Mere weeks after the Irish Republican Army declared an end to its campaign of violence and agreed to surrender its arms, Northern Ireland suffered its worst rioting in years. The four-day spree of violence broke out after a September 10 Protestant Orange Order parade was rerouted away from a Catholic area of west Belfast. Protestant rioters threw Molotov cocktails and burned cars. Fifty police officers were injured.
Evangelicals quickly condemned the violence. Stephen Cave, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance Northern Ireland, said, "It is unacceptable that the order has been slow to speak out or unequivocally condemn the violence that ensued, perpetrated by its own members." The alliance comprises 130 member organizations and churches.
The 75,000-member Orange Order, which has evangelical members, calls itself a "Christ-centered and Bible-based" organization. "We were very disturbed that the Orange Order refused to take responsibility for its actions during the riots," Cave told CT. "Our problem is with the Orange Order calling themselves a Christian organization when their behavior isn't. We wanted to distance ourselves and say, 'You don't speak for all of us.'"
But some leaders urge restraint in such distancing during the volatile situation. "It is important for us to unequivocally condemn the violence," said David Porter, director of the Center for Contemporary Christianity and national chair of the Evangelical Alliance U.K. "But 30 years of conflict and our response to Republican violence has taught us that there is nothing to be gained by not maintaining dialogue with those who behave in this way."
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