Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Pastor Islam row: James McConnell apologises for offence caused ... but insists comments 'not wrong'

Pastor James McConnell outside Newtownabbey PSNI station yesterday
Pastor James McConnell outside Newtownabbey PSNI station yesterday

A controversial Belfast pastor insisted that his comments about Islam were not wrong – despite issuing a public apology for offence caused.

Pastor James McConnell said that his comments branding Islam "Satanic" and "heathen" had been "blown out of proportion" after he voluntarily attended Newtownabbey PSNI station yesterday.

Mr McConnell from the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle was questioned under caution for almost two hours.

In a statement read outside the station, the preacher said that he had had no intention of causing offence or insulting any member of the Muslim community or inciting hatred.

However, when asked whether his comments about Islam were wrong he said: "No, definitely not." He added: "My sermon was drawing attention to how many followers Islam have, regrettably, interpreted the doctrine of Islam as justification for violence (sic).

"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."

On May 18 a congregation in the north Belfast tabernacle listened to the preacher as he said "a new evil had arisen" and that "there are cells of Muslims right throughout Britain".

Asked yesterday why he was apologising, Mr McConnell said: "I am saying sorry to those who may have been harmed because that was never my intention.

"My intention was to preach against the Islamic doctrine and that has been blown out of all proportion, but as far as the individual Muslim is concerned I have nothing against them."

In a statement released on his website, the pastor also said that he supported the news that a mosque may be built in Northern Ireland as a place of worship for Muslims, and welcomed an opportunity to attend the Islamic Centre in Belfast.

He added: "I have worked tirelessly to promote my Christian doctrine. Many faiths and denominations have attended at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, including members of the Muslim faith.

"My mission has created a community in Ethiopia which ensures more than 600 children (many of whom are Muslim) a day have access to clean water and food.

"I believe in the principle of free speech and in freedom of religion."

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