In the last 20 years, more than 2,700 have died and some 20,000 have been injured in Northern Ireland as a result of what people there call “the troubles.” The combatants are usually labeled Protestants and Catholics. But while the violence is real, the labels for the opponents are misleading, according to many believing Christians on both sides of the conflict. As one evangelical pastor in Belfast put it, “The devout Catholic is not murdering the devout Protestant.”

Born Into Conflict

The groundwork for the violence was laid almost seven decades ago when 26 Irish counties established an independent republic while six northern counties chose to remain a part of Great Britain, thus becoming Northern Ireland. Two-thirds of Northern Ireland’s approximately two million people are classified as Protestant and one-third as Catholic.

The factors that determine whether one is Catholic or Protestant typically have little to do with a living faith. “You inherit an ideology,” explains a student in Belfast. “You don’t think it out. You’re born in a loyalist area, you’re British. If you’re born in a republican area, you’re Irish and you want to see the British out.”

Neither “Catholics” nor “Protestants” enjoy a monopoly on terrorism. Both sides engage in gangsterism and thievery to bolster financial resources. Both sides have ties to illegal drugs and weapons; both seek to exploit the young and idealistic.

Nevertheless, the image of a nation in unabating strife is misleading. Almost twice as many in Northern Ireland have died in auto accidents over the past two decades as have died as a result of political/religious violence. West Belfast, where terrorism is common, by no means represents the rest of the country. Over 85 percent of the local ...

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