Keep an open mind on commemorations, says archbishop

Archbishop Richard Clarke during his Presidential Address at the Church of Ireland General Synod.  'Armagh City Hotel, Armagh.  : LiamMcArdle.com
Archbishop Richard Clarke during his Presidential Address at the Church of Ireland General Synod. 'Armagh City Hotel, Armagh. : LiamMcArdle.com

Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Richard Clarke has insisted that commemorations to be held in Ireland next year should not be marked with “one-dimensional and intentionally polarising” attitudes.

The Archbishop, in his keynote address at the Church’s General Synod in Armagh on Thursday, raised the spectre of diametrically opposed commemorations of the 1916 republican Easter Rising in Dublin and the 36th Ulster Division’s involvement at the Battle of the Somme later that year.

Dr Clarke said the Easter Rising marked the real beginning of the present day Irish Republic and the Somme battle on July 1, 1916 led to the deaths of many Irishmen, from all parts of the island and of different religious traditions.

“Those who have studied the period around 1916 as history rather than as propaganda know that there is far too much ambiguity and complexity in every aspect of these two key events for anyone to imagine that there is any single precise clear-cut narrative to be found.

“As Christian traditions we have a rightful place within these remembrances, and we must use such a place with real spiritual depth of thought in the interests of peace and of healing rather than division.”

Dr Clarke, looking at wider issues, said church members should be encouraged to hold to a “fundamental understanding of life as a Church” that is “always and everywhere relational”.

He referred to the murderous persecution of Christians in the Middle East; cynical overfilling of boats crammed with migrants from North Africa to Europe, as well as the evil of human trafficking in the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic.

“We live in a world which has become dangerously non-relational and hence dangerously unstable. The depersonalisation of people so that they become abstract entities with whom we need have no relationship, and for whose safety and dignity we need have no concern, is something against which Christian people must always contend.

“‘Part of our task as Christian disciples is to bring back into our world a proper sense of relatedness, rather than allow a retreat into what is, at heart, anonymised unreality.’

“Tragically, we live in a world which too often sees other human beings as anonymised and disposable commodities rather than as those to whom we must be in relationship if we are truly human. “

Dr Clarke said that too often Irish society encourages a fear of “otherness” which inevitably increases hate crimes against those who are perceived as “other”.

The Archbishop said as Church people seek to relate better and more wholesomely to one another, and to relate to the future that God is beckoning us towards, they must remember also that, as Christian citizens, they are called upon to relate to the society in which they live.

He ruled out advising Church of Ireland parishioners in the Irish Republic on how to vote in the May 22 referendum there on same-sex marriage.

“We are not a Church community which, for the most part, makes official declarations as to how people should vote. What we do ask is that each individual Christian disciple thinks carefully about the issues before him or her, and about the policies being presented to them and then, without paying undue heed to the sometimes strident and petulant siren sounds that may present themselves as the dominant voice of righteousness, decide in conscience before God what they believe will truly be for the common good, the good of all,” said Archbishop Clarke.

l The three-day Church of Ireland General Synod, which will be attended by 600 clerical and lay delegates from the 12 Irish dioceses, continues until Saturday.