The Shame of Drumcree

“Orange Order in shame . . . we reap what we sow”


After another Drumcree marked by Orange Order violence, the Rev Brian Kennaway challenges the Order to deal with those members who breach the principles of the institution

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)

Like the multitude of decent, respectable, traditional Orangemen, I was gutted by the events at Drumcree bridge on Sunday 7th July 2002.  I did not see anything of the Gospel in that display of malicious violence.  Neither did I see anything of the fulfilment of the first of the Twelfth Resolutions:- “to be faithful followers of Jesus with those who mirror Christ’s loving presence in the world.”

As if that sense of disillusionment among the Protestant and Unionist community is not enough, we first had to listen to the begrudging condemnation:- “We unreservedly condemn the violence but. . . “.

Ruth Dudley Edwards suggests that the leadership has gone into denial.  If it is denial then that denial began with the Press Release on Sunday 7th July, and can be seen in such escapist phrases as “outsiders started the trouble” and “the decision to down-scale the security precautions was clearly a mistake”.  The community in general is now to be subject to a list of excuses and denials that would make the Holocaust denial historian, David Irvine, appear as a paragon of virtue.

It was, I suggest, not so much an outright denial as a deflection of the blame.  This, as anyone with biblical knowledge understands, is as old as Adam.  Adam deflected the blame.  Genesis 3:12 “The woman you put here with me she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

As the days moved on and speeches were prepared for the Twelfth we were subject to further begrudging statements.  It was all strangely reminiscent of the, “It was some one else’s fault”, of 1998.

It was revealed in the media that those arrested had expressed their “regret”.  The more Biblical expression had been used by the Rev. Pickering, when immediately following the violence, he expressed the hope that they would “repent”.

Repentance not regret is of the essence of the Christian Gospel.  Paul made this clear before King Agrippa:- “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”  We must not allow ourselves to be deflected from repentance to regret.

There is an important difference between “regret” and “repent”.  Of course, Christ’s love and tolerance is to be shown to those who repent – but so also is Godly discipline.  The one does not exclude the other in Reformed Theology.

Neither should we be deflected from facing up to our Christian responsibilities by going down the atheistic road of secular sociology.  George Patton was reported as saying:- “We have to look at what prompted normally law-abiding citizens to act in the way that they did”.

This again is an exercise deflecting blame.  The reason why these shameful actions have taken place is well known, and widely admitted within the Order.  It is because of the quality of member we have admitted in contravention of our own QUALIFICATIONS.

Why can we not honestly confess that we have over the years admitted into our brotherhood, “persons whom an intolerant spirit leads to persecute, injure, or upbraid any man on account of his religious opinions.”?   In doing so the Institution has denied its own BASIS, and reaped what it has sown.

Given that over the years of this Drumcree dispute many media personnel have been attacked, both verbally and  physically, any attempt to deflect from responsibility by blaming the Media, is as cynical as it is untrue.  As one reporter put it:- “It has happened so often it is no longer news worthy”.

After the inexcusable refusal to exercise discipline, even in private, against the “Spirit of Drumcree” faction, any discipline by internal procedures will be as ineffective as they will be comical.  It is after all, this element of unlawful public dissent, under the banner of the “Spirit of Drumcree”, which is seen in so many of the fractional groups attached or otherwise to the banner of Orangeism.  Had effective discipline, even in private, been taken in the past we would not be experiencing the present public credibility challenge.  The chickens have truly come home to roost.  In the words of the American pulpiteer with an apt turn of phrase, Vance Havner, “The alternative to discipline is disaster” .

Discipline is not punitive, its purpose in religion and society is to restore the offender to the path of righteousness. However, in the context of Northern Ireland, discipline, and public discipline at that,  is also vital to show that the Orange Order lives up to its principles and has no truck with double standards.

There may well be the innate fear to exercise discipline lest we lose members.  But we will not lose ‘good members’ by exercising discipline against the lawbreakers.  On the contrary we may well keep on board the long-serving and long-suffering members who are distraught by the Institution’s lack of credibility among the wider Protestant and Unionist community.  We have admitted to membership men who totally failed to meet the Qualifications which the Order lays down.  Quantity rather than Quality has determined the agenda.

The Northern Ireland community has suffered too long from the inability of those in leadership to actually give leadership.  The traditional supporters of the Orange Order want and deserve truthfulness, honesty and transparency.

If that is not forthcoming after this latest debacle, the scriptures might well be fulfilled again, and we will again reap what we sow.

Rev Brian Kennaway

This opinion piece appeared in the Irish News on 26th July 2002