Australia's incisive Christian commentator John Smith points out how the media give maximum coverage to conflict, particularly when it is rooted in religious ideology.

John Smith
John Smith

High media profile is consistently given to conflict, particularly when it is rooted in religious ideology. In Northants in a small village pub I saw the much-publicised cruelty of ideology overthrown in a riveting moment of balance and perspective. At the conclusion of each day's presentations at the Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival, a few of us left the 16,000 crowd to mix with the locals in The George Wheldon. At official closing time with doors locked and shutters drawn, each night a remarkable atmosphere of acceptance and fellowship was experienced between local "poms", a few visiting Aussies, a Kiwi and a recently befriended Northern Irish Catholic - who just happened to be an actor/voice-over for Sinn Fein media events.

As our friend Thomas was given his standard pint of Guinness, the publican offered him the daily paper which none of us had found time to read till this 2am moment of grace. "Major considering British withdrawal from Ireland." The possibility of peace was awesome.

Words could never capture the mixture of brokenness, pathos, anguish, relief and tenderness which followed. Thomas sobbed out accounts of innocents caught in the crossfire, of slaughter and despair on both sides since the troubles began, expressing a torrent of desire for it all to end. The publican leaned over the bar and tenderly took the hands of his weeping Irish newfound friend and simply said, "Try to forget all the pain of the past. We can do it together. We can change it all, by love." - The publican then took us all by surprise as he revealed more about his own identity. He explained that he was a reformed bigot who, as a one-time military officer, had for years been stationed in Northern Ireland. Before our eyes, Protestantism was sharing costly reconciliation with Celtic Irish Catholicism at a deeply personal level. The arts and the military found grace in the eyes of the Lord in the presence of both Republican and Royalist Aussies.

It was an appropriate end to a day of remarkable presentations at the festival which included a message from Father Shay Cullen of the Philippines who presented chilling stories and carefully chosen photography of little children manacled by an Australian paedophile, and an 18 month old baby afflicted with gonorrhoea contracted from two American military personnel who had stayed in her home. Death threats, American military cover-ups and other pressures have not deterred this courageous priest from tireless commitment to justice for children.

Ideology married to politics is certainly a lethal mixture, but I return to Australia with the books balanced. True Christianity which, in part, St Paul describes as "speaking the truth in love" is still personally and socially a most redeeming and life-transforming reality. Keeping the faith is not about always being right - it's about loving both God and humanity. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.