire, and which celebrates a 200 years + battle in which Protestantism in the form of William of Orange triumphed over Catholicism in the form of James II.
But but but, you say. That’s to misunderstand the benevolent nature of Orangeism. Really?
In that case, let’s enrich society further by creating an organisation that refuses admission to Protestants, that declares Protestant worship to be idolatry. With our new organisation established, let’s be considerate of others and march just one thousand times a year.
What’s more, our new organisation would promise not to march through or beside Protestant areas, wouldn’t march in circles outside Protestant churches playing anti-Protestant tunes, and would see to it that only a few of its followers got legless on lager and from time to time urinated against a Protestant church wall. Would the creation of such an organisation be OK? Mervyn? John? Anyone?