recent article by Dr. John
Coulter (The Blanket 4 November 2004)
on the Orange Order was both challenging and incisive.
While I appreciate what John was attempting to get
us to think through, that the Orange Order needs
to change in such a fast changing world, there are
a number of issues which require some clarification.
Coming from the dissenting tradition, like John,
I happily respond in the Journal of Dissent.
has obviously greatly overestimated the strength
of membership and he has also made an incorrect
assumption on the delegates to the Ulster Unionist
Council. There are not 150 delegates,
but up to 122, who, according to the
Constitution of the Ulster Unionist Party, are elected
on a County basis according to membership.
These are delegated by seven of the eight County
Lodges within the Institution. Not all County Lodges
take up their full quota. This is important in the
light of the present on-going discussion at Grand
Lodge Level where of course it should not
be discussed, as the relationship is between the
counties and the Ulster Unionist Council.
is right that John should call on the Orange Order
to abandon its political activity, but
he, like many commentators makes the false assumption
that the the Order has been at odds with the
pro-Agreement thinking of the UUC. The Grand
Orange Lodge of Ireland NEVER came out against the
Belfast Agreement, and when it had the opportunity
to do so, it refused this was reported in
the Belfast Telegraph on 16th April 1998.
The leadership may have come out against the Agreement
but the leadership is not the Institution.
the main thrust of Dr. Coulters argument that
the Order needs to change, is self evident in todays
world. John calls on the Order to revamp the
spiritual qualifications. Perhaps he should
have used the word restore, rather than
revamp. What is not generally known
is that the original qualifications, drawn up on
the instructions of the first meeting of the Grand
Orange Lodge of Ireland, in Dublin on the 9th April
1798, do not make any reference to Roman Catholics,
either as individuals or as a church. The two references
to the Roman Catholic Church entered the Qualifications
as a result of the political turmoil experienced
in Ireland in 1849 and later in 1885.
Orange Order can go forward by going back.
This language should not be strange to an organisation
whose membership is pledged to support and
defend. . . the Protestant Religion. What
the Orange Institution needs is a REFORMATION in
the same pattern as the sixteenth century Protestant
Reformation. The burning desire of the Protestant
Reformers of the sixteenth century was to get back
to the simplicity of New Testament Christianity
the Christianity of the Apostles. The only
authentic record of Christianity in the days of
the Apostles is to be found in the Bible - Word
of God. The watchword of the Reformers was therefore
Sola Scriptura The Scriptures Alone.
The scriptures alone are to be the guiding principle
in the life both of the church and individual. This
is expressed in the Qualifications of an Orangeman
- "he should honour and diligently study the
Holy Scriptures and make them the rule of his faith
and practice". What the Institution needs is
to get back to the original and authentic
Qualifications of 1798.
is ironical that the GAA can abandon its offensive
Rule 21, a product of the political conflict of
the 1920s. Can the Orange Order not abandon
their additions to the Qualifications, a product
of the political conflict of the previous century?
could not help but think that Dr. Coulter was either,
writing tongue in cheek or flying
a kite, when he suggested the Qualifications,
which he acknowledges are theologically Salvationist
in ethos, should be reinforced using
the New Testament teaching of Christ. . . ,
or that the Order should consist of exclusively
born again Christians. Not only was
this never the historical position of Orangeism,
but I wonder what his estimate of the numerical
strength would be if this were to be implemented.
I suspect the numbers would not justify its existence.
real challenge facing the Order is the huge gap
which obviously exists between the high moral standards
expressed in the Qualifications, and the public
expression of those standards by some of the membership.
The real spiritual dilemma facing the
Order is that it is not an evangelically
motivated Order, and the leadership are unwilling
to implement their own professed standards.