LDCF Executive member John Kildea writes some thoughts on the Christians in Politics seminar at New Wine NI & New Horizon Conference in Coleraine. Any LDCF members (or potential new members) please contact John on the details given at the end of his blog.
The terms "Northern Ireland (NI) and "Politics", coming together in the same sentence can cause one to cringe visibly and await a toxic mix of claim and counter claim, accusation and counter accusation based on a decade, a century or several centuries depending on one's perspective.
Most recently the outcome of the 2016 referendum in NI (56% remain, 44% leave), the collapse of the Stromont Executive and the allegations that prompted the enquiry into the Renewable Heat Initative plus the changes proposed at Westminster in the most recent House of Commons Session have ramped up the divisions and have taken away from the more positive atmosphere of "The Chuckle Brothers" when Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness struck up a very helpful working relationship.
By way of a response to these and other issues, an approach was made to the organisers of two summer festivals, "New Wine" at Sligo and "New Horizon" in Coleraine that Andy Flannagan, originally from Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim, from Christians in Politics (CiPol) could lead seminars at both events.
Whilst Sligo is located in the Republic of Ireland, it draws its attendance from all over the island and on a personal note, I would contend that there are issues that need to be considered on an all-Ireland basis. New Horizon's location on the North Coast means that those attending are predominately from NI.
I was able to attend one of Andy's two sessions at Sligo as well as that at Coleraine, which is after all my home town. This event was also attended by Ian Nickels from the Conservative Christian Fellowship (CCF)
Andy's contributions lasted for 60 to 75 minutes with those attending showing considerable knowledge and interest. He gave the rationale for a Christian involvement in politics that goes beyond the letter/email/phone call that protests when the interests of "the Church" is perceived to be under threat and that is therefore involved at every level of political life as just about every decision taken carries within it some degree of moral judgement.
Mention was made of case studies in which an individual had contributed to a meaningful change of policy, e.g. Lizzie Jewke’s idea on how raising the starting point at which income tax is paid and he gave strategies for how an individual could become involved in a political party, firstly at a local level and then as a possible council, assembly or parliamentary candidate.
In the Q and A sessions that were part of his input, Andy was able to give details (without mentioning specific individuals) of how personal Christian faith continues to play a role at national, regional and local levels, and how LDCF, CCF and Christians on the Left operate on the "Kingdom before Tribe "policy.
In the near future the tentative plan is to arrange a CiPol event for those who signed up for future involvement and to thoughtfully and prayerfully plan a set of aims and activities for NI and the Republic of Ireland given the particular histories we have to contend with and the current sensitivities that exist, particularly surrounding Brexit and its possible impact on the workings of the Good Friday Agreement. This will not be straightforward, but neither is it impossible.
As Andrew White, the one-time "Vicar of Baghdad" commented he believes in a God who can influence the White House and the Pentagon. We need to know that this God who we worship can direct what takes place at Westminster, Holyrood, Stormont, Cardiff, Leinster House (the meeting place for the Dail Eireaan), Strasbourg and Brussels.
Personally, that gives me some much needed assurance.
John Kildea (NI branch and LDCF exec member)
John Kildea E-mail [email protected] Tel + 44 (0) 2870 327849