Brian Kennaway, Convenor of the Education Committee of the Orange Institution, gives us his answer

In recent years the high public profile of the Orange Order has raised for many people questions about the true nature of the Institution. There are many misunderstandings of what the Order actually believes and practices and there is therefore a need to explain the purpose and function of the Orange Order in our society today.

The Rev. Dr. F. Rupert Gibson, a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said. ‘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’.

So, what is the Orange Order? The Education Committee of the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland has in recent years embarked on a programme to help answer this question. Guided by our Mission Statement, ‘The Committee will engage in the process of continuing to educate the Brethren of our Institution and the general public in the truths and principles of the Reformed Religion, and our historical and cultural heritage.’

The following article is part of this ongoing process of education and the material has been produced as a leaflet for general distribution.

The Orange Order, more correctly the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland, came into existence after the Battle of the Diamond, near Loughgall, on 21 September 1795. This ‘Baffle’ was instigated by a Roman Catholic revolutionary brotherhood known as the ‘defenders’ who were part of the ‘ethnic cleansing’ programme of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when the attempt was made to remove the Protestant witness from the Island of Ireland.

The purpose of the Orange Order to bring together the ‘Protestants’ of various denominations – Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Independents, Huguenots, Quakers – into one homogenous grouping. The concern was to maintain the Protestant religion and way of life and to make a distinctive affirmation that they intended to hold fast to the freedom of religion won at such a high cost at the Reformation.

The Orange Institution became an international organisation as the benefits of a religious and fraternal organisation became obvious. Military Warrants ~ issued from the earliest years of the Institution and this may have added the growth of Orangeism as serving soldiers carried their culture and identity throughout the Empire. Orangeism spread to Montreal in 1818, Australia in 1845, Togo in 1915 and Ghana in 1928.

The Orange Order is fundamentally a Christian organisation, as the basis of the Institution states, ‘The Institution is composed of Protestants, united and resolved to the utmost of their power support and defend the…. Protestant Religion.’

The Orange Institution therefore unites Protestants of all the Reformed denominations, in opposition to Biblical error and the encouragement of Scriptural truth.

According to the ‘basis’ to which all members must assent before admission into the Institution. ‘It is exclusively an Association of those who are attached the religion of the Reformation,’ The religion of the Reformation is both spiritual and moral (Belief and Duty).

The Institution stands in the Reformed tradition as the various statements contained in the ‘Qualifications’ illustrate. Therefore members should have:

A love for God – ‘a sincere love and veneration for his Heavenly Father’. ‘He should never take the name of God in vain.’

Faith in Christ – ‘steadfast faith in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind.’

Authority of Scripture – ‘he should honour and delinquently study the Holy Scriptures and make them the rule of his faith and practice.’

Respect for Sunday – ‘he should remember to keep holy the Sabbath day, and attend the public worship of God.’

There is something of a ‘bonding’ between the members of the Orange Institution, because those things which we share in common and hold dear are much more important than things which may divide us.

The brotherly bond which unites the members is based on the spirit of ‘tolerance’, tolerance towards those within the brotherhood with whom there may be differences of emphasis and towards those outside the brotherhood who differ from us in religious persuasion. This emphasis is seen in the ‘Basis of the Institution’ which states that the Orange Order ‘will not admit into its brotherhood persons whom an intolerant spirit leads to persecute, injure, or unbraid any man on account of his religious opinions.’

If you are a practising Protestant in the truly religious sense: regularly at your place of worship, morally upright in your life, and if you display a tolerant spirit towards those with whom you may disagree, then you will be welcome within the orange institution.

Basis of the Institution
The Institution is composed of Protestants, united and resolved to the utmost of their power to support and defend the rightful Sovereign, the Protestant religion, the Laws of the Realm, and the Succession of the Throne in the House of Windsor, BEING PROTESTANT; and united further for the defence of their Persons and Properties, and the maintenance of the Public Peace. 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 the account of his religious opinions. They associate also in honour of King William III, Prince of Orange, whose name they bear, as supporters of is glorious memory.

Brian Kennaway is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. He is a Deputy Grand Chaplain of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and Convenor of the Education Committee. In 1995 the Committee published the booklet The Order on Parade. Together with Ian Meredith, he has written The Orange Order- An Evangelical Perspective (1993). He has been a member of Christian Crusaders LOL 1339 since 1964.

This article appeared in ‘Lion & Lamb’, the magazine of ECONI Issue 13 (1998?)