The Identity Crisis of Ulster Converts

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.


  1. A little off-topic, but the most compelling thing I have ever seen about Ireland was in a film documentary called “Children of War”. A wife-husband team spent several months in various areas of the world where conflict is deeply rooted between two groups (Rwanda, Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, etc.) and interviewed numerous children and their families. They found that the only place where children from one side of the conflict were open to friendship with children on the other side (and the attending community development and peace that go with interaction of the coming generation) was where the parents of those children had actually begun to participate in the peace process in a meaningful way and taught peace in their homes. The only place where that was occurring of the five or six explored in the film was in Northern Ireland. All the talk of peace and change meant nothing to the coming generation until people took the lessons home and practiced them with their children.

    What does this teach us about LDS there? Nothing, except that perhaps Northern Ireland is primed for this type of rehabilitation in a way that Jerusalem is not.

  2. Jen, if “religious distinction is more about loyalties to the crown or a native Ireland,” how does our religion offer a solution to that? By our Article of Faith about being subject to kings? In other words, could you be against the British in Ireland but still be a good Mormon?

  3. jen…have you read the “company they keep” thread at T&S? that might offer you some suggestions (or anti-suggestions) as to how best encourage mixing between the two groups. :)

  4. Of course, it’s always possible that the LDS could be the cure of the “Troubles” in NI, simply by giving both Papes and Prods a new, shared enemy to hate. Here in the states, both Catholics and Protestants will discourse at length on the theological wrongheadedness of Mormons (despite an almost total lack on knowledge on the subject). In NI, where polemics are replaced by exploding cars, it may be that they can find common ground in offing Mormons.

  5. Well, for what it is worth, when my parents were in Ethiopia on their mission (part of the N. Kenya mission), a striking thing was the way people from different tribes mingled so well at Church, though back in the provinces their relatives were killing each other and hand for thousands of years.

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