Sunday 11 December 2016

Bigoted pastor's crusade against Islam backfires

Racism flourishes as long as the Northern Executive remains paralysed

Published 08/06/2014 | 02:30

First Minister Peter Robinson with members of Muslim community during his visit to the Belfast Islamic Centre in Wellington Park, south Belfast
First Minister Peter Robinson with members of Muslim community during his visit to the Belfast Islamic Centre in Wellington Park, south Belfast

James McConnell of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle is not the brightest of pastors. Like Ian Paisley, whom these days we're supposed to revere as a man of peace, he's a proud bigot. Both fervently adhere to the tenets of the 1646 Calvinist Westminster Confession that underpins the doctrine of the Church of Scotland and see as heretical any attempts to dilute its harsh language.

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Over his long career, until it suited him to do a deal that made him First Minister, Paisley bellowed offensive terminology against Roman Catholic churches ("synagogues of Satan"), their members ("infidels" and "idolators") and popes ("anti-Christ"). Since the weakening of the Irish Catholic Church in recent years, evangelical Protestants have found a new threat in the shape of Islam. When McConnell told his congregation that Islam was "heathen", "satanic" and a "doctrine spawned in hell", he was reacting in outrage to the sickening story of Meriam Ibrahim, sentenced in the Sudan to 100 lashes and death for allegedly converting to Christianity. But in a secular and politically correct world, 17th-Century language jars.

After the media ran the story, First Minister Peter Robinson, who attends McConnell's church, stuck up for him. It would have been fine had he said he believed in free speech for all preachers as long as they weren't espousing violence and added the usual guff about immigrants being valued. Instead he was crass. "I wouldn't trust Muslims who are following Sharia Law to the letter and neither would he," he explained. "However, I would have no difficulty in trusting Muslims to go down to the shop for me."

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