An influential evangelical Protestant lobby group has described the decision to move the Belfast City Marathon to a Sunday as an example of the “dismissal of Christian values”.
The Caleb Foundation said the move is the latest example of the “growing trend” towards the “secularisation” of society in Northern Ireland.
Wallace Thompson, a founding member of the DUP and the chairman of the Caleb Foundation, said many Christians who “hold a higher view of the Lord’s Day” are now unable to take part.
A spokesperson for Belfast City Marathon said the decision to hold the event on a Sunday for the first time this year has come about following feedback from “all stakeholders, including athletes, city centre traders and the PSNI”.
But Mr Thompson, whose organisation represents members from denominations such as the Free Presbyterian, Independent Methodist, Elim, and Reformed Presbyterian churches, as well as some Baptist churches, said there are both practical and religious difficulties with the move to a Sunday.
“This will mean practical difficulties for churches,” he said. “From experience it will be difficult moving around the city and it remains to be seen how those will be managed.”
But the “bigger concern”, Mr Thompson argued, is that the event is “no longer all-inclusive”.
He explained: “There are quite a lot of Christians who run to raise money for charitable work or for missionary work. I know several who are now no longer able to do that. Why not leave it so everyone can participate? We have raised this point with the organisers.”
He added: “Increasingly there are sporting and social events on a Sunday. We would have a higher view of a Sunday, that it is the Lord’s Day from start to finish.
“There’s a growing trend of secularisation. Christians are told ‘sorry mate, we hear what you’re saying but society has moved on’. Sadly, when it comes to religion if there’s a certain type of religious view then it’s disregarded.
“There is a determination in the minds of some people to remove the Christian foundations of society. There are some who would disregard it (Christian values) but others have a more definite agenda of ensuring that we remove it from moral and ethical issues, that we have to move away from a Christian-based society to what they call a ‘rights-based society’ which largely stems from a secular mindset.
“There is a disregard and to some extent a contempt.”
A spokesperson for Belfast City Marathon stressed that the event is “all inclusive”.
They added: “The Belfast City Marathon management team have been working on changes to both the marathon route and moving the event to a Sunday for a number of years due to feedback from all stakeholders, including athletes, city centre traders and the PSNI.
“After a series of consultations, the City Growth and Regeneration Committee approved these changes to further develop and improve the event.
“The Belfast City Marathon management team have undertaken a role of engagement with all relevant stakeholders who could be affected by the new route and have received great support from an array of churches and denominations across the city.
“Every effort has been made to minimise disruption.”