Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Alf McCreary: Time has now come for Pastor James McConnell to step down

Pastor James McConnell outside Newtownabbey Police Station yesterday
Pastor James McConnell outside Newtownabbey Police Station yesterday

The latest developments in the Pastor James McConnell story paint a picture of a church in turmoil after his outspoken attack on Islam and his retraction yesterday.

After several weeks of refusing to budge, until yesterday, the pastor has lost much of his credibility, and he has badly damaged his own credibility and that of his church.

Many people have seen this as almost inevitable because of his unwillingness to listen to good advice from others. The very qualities of determination and grit that helped James McConnell to establish his very successful and conservative church from humble beginnings are also much the same qualities of stubbornness and single-mindedness that encouraged him to plough on regardless in his attacks on Islam.

The resignation of his media adviser Pastor John McCreedy, who was frustrated by the pastor's long delay in deciding to apologise, is a significant indication of the divisions in his church. Several years ago an associate, Pastor George McKim, who was thought to be McConnell's heir-apparent, left the Metropolitan Tabernacle abruptly with a large number of people to start another church elsewhere.

Pastor McConnell was deeply wounded by this, and has worked hard to bring up the numbers again. However, he has not heeded the most difficult call of all for any patriarch – when to step down before he is edged out. James McConnell's whole life is his church and he has done much good in his own way. However, he was out of his depth over the Islam controversy, and he did not know how to draw back.

He is now an elderly man facing health problems, and though he might want to continue on, the most likely outcome is that he will be persuaded – or forced– to step down in the near future. He may do this with great sadness, but it will be for his own good in the end.

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