“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount always seemed a noble aspiration. Sadly, rarely more than an aspiration; gentle people get trodden on. One man said to me once, “If you walk in the middle of the road, you have to expect to get run over”. Being trodden on, getting run over, is probably what Christians should expect, doesn’t Jesus say that we can’t be his followers unless we take up our cross and follow him? The trouble is that it is not much fun to be always on the losing side.
Moving to Northern Ireland when not much more than a kid, I had high ideals about peace and reconciliation. I believed that right thinking people would surely vote for parties that tried to bridge the divide. I was quickly disabused of my naivete.
I remember one council election when we, and most of the people we knew, voted for the Alliance Party, in fact, I suspect we could have written the names of most of the Alliance voters in our ward because the total vote didn’t go much beyond most of the people we knew.
In the sixteen years I lived in the North, I never once voted for a candidate that managed to get elected. Perhaps my vote was some sort of electoral albatross, perhaps I should have advised the candidate not to be preparing a victory speech because I would be voting for him (in Northern Ireland it was usually him). For all the difference my vote made in the four different constituencies and council areas where I lived in the North, I might as well have stayed at home and watched the telly.
For me, the Northern elections of ten years ago, in March 2007, had one bright shining light. When Naomi Long was elected on the first count in East Belfast, I shouted with delight – the Alliance vote there had doubled. As the results came in, it became clear that Alliance would win a total of perhaps seven seats, not much compared to the DUP on one side and Sinn Fein on the other, but, for the meek, not a bad result.
In 2011. four years on from that tortoise-like step forward, the meek took another step, gaining eight seats in the Northern Assembly elections in that year’s results. At such a rate of progress, the Alliance Party could have been in sight of a majority late in the 22nd Century, but seeking after power was never the object of being meek, seeking after peace was.
Six years on, and another Assembly election, the second in less than a year, and the meek have recorded another success – 9.2% of a high turnout, the best result since 1982. Naomi Long topping the poll and being elected on the first count. It is a long way from inheriting the Earth, but there are still people who believe in peace, love and understanding.