A long-time colleague of Ian Paisley has come out in support of the former church leader following the second and final instalment of his tough-talking TV interview.
The previous day the News Letter had telephoned 20 churchmen – but none of those reached were willing to comment on the documentary, in which Dr Paisley had rounded on those he felt had forced him out of top posts in the church.
Speaking yesterday, Reverend David McIlveen, a retired Free Presbyterian minister who has been a member of the church since 1964, said everyone suffers from “feet of clay”, and that Dr Paisley deserved the respect of the church for the message he preached.
Meanwhile, the current minister of Martyrs’ Memorial church (where Dr Paisley ministered for decades), declined to comment – as did Ian Paisley Jnr.
When contacted the MP for North Antrim was on the London Tube, and repeated “no comment” four times when asked about the documentary and the reaction to it.
Rev McIlveen, who had been a minister for 42 years and who continues to preach, last night said both Dr Paisley and his wife were assured of their “prayers and encouragement”.
Speaking in a personal capacity, and not on behalf of the church itself, he said: “My whole appreciation of Dr Paisley’s ministry has not wavered; hasn’t changed.
“His preaching of the Gospel, in my view, has always been central to his life and to his work, and that exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ is still central to his whole Christian and spiritual ethos.”
He said that political matters had been “a deflection away from that”, adding: “But to me personally – and I emphasise personally – the value of his Christian ministry could not be quantified.
“I’ve appreciated his ministry. I’ve appreciated his help on many, many occasions.”
In an apparent reference to Romans 12, which exhorts solidarity among Christians, he continued: “I think it is important to place on record that Dr Paisley – and Mrs Paisley – wept while others wept; they grieved while others grieved; and they hurt while others hurt.
“And I feel that we must and should assure them of our prayers and of our encouragements at this time.”
Asked if he feels Ian Paisley’s belief that he was forced out of his ministry and his post as moderator had damaged Free Presbyterianism, he said: “I think we should learn from it.
“I think in all situations – no matter what the situation is, even though it’s difficult maybe for all of us to grasp – I think we’ve got to stand back from that and I think we should learn from it.”
Asked what he had in mind in particular, he said: “I think we need to learn in many ways how we treat each other.
“I think there are Biblical principles in how we react to each other, and that applies to all, all, who are involved.”
He said that one such lesson was in the case of “an aged Christian” named Epaphroditis, whom the Philippians had been encouraged to treat with respect because his efforts for the church had left him “nigh unto death”.
“I think we honour men not because of who they are, but because of the message that they preached,” said Rev McIlveen.
“And the message Dr Paisley preached really resonated with many people in Northern Ireland and right throughout the world. In that sense I believe we need to learn how to respect people.
“Yes. People, they have feet of clay. We all have. But at the end of the day we respect them because of the message that they preach.”
It was, he added, “very obvious” that Dr Paisley and his wife felt “hurt and wounded” by what had happened.
Asked about the fact none of the Paisleys go to Martyrs’ Memorial church – where the former DUP leader had ministered for decades – Dr McIlveen said: “Church attendance is a very personal matter. That’s something that I would not interfere with to be honest.”
He said Dr Paisley does still attend a Free Presbyterian church, but would not say which.
Asked if there was a risk Ian Paisley’s comments could cause division in the church, he said: “I take comfort from the promise of the scriptures that the Lord Jesus will build His church. And I believe He will keep on building His church.
“That’s what we anticipate, and that’s what Dr Paisley encouraged us from the Scriptures to believe.”
Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph had reported that Ian Paisley was continuing to occupy the Manse connected with Martyrs’ Memorial, even though it was said he had been loaned money by the church to move into a £300,000 Crawfordsburn home.
The paper also said some DUP members were angered by Ian Paisley’s remarks against the party which, it reported, had paid £70,000 for a retirement party for him.