Christian Politics – A Force for Good
By Dr John Coulter
The Christian Church in Ireland, north and south, is facing a theological relevance problem as it loses society’s support on core Biblical issues, such as abortion, homosexuality, divorce, assisted suicide and relations with Islam.
If the Churches cannot hold back the secular, pluralist, agnostic, atheist tide sweeping the island – or maybe it’s just apathy in religion – by getting pro-Christian candidates elected in various parties, then perhaps the Church should grab the demon by the horns and form its own movement.
This island urgently needs the formation of an Irish Christian Party to combat the potentially fatal crisis which has befallen many churches.
The time is nigh for Christians of all denominations to set aside their theological differences, launch the ICP as an interest group and get candidates elected to the Dail in February and to Stormont in May.
ICP activists must show the same zeal to succeed in getting elected as their forefathers in the Spanish Inquisition and the Puritan Witchfinders.
The ICP is not a movement for pussy-footing whimps, who seem to dominate many churches in modern Ireland.
The depth of the crisis facing Irish Christianity cannot be swept behind the pulpit.
If the slide continues, within a generation there will be more people in Ireland who are non-Christians or non-worshippers than currently exist in the pews.
Practically, when – not if – this becomes a religious reality, Catholic chapels will close and the smaller Protestant denominations will cease to exist.
The clerical abuse scandals within Catholicism have created the false stereotype that only predator homosexuals and child molesters want to become priests or join Holy Orders.
At one time, Ireland was one of the Vatican’s beacons of Catholicism in Western Europe. Families saw it as a badge of honour when they proudly declared a son was entering the priesthood or a daughter becoming a nun.
Has it become a case that folk who feel called to religious orders prefer to conduct their vocation overseas away from Irish eyes for fear of being falsely branded a pervert?
Many Protestant churches find themselves in an equally precarious position.
There are more than two dozen different denominations all claiming to be the one, true Protestant faith!
The Irish Catholic Bishops got a right kick in the theological teeth when the Republic voted in favour of same-sex marriage.
The island’s largest Protestant denomination, the Church of Ireland, is at war with itself over same-sex marriage.
The gay debate is about to split Presbyterianism as liberals and evangelicals lock horns, with some clerics supporting same-sex marriage; others vehemently opposing it.
Some clerics in many churches need to get a large dose of sensible courage when it comes to dealing with the problems of young people, as they are more interested in their image in the community than helping folk.
Among the fundamentalist churches, they are more interested in fighting over types of worship, women’s hats, men’s ties, what translation of the Bible to read, going to the cinema, heavy metal, and when, where and how to have sex!
Christians of whatever faith need to face the bitter reality that to survive as an influential community in Ireland, they must unite and organise politically. The IPC must copy the tactics and zeal of their opponents.
In less than a generation, the gay community has gone from having homosexual acts branded as a crime to being the most vocal and powerful lobby on the island.
The IPC must adopt this strategy. It must dispel the myth that it is a bunch of fringe religious nutcases to becoming the majority voice of order, reason and control in parliament and council chambers.
The IPC must instil in its membership the same discipline for Christian devotion as Islam has created among moderate muslims.
Just as thousands now flock to gay pride events across Ireland, the IPC must sell its message through a series of massive Christian Pride Festivals.
The IPC must rekindle the spirit of the famous 1859 religious Revival which swept across Ireland.
Forget denominational rituals and traditions. When Catholic and Protestants get together under the banner of the Irish Christian Party, they will find there are more issues which unite them than divide them.
The island’s largest Christian denomination – Catholicism – faces the biggest challenge if its voice is to be heard in the corridors of Dublin’s Leinster House and Belfast’s Parliament Buildings
The Catholic Church in Ireland needs to be reborn spiritually – otherwise it will become a meaningless fringe cult in less than a decade.
The abuse scandals, coupled with a secular society, have rocked confidence in the Church leadership, with Mass attendances collapsing nationwide.
Ireland was once the great bastion of the Church-State relationship, especially in the Eamon de Valera era.
But now Irish Catholics need a new set of beliefs, which will see the pews overflowing as they did in the Swinging Sixties.
The Vatican’s Irish office has been axed and outgoing Taoiseach Enda Kenny once publicly used a Dáil speech to lambast the Catholic hierarchy.
That represents the depth of the rot. And the calls to quit for any Catholic clergy suspected of being allegedly involved in sexual abuse or allegedly covering up sexual abuse will not go away.
But there is light at the end of this very dark tunnel for Irish Catholics. The question is, do they have the faith and conviction to follow that path?
A new faith – Pentecostal Catholicism – is slowly, but surely sweeping across the island. If Irish Catholics take this spiritual route, their faith will blossom as never before.
This should not be misinterpreted as Catholics converting to Protestantism. But it does mean Irish Catholicism institutionally cutting its Vatican ties.
Even in the Protestant community, the mainstream and many fringe churches are faced with falling attendances. And Pentecostal Protestantism is on the rise, too.
The power of the Pentecostal movement is that it does not distinguish between Catholics and Protestants. All are what is classified by faith as ‘born again believers’.
In worship terms, a Pentecostal Catholic can feel just as comfortable at a gathering of Pentecostal Protestants.
The perfect example of this growing Pentecostal Catholic movement can be found in West Belfast.
It’s in the Falls Community Fellowship church, based near the Royal Victoria Hospital .
It is led by Pastor Tony Meehan, who once wanted to be a Jesuit-trained priest and was in the Irish Army.
He is also a married man with a family. That’s another benefit the new Pentecostal Catholic movement has for any Catholic male wanting to become a pastor – celibacy is optional.
The general Irish Pentecostal movement began in Monaghan in the early 1900s, but such was the Vatican’s grip on Catholicism in Ireland that bishops have always been able to cleverly dismiss Pentecostalism as Protestantism under another name.
The modern-day Pentecostal Catholic movement is taking the Biblical Old Testament text of Ezekiel chapter 36, verse 26 as its inspiration: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”
The Irish Catholic leadership, as well as dumping Vatican rule and going independent, should also follow the words of Jesus when He told people to sell their riches and give to the poor.
With austerity cuts biting deep across Ireland, the Church has vast riches in its chapels, monasteries, convents and cathedrals.
Poverty will be the social scourge of the next decade and the Irish Catholic Church must sell, sell, sell to help the poor and needy. It should immediately cut its funding to the Vatican.
But money will not buy salvation for the Catholic Church as an institution. It must turn to Pentecostalism as a faith, otherwise Catholicism in Ireland as a religious influence will be dead in a decade, too.
Likewise, if the Catholic and Protestant Churches can become politically relevant, the Christian faith will flourish, but do clerics have the courage of their convictions to save the faith or are they quite content to become religious ostriches and bury their heads in the social sands and pretend the rot is not happening?
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter