I wish to respond to an article submitted by Richard Reed to the Long Kesh site regarding my subject ‘Traditional Loyalism in Modern Society.’
Mr Reed’s article has been re-tweeted by those that would seem keen to endorse his view.
A point was made to me at the weekend during a good-natured debate around gay marriage which I indeed accept to be true, namely that no one policy defines a Party. By the same token no one viewpoint defines a person. Mr Reed seems to have missed this fundamental truth by directing his comments as a poor attempt to defame my character and undermine my argument.
Mr Reed spends a lot of literary effort attempting to separate traditional Protestant values from modern Loyalism, and to be frank, I believe he provides a poor theological basis for this.
His argument woven through the article is that he suggests Protestantism, which separated initially from Catholicism, (reformation period) should somehow move with the times and ‘evolve’ is a bizarre and illogical argument when presented on a Biblical basis.
The reformers ‘protested’ against the teachings and non-Biblical interpretations of the Catholic Church, and they indeed did give birth to what has become known as the Protestant Reformation which has evolved to this very day as the only sound biblical defender of the faith.
I understand Mr Reed’s point (although I fail to agree with him on it) that social identities must evolve, however to do this he contends that Loyalism must completely separate from Protestantism to survive and play a role in ‘modern’ society. Or this would seem to be the logical outcome of his argument.
It is my belief Protestantism can only evolve based upon sound Biblical principles, for indeed it’s foundation is grounded in the infallible, inerrant word of God and is unchanging for all eternity. To therefore ask Protestantism to liberalise or modernize is a nonsense because as stated, it is founded upon the unchanging the word of God.
Mr Reed asks the question, “What is God’s Word?
I believe the word of God is what is written in the Bible. As Jesus himself (Who is the Word of God incarnate) says ‘It is written’.
Mr Reed’s response at times shifts the initial debate into another sphere around the founding principles of Protestantism and on into a much deeper theological discussion. In essence I believe that Mr Reed’s commentary on this particular section is theologically incorrect and is a misinterpretation of the reformation and glorious Protestant revolution. The reformers based their social principles on Biblical principles. They did not break away from the word of God; they broke away from a Church that claimed divine right to interpret the word of God.
Their argument was on a human not a spiritual level. Their ‘uprising’ was not against God, but against the Catholic Church which had forsaken the word of God.
This brings us to the argument that clearly arises following my original piece and Mr Reed’s response, ‘Does Loyalism need to create an identity without the ‘shackles’ of the Biblical principles that comes with Protestantism?’
My original piece clearly contends that Loyalism is best served by maintaining Biblical principles.
Mr Reed’s argument suggests that Loyalism needs to embrace social change and liberalise views on social issues.
But the views and positions taken politically by many sections of Loyalism are based on a personal Protestant faith founded on the Word of God.
It is an indisputable fact that for a wide section of Loyalism, their personal Protestant faith serves as a root for their Loyalist identity.
It is now however an ideological argument developing within Loyalism around what the anchors of loyalist identity actually are. This is being played out in the political sphere.
In previous eras differences such as the (GFA) Yes/No campaign and the breakaway of Loyalist groups who were opposed to the embryonic Peace Process were based upon differences around engagement in the political process.
Today’s debates centre around what political and social positions should shape the Loyalist ideology in the context of participation in this political process.
The problem is there are so many different and complex social and political positions amongst Loyalism that it is difficult to present a political manifesto that will act as a core ideological position on Loyalism. This, I believe, is the root cause of Loyalism’s internal political disagreements.
Mr Reed dismisses out of hand the position taken up by those who share my viewpoint. In contrast to Mr Reed’s view, I recognise the position of various elements of Loyalism that base their idea of Loyalism around a different interpretation / ideology and who indeed interpret the Covenant of 1912 and our historical ‘cause’ in many different ways.
I have previously made my case around my beliefs, however I am conscious of the differences in viewpoint and am prepared to ask the difficult questions that need answered if intra loyalist unity is to be efficiently achieved in the context of building an effective political base.
In this context Mr Reed has initiated a debate around very difficult and emotive questions that admittedly will be difficult to answer and has created an environment for extremely complex debates.
Based on Mr Reeds response and the numerous contradictory elements within Loyalism today, is it wrong to ask is Loyalism an identity in itself or is it a ‘name tag’ created to describe a wide range of different identities?
If it is the former (an identity in itself) then a debate must take place around what is actually the natural ideological position of Loyalism. Is it rooted in Biblical Protestantism or not? If as I believe it fundamentally is, then Loyalism must stay true to the motto ‘For God and Ulster’ or ‘In God Our Trust’ and base political and social positions around this.
If it isn’t (founded in Protestantism), then Loyalism must separate and ‘un-shackle’ itself from a conscious reliance on Biblical principles.
If it is the latter (‘a name tag’ created to describe a wide range of different identities) then Loyalism must shape a common identity that will find common ideological ground between the often-contradictory sections of Loyalism.
In the context of this response to Mr Reed I have simply attempted to highlight the questions that need to be answered.
I have attempted to move the debate to a different level.
It is clear and evident that a wide section of Loyalism would agree with my initial piece and an equally wide section would subscribe to the viewpoint presented by Mr Reed.
This draws the ‘battle lines’ for the debate that Loyalism needs to have and as one person said to me recently, “Every battle ends around the table”. The core aim must be getting the debate around the table before it becomes a publicly played out political war of words that will only serve to play into the hands of Republicanism and the clear systemic problems that emanate from our system of Government in Northern Ireland.