Developing Pastoral Loyalism.


Former Blanket columnist and Unionist commentator, DR JOHN COULTER, maintains that 2013 should see the Christian Churches set up to the mark and develop Pastoral Loyalism to help the beleaguered Protestant working classes.

The Christian Churches in Northern Ireland have a moral and spiritual duty to develop the concept of Pastoral Loyalism within the Protestant working class.

The flags debate has effectively lifted the lid on the existence of an extensive loyalist underclass which has been festering since 1998 and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.


On paper, the Unionist Forum suggested by mainstream party leaders Peter Robinson and Mike Nesbitt, looks like a comprehensive way forward. In practice, it could tumble into the pitfall of being nothing more than a 2013 version of the successful Unionist Coalition – or United Ulster Unionist Council (affectionately known as the Treble U-C) – which carved up the Westminster seats for the two 1974 Westminster General Elections.

Cynics could suggest the Unionist Forum represents the opening shots in the 2014 European election campaign in a bid to ensure that increasing Protestant voter apathy does not result in Unionism losing its second seat to nationalism.

For too long, the position of many of the Christian Churches towards loyalism has been either one of condemnation or confrontation – condemning loyalism for its actions during the conflict, or making ‘hell fire’ type sermons and speeches which ‘egged on’ loyalists to take that action.

Is it any wonder that loyalist leaders such as the late Gusty Spence and David Irvine turned towards agnostic, even atheistic socialism as an alternative to the failure of many Christian Church clerics to provide positive and meaningful leadership for the loyalist working class.

For many in the loyalist community, the Christian faith became linked to Protestant fundamentalism and the Free Presbyterian Church – founded by Ian Paisley senior in 1951 – in particular. This perception was also fuelled by the number of members of the ‘Free P Church’ who were active in the early decades of the DUP. Indeed, the Free P’s were often dubbed the DUP at prayer.

If Pastoral Loyalism is to be a concept more than the empty rhetoric of a Sunday evening sermon, the Christian Churches must move beyond the traditional imagery of soup kitchens and evangelical street reaches. The Churches must fill the current political vacuum created by the mainstream Unionist parties’ totally politically suicidal decision to move ‘upmarket’ and ignore the plights of working class Protestants.

The loyalist working class must learn to trust the Churches again. Too often, the perception is that the hell-fire sermons of the past lit the fuses which sent many young Protestants to a jail cell or an early grave. The Churches have an uphill task in 2013 to win the confidence of the Protestant working class.

To achieve this, the Churches will have speak and move as a united movement. Such is the depth of outrage and frustration among the working class Protestant community, that that Churches can no longer leave the re-building of this Loyalism/Christian Church partnership to a few well-meaning congregations, individual clerics, fringe denominations, or pressure groups such as the Evangelical Protestant Society or the Caleb Foundation.

The Unionist Forum looks lovely reading on paper, but is it really another electoral ploy to get working class Protestant voters mobilised for the 2014 European poll when the Unionist family – because of splits and voter apathy – will be hard-pushed to retain its second seat?

Indeed, such is the feeling of abandonment among working class Protestants that they have suggested the formation of a People’s Forum to discuss a way forward for loyalism. At this point, these ordinary loyalists will come to the mainstream Unionist politicians and parties with what they want those politicians to do.

This is very much a question of history repeating itself. A century ago, the network of Unionist Clubs throughout Ireland, and especially in the Province of Ulster when the entire island was part of the British Empire, working class Protestants devised a strategy which they took to the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Council.

The Unionist people devised the policy to defeat Home Rule, and the politicians – aided by the Orange Order and Carson’s Ulster Volunteers – implemented it.

What is now needed is a Churches Forum whereby representatives of all the Protestant denominations can meet with the loyalist working classes and draw up a strategy to move the loyalist community forward. If the Unionist parties cannot provide effective leadership, then the Christian Churches must do it through Pastoral Loyalism.

The Churches Forum can also report to the Unionist Forum so that Unionism’s political leaders are left in no doubt just how deep the crisis is in loyalism. Nor should the Churches Forum limit its influence merely to trying to increase attendance in the pews.

The People’s Forum also looks like a sound idea on paper, provided it is not infiltrated by MI5 or police intelligence for their own agendas. In the campaign against the November 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, the loyalist working class mobilised in a network of Ulster Clubs.

