Considering the present difficulties faced by the Orange Order, it is worth asking the following: should the Orange Order promote the freedom to express culture, or support the freedom to manifest the Protestant faith?
Over recent years it has been noticed that the Orange Order has placed the emphasis on the expression of culture, which has to some extent overtaken and replaced the manifestation of Protestant faith. Rather than celebrating the Reformation principles that have maintained civil and religious liberty for all, public processions, particularly on 12th July, have become a mere expression of culture, with dwindling regard for the Bible. The Orange Order may have been lured into believing that this is the way to regain the full exercise of its right to freedom of peaceful assembly; but this course of action is not in fact in the interest of the Orange Order, who should instead make full use of its right to freedom to manifest the Protestant religion.
The principles on which the Orange Order is based
It is refreshing to remind ourselves of the purpose of this noble Institution and the principles that it has upheld to the benefit of all in society, regardless of religious background. First, the Order was established to defend the civil and religious liberty that was granted to all within society thanks to the Protestant Reformation. Second, the Order was intended to promote biblical truth and maintain peace against violence within society. Third, the Order was to build up the character of its members so that in all circumstances they would behave as Christians, respecting and loving their neighbour, even those who did evil against them. The religious foundation of the organisation is clear, being soundly based on the Bible, which enables the Institution to have a positive contribution to the welfare of society. Hence the fact that in the past its public processions, particularly those on 12th July, were accepted and enjoyed by all in Northern Ireland, including Roman Catholics.
The freedom of religion to be used by the Orange Order to spread the Gospel
What the Orange Order stands for is fully supported and protected by common law and the European Convention. The members of the Orange Order have the right, recognised again recently by the High Court in Northern Ireland in the Dunloy case judgement, to manifest their Protestant faith during public processions. Therefore, they are entitled to witness of their belief and even to seek to change the religion or beliefs of others so that they may believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing in the law that would prevent Orangemen from publicly witnessing to others, during peaceful public processions on the Queen’s highway, for example peacefully displaying Bible texts and banners, while being accompanied by bands playing Christian hymn tunes. This is what is desperately required and necessary in the present day in the interests of the whole of the community in Northern Ireland.
The freedom to express culture will not serve the purpose of the Orange Order
The Orange Order has little if anything to gain in seeking to promote culture. First, because this is not directly related to the purpose and core principles of the Orange Order, which are all based on the Protestant faith. Second, because by pretending to express their culture Orangemen are faced by opposing claims from people from another section of the community who argue that they also have the right to express their own culture which may pursue aims which are based on rebellion and violence against the State and against those who support the laws and Constitution of the United Kingdom. Rather than defending true Protestant religion, the Orange Order puts itself in the uncomfortable position where it has to defend its culture against adversaries who are bent on promoting their own violent culture in pursuance of their political agenda. Nationalist and Republican extremists are successfully dragging the Orange Order onto their chosen battlefield of ‘culture’, where they can elevate their violent culture and put it on an equal footing with the peaceful culture of Orangemen, in this way undermining the Institution and restraining its right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The law does not require the Orange Order to change or play down its principles and the expression of culture does not bring any benefit to the Institution.
The way forward: returning to the manifestation of the Protestant faith
When the people of Israel forsook the way they had been instructed to follow, they always ended up in misery. If the Orange Order turns away from its Biblical foundations, it cannot expect to retain its integrity and a meaningful purpose. Clearly, in using its God-given freedom of religion, the Order has much more to gain than in wandering into the impasse of merely expressing culture, handing over control of its freedom to the enemies of the Reformed Faith and of democracy. The principles set by the Protestant Reformation remain up-to-date for the present and future generations and society as a whole. By returning to the true manifestation of the Protestant faith the Orange Order will recover its respectability, power and purpose, and bring a Christian witness that will foster and preserve peace within Northern Ireland society.