Belfast preacher who denounced Islam as evil issues apology

A born-again Christian preacher who denounced Islam as “satanic” and the “spawn of the devil” has issued a public apology over remarks that ended up de-stabilising Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government.

Pastor James McConnell of Belfast said he never had any intention to “arouse fear or stir up or incite hatred” towards any Muslim in the region. The preacher’s statement was issued just hours before the Police Service of Northern Ireland questioned him about his comments and allegations that he had been inciting hatred.

Northern Ireland’s first minister, Peter Robinson, came under fire for initially defending McConnell. This week Robinson publicly apologised for comments he made in a Belfast newspaper stating that he would not trust Muslims who adhered to Sharia law. He delivered his apology on the steps of Belfast’s Islamic centre.

In a statement on his Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle church website, McConnell said: “My sermon was drawing attention to how many followers of Islam have, regrettably, interpreted the doctrine of Islam as justification for violence. I have qualified my comments by reference to those who use their religion as justification for violence. As a preacher of the word of God, it is this interpretation of the doctrine of Islam which I am condemning. I abhor violence and condemn anyone, or any faith, who uses religion to justify it.”

Last month, the founder of the evangelical Protestant church on Belfast’s Lough Shore told his congregation that a “new evil has risen” and that there were “cells of Muslims right throughout Britain”. He also praised Enoch Powell as a prophet whose infamous Rivers of Blood speech was coming to pass in the UK with the rise of militant Islam.

Later on Friday, outside Newtonabbey police station in Belfast, McConnell repeated his earlier statement that he had never intended to incite hatred against the Muslim community as well as his opposition to all violence.

Guardian, 6 June 2014

See also “Islam row pastor apologises after one of his top churchmen quits”, The Newsletter, 6 June 2014

Update:  See “Pastor Islam row: Preacher quits church at centre of Islam row because McConnell refused to withdraw remarks”, Belfast Telegraph, 7 June 2014