Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Miller’s message for 2013 doesn’t hold anything back

Positive: part of Bishop Harold Miller’s New Year message focused on successes such as Titanic Belfast

By today most of the helpful New Year messages of a few days ago will have been largely forgotten.

However, I would like to highlight in particular the words of the Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Dromore, the Rt Rev Harold Miller.

In his New Year message he drew our attention to the memorable events of last year, including the centenary of the Titanic, the opening of Titanic Belfast, and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

He also highlighted the success of the London Olympics and Paralympics, and the achievements of our wonder boy Rory McIlroy, who is currently the best golfer on the planet.

Realistically, however, Bishop Miller also referred to the sense of community foreboding, after the violent street protests and all the damaging international headlines.

Bishop Miller has the knack of speaking plainly. Most other church leaders cloak their words in such holy language that the secular world doesn't listen to them, or doesn't even try to decipher what they are trying to say.

Bishop Miller tells it as it is, and he notes that we find ourselves in great danger this time partly because we have not managed to agree a shared future.

In my opinion the current wave of protests is not just about waving the Union flag, but also about a loss of unionist/Protestant identity and a lack of leadership from the top. As Bishop Miller rightly notes, the major issue of respecting one another's culture is a matter for Stormont, and the focus on a shared future needs to be given absolute priority by everyone.

Otherwise, as he notes, a dangerous vacuum is created, and already we can see paramilitaries redoubling their efforts to kill and maim.

Bishop Miller argues that it is “vitally important for the Christian faith to bring hope to the table”, and urges everyone to commit themselves to being “peacemakers, and not just peace-talkers''.

This is a worthy aim, but it is easier said than done. Many ordinary people who want peace are unsure about what exactly they can do right now to make it a reality.

Just before Christmas several hundred members of different churches formed a human cordon around Belfast City Hall to hold a vigil for peace.

Despite that, the flag protesters surged noisily into the centre of the city on the same day to create more damaging headlines, and it seems likely that the protests will continue. So what can other people do to become peace-makers rather than peace-talkers, and how can the Christian faith bring hope to the table?

One of the strengths of Christianity, which is misinterpreted by its enemies as weakness, is its exhortation to turn the other cheek and to try by every means possible to work for reconciliation.

This is regarded by hard-liners as folly, but it is a course which requires great moral strength.

The recent history of Northern Ireland has shown that neither side can obliterate or overcome the other, so the only alternative is to try to make a settlement work.

In community terms we are locked together in a bitter marriage, but there is no possibility of a divorce, and our in-laws from Dublin and London are fed up trying to sort us out, particularly as they have their own problems.

So we must continue to try to make the best of it, and to behave to one another with greater courtesy and charity, Christian or otherwise.

The alternative does not bear thinking about, after all that we have been through. It is time for all of us to wise up.

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