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Politicians and voters could learn much from teachings of Christianity

By Alf McCreary

Last week, the leaders of the five main churches in Ireland met senior figures from the major political parties here. Part of me wanted to be a fly on the wall to observe what took place behind the headlines.

A church statement, in typically polite language, noted there had been "a conversation around the need to restore public confidence in the political process and institutions… leaders reflected on the need to create the space to allow for more constructive public discourse, and for new relationships of trust to develop".

This summary is so bland that you can imagine the participants exchanging views graciously in the manner of an amiable coffee morning, with no one becoming rude or over-excited.

Or did the church leaders ask the kind of questions which all the rest of us would have fired at the political representatives with the pent-up fury of an electorate appalled at the lack of agreement and the absence of a properly working Northern Ireland Assembly?

There is real anger over our MLAs continuing to take their decreasing salaries for doing little or nothing while the major problems in the NHS, education, heritage, infrastructure and other areas continue to pile up and fester.

I hope that the church leaders, politely or otherwise, made the MLAs search their consciences and ask themselves, 'Do I really care about the people who elected us, or am I bound by the cynical blame-game up here which puts my party first and the public a bad second?'.

Certainly, this could be asked of the DUP and Sinn Fein, who are playing with big stakes about the future of Northern Ireland and are underlining almost daily that power-sharing is dead in all but name.

Against such a background of hardened cynicism, it may be unfair to expect too much from the meeting.

Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Archbishop, Dr Eamonn Martin, and the Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Charles McMullen, sounded reasonably upbeat in their shared radio interview a few days afterwards.

There was a sense that, 'We have done our best to pose the questions, and to ask everyone - ourselves included - to find new ways of breaking the deadlock'.

There was also the bonus of hearing these two church leaders exchanging their views so cordially and on virtual first-name terms. That is a far cry from not so long ago, when a Catholic Primate and a Presbyterian Moderator might have thought twice about appearing on the same programme at all.

Life for church leaders is possibly more difficult today than for those during the height of the Troubles.

Lord Eames, a former Church of Ireland Primate, talked to me vividly about church leaders following ambulances after yet another atrocity, and then making strong condemnations of violence which almost everyone understood and approved of.

Today church leadership is more difficult in the even more complex political situation, with both main parties waiting for Godot, and the general population fearful about Brexit and disgusted by the endless blame-games between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Does that mean that the senior church figures should not even bother talking directly to political leaders when there is such a lack of progress?

They should talk, by all means. This continuing deadlock is all the more reason why the church leaders should leave their pulpits and talk to senior politicians in everyday language, because their congregations are made up of scores of ordinary citizens who feel that they are being totally ignored while this baleful political power game involving Stormont plays itself out.

The church leaders, and their support staff, deserve credit for making their views known to the senior party politicians, who in turn must take some credit for acknowledging the importance of church-going and church members in our society, despite the growing secularism of this age.

It is all the more important, therefore, to emphasise that the basic teachings of Christianity include integrity, respect and concern for the wellbeing of others.

If only more of our politicians placed more emphasis on these qualities, and the importance of working for the general good, then we would have some respect for them.

However, as I always say, we voters are to blame too.

People go to church, where they pray for peace, but at the next election, they again vote for political deadlock. I wonder when the penny will drop, if ever.

Belfast Telegraph

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