18 June 2017

The DUP and Ulster's Christian Witness

With Theresa May's failed bid to secure a sold Parliamentary majority in the recent Snap election, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland has been the subject of a great deal of media attention. They are her 'ace in the hole', her means to retain power and avoid resignation and further elections in the near future.


Founded by the late Ian Paisley (d.2014) the party is being scrutinised and revisited by political commentators and analysts. Since the 1998 peace deal, Northern Ireland has largely disappeared from public awareness, especially in the United States. The recent Brexit vote has raised some discussions and there have been reports in recent years that the peace is fragile. Brexit poses a real threat and now the prospect of a DUP-Tory coalition running the UK... there are many voices in both Ulster and the Irish Republic that are expressing concern.
Paisley's political movement has always been associated with the Orange Order and the Protestant militias that engaged in tit-for-tat violence with the various factions of the IRA. Paisley was one of the main players that emerged from The Troubles, the period of renewed violence that began in the 1960s and continued up until the Good Friday peace of 1998. While protesting the 1998 agreement, the DUP accepted the power sharing agreement of 2007 and with Sinn Fein took over the reins of government. And now a decade later they are poised to ascend to an even greater height of political power and influence.
And yet despite their ascendancy in Ulster, the DUP has moved even further to the fringes of British society. Largely associated with Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church (which also has a slight presence in the United States), the DUP is considered politically extreme and represents a fringe social element, one that's an object of ridicule and scorn to the largely secular United Kingdom.
It's bad enough that they're considered to be Fundamentalist Christians who embrace extreme forms of nationalism and violence. While the latter is not officially endorsed, virtually everyone knows that Paisley and the DUP were always in tight with the Protestant and Unionist paramilitaries. They're Christian testimony is rightly damaged on this point.
I find many Americans have not understood the nature of the conflict in Northern Ireland, nor the part Paisley and other Unionists played in it. It continues to surprise me that figures such as Ivan Foster remain prominent and popular on websites like SermonAudio*. Foster broke with Paisley in 2007 due to the latter's agreement to joint government with Sinn Fein. While I appreciate many of Foster's stands vis-à-vis Scripture and even some points of doctrine, the truth is the man is an unrepentant ex-paramilitary that took up the gun in the name of Christian Nationalism and Unionism with the British Empire.
The DUP is also wed to a list of views regarding society and the culture wars. They believe in six-day Creation, reject homosexuality and are opposed to abortion. All well and good. I agree with them, but when these positions and doctrines (rooted in faith apprehended revelation) are put into a political platform wed to nationalism and violence... we have a problem. Their conduct leads not only to the discrediting of these Biblical doctrines but places them within a framework of political extremism, coercion and threat. Holding them means one is potentially part of a sect devoted to political violence and the desire for power.
This is not helping the cause of the Gospel. If anything it's harming it... and severely at that.
Finally what will a politically empowered DUP do to Christian witness in both the larger UK and in the Irish Republic? Will other Christians in England, Scotland and Wales be 'lumped' in with the DUP extremists? What about those who labour for the gospel in the Irish Republic, especially now that the new Taoiseach is a flagrant and brazen sodomite?
Now will an anti-homosexual stance be identified with Orange Order violence?
Paisley did great harm to the Christian witness in Ireland and the UK. While I do not support the Lausanne Movement Ecumenicism of many continental Evangelicals, the 1988 Paisley performance (as an MEP) in Strasbourg, while doctrinally correct was a cheap political stunt that did nothing to help advance Christ's Kingdom.
*Foster recently broke with SermonAudio. A small number of Reformed Fundamentalists have broken with the website due to its heavy promotion of the New Calvinists and other Evangelicals. Foster was particularly critical of James White and some of his views and didn't want his materials on a website that promoted him. Ralph Ovadal is another that comes to mind.
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