Tag Archives: sectarianism

the past is Orange

I have no time for the Orange Order but banning its festival is not the right response
Published on 4 June 2015  The Herald Newspaper

Iain Macwhirter
Orangemen need a “clause four” moment to prove they’ve changed.

I remember my first experience of an Orange Walk. I was in a student flat in Edinburgh’s Leith when I was woken at some unearthly hour of the afternoon by loud banging. It sounded like someone was demolishing the tenement.

I craned out of the window to see curious folk with orange sashes and bowlers shouting offensive remarks about the Pope, throwing sticks in the air and hurling threats at residents waving the Irish Tricolour from their windows. The banging was from the Lambeg Drum, an instrument designed to resonate off tenement walls and instil fear.

I later learned that I was dossing in a supposedly Catholic area of town and this was one of many Orange walks. I’d had a sheltered atheist upbringing in which such things as religious sectarianism were unknowable. This was one aspect of 20th century working class culture that didn’t appeal.

The “walk” was more like an army of occupation, which is pretty much what the Orange Order is, or used to be, all about: it is about promoting and defending Protestant supremacy. The paramilitary standards, flutes and drums were primarily about intimidation.

Later when I was working for the BBC in the 1980s I frequently faced the Big Daddy of Protestant sectarianism: the annual July 12th celebrations of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, in which King Billy – William of Orange – overwhelmed the Catholic supporters of James V11th (James 11 in England).

I suppose this was celebrating community in one sense, but it mainly seemed to be about getting very drunk and trying to provoke fights. In fact I vividly remember seeing what could only be described as a riot in central Glasgow with broken heads and windows.

I was amazed that this didn’t dominate the evening news and the next day’s papers. I was advised by a BBC colleague that the broadcasters tended to underplay these events in the interest of public safety and not provoking further violence.

I don’t believe this was ever editorial policy in the BBC, but it seemed to me to be a form of self-censorship. It was as if Scotland just couldn’t face up to its sectarianism, which until pretty recently we frankly couldn’t.

And so we come to this weekend’s Orangefest, a celebration of the “history and culture” of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland which will take place in George Square with Glasgow Council’s blessing on Saturday.

The Order presents itself as an “ethnic minority” with a right to hold its own cultural celebration. Let’s hope other tribes don’t come to celebrate theirs.

We’re assured that breaking heads will not be part of Orangefest, but the big Lambeg drum will be. “Big Drums are part of our culture”, said Edward Hyde, Grand Master of the County Grand Orange Lodge of Glasgow on BBC radio yesterday. The Black Skull Corps of Fife and Drum will be there, along with face-painting and no doubt a bouncy Londonderry Castle.

Orangefest also allows the boys to hold an extra Orange walk this year through the centre of the city. Will there be songs that could be illegal if sung at a football ground?

There has been outrage at all of this. Yesterday alone 20,000 people signed a petition calling on the event to be disowned by the council and even banned. “The Klu Klux Klan wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate its culture in George Square” said one. “The Order is no more the voice of Protestantism than the Provisional IRA is the voice of Catholicism, or ISIS of Sunni Islam”, said a comment piece on Bella Caledonia.

The SNP opposition on Glasgow City Council don’t seem too happy either at giving civic reception to the Orangemen. Nationalists are still smarting from the events of September 19 last year, when Loyalists invaded George Square tearing up saltires and giving Nazi salutes to the Yes supporters.

And it’s true that the Orange Order is a sectarian organisation in that it doesn’t allow Catholics to join; not that I imagine they’d be queuing up so do to. But I’m not sure banning is the right response. If every organisation that insisted its members abide by its core beliefs were to be outlawed then we would be banning lots of religious organisations.

I loathe everything that the Orange Order has stood for in the past. But it claims that it is no longer a militant organisation and that it no longer seeks confrontation with Catholics. People will scoff at this, and perhaps with justification.

However, it is not all that long ago since the Church of Scotland itself was militantly anti-Catholic. In the 1920s, Kirk figures openly called Catholic immigrants “vermin” and “carriers of disease”. The Kirk is no longer a sectarian organisation, though it still expects its members to be Protestant.

Religious sects and far-right organisations like the Orange Order thrive on persecution. Denying them expression only strengthens them, lends mystique, even martyrdom. Putting them in the spotlight – like putting the former BNP leader Nick Griffin on Question Time – exposes them to ridicule and scrutiny. It shows us what they really are.

