PS…And your lanyard says in God we trust

Larry Norman’s ‘Great American Novel’ is a classic Christian song, prophetically ahead of its time in its articulation of the United States’ claim that Christian values are at the centre of its national life, whilst a litany of truths about power structures and daily life in the country so plainly contradicted that. The chorus of the song railed that: Continue reading


There have been at least three very significant events in the past month that, taken together, may - repeat may - prove to be a watershed in the current quagmire that is politics in Northern Ireland.  

The first was the brutal murder of Lyra McKee in Derry on 29 April that sent shock waves around the world, as well as bringing untold grief to her family and friends.  Her funeral service in St Anne’s Cathedral brought that electrifying moment when Fr Martin Magill called out our politicians for their failure to do government together (and did so, quite explicitly, in God’s name).  That call helped bring about the new talks currently underway to try to get devolution working again.  Continue reading

How to vote on Thursday

(Note: This PS was originally published on Steve Stockman's blog Soul Surmise and is used with permission.)
I am a roving voter who takes serious consideration of a range of issues before deciding who to vote for and in what order. Well, actually I vote for everyone. It is the order that is obviously crucial!
The first thing I have done over this campaign, and all those before it, is to neutralise the colours on the front of the manifesto leaflets and posters. I refuse to let our politicians insult my intelligence or use fear tactics in order to manipulate my vote. The UK/Irish border is NOT at stake in this election. If there is ever a Referendum on that issue we can surmise on it then. Not this Thursday!
Continue reading

Resisting without imposing

In the 1980s Lesslie Newbigin argued that the modern multicultural worldview simply did not have the resources to stand up against absolutist worldviews. Sadly the rise of radical Islam and the results of the EU referendum and US presidential election seem to be proving him right. As postmodern thinkers have often pointed out, worldviews come at a price. Because they are comprehensive in scope and because they depend on a particular narrative of the world they have a tendency to become absolutist ideologies. They tend to negate all other visions, describing them as deviant or disruptive. Continue reading

EU: In or Out?

In or out; stay or leave; in favour of Brexit - or not?  The complexities and the unknowns of the forthcoming referendum on EU membership will, unhappily, be boiled down to simple a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote on this question: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union? We are not used to voting on such a momentous and complex issue.  Nor are we even sure what the key issues really are for those of us with a Christian conscience.   And we will struggle to hear what the scriptures might be saying.  Yet we must try, if we are to vote wisely. Continue reading

Can There Be a Distinctively Christian Contribution to Northern Ireland Politics?

The following reflections are inspired by Steve Stockman’s “An Open Letter to Northern Ireland’s Political Leaders” (PS September 2015) and Esmond Birnie’s response.

The central issue raised by Stockman and Birnie, is whether there is a distinctively Christian input on issues debated in the public arena. Birnie, seems to disagree with Stockman’s conclusion that all polticians are prone to selfish and partisan behaviour irrespective of the kind of political framework and institutions in which they have to operate. He implies that Northern Ireland politics has been prone to “periodic crisis”, in contrast with politics, say, in “London, Dublin, Washington or Berlin”, because of the political institutions as set up by the 1998 peace-process, with slight modifications in 2007.

Birnie argues further that one main reason why politics in Northern Ireland have been in continual crisis of one kind or another is because “we have pursued a 'peace at all costs' so called peace process”, resulting in “moral compromises in order to keep everyone talking, to keep all parties at the table and the room.” This preoccupation with “peace at all costs”, he contends, has forced Northern Ireland politicians to ignore the fundamental issues on which they legitimately disagree. He cites as an example the disagreement about “austerity” fiscal policies by the Government since 2010 and seems to castigate Irish Church leaders for their anti-austerity stance in a statement made last year. Continue reading

An Open Letter to Northern Ireland’s Political Leaders

(This open letter first appeared in Steve Stockman's blog and is reproduced by permission)

Dear Political Leaders

As you go into intensive talks this week to save the political institutions and our unraveling peace process I want to assure you of my prayers. I will not lie to you. I feel disappointed and a little let down by the current crisis. I have invested a little bit of my time on the peace process and this was not what I had hoped for. I am aware that not all of you have time for Christianity, the Church or clergy. I also know that some of you do. Whether you do or not I want to ask you to ponder some wisdom from an ancient text. Whatever your view of the Scriptures please reflect on this wisdom, an alternative view of life that might just bring some needed imagination into our current inertia. You might think it naive. I believe it to be prophetically profound and a formula that would guarantee success in the coming talks. Continue reading

Sacrificial Voting

"Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." -Proverbs 31:9

"Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber." (Plato)

My polling card dropped through the letterbox this week, but that's been far from the only indicator that we're in the midst of an election campaign. In the constituency of East Belfast where I work, it seems like political parties have been working through the gears of their respective campaigns since not long after the 2010 results were announced. Northern Ireland as a whole is in the middle of a three year "tri-cycle" of elections: local councils, Westminster and Assembly - and there's nowhere to hide! Continue reading

Sticks and Stones

Whether politics is an art or a science may intrigue the academics, but for many of us in Northern Ireland it is a deeply dispiriting and often quite ugly spectacle.  Let me balance that by saying unequivocally that our leaders deserve a great deal of respect and support, for they are in the public eye and often have to make tough choices – sometimes between the bad and the very bad. Continue reading