When Evangelicals Bring Peace

GanielGladys Ganiel is a Research Fellow in the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast.  She is the author of Evangelicalism and Conflict in Northern Ireland and Transforming Post-Catholic Ireland.

Over at Democratic Audit, Ganiel writes about the role of evangelicals in bringing peace to Northern Ireland.

Here is a taste:

An organisation called Evangelical Contribution on Northern Ireland (ECONI) is perhaps Northern Ireland’s best example of how faith-based activists contributed to peace. ECONI was formed in the mid-1980s as a direct counter to ‘Paisleyism.’ In my own research, I spoke to people who said that the ideas they first heard through ECONI led to changes in their identity and a commitment to engage in peacebuilding. ECONI encouraged people to first be self-critical of their own religious tradition – and then to use resources from within that tradition to change it.

There’s an old slogan within the Protestant community, which could be said to reflect the ideal relationship between church and state within covenantal Calvinism: ‘For God and Ulster.’ ECONI’s first public act turned that slogan on its head. It was an open letter in the Belfast Telegraph titled ‘For God and His Glory Alone’. ‘For God and His Glory Alone’ was later distributed as a booklet, with five printings and more than 10,000 copies. More than one-third of all Protestant congregations in Northern Ireland participated in ECONI initiatives.

‘For God and His Glory Alone’ illustrates how ECONI was self-critical of the evangelical, Calvinist tradition. ECONI capitalised on evangelicalism’s high regard for the Bible by justifying its critique of Northern Irish versions of covenantal Calvinism through fresh interpretations of scripture.

ECONI also developed religious ideas that were relatively unique within Northern Irish evangelicalism. It was inspired by engagement with the Anabaptist tradition – including figures like John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas – and drew on the Anabaptist tradition to argue for a separation between Protestantism and Unionist political power, and to advocate pacifism or non-violence in almost all circumstances.

Finally, ECONI’s self-critical reflection on Northern Irish evangelicalism led to repentance – not asking the ‘Other’ to repent but rather confessing the ‘sins’ of its own community. This opened doors for relationships with people from Catholic backgrounds.

ECONI’s effectiveness rested in part on its credibility: ECONI’s evangelical identity provided it with a legitimacy that some ecumenical peacebuilding organisations lacked. It might be assumed that policy makers and secular peacebuilding NGOs should engage with moderate religious groups that are attempting to transcend sectarian identities – like ecumenists. Such a strategy would have excluded ECONI.

Read the rest here.