Evangelical Christians must re-establish themselves as the Moral Majority in Ireland because the Churches’ current ‘head in the sand’ attitude is in danger of dumping evangelical Christianity into the category of ‘voiceless minority’ on this island. Controversial Unionist commentator and evangelical Christian, Dr John Coulter, uses his Fearless Flying Column today to outline how Christians can fight back.
It is the spiritual duty of all true Evangelical Christian denominations across Ireland to copy the Irish and American Civil Rights Movements and mobilise their members and worshippers to get as many believers involved in the political process.
Evangelical Christians across Ireland better get organised politically otherwise the increasingly liberal and secular society will have them as an isolated and virtually voiceless minority by the end of the decade.
Unfortunately, modern day Christianity is so divided theologically, and denominations - such as Irish Catholicism - have had their faith badly tarnished by the activities of convicted clergy. Convicted paedophile priests found guilty by the courts of heinous crimes of clerical sex abuse of children have fuelled the defamatory stereotype that anyone wishing to enter holy orders is a pervert.
Likewise, the Kincora Boys Home scandals of the 1980s fuelled the perception that certain Hell fire Bible classes were merely grooming sessions for rapists and child abusers who preyed on, rather that prayed with, vulnerable young males.
There was some hope in the months following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998 that evangelical Christians could assist with the rebuilding process in Ireland, and that Christian Churches could be to the fore in any peace and reconciliation process.
Two decades ago during research for a book on the links between Orangeism and Loyalism, I uncovered plans by key members of the fundamentalist Independent Orange Order to launch a new umbrella group, to be known as The Caleb Foundation (after the Old Testament Israelite spy, Caleb).
When word leaked out that I planned to brand this new group as nothing more than a clever recruiting front for the Independent Orange Order and basically the ‘No’ camp in Unionism at prayer, the late George Dawson - then grand master of the Independents - took steps to get the book stopped a matter of weeks before publication.
According to a Caleb insider I interviewed at the time in 1998, the organisation was originally intended to mobilise the smaller fundamentalist denominations within Protestantism against the Evangelical Prayer Breakfast Movement.
That Prayer Breakfast Movement in the 1990s saw Protestants and Catholic meet together over breakfast and the evangelical Christians - particularly those known as ‘saved’ or ‘born again’ believers - would share their testimonies of how Christ saved them spiritually. The fact these evangelicals dared to invite Catholics to these events infuriated fundamentalists, especially from the Rev Ian Paisley-formed Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, which often organised pickets outside the venues where the Evangelical Prayer Breakfasts were held.
Mind you, when I saw those lined up in the protests, I often wondered that their yapping had nothing to do with any perceived ecumenism, but the fact that Ulster Unionist politicians and mainstream Orange Order members were among the Prayer Breakfast participants.
1998 was an historic year in the conflict. April had seen the signing of the Good Friday Agreement; the ensuing referendum gave overwhelming backing to the agreement across Ireland, north and south.
While most within Sinn Fein and the SDLP backed the Belfast Agreement, Unionism was badly split into clearly defined yes and no camps. Shocked by the extent of support for the agreement among unionism, the DUP and its anti-agreement allies in the split UUP mounted a massive ‘No’ campaign to gain as many MLAs as possible in the first June Assembly elections.
To rally support within sections of Protestantism, it had to involve the Churches. As far as I was concerned, The Caleb Foundation was not about marshalling support against the Prayer Breakfast Movement, but about pushing the ‘No’ agenda among Christians.
A few weeks after Dawson brought my book to a grinding halt, Caleb was formally launched - with Dawson as its inaugural chairman. Dawson later went on to become a DUP MLA for East Antrim before succumbing to cancer. At one time, Caleb was boasted that it spoke for some 200,000 Evangelical Christians in Northern Ireland - enough, in my maths, to get quite a sizeable lobby of MLAs elected to the Assembly.
But Caleb was later to be rocked by the conviction by a court of one of its leading spokesmen for the sexual offence of voyerism. That same person had also held posts within the equally fundamentalist pressure group, the Evangelical Protestant Society and the Independent Orange Order.
Since that person’s conviction, Caleb’s public influence has waned. This means there is now a significant gap in Evangelical Christianity for a major group to rally support among Christians to come out and vote for candidates who still adhere to Biblical principles.
As the political cancer of liberalism steadily gains ground with Christian Churches and unionist parties, I have often wondered if a time is steadily approaching when Evangelical Christians will have to form their own political party to defend Christian morality, beliefs, expression of Christian views and Biblical standards.
In the Republic, once the best known bastion of Catholicism outside the Vatican, the twin evils of secularism and pluralism have romped to victory. Attendance at the traditional Mass has dropped dramatically; the Irish Bishops have already lost the same-sex marriage vote, and this year’s referendum on abortion looks like becoming a clear victory for the pro-choice lobby.
While the concept of an Irish Christian Party may sound like a good way forward on paper, such are the theological divisions - not just between Catholicism and Protestantism - but even within the broad Evangelical Christian movement in general, that I very much doubt if a Christian party would ever get off the ground. Probably the first item on the agenda at its inaugural meeting would be ‘the theological argument and split’!
So what is my Plan B? Rather than form a new party, what is needed is a Momentum-style pressure group to mobilise as many Christians as possible to register to vote - and actually make it their spiritual duty to go to the polling booths on election day.
Unfortunately over the years in Northern Ireland, too many Christians have instead indulged in the luxury of theological infighting on dress codes and rules for women, which translation of the Bible is correct, sex education, and forms of worship.
Perhaps the Church really needs to take note of the words of Jesus Himself in the New Testament text of St Matthew Chapter 7, verse 3: “And why beholds thou mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye.”
In practical terms, does the Church need to sort itself out before it goes pontificating as to how we should address society’s ills and challenges?
Probably the biggest scourge I have come across in my 40 years in journalism, especially during my time in the tabloids, has been the seemingly unchallenged danger posed by the Judgemental Tubthumpers, dubbed the JTs.
These people are better known as the church gossips, who spew out their bile about their fellow Christians, irrespective if they have any legal basis for their gossip. To JTs, the laws of defamation simply go out the window. These JTs don’t care who they hurt as a result of their gossip and in some cases, such JTs are the best advertisement for atheism which I have come across in those four decades in journalism.
If I adopted a so-called ‘JT approach’ in journalism, namely spewing out defamatory stories about people with no legal or ethical research or checking, I’d soon have the courts, police and press standards organisation down upon me like a ton of bricks. So how do the JTs still get away with their often defamatory gossip if we are now supposedly living in an increasingly secular society?
Perhaps the first step we should take in to have defamation legislation in Northern Ireland which protects ordinary folk from the defamatory rants of the JTs? That’s the Biblical ‘beam’ we as an evangelical Christian community need to address first.
Maybe if we got a few JTs convicted in the courts because of their defamatory gossip, that would be a start? Then again, has the tabloid media - of whatever format - a moral obligation in the public interest to ‘name and shame’ as many of these JTs as possible? Or would that be considered as trial by media, or trial by social media?
One indisputable fact is paramount - evangelical Christians across Ireland need to get their act in gear, and soon, otherwise Christians will not only become a minority on the island, but a muted minority. Political mobilisation of evangelical Christianity is essential - but do they join all parties and influence from inside, or one single party such as the DUP, or take the ultimate step and form an Irish Christian Party? Time to ponder is needed, but that time is short.