Religious leaders’ views divided on Islam comments

Pastor James McConnell
Pastor James McConnell

Three denominations appear to have distanced themselves from a Belfast pastor’s controversial comments on Islam – however a former Free Presbyterian minister and a DUP MP have backed him, with a leading humanist also expressing empathy.

Pastor James McConnell said on Sunday at Whitewell Tabernacle Metropolitan that “Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell”.

The PSNI says it is investigating his comments as a possible hate crime. But the pastor has vowed not to retract, saying he was highlighting the death sentence imposed on a pregnant woman for becoming Christian in Sudan.

A Presbyterian Church spokeswoman responded yesterday that it believes every person “is entitled to dignity and respect, to welcome and acceptance and to be fully valued”.

“As Christians it is our duty to spread the love of God across Ireland to those whom we meet...irrespective of nationality, race or creed, and be gracious in doing so.”

Speaking on behalf of the Methodist Church, Rev Roy Cooper added: “We deplore the plight of the young woman in Sudan and would call on the authorities there to reconsider the sentence imposed on her. But we would not be in the business of condemning all Muslims or trying to demonise their faith.”

Church of Ireland Archbishop Michael Jackson said his denomination “seeks to ensure understanding and respect through dialogue and engagement” with other faiths.

The denomination “reject[s] wholeheartedly” intimidation of people of faith across the world but “respects the intention” of others to contribute to society and realises that “attentive listening” to the faith of others is essential for mature citizenship, he said.

But leading Ulster humanist Terry Moseley said that free speech is to be used “to the limits of the law – so long as you don’t defame anyone and what you say is backed up by evidence”.

He added: “I don’t agree with what he says but it is his right to say it, provided he stays within the law.”

Retired Free Presbyterian Church commentator Rev David McIlveen added: “I think he has expressed his own view in a very individualist way which will resonate with many people. I have read the Koran twice. The Sura 9 section on ‘immunity’ is very anti- Christian.”

MP gives pastor full support

East Antrim DUP MP Sammy Wilson has flown to the defence of Pastor McConnell, condemning what he calls “the secularist Taliban who dominate the media”. Writing in today’s News Letter, he says that “the preachers of liberalism and tolerance suddenly revealed that their tolerance does not extend to anyone from the Christian faith who dares comment on public issues”.

Pastor McConnell said last night: “Someone right at the top of the BBC told me that 90 per cent of the viewers and listeners were behind me. The personal feedback from all over the country has been very encouraging – from England, Scotland, everybody says ‘keep on talking’. I was given 100 emails this morning and only three were against me, saying I was full of hate and have no love.”