I’ll go to prison for my beliefs, says ‘hate row’ pastor

Pastor James McConnell from Whitewell Tabernacle addresses thousands of people who attended a previous rally at the Odyssey.
Pastor James McConnell from Whitewell Tabernacle addresses thousands of people who attended a previous rally at the Odyssey.
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The preacher at the centre of an anti-Muslim row has said he would rather go to prison than retract his comments.

Pastor James McConnell told worshippers at Belfast’s Whitewell Tabernacle on Sunday that Islam is “satanic”, and a doctrine “spawned in hell”.

A video of the service was posted on the church’s website and the controversial pastor then repeated many of the comments on the Nolan radio show yesterday.

He told the congregation: “People say there are good Muslims in Britain – that may be so – but I don’t trust them. Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.

“In Muslim lands Christians are persecuted for their faith. Their homes are burned, their churches destroyed and hundreds of them literally have given their lives for Christ in martyrdom.

“These fanatical worshippers are worshippers of the God called Allah. Ladies and gentlemen, that is a fact.”

The pastor added: “But the British Government, and the so-called watery clergymen, close their eyes to this evil that persists in our midst. It is called by our critics ‘the language of hate’.

“Enoch Powell was a prophet and he told us the blood would flow in the streets and it has happened. Fifteen years ago Britain was concerned of IRA cells. Right throughout the nation they done a deal with the IRA because they were frightened of being bombed. Today a new evil has arisen – there are cells of Muslims right throughout Britain.”

Speaking on the BBC’s Stephen Nolan show, Pastor McConnell stood by his comments, adding he was raising awareness of the plight of a 27-year-old Christian in Sudan who faces the death sentence.

The woman, who is the daughter of a Muslim man and is married to a Christian, was condemned for “apostasy” by a court.

When challenged that his comments were a slur on all Muslims, Pastor McConnell said: “I said I did not trust the leaders of Islam and I meant it with all of my heart.”

The interview triggered a number of angry responses from callers – including Raied Al-Wazzan from the Belfast Islamic Centre who spoke on the programme.

Mr Al-Wazzan said similar comments from other sources had resulted in Muslims being attacked in the street, and added: “These are irresponsible comments coming from a person who is supposed to be in a responsible position.

“This is really inflammatory language and demonising all Muslims.”

He added: “We enjoy a good relationship with every faith and have never had a problem before. This is the first time we hear of such language in Northern Ireland, and this is definitely irresponsible.”

Following the programme a PSNI spokesman said they were investigating a “hate crime motive” after receiving complaints about the incident.

“Police are aware of an incident at premises at the Shore Road on Sunday 18th May. Inquiries are continuing and at this stage, police are investigating a hate crime motive,” the spokesman said.

Pastor McConnell told the News Letter yesterday that he was ready to be interviewed by the police – and would happily go to prison for his beliefs if he had to.

“Ninety per cent of people have been supportive. I think the public of Northern Ireland is fed up with all this stuff, when we have to treat everyone like cotton wool, and yet the people we are treating like cotton wool, in other lands wouldn’t let us breathe – wouldn’t give us a drink of water. I stand by everything I said. I feel that I am doing right before God.”

The 76-year-old pastor said he had received numerous calls saying “it was time somebody spoke up”.

“The support has been overwhelming. It is a heathen religion and it is devilish. I have preached about the Muslims before but I’ve never had a response like that, and I preached on gay marriage a few weeks ago and the return of Sodom.

“I will wait and see what the police say to me. I am prepared and if they put me in jail I will go to jail, but I will not retract what I have said,” he added.