I once spoke in a church building where there was a plaque beside the pulpit commemorating the fallen members of “our” congregation who had been killed in the Troubles. I wondered what it would do for the self identity of young members of the congregation, now coming of age without any memory of those Troubles, if their most common expression of that time was that “their” kind would have been killed by those other types. Remembering the conflict of their province, for that church, can only mean a stark line being drawn between them and Other.
How can a young Christian in that church welcome a former republican paramilitary as his brother if the architecture of their church home declares that they are We because the others are Others?
I have been thinking with some other folks about what it means for theology to contribute peace to Ireland. Remembering rightly, as Miroslav Volf teaches us, is something Christians can excel at. But the way that Christian churches remember often feeds into the damaging cycle of wider society where the truth gets replaced by myth.
Christian churches are communities that keep themselves alive – more precisely, that God keeps alive – by keeping alive the memories of the Exodus and the Passion. Their identity is wrapped up in the memory of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which resound with the echoes of the Exodus redemption. Churches, are, therefore, communities that can offer the memories of the Exodus and Passion as a lens through which to view memories of wrongs suffered.
Ultimately, the way that theology can contribute to peace is in the sense that theology is the thought that has been thought by a community of God worshippers. Whatever other thoughts they might come to, like whether or not watching Big Brother is a waste or time or how many books by Ernest Hemingway do you have to read before you can call him shite or whether Costa Coffee is better than Starbucks, the thoughts of such communities must eventually turn to Exodus and Easter. Life viewed through that lens can be a life charged with forgiveness in the light of the forgiveness we have received.
If forgiveness is required before we can have peace, then so too is justice. If the “belief in the possibility of justice is the condition of the struggle for justice” (Miroslav Volf), then the church too should be a site for profound reconciliation. It isn’t. We don’t actually really believe in that justice and so don’t fight for it.
But to believe in it means to believe in it in an Exodus and Passion way, to read it through the lens of slaves who have been set free to set others free and the one who is free dying so that slaves can be liberated. That means taking down the plaques that commemorate our fallen if those plaques distance us from those who felled, and so who by definition need forgiveness. The possibility of justice of is the condition for the struggle of justice but the justice of Passover opens us up to the transcending grace of the Passion. On Easter morning, justice was fulfilled and swallowed up in forgiveness and in remembering that at Eucharist, we learn to remember rightly. Remembering rightly means remembering the pains inflicted on us in the light of the sure and certain hope of the final resurrection, when those who have fallen and those who have felled might both be seated together at the Great Banquet. Those pains, as destructive as they might be, will be healed on that day.
In the knowledge of that future, churches are freed up to be forgiveness agents in the now, and thus, as communities of theologians, they can contribute to peace in Ireland (and everywhere else).
Your Correspondent, Visualised himself, through The Secret, as someone who has a little read theo-blog.