Time to go back to basics

Time to go back to basics

“That’s the Twelfth over for another year”, is a common expression of Orangemen at the conclusion of the Twelfth evening.

For many, and I believe the vast majority of the orange constituency, it is their hope and prayer that the violence, bitterness and intolerance which has marked the Twelfth period will not only be over for another year, but over for good.

All that the true Orangeman asks for is that he has the freedom and liberty to express his faith, his culture and his identity, in that order, without allegations of being either sectarian or a bigot.  Such ‘true Orangemen’ may be hard to find – at least if you focus in only on the stereotype beloved by the media.

But that ‘true Orangeman’ is out there – alive, if not well, and more recently, kicking.  Such ‘kicking’ remarks on the morning of the Twelfth from such senior Orangemen as William Brown, Gerald Douglas and William Murdie are unprecedented, and indicate that all is not well within the higher echelons of the Institution.  But then how could all be well when the public image of the 200 year old Institution must be at an all time low.

If such damage had been inflicted by ‘the enemy’ it could be taken in stride, but that it is largely self-inflicted, makes it all the more unpalatable.  We have in some instances behaved like the stereotype which we continue to deny, and which has enhanced the popular caricature of an Orangeman.

One thing is evident if we seriously reflect on the events of recent days.  The Orange Institution, if it is to survive, and make a positive contribution in the Ireland of today, must cut out a new niche for itself in today’s society.  The Ireland in which the Institution was formed, 200 years ago, has changed beyond all recognition, though many display the denial syndrome at that point.  Ireland is no longer the Ireland dominated by “Rome”, but by such unchristian phenomena as ‘materialism’ and ‘secularism’.  To re-fight the battles of the past is like re-inventing the wheel.

In the past the Institution has been praised for being a stabilising influence in the Protestant community.  After the events of this past week some are asking where that stabilising influence has gone.

Every group/society/institution needs to re-evaluate itself and reconnect!  We need to go back to the basic principles of Orangeism and therefore away from the confrontation of the POLITICS and PARADES which have plagued the Institution in recent years.  We need to get back to our core values of Fraternal Brotherhood- Religious Piety (of the Reformed variety) – Civic Awareness – Civil & Religious Liberty – Tolerance.

But because the Orange Institution is one of the most misunderstood organisations in society today we also need to explain ourselves to others.  This requires a total change of mind-set, away from the negative attitudes of ‘touch not the unclean thing’ to the positive mind-set of ‘let your light so shine before men’.  We need hardly complain about being misunderstood if we are unwilling to take the necessary steps to make ourselves understood.

Clearly the Institution will have to choose between which comes first – religion or politics.   Is the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland – as distinct from most of the other branches  in the Orange Family which have a different emphasis- an Institution with a religious basis and a political dimension, or an Institution with a political basis and a religious dimension?  If the wise advice to ‘leave politics to the politicians’, is followed, the Orange Institution may have a clearer vision of where it is going in the future.

The BASIS of the Institution affirms:-

“It is exclusively an Association of those who are attached to the religion of the Reformation, and will not admit into its brotherhood persons whom an intolerant spirit leads to persecute, injure, or upbraid any man on account of his religious opinions.”

The origins of the Loyal Orange Institution are set within the context of the European Reformation in general, and the Glorious Revolution in particular.  The Orange Institution associates “in honour of King William III, Prince of Orange, whose name they bear, as supporters of his glorious memory.” (BASIS of the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland).  The biographer of William, Nesca Robb has stated ” . . .  The  Toleration Act (1689) fell short of his wishes, but in spite of many frustrations he did his utmost to promote religious toleration.”

The astute student of history will know that given the libertine world in which we live today, we all have something to celebrate because of William’s victory.

As Geoffrey Wheatcroft put it in an article in the Times, on 12th July last, “you don’t need a sash or a Lambeg drum to drink a toast to, ‘Civil and religious liberty'”.

The Rev. Brian Kennaway is a Former Convenor of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland’s Education Committee


This article appeared in the Irish News on 13th July 2000