This is a sermon delivered by Pastor Mark ‘Tatty’ Gordon on the subject of paramilitarism.
The sermon can also be listened to here http://www.shilohchristianfellowship.co.uk/media/uploads/Paramilitaries.mp3
1 Timothy 2v1-4
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
On 12th Sept BBC News ran a story, ‘Loyalist paramilitaries, the Ulster Volunteer Force, have been targeted in police raids in greater north Belfast.
It went on to say, ‘The PSNI carried out 13 search operations in residential and business premises in the city and Newtownabbey over two days.’
A PSNI Inspector said their specific focus was the UVF and criminal activities linked to it. “These types of organisations, criminal groupings, target the most vulnerable,” the Inspector told BBC News NI.
“They really are a blight on society and on the communities that they hold an influence over. These communities are in fear of these people.”
The Inspector appealed to people to provide information saying, “We’re working hard to try and rid these communities of these paramilitary groupings. Paramilitary activity is a vestige of the history of Northern Ireland.”
So, the police are targeting paramilitaries, (that is ‘armed forces separate from the state’s recognised armies’), they’re working hard to try and get rid of these groups (which they say) target the most vulnerable, who are a blight on society and the communities they have influence over. They are a vestige (a remnant, a reminder) of the history of Northern Ireland.
The Inspector suggests that by the hard work of the PSNI the paramilitaries are disappearing, going away.
I believe there’s a lot of people who would disagree with that statement!
Although the police say they’re working hard to rid society of loyalist paramilitaries, particularly the UVF, my message tonight is to all paramilitaries across Northern Ireland’s divided communities.
Before I share God’s word on the subject, let me make clear I’m not against the PSNI or any of our military or intelligent services.
The men and women of the RUC, UDR and other of Her Majesty’s Armed Services played a vital role in what has become known as the ‘Troubles,’ almost 40yrs of conflict in Northern Ireland.
Their dedication, commitment and sacrifice cannot go unnoticed and must be acknowledged.
During these 40yrs of conflict paramilitary groups were formed, such as the UVF, UDA, UFF, RHC, IRA, PIRA, INLA because some people had no confidence in the police or army to protect them and their communities.
However, a misconception for many is that these groups were engaged in a religious battle (Protestant against Roman Catholic) when in fact the essence of the conflict was (and I believe today politically still is) about national identity and ownership of land.
Whatever the cause of the fighting and bloodshed, paramilitaries on both sides, committed unthinkable acts of terror and mayhem, often murdering and maiming innocent people, many within their own communities.
However, people might find this hard to swallow, but some paramilitaries bravely saved the lives of others, of innocent civilians; and therefore, this must also be recognised. Any reading of the ‘Troubles’ demonstrates this to be true.
Support for these groups continues to divide Northern Ireland, and the legacy of 40yrs of conflict leaves sectarianism thriving in every sphere of our society.
Paramilitaries are not just a Northern Ireland phenomenon, they’ve have been around a long time.
They existed way back in the days of King David in the Old Testament and in Jesus’ day.
Both Barabbas and Judas Iscariot have been described as paramilitaries.
But to quote a well-known politician, who says he’s never been a paramilitary, “We haven’t gone away you know,” and most of the paramilitary organisations could say the same thing.
Even after 40yrs of the police ‘working hard to rid our communities of these groups’ – they haven’t gone away you know and some are still recruiting new members!
But let me ask you tonight, should the paramilitaries go away?
Considering so many within our communities still support them, turn to them or often rely upon them; is it possible for them to just up sticks and go away?
The plain and simple answer to the question, should the paramilitaries go away is ‘Yes in an ideal world they should!’
But, is it possible for them to just go away? The answer is an emphatic ‘No!’
Paramilitaries cannot simply go away, because they’re not just embedded within our communities, they are members of our communities. Some mother’s sons and daughters, children’s mother’s and father’s, brothers and sisters etc.
Some have been described as ‘suits by day and masks by night’, local business and professional people.
For whatever reason, many individuals joined these groups believing they had a just cause to fight, kill or die for; however, they have always been ordinary people within our communities.
So, they can’t just go away!
Maybe the question needs to be, ‘Should the organisational structures of the paramilitary groups be broken up and the organisations be disbanded.’ The answer is ‘Yes’, but again it’s just not that simple.
I believe if all the paramilitary groups decided at midnight they would disband, it could lead to chaos in our communities and civil unrest across our country.
New factions would form, witch-hunts for perpetrators of past crimes like punishment beatings and shootings would take place, vigilante gangs would be operating to protect lives and property or to hold on to their territories. I believe the PSNI couldn’t possibly police the level of chaos and /or criminality that may initially exist.
I could go on about more horror stories of what could possibly happen if paramilitaries suddenly disbanded.
What about the fear in both communities?
Would Protestants like those in Cluan Place in Belfast or the Fountain in Londonderry feel their communities could be under threat and therefore take an offensive stand; or would Catholics living along interfaces think their homes could be targeted by loyalists?
I’m sure the PSNI Inspector would agree, getting rid of the paramilitaries isn’t an easy task.
What I believe is required to allow the paramilitaries in due course to ‘go away,’ is an agreed, cleverly designed and equally adopted exit strategy. Without this type of agreement and strategy, it just isn’t going to happen, and the PSNI will be spending the next 40yrs ‘working hard to try and rid these communities of these paramilitary groupings.’
Today there’s still a lack of confidence in the police from both communities.
Even after a discriminatory law was passed to make the police more acceptable to both communities, it isn’t working.
In fact, one community says police cannot be trusted because they colluded with loyalist groups to kill their loved ones. Others suggest the police use paramilitaries as informers and even permit some paramilitaries to be drug dealers or to commit others acts of crime if they regularly bring the police information on criminality.
Such is the level of mistrust and lack of confidence in our society.
While this mistrust and lack of confidence in the PSNI exists, people will continue to turn to the paramilitaries.
Also, our country is rife with victims of paramilitaries and other state sponsored organisations; and many victims still seek justice, or try to live with the consequences of other people’s deeds against them.
Their tears and heartbreak are the same, no matter which community they come from.
Would enabling the paramilitaries to simply ‘go away’ bring them justice or closure?
Victims needs cannot be ignored!
The issue of addressing 40yrs of para-militarism is a complex one and there are no easy solutions.
But what is God’s word on the matter?
Firstly, God has made it clear we are to pray for and be subject to the governing authorities, those who rule over us, including the police who are employed to uphold law and order through the detection, prevention and investigation of crime.
However, those who rule over us (including the PSNI) are themselves not above the law.
Secondly, when it comes to God’s word on the matter of paramilitaries, it’s the same as it is to all people;
“Repent of your sin or you will perish!”
In Luke 13 when Jesus was told about some ‘Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices’ Jesus responded, “Do you suppose these Galileans whose blood Pilate shed were worse sinners than all other Galileans? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
“Do you suppose these paramilitaries are worse sinners than you are?”
“Repent of your sin or you will perish!”
One train of thought on the Galileans is that they were rebels, seditious men who opposed Pilate’s rule.
Having been informed they were in the Temple, Pilate sent his troops in to slaughter them.
But Jesus’ point on the matter is clear, people, no matter who they are should not think others are worse sinners than themselves, rather they should repent of their own sin or else they too shall perish.
Who are you to judge another?
It’s not my place, nor that of the leadership of Shiloh to condone or condemn paramilitaries. Remember they are members of our communities.
We must leave all condemnatory judgement in the hands of the ‘Judge of all the earth’ for `he will do what is right.
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