Martin McGuinness leads condemnation, but Jamie Bryson defends Pastor McConnell

Pastor James McConnell and members of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle Choir pictured previously
Pastor James McConnell and members of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle Choir pictured previously
Share this article

The Deputy First Minister is one of those calling for a full police investigation into Pastor James McConnell’s anti-Islamic remarks.

Martin McGuinness described the comments made in recent days as “hate mongering” and said they “must be condemned in the strongest possible terms”.

He said: “Coming in the wake of the recent spate of disgraceful racist attacks against families in parts of Belfast and elsewhere, such inflammatory comments only serve to fuel hatred.

“My party colleague Caitríona Ruane will be raising Pastor James McConnell’s comments at the Policing Board.”

The Sinn Fein MLA added: “It is essential that there is a full and thorough investigation of these comments and their potential to generate further racist attacks.

“The Islamic community across Ireland have made a significant contribution to the cultural diversity we are seeking to promote and they will be very rightly concerned by these comments.”

Pastor McConnell’s remarks – made during his Sunday sermon at the Whitewell Tabernacle in Belfast, and then repeated on the BBC’s Nolan radio show yesterday – also provoked a furious reaction on social media websites.

Some listeners to the Nolan Show called the comments “shameful”.

One typical message said: “Recent conversations about what ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ looks like in NI today are not helped by Pastor James McConnell’s recent comments.”

Another said: “Pastor James McConnell should reflect deeply on what he is saying today. Perpetuating intolerance and bigotry. Shameful.”

An assistant minister based at a Belfast church said Pastor McConnell’s latest sermon is a reminder of the responsibility preachers have when speaking to their congregation.

Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley, 28, is a member of the church team in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church.

He said he was shocked at the words used by the evangelical pastor, adding that “it is easy to go for the sensational”.

Fear is a big issue in society, he said, making the role of a preacher “a delicate art”.

“I think we need to be aware of the emotions we are stirring up,” he added.

One commentator on Twitter said: “Demonizing Muslims as untrustworthy is the same as labelling all whitewell church goers as bigots.”

Others said: “Whitewell Tabernacle, a church of hate. Any wonder why more people are turned off by religion in this country, Pastor McConnell is sounding like a Muslim preacher of hate. Ironic or what.”

However, high-profile loyalist Jamie Bryson used Twitter to voice his backing for the underfire, 76-year-old preacher.

He said: “Listened to Pastor McConnell’s interview on Nolan. I support him and agree with him.”

Another Twitter user expressed their support saying: “What a disgrace to hear about Pastor McConnell being investigated for hate crimes for stating his beliefs about Islam. Shame on Nolan and Belfast Telegraph.”