The Orange Order: A Tradition Betrayed

Book aims to bring Orangeism back to core principles


Tradition has been betrayed in the Orange Order and there is an increasing narrowness of vision within the membership, writes Brian Kennaway who has written a book aimed at addressing ignorance of the institution

The membership of the Orange Order may not be as numerous as it was in the past and it may only, in numerical terms, be representative of a small proportion of the protestant community throughout Ireland, yet its impact on the whole community far outweighs its numerical strength.

A Presbyterian statesman and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (1971), the Rev. F. Rupert Gibson claimed that:

“Probably there is no human institution claiming to be based on the Bible and professing to maintain the principles of the Reformed Faith, which has been more bitterly maligned by its avowed foes and more falsely represented by those who profess to be its friends, than the Orange Order.”

What was true in the 1950’s when Dr Gibson penned those words is all the more true today, and this is one of the reasons which lie behind the publication of my book.

The Orange Institution has often been maligned by those who are opposed not only to its ideals but to its very existence. Much of this criticism arises out of a lack of knowledge of the Order’s principles, but some is a result of malevolence.

It is difficult, humanly speaking, to deal with criticism which arises out of malevolence, for ‘the problem at the heart of man is the problem of man’s heart’.  However, opposition which arises out of ignorance can and should be addressed.  This is have endeavoured to do.

Much of this opposition to Orangeism arises directly out of the ‘secret’ nature of the organisation which perpetuates a membership which believes that it cannot talk about the Order other than ‘in lodge’.  This bad situation is made worse by the inability of the leadership to clearly articulate the ideals of Orangeism to an ever changing world.

In an age when the only acceptable intolerance is an intolerance of intolerance, the Orange Institution by the public display of intolerance on the part of some of the membership, have placed the Institution in a position of being a hostage to fortune.

Because the nature and principles of the Orange Order are not clearly understood by the leadership and the membership, is it any wonder that those outside the organisation have no clear view of what the Institution stands for?

Over the 200 years of the Institution’s existence many people have written from the position of ignorance and communicated to the wider world inaccuracies about the position of the Order.  This I have attempted to correct throughout this publication, from revealing that the original Qualifications are strictly pro-Protestant and make no reverence to Roman Catholics, to the fact that the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland did NOT oppose the Belfast Agreement.

In my experience of forty-two years membership of the Orange Institution what I have witnessed is an increasing narrowness of vision within the membership.  This narrowness, or ‘funnel vision’, is in turn reflected in the leadership.

This is seen in a narrowness of religious perspective.  In the 1950’s the Grand Lodge and the Institution in general was dominated by ministers from the main protestant denominations.  This is not the case today, and the previous list of churches recognised for the purpose of Chaplains has been rescinded.

The Rev Dr. Warren Porter in his foreword states:

“Anti-clericalism, and the ‘sect’ mentality, i.e., opposition to and criticism of, the mainline Protestant denominations, is also an unlovely feature of some modern-day Orange gatherings.”

This growing sense of anti-clericalism, was revealed in an interview with Darwin Templeton in the Belfast Telegraph on 30th June 1999, when the Grand Master Robert Saulters, is quoted as feeling “betrayed” by the leaders of the main Protestant churches. This kind of unprecedented public attack indicated the direction in which the Institution was now going.

While every Orangeman, according to the standards of acceptance, declares that he is a member of a particular religious denomination and is regular at worship, this is not always true in practice.  This has led to a noticeable shift in both language and practice from faith to culture.

The major issues facing the Institution in recent years have been the relationship with loyalist paramilitaries, violence at confrontational parades, the unwillingness to exercise discipline and the inability of the leadership, at various levels to give, leadership.

That these issues have been acknowledged by many to be the problems facing the Order in today’s world, is most commendable.  However, that fact that the acknowledged problems are not addressed is a serious betrayal of principle.

Such positive leadership would not only extricate the Institution from the deluge of external and internal criticism, but also enable it to make a positive contribution to the Ireland of the twenty-first century.

I hope this publication will, as David Trimble has expressed, ‘help to bring the Institution back to its roots and core principles’.

Rev Brian Kennaway is former education convenor with the Orange Order.

His book The Orange Order: A Tradition Betrayed (Methuen) was published last week


This article appeared in the Irish Times on 1 May 2006