In spring 2007, as he headed for government with Sinn Fein, the Free Presbyterian Church became increasingly restless and divided on the issue.
Asked by Mr Mallie about the view of some who say that by going into government with Martin McGuinness he chose politics and power over God, Dr Paisley said: “I don’t accept that at all. I regret that they have not the ear of God on this matter. I don’t see them crowding into the prayer meetings; I don’t see them taking the matter in prayer but they can pour all their fury on me.
“I am broad enough in the shoulders and my stomach is strong enough to take all the condemnations they want. Part of it of course is sour, sour grapes.”
Three weeks after the St Andrews Agreement, an unofficial Free Presbyterian delegation led by his long-standing Free Presbyterian and DUP friend the Rev Ivan Foster arrived to see him at Stormont.
Dr Paisley said: “They talked about the Moderatorship of the church and they wanted to say to me: You can’t be Moderator of the church and leader of this movement.
“Of course, they had no right to say that to anybody. This is a free country and people have a right to go the way they should go.”
The Paisleys recalled the night when Dr Paisley left as Moderator. It was the annual general meeting of the church’s ruling Presbytery, held in his own Martyrs’ Memorial Church, and where for every year since the church’s foundation he had been re-elected to the top position.
Baroness Paisley said that she had encouraged him to remain in post “because there was no reason why he should stand down; he was doing a good job and had done all his life and there was nothing to stop him continuing with that and continuing with his role as First Minister.
“But the poison had been laid and spread and I think that was the damage that had been done.” Dr Paisley said: “It was completely out of order to discuss the Moderstorship in the way it was discussed and without giving every member of the presbytery an opportunity to be there.”
During the meeting, Dr Paisley offered to resign as Moderator, he said, “because I was not going to in any way destroy the testimony of the church”.
He added: “I wasn’t going to stand in the way of people.
“If I hadn’t a solid foundation, the work of the Lord was going to be hindered and I am not, was not, a hinderer. I wanted to show people: It’s not the office that the man holds that’s important; it’s the spirit in which he holds it.”
Mr Mallie quoted what he had been told by Dr Paisley’s Free Presbyterian minister son, Kyle, who recalled of his father’s removal as Moderator: “It was like a knife going through you. The family just felt as if we’d all been stabbed.
“They seemed to have done it with such consummate ease. We were definitely let down and betrayed.”
Dr Paisley said that was an “accurate” reflection of the family’s view, and added: “Why should people that the Free Presbyterian took and trained, and bought churches for them – why should they be turned on by those people because those people had only one thing to serve and that was their own ego?”
Asked why he agreed to resign as Moderator in four months’ time, rather than immediately at the crucial Presbytery meeting, Dr Paisley said: “Because if I had said I would resign immediately, they would have broken up the church that night.
“They would have put in their own band of leaders and would have announced to the world that the Paisley leadership was finished and the Free Presbyterian Church was under new management.”
But Dr Paisley insisted that he wasn’t “drummed out”, and added: “I won the vote; I could have stood up at that meeting and said: ‘Now you’ve got the vote, you fellas will have to come into line or you’ll have to go’, but I didn’t do that because that’s not the way you do the work of God.
“And if that means I should be kicked in the gutter, then kick me in the gutter; if that means that I should be chased out of the church and that I should be rejected as a reject, then I have to bear that.
“That’s part of the cross [that Christians are to bear].”
l The man succeeding Dr Paisley as minister of Martyrs’ Memorial Free Presbyterian Church, Rev Ian Brown, yesterday welcomed visitors before preaching from the Gospel of Saint John 12:21.