Orange leader: We must reach out to strengthen the Union
In the absence of the 'old certainties' in a changing United Kingdom, the Orange Order could seek 'strategic alliances' involving others who don't share the institution's moral, fiscal or theological values, its grand secretary has said.
Addressing the annual Boyne commemoration in Scotland on Saturday, Rev Mervyn Gibson said the Union is “too important to be complacent about”.
He said: “We need to articulate what it means to be British in a changing United Kingdom. That may mean making strategic alliances with those who we may differ with morally, fiscally or even theologically for the sake of the United Kingdom.
“Those who in the past we kept at arm’s length or they us.”
Commenting on the current challenges facing the Order, Rev Gibson said: “We have been marginalised; demonised and discriminated against. Civic society has tried to exclude us, some turn their noses up at us; some in the church shun us; elements in the press are just plain bigoted against us. However, rather than just complain, we need to challenge such behaviour.”
More than 5,000 Orange Order members took part in Saturday’s parade through Glasgow ahead of the main gathering at Glasgow Green.
Speaking to the News Letter afterwards, Rev Gibson said the fresh thinking being proposed did not mean there would be any compromise on the Order’s main principles.
Rev Gibson said: “If people have the same values as we do – and want to remain part of a United Kingdom – then there are opportunities to form relationships, but we won’t changing our faith, our evangelical beliefs or anything like that.”
Addressing the assembled brethren in Glasgow, Rev Gibson said: “We are unashamedly British. Yes, individually we will have party preferences, be it left or right; Conservative or Labour; Democratic or Ulster Unionist - but each of us are committed to supporting the Union.
“However, as with the Reformation this also presents us with challenges in a changing world. The old certainties that our forefathers grew up with are no longer there.
“The Orange Institution is a broad church socially; politically; denominationally and geographical. If we can find common cause internally with a wide range of opinions, then we are capable of taking the opportunities to work with others on issues of mutual interest without compromising all we hold dear.
“The issue of the United Kingdom is too important to be complacent about. The Orange Institution has played its part fully in defending the freedoms that flow from the Reformation and Glorious Revolution from 1690 to the present day.”
Rev Gibson has been outspoken on a number of highly emotive issues affecting the institution’s members in recent years.
Last October he revealed he would support the lifting of a ban on members attending Catholic church services – but said he wouldn’t initiate such a “divisive” change in policy himself.
Ahead of the main Twelfth demonstrations in Northern Ireland and a number of other countries, Rev Gibson used his Glasgow address to appeal for the Union Flag to be treated with respect.
“We have served our country well alongside those who held the same ideals of Britishness. We cannot sit back now and allow the flag, which represents the United Kingdom to be torn apart,” he said.
“The Union Flag without the cross of St George, or without the cross of St Patrick, or without the cross of St Andrew is no longer the Union Flag. We need to defend it for what it stands for and fly it respectfully and proudly.
“We in this generation need to mobilise to protect the United Kingdom, both in Northern Ireland and Scotland. We need to articulate and rediscover what it means to be British and Scottish, to be British and Northern Irish in the United Kingdom today.
“It’s not about changing our culture heritage and traditions, but explaining them and respecting and engaging with others.”
Rev Gibson added: “To defend the Union – Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland need to work together, supporting one another.
“The Good Friday Agreement speaks about north-south relations, but a neglected area it mentions has been east-west relations. It’s important that the same effort and resources will go towards strengthening these relationships – strategically, structurally and socially.
“There are so many other areas we can work at and cooperate on, not least on culture and heritage tourism. Our shared history and our contribution to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. We have experiences to share in respect of education and resources to pool in respect of health. With Brexit coming such cooperation makes sense.
“We have cooperated and learned from one another in the past – let’s strengthen those links now in the future.”
Commenting on the Boyne parade itself, Rev Gibson said: “It was a great parade with a great atmosphere and great crowds. It was a pleasure to take part in it.”
• Rev Gibson has called on Orange Order members to challenge bigoted behaviour directed towards them, and to “reclaim our rightful place” in society.
“Honest and constructive criticism I can take, but ill-informed bigotry borne out of intolerance has to be challenged at every opportunity,” he said.
“There is no shame in being Protestant, British and Orange.”
Rev Gibson added: “Orangeism has always played its part in our communities through its active citizenship, civic involvement and charity work. It provides social cohesion in many communities.
“However, at times because of uninformed bias and blatant discrimination, some have retreated into their halls and lodges. Such action diminishes the contribution we can and do make to society.
“Every brother and sister here today has a part to play in making the Orange Institution relevant. You need to become involved in your Kirk, in community groups, on school boards, in political parties, in your trade union. Lodges and districts need to become active in the festivals and events held their towns and villages. We need to support local sport and all local activities.”