In John Bew’s recent review of Eric P. Kaufmann’s scholarly study of modern Orangeism, entitled The Orange Order: A Contemporary History (Oxford University Press, 227), Dr. Bew writes,

“… while Orangemen often use a discourse of ‘civil and religious liberty’, they have failed to situate such notions within modern human rights discourse, a language largely monopolized by their political opponents.”

This is an important point for Orangemen to take in.  We are often, and rightly in my opinion, underlining the importance of our ‘DNA’ of civil and religious liberty for the development of constitutional democracy in Western Europe and also the United States and other democracies that were foundationally Anglo-Saxon.  Yet we seldom seem to reap the benefit, in the now, of that historic link and fact.  Rather, we are generally, and still successfully pilloried as being sectarian and even “bigoted”, as being retro in our judgments and our style.

Bew writes with accuracy when he observes that we have failed, thus far, to embed our precious legacy of liberties hard won and significantly maintained, in the contemporary context of human right and human identities.  This would be just as true in the USA, where I live and work.  Here, largely because of media perception, Orangeism would be viewed – if people knew about it at all – as a sort of “Klan”-movement, with funny hats instead of white sheets.  Personally, I have been working to counter this stereotype for years now, and with little success.  I said once to a reporter that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been sympathetic to the Orangemen of Ireland if he had been able to see the situation there as it is.  The reporter looked so completely surprised as if to say, “Pull the other one!”.  Yet I think it is true.  If MLK had seen the situation of working-class Protestants in Northern Ireland, in the milieu, at least a few years back, of Sinn Fein intolerance and intransigence, I think his sympathies, which were always with the underdog, would have pulled in the Orange direction.

But this message is seldom heard and almost never accepted.  Part of me has come to accept this fact, or apparent fact:  That Orangemen will never be allowed to make our case, that the burden of past resentments on the Catholic side of the divide will simply never, allow Protestant Irish people to receive a little credit, and a little respect.  John Bruton, who is now European Union Ambassador to the United States, and with whom I had a chance to talk over these issues recently, seems one of the few lone Irish voices south of the Border to have given the Orange that step of respect.  He was almost a lone voice in seeking to stand in the shoes of Orange Irish people.  He was able to do this, uncommonly, in relation to Drumcree, and I wish there were many more like Mr. Bruton.

So I would like to say three things concerning relevant Orangeism today.

First, we may never get the hearing we deserve, at least not in our lifetimes.  The fact that pluralism and diversity, the totem words of the current environment, are enabled by the kind of religion practiced by King William and John Locke – the fact that the earliest practice of these core values, right into the words and aspirations of the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution, made the British-founded democracies of the world what they are today:  That fact may just be a fact which is ignored and deleted within contemporary discourse.  We may, in other words, have lost this one.  Which doesn’t mean we should stop saying what is true, and stressing what was true, beginning, for us officially, in 1690.  But I have a certain doubtfulness that  Orangeism will receive its proper hearing, within the mainstream at least, any time soon.

Second, there is still a definite growth edge to Orangeism.  I certainly see this in America, and I believe it can be true in other places like the Republic of Ireland, even places where the Anglo-Saxon or British Commonwealth dimension is not so strong historically.  This second growth edge to Orangeism has to do with its fellowship-, even its “male-bonding”, dimension.  We have found over here in the USA again and again, from Manassas to Birmingham to Pittsburgh, that the chance for young men to get together and have a good time together, in the context of an Old Story and a Great Idea, is compelling and sustainable.  Orange Lodges can do what college fraternities have done, and still do, for young men.  They are a “safe” place for men to gather and talk about common issues, yet in a broadly Christian context.  Here, by the way, the Orange ritual is a big plus.  My Brethren enjoy the ritual partly because it is so unusual, even somewhat “kitschy” in feel – if you’ve never encountered it before.  The Initiation ceremonies became delightful, and even fun – and yet anchored in long history, as well.  Young men are pretty weakened just now, in cultures where women “rule” (as in the USA).  The Orange Lodge can be a magnificent alternative.  I have found this in practice, and could line up dozens of new young Orange Brothers who would say the same.  We love to parade, for example, on The Twelfth, and go back, every year, to Maghera, in order to walk with our Brethren there.

Third, the Christian and specifically Protestant dimension of Protestantism still has legs!  Our culture in the USA is no longer quite as permeated with Christianity as it was only 2o years ago.  Yet we are not hostile to Christianity, as I sometimes perceive England as being – or large segments of English culture.  America is currently ambivalent in relation to Christianity.  People have their guard up, for example, when I wear my clerical collar into a social function here in Chevy Chase (Washington, D.C.).  I am not “embraced” as I would have been a couple decades ago.  But folk are still somewhat interested.  They still may want to talk to me concerning their questions, and even sufferings.  Americans are more ambivalent than they once were, but they have not stopped believing that our inherited religion may still offer something hopeful, something helpful, in time of need.  And this part of Orangeism, the concretely Christian and Protestant part, can still play a cultural role for good.

It was the Protestant affirmation of Orangeism that attracted many of us to look toward Ireland for some new ideas, some new and also old freshness of approach.  Orangemen seemed to be on to something religiously – something reverent, and positive, and libertarian.  This intrigued me.  This made us ask questions of Orangemen in Ireland, many of whom proved open and honest and warm.  The Protestant Reformers of the Sixteenth Century were, after all, models of courage and standfastness, and often, even, of pastoral warmth, and love.  The Protestant tradition, when it is optimistically and positively affirmed, carries great weight.

So even if we prove unable actually to tell the world the way we really are, and what good things we truly have our sights on, we don’t have to stop affirming those things.  And plus that, there is the “Wild at Heart” side of it, the “let’s hike, guys, right up that tall mountain, and have a blast”, let’s toast King William and his good men at the Boyne.  And there is the need this world forever has for some good news about, well, sufferers being helped and lost persons being saved.

The Reverend Brother Dr. Paul F.M. Zahl

Rev. Dr. Paul F. M. Zahl is a prolific author and passionate theologian, respected Anglican Minister and Chaplain of the Loyal Orange Institution of the United States of America. He has authored numerous books including The Protestant Face of Anglicanism, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer, A Short Systematic Theology, Five Women of the Reformation, The First Christian, and Grace in Practice.