The Hard Gospel in Context
In 1997 the General Synod of the Church of Ireland adopted a motion that the Church was opposed to sectarianism. It started a process of self-examination with the intention of determining how “to promote, at all levels of church life tolerance, dialogue, co-operation and mutual respect between the churches and in society”.
A Church of Ireland Sectarianism Working Party was established and this led to the setting up of the Sectarianism Education Project in 2001. The aim of this initiative was to assist parishes throughout the island of Ireland to increase their capacity for dealing with sectarianism and difference and explore how dealing positively with these issues would have an impact on decision making within the Church.
This project commissioned a research project to ascertain the attitudes, needs and experiences of clergy and lay people throughout the Church of Ireland on these issues. The outcome of the research was a Scoping Study Report entitled “The Hard Gospel: Dealing Positively with Difference in the Church of Ireland”. This report was presented to and received by the General Synod in 2003.
As a result of the findings of the research the remit of the Sectarianism Education Project was widened to consider how to deal with difference in a range of areas including minority ethnic groups, people of other religions and issues of sexuality and gender while retaining a major emphasis on sectarianism. The expanded initiative was named ‘The Hard Gospel’ and a Hard Gospel Committee was convened to oversee the development of the project. A strategy for The Hard Gospel Project was developed with a vision statement and a set of strategic aims and objectives. The vision is for:
“A Church of Ireland which takes a positive leadership role in addressing the issues of sectarianism and dealing with difference that face the rapidly changing societies across the island of Ireland in the 21st century and a membership who contribute constructively to the development of transformed communities through reflecting and outworking Christ’s command to love God and their neighbour.”
The project has four strategic aims:
- To enable the Church, at all levels, to model in its own structures and ways of being, the relationships and values with regard to overcoming sectarianism, community conflict, and dealing with difference that it will promote in wider society.
- To develop and promote policies, practices and statements of the Church of Ireland that will encourage honest and constructive relationships in dealing with sectarianism and issues of difference in the church and wider society.
- To enhance the capability of the Church of Ireland at all levels to take initiatives to build peace and to transform communities.
- To implement initiatives, projects or programmes in collaboration with other Churches, agencies and groups in a manner that will create more open and inclusive local communities.