At its founding in 1795, the Orange Order could have set a course that both defended the Protestant faith and traditions and defended a basic Christian idea of treating thy neighbor as thyself. Instead, the Order chose to defend one version of the broader Christian faith, Protestantism in its various forms, while condemning another. So much for Christianity. The oath of the Orange Order sets the organization in a position of active opposition to the Catholic church. It’s not just a position of avoiding contamination by Catholicism, but one of "strenuously" opposing the "fatal errors and doctrines of the church of Rome."
Now, while Catholicism might not be everyone’s cup of tea, least of all a tea-drinking Orangeman, it has rarely proved fatal on its own. Yes, the Catholic church has committed errors in the course of its history. The excesses of the Counter Reformation and the Inquisition, for example, should never be forgotten. At the same time, what’s past is past. With the Orange Order, however, the past seems to be always in the present, especially with regard to the oath of membership, an especially distasteful dollop of credo that also forbids marriage to Catholics. So much for love.
In a recent editorial, the Belfast Irish News linked the murder of Elizabeth O’Neill, a Protestant married a Catholic, and Bernadette Martin, a Catholic with a Protestant boyfriend, to the Orange Order’s reinforcement of the warped thinking spawned by refusing membership to anyone married to a Catholic, or anyone with just one Catholic parent. The latter stipulation in particular is eerily reminiscent of Nazi obsession over family bloodlines "tainted" with Jewish blood.
The News urged the Order to offer a powerful symbolic gesture by announcing that it will no longer regard those associated with Catholics as being in some way tainted. For an organization that talks so loud and long about civil liberties, this would only be a consistent move. Perhaps David Trimble, holder of a Nobel Peace Prize, should lead the way by proposing a new oath of membership, one more in tune with 1999 than 1795.