It is hoped that leading American diplomat Richard Haass will broker a compromise deal between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein before Christmas. Under this, Republicans would agree to the Union Jack again flying uninterrupted over Belfast City Hall, and allow a token Orange Order parade along the contentious Ardoyne shops route in north Belfast.In return, Unionists would give a green light to nationalists’ much-wanted Maze shrine, dressed up as a modern peace and reconciliation centre. Then both sides can claim victory in time for the 2014 European election.
Meanwhile, Christian socialists again find themselves “piggy in the middle” as the militant “pro-life” brigade in fundamentalism sparks another church-splitting crusade about abortion. Instead of taking a significant role at Stormont in making life better for the people in the pews, Irish Christians are more interested in fighting among themselves about women priests, gay marriage, gay adoption, gay blood donors and now abortion.
The Christian socialist message, based on the Sermon on the Mount, has been lost as militant Pentecostalists raise an uncompromising banner over abortion. Secularists point to the fall in numbers attending mainstream Christian churches as evidence that Ireland is steadily becoming a more pluralist society. But they are either ignoring or refusing to recognise the growing influence of Pentecostalism. Politically, Pentecostalism is largely a working class movement, so its growth might initially be seen as a godsend for Ireland’s Christian socialist cause. But such a view would be misguided.
The abortion debate has allowed the Roman Catholic Church to deflect attention away from the damaging clerical abuse scandals that have diluted the influence of the Irish bishops. Now militant Pentecostalists are using vigorous tactics in opposing abortion to portray themselves as the real champions of the increasingly vocal pro-life lobby, particularly in Northern Ireland.
One of the most fanatical of the evangelical pro-life groups is “We Shall Not Be Silent”, which is touring
churches throughout Ulster mobilising fundamentalist opinion.
Asked if all abortion was wrong, or if a termination could be allowed in some circumstances, the reply was brutally direct:
Our position is that all abortion is wrong. Our organisation is about promoting life and no matter how this life comes into existence he or she deserves maximum protection. We seek to educate people to prove and defend the personhood of an unborn child.
In more than 35 years in journalism, I have only been physically sick twice during an assignment. The first time was during a visit to Auschwitz death camp in Poland. The second was this month when I attended a militant pro-life “training session” in a Pentecostal church.
Part of the session included a large-screen viewing of a termination. Although the congregation was only subjected to the one-minute version, it made me physically ill. And it has pushed me firmly into the pro-choice camp.
I have asked militant pro-lifers what they would do if a pregnancy went wrong and it was a choice between saving their wives’ lives or terminating the unborn child. The answer from some evangelical Christian men was frightening. They said that the woman had had her life, so they would let her die and let the baby live as it had its entire life to look forward to. And these militant male pro-lifers are wholly unrelenting in their “All abortion is wrong” stance. Such was the gut-wrenching presentation by “We Shall Not Be Silent” that in trying not to vomit in the church, I missed whatever the connection was between its campaign against abortion and the equally gruesome photos it showed of a black man murdered in the American Deep South for having two white girlfriends.
Given the brutal nature of these militant pro-lifers’ presentations, I left that church meeting with a burning question: who is the real enemy that Christian socialists in Ireland should be opposing?Perhaps Christian socialists need to get their act together on the abortion issue. Maybe we need to see a new pressure group – Christians For Choice? Ironically, it seems the secularists may have some new friends– militant pro-lifers. Because what right-thinking Christian wants to be linked to the fanatical anti-abortion crusade.