Again, that network mirrored the successful Home Rule-era of Unionist Clubs. But loyalists must remember that the Unionists of 1913 did not face the added problem of the British intelligence community.

Westminster and Dublin want the peace process to work. If the cause of the plight of the loyalist working class becomes a constant irritation, that British intelligence community will work to discredit any effort to mobilise loyalism. After all, MI5 is not going to have a £20 million building near Holywood lying empty.

The Christian Churches must act positively on the words of Jesus Christ Himself in the Beatitudes when He talked about ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’. Also, given the growing influence of the cross-border and British-Irish bodies and organisations, loyalists must ‘box clever’ politically and devise a workable campaign in the Republic which will highlight their cause for civil rights.



2 Responses to Developing Pastoral Loyalism.

  1. Robert Allen

    Reading this piece by John Coulter made me think he must be very out of touch with working class Loyalism and the attitude the church has towards it.
    He states the ‘flags debate has effectively lifted the lid on the existence of an extensive loyalist underclass’. For years this underclass has been evident to anyone interested enough to look. Loyalist working class communities are so disenfranchised they have turned their back on the middle class attitudes of main stream Unionism and the church. Numbers of voters have dropped dramatically over the years along with those attending church.
    The church, which is supposed to follow the example given by its leader, Jesus have been aware of, but ignored this underclass. They are happy to return to their comfortable pews to talk among themselves about giving someone a gospel tract, therefore dispatching their duty to try and reach the great unwashed.
    John has got things the wrong way round when he states, ‘the loyalist working class must learn to trust the Churches again’. I would suggest the churches need to start serving the loyalist working class, without preconditions. The bible states; ‘for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve’. If we had a church in the community which was happy to serve the people of that community without the expectation that the person helped would then attend the next available church meeting then they might see a change in attitude.
    As for the churches speaking as a united movement, you’ve more chance of Sinn Fein and the Dup sitting in government together…oh wait! Well how did these two, at onetime sworn enemies, get so comfortable together? If you’ll pardon the pun, they started to sing off the same hymn sheet.
    The churches say they follow the one book and the one Author of this book. However, while they squabble and disagree so much about the most miniscule issue and fight for better attendances than the next church they ignore the plight of those about them. The chance of any long term strategy which would see them working together, as a united movement, for the betterment of the loyalist community may be harder to achieve than the SF/DUP love in.
    I think the last thing that’s needed is a ‘churches forum’ particularly one which, as John thinks, could ‘also report to the Unionist Forum so that Unionism’s political leaders are left in no doubt just how deep the crisis is in loyalism’. This is an affront to Loyalist people and the leaders, both political and community, already actively working in these communities and listening to the people. I don’t believe the PUP for example, would need someone to come and tell them of the crisis within loyalism, and how do they know, because they listen and have been listening while working in these same communities.
    Make no mistake, this Unionist Forum is a kneejerk reaction from the two main Unionist parties emanating from fear whereby they will try and take away support, direction and influence from the likes of the PUP. It will come to nothing as soon as these two dinosaurs of politics think the loyalist people have blown off enough steam and settled back into their routine again you won’t see them until the next crisis where they will turn up to try and grab the headlines again.
    No, I think it’s time the churches started doing what they were set up to do and what their leader asked them to do, serve the people. Don’t start to act like the mainstream Unionist parties and try to take advantage of the loyalist people when they are in need. If the churches want to be of use they should get their hands dirty serving those who are already active within loyalism without any hidden agenda.

  2. Charlie Freel

    As Ulster Volunteers whose oath of loyalty is to God and Ulster, it is our duty as Protestants to involve the instructions of Jesus Christ, within our politics and our actions. We must not use the failings of the established Churches, or their reams of manmade rules and often unchristian regulations as an excuse, to default from that oath. Yes the established Churches no longer remotely resemble the deliberately simple, faith driven Church created by Jesus Christ, they are no longer the bastion of hope for the Working Class and they are nearly all in sharp self-inflicted decline because of the many manmade odstacles that they have placed between sinners and salvation. Todays Churches are no longer the centre of community life and no longer the first port of call for those in need or trouble. In fact in many cases religion and Church attendance has become little more than, an extra, just in case insurance policy for the middle and upper classes.
    None of this should be allowed to deflect us from the sincere simple faith of our forefathers in a forgiving God of Love. We must never forget that right throughout history, good has always overcame evil in the end, and will eventually do so here in Northern Ireland.
    For God and Ulster.