Belfast Telegraph

Moderator warns over sectarianism

Sectarian attitudes remain in people's hearts and minds in Northern Ireland despite a decline in violence, the outgoing Presbyterian Moderator has warned

Norman Hamilton, who is set to hand over to his successor Rev Dr Ivan Patterson, said society had to play "catch-up" with the example of unity recently shown by the Queen and President Mary McAleese.

And he called on others to work to build relationships between Protestants and Catholics, describing such healing as a "Biblical imperative".

He praised the British and Irish heads of state for the united front shown during the Queen's ground-breaking visit to the Republic, which included joint acts of remembrance in Dublin for those killed fighting for Irish freedom, plus those Irishmen who died as members of the British army.

But Mr Hamilton warned that wider society was "constantly adversarial" and he called for renewed efforts to build respect and avoid atmospheres in which "cynicism and evil thrive".

"I believe much has been achieved in the last few years - symbolised in the hugely successful recent visit to the Republic of Ireland by the Queen and her welcome there by President McAleese and the people of Ireland," he said.

"However, despite the progress, relational poverty still infects every part of society - church, political, and civic. We struggle to put the building of good relationships at the heart of all we do. We are constantly adversarial, confrontational, and all too ready to rubbish other people, or remain indifferent to what matters to them. This ought not to be. A huge reduction in sectarian crime does not mean that hearts and attitudes have softened or changed to the same extent."

He added: "Churches, both leaders and members, our local Executive as and the wider community probably have to play 'catch up' to the Queen and President McAleese if we are to keep the momentum going in this hugely important task of building decent community relationships. I want to say again that I believe this is a truly Biblical calling - indeed a Biblical imperative - it is so much more than tinkering at social engineering or playing local politics."

And he concludedL "The command of Christ himself for all his followers to love their neighbours is just that - a command with no opt out clause. And we can't love them if we scarcely know them or avoid them."

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