Jim Wells: Concern ‘at all levels of DUP’ over party’s backing for gay councillor

Screengrab taken from a recording of Rev John Greer's sermon, published on the Ballymena Free Presbyterian Church website
Screengrab taken from a recording of Rev John Greer's sermon, published on the Ballymena Free Presbyterian Church website
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DUP veteran Jim Wells has said there are people at “all levels of the party” who disagree with the decision to select an openly gay woman as a candidate in the recent elections.

The South Down MLA , speaking to the News Letter exactly one year since he had the whip withdrawn by his party, gave his backing to a Free Presbyterian minister who criticised the DUP’s decision to select Alison Bennington as a candidate for the Antrim and Newtownabbey council area.

Ms Bennington became the party’s first-ever openly gay politician when she was elected in the Glengormley ward.

Mr Wells gave his backing to Rev John Greer, of Ballymena Free Presbyterian Church, after it emerged that prominent DUP councillor John Finlay had written to party officers to say that the party’s founder, Ian Paisley, “must be turning in his grave” at Ms Bennington’s selection.

In Rev Greer’s sermon, delivered before the election, he said Christians were “being conditioned into thinking that things that were once reprobated are now acceptable”.

He continued: “That’s what the world can do, it can influence a child of God into thinking and into believing that these things are no longer wrong, such as sodomy.

“And now we have the DUP putting up their candidate, who is an out-and-out lesbian. That’s the kind of thing that’s going on in our own little land.”

The Ballymena cleric declined to comment further when invited to do so by the News Letter.

Instead, he pointed to a statement issued last month in which the church said it is “saddened by the attempts of political parties to normalise and promote marital and sexual relationships that are in contravention of the clear teaching of Scripture”.

A DUP spokesman, meanwhile, said its position on same-sex marriage “remains unchanged”.

Mr Wells said that while he is not a member of the Free Presbyterian Church, he welcomes the cleric’s comments.

“I welcome what he has said, at least in the portion of the sermon that I have seen, and I welcome the fact that it has now been publicised.

“I welcome the very large number of church members and clergy who have been in contact with their local DUP representatives to express their concern about this.

“I have been contacted by people from all demoninations who are extremely concerned, hurt and worried by this development. We must always remember that there are a large number of people in the community who are depending on the DUP to hold the line on these issues, who don’t want to see the radical social changes that are being campaigned for.”

He suggested there are “thousands upon thousands” of people reluctant to express a similar view for fear of censure – including within the DUP.

“I raised my voice and you wouldn’t believe some of the abuse that has been directed at me for daring to suggest that this change in the DUP is something to be concerned about,” he added.

“I do get worried because the treatment in the media would deter any normal human being.

“I’ve been contacted by 40 members of the DUP – ranging from ordinary members right up through every level – and all of them say they don’t want to be named. They say ‘we’re glad that you are in the position that you can do this, but please don’t get me involved.

“I’ve had the whip withdrawn already so I am in the unique position of being able to say this without fear – what more can they do to me?”