Minister discusses faith and peace with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams
When Gerry Adams made that statement during a recent television interview, the people of Northern Ireland received it with a mix of relief and skepticism.
For minister Bert Ritchie, it was an opportunity.
“The pendulum has swung into the domain of peacemaking,” Ritchie said during a meeting with the Sinn Fein president. “This is an area in which Christians have an obligation. Since religion in Ireland has contributed to the problem, it is obliged to be part of a solution.”
Ritchie, minister for the church in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, chairs the Coleraine Borough Churches Forum, a group of religious leaders that promotes peace and cooperation in a region troubled by years of bloodshed.
The group met with Adams at the University of Ulster Nov. 17. Adams spent three hours discussing “the current fragile peace situation and hearing a Christian perspective,” Ritchie said.
Just hours before the meeting, Adams was warned that his name and personal information were on a list found in the hands of paramilitary forces opposed to British rule of Northern Ireland. Adams said that the news would not stop him from pursuing peace in the region.
Northern Ireland has been a part of the United Kingdom since theAnglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Those opposed to the treaty calledthemselves the Irish Republican Army and carried out bombings andattacks in an attempt to oust the British. The conflict pitted mostlyCatholic supporters of Irish rule against mostly Protestant supportersof Britain.
In 1998 the British and Irish governments signed the Good FridayAgreement, hailed as a major step toward peace in Northern Ireland.Sinn Fein endorsed it. The Coleraine Borough Churches Forum was formedthe same year.
During the meeting Adams expressed his belief in God, but was criticalof churches — including his own — for failing “to meet the needs of achanging society,” Ritchie said. Adams invited Ritchie to offer adviceon any issue that “might advance the pursuit of peace.”
Members of the forum have met with political leaders, including thepresident of Ireland, and have traveled abroad promoting peace anddiscussion among religious groups. The United Nations has recognizedthe forum’s work. Ritchie said that his involvement with the group ispart of his larger mission as a Christian.
“I don’t contribute to the model of church being an insulated group ofbelievers who spend their lives waiting in church buildings for thelost to come in,” Ritchie said. “The biblical concept of ‘the salt ofthe earth’ calls not only for contact with (the) community, butintegration into its very fabric.”
“Politics change a nation’s infrastructure,” he said. “Religion changes its heart.”