A public apology has been issued by pastor James McConnell over his anti-Islam sermon, after one of his top church leaders announced he was quitting.
Assistant pastor John McCreedy said that after much soul-searching he is standing down from his post as a result of the controversy surrounding the remarks.
Following that, Pastor James McConnell, who on Wednesday had been unwilling to back down from his ferocious attack on Muslims and the Islamic faith, issued a clarification.
It reads: “I wish to emphasise that I had no intention of causing any offence or insulting any member of the Muslim community or to arouse fear or stir-up or incite hatred towards any member of the Muslim community.
“I wish to apologise publicly for any distress I may have unwittingly caused on my part.
“My sermon was drawing attention to how many followers of Islam have, regrettably, interpreted the doctrine of Islam as justification for violence.
“I have qualified my comments by reference to those who use their religion as justification for violence. As a preacher of the word of God, it is this interpretation of the doctrine of Islam which I am condemning.
“I abhor violence and condemn anyone, of any faith, who uses religion to justify it”.
In his original controversial sermon, he had said: “People say there are good Muslims in Britain – that may be so – but I don’t trust them”.
He added that their faith was “heathen”, “Satanic” and “spawned in hell”.
On Wednesday, when interviewed by the News Letter, he said: “My condemnation of Islam is the Islam doctrine – my condemnation is not of the Muslim man or woman or family that lives in Northern Ireland”.
Asked if he had reflected on the sermon and had changed his mind about anything he said, he replied: “No, I haven’t changed my mind about its contents”.
On Wednesday, he said he had had two conversations with police (who had initially said they were probing a “hate crime motive” in the wake of the sermon), and was due to meet officers again shortly.
This morning, police said they were still investigating.
Pastor McConnell’s statement followed the resignation John McCready.
Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, the more than 3,000-capacity church which Pastor McConnell leads, put out a statement about the resignation.
In it, Pastor McCreedy said: “I have been praying that the Lord will guide me for the future. In the light of the recent controversy regarding Islam I believe this is the right time to move on.
“It has been a matter of conscience and much prayer for me.”