The Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Dromore, Harold Miller, has called for the people he represents to acknowledge their part in the communal division that contributed to the violent conflict of the past forty years. You can hear the interview here (scroll to 33.26 for the start of the conversation). This conflict recently reached another one of the milestones that negotiated settlements require, when Loyalist paramilitaries decommissioned their weapons. Bishop Miller is taking the opportunity for self-reflection as we live through the 40th anniversary year of when the modern ‘Troubles’ began. He suggests that as part of marking the moment ‘when things came to the surface’ that we should all ask ourselves what particular responsibility each of us may have for shaping the social norms that allowed so much violence – physical and psychological – to prevail for so long.
“We must never go back to that point: it can happen so quickly – we have to come to a point of examining ourselves whether in the Protestant or Catholic community to ask what were the things that were wrong in our community.”
When asked if he agrees with the suggestion that Protestants are inclined to think that they are ‘entirely the victims of the Troubles’ he responds with clarity:
“Let’s not play games: to the extent that the allegations are true, of course they should be repented of.”
He’s right. He speaks for me too. I am too quick to allow my prejudices to surface; and need help to understand the world as people different from me do. I once heard Stanley Hauerwas say that one of the reasons that he is a pacifist is that he has inner violent urges that trouble him (if I’m mis-paraphrasing, please forgive me). I don’t think I’m particularly violent, but it’s very easy for me to shape other people in my image; to decide for them how they should feel about things; to imagine that I know better than they do. Actually, this requires very little imagination at all – in fact, if I was using my imagination, I might be a little more respectful of difference. I’m glad to hear the call for self-reflection from Bishop Miller. He’s not the first to say such a thing; but he’s saying it with authority and humility, and I want to listen, not just because he is unlocking one of the keys to northern Ireland’s (and therefore my) future, but for every human community that exists or will exist.