Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Identity Crisis of Ulster Converts 

by Unknown
Mormons are neither Catholic nor Protestant, so what happens to a convert in Northern Ireland, when their class, their identity, their traditions and their politics are tied to one of these two religions? It's not easy for them as you can imagine. I went to church at the branch in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Asking around I found out most of the converts were protestants who lived in Waterside, the protestant side of the river. They told me there were a few Catholics in the branch and most of them were on the dole and having too many babies. (Yikes!) So even after conversion, the LDS here identify themselves with one side or the other. They are all converts and have to face great pressure from their families, neighbors, and friends. When they get baptized they are denying centuries of their heritage. The religious distinction is more about loyalties to the crown or a native Ireland. It's been that way since the 17th century when the British in power tried to convert the natives and started bringing over protestant English settlers to fill their plantations. One history book I've been reading said, "To be a protestant or catholic in 18th century Ireland indicated more than mere religious allegiance:it represented opposing political cultures, and conflicting views of history." (Foster, The Oxford History of Ireland) That distinction continues today.

One woman told me that in the 80s she went to the branch in Omagh where the members were evenly divided among Catholics and protestants. She said they sat on opposite sides of the church and didn't talk to each other. But now they mingle and don't divide themselves that way. She told me she doesn't know how they did it, how they overcame the prejudice. But I think after 20 years of going to church with people it'd be natural to get over it, I hope so anyway.

Maybe mormonism is the solution to the 'Troubles' of northern Ireland. It would take another century at least, but imagine if there were no longer Catholics nor protestants in the country. First, I suppose the wards have to learn to integrate themselves too. I didn't notice any separation, and I couldn't pick out the few Catholics there. But in conversation with the members I could see that they can't so easily slough off their political and cultural identities with baptism.
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