So I say: let the Orange Order hold their festival on Glasgow, provided it is peaceful. Police Scotland say that it is “low risk” and who am I to argue with that? Let’s see what it is about their culture that they really want to celebrate.

No doubt we will hear all about how Mozart was a freemason and how Dr Barnardo, of the children’s homes, was an Orangeman; and that King Billy was fighting against dynastic tyranny.

It’s true that William of Orange was, indeed, responsible for the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which led to the Bill of Rights, the end of absolutism and the foundation of our democratic constitution.

The Jacobite rebellions are still celebrated by some Scottish nationalists. Yet Bonny Prince Charlie was attempting to restore to the UK the Stuarts and reverse the achievements of 1688; at least that’s how many Lowland Scots like the philosopher David Hume saw it.

Somehow, I’m not sure this is quite the history that the Orange Order thinks it’s celebrating. But fair dos. Organisations can change. However, they need to make positive signs that they have reconciled themselves with their own sectarian past.

So here’s a challenge to the new, inclusive, non-sectarian Orange Order. How about a statement on Saturday that it would support repeal of the 1701 Act of Settlement that prevents a Catholic from acceding to the UK throne? Call it the Orangemen’s “clause four” moment.

What better way to show that the Order really is simply celebrating the positive aspects of Protestant culture and history, and not sectarian division?

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For or Against

Jesus said: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

At the height of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, and a Jewish rabbi were engaged in a heated theological discussion.

Suddenly an angel appeared in their midst and said to them, “God sends you His blessings. Make one wish for Peace and your wish will be fulfilled by the Almighty.”

The minister said, “Let every Catholic disappear from our lovely island. Then peace will reign supreme.”

The priest said, “Let there not be a single Protestant left on our sacred Irish soil. That will bring peace to this island.”

“And what about you, Rabbi?” said the angel. “Do you have no wish of your own?”

“No,” said the rabbi. “Just attend to the wishes of these two gentlemen and I shall be well pleased.”

It has been said: “Most people, alas, have enough religion to hate but not enough to love.”

We’re also familiar with the old adage: “Jealousy will get you nowhere.”

Jesus  challenges us to look beyond easy, comfortable stereotypes of “in-groups” and “out-groups.” Jesus teaches us the significance of tolerance, openness and co-operation.

The words of Jesus are timeless and we all stand accused. How ready we are to build fences instead of bridges, how quick to point out in connection with someone who is undoubtedly doing Christ’s work and serving the community in his spirit: ‘But he or she is not one of us’—not a member of our denomination, worse still, not even a Christian.

Exclusiveness and sectarianism have bedevilled the Church throughout its history.


Today, when Christians of different denominations learn more about each other, they are discovering all of us probably have more similarities than we do differences ~ and oftentimes our differences complement rather than contradict each other.

Moreover, our differences provide us with opportunities to become more understanding, as well as to learn and grow in our faith.

Furthermore, several denominations are discovering that differences that divide them internally are often more pronounced than the differences which divide them externally from other denominations.

In the late 1800s, F.B. Meyer was minister of Christ’s Church in London at the same time that G. Campbell Morgan was minister of Westminster Chapel and Charles H. Spurgeon was minister of the Metropolitan Chapel.

Both Morgan and Spurgeon often had larger audiences than did Meyer.

Troubled by envy, Meyer confessed that not until he began praying for his colleagues did he have peace of heart. “When I prayed for their success,” said Meyer, “the result was that God filled their churches so full that the overflow filled mine, and it has been full since.”

Who knows, maybe if enough of us prayed in the same spirit of Pastor Meyer, God may very well choose to answer our prayers in a similar way!

Even if God did not answer us in this way, nevertheless, we would benefit greatly by coming to peace with the differences of others and accepting those differences ~ rather than being jealous of them.


Jesus admonishes us to keep our minds open and to overcome our prejudices.

It means humbly acknowledging that God’s truth is far greater than any single person, congregation, denomination, or religion.

This often helps us to become more deeply appreciative and thankful for the gift of faith that God has given us.

So, the next time we catch ourselves growing jealous of or prejudiced against someone different than ourself, remember the admonition of Jesus: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Or as one ancient papyrus reads: “The one who is far off today will be close tomorrow.” 

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