A senior preacher has quit the church at the centre of a religious hate storm saying remarks by controversial pastor James McConnell contradict his religious and moral values.
Pastor McConnell – widely condemned for his anti-Islam comments – apologised for any offence yesterday after being interviewed by police.
He did so as it emerged an assistant pastor at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast is leaving over the furore.
John McCreedy – a pastor at the church for the past 14 years – said he was quitting as a direct result of the hate row which has engulfed the Shore Road church in recent weeks.
And he said many other members of the church also disagreed with the anti-Islamic comments made by Pastor McConnell.
"I spent many days trying to sort this, without success, and I could not continue after the pastor's initial remarks were not withdrawn," Pastor McCreedy told the Belfast Telegraph. "The theological arguments presented by the pastor are a contradiction to my own beliefs – religious, political and moral – in relation to New Testament evangelism
"Neither are they the views of many others I have spoken to at Whitewell, who have for years reached out to others from every ethnic background and denomination."
Pastor McCreedy added: "My resignation is not because of the pastor's apology, quite the opposite. It was due to the fact that he would not retract his statements for nearly three weeks.
"It's important to stress that I don't want people to think that I left the church because of any animosity towards the Muslim faith."
Pastor McCreedy said he parted with Pastor McConnell on "the best of terms" and praised him for "60 magnificent years of service". He added: "The pastor and I have parted on the best of terms and let's not forget the 60 magnificent years of service he has given, not just to this land, but much further afield."
Veteran clergyman Pastor McConnell spent two hours inside Newtownabbey PSNI station yesterday morning in relation to the controversial comments made.
The PSNI is currently investigating whether the remarks violate hate crime legislation.
Prior to entering the station a statement was posted on the church website in which Pastor McConnell said he wished to "apologise publicly for any distress I may have unwittingly caused on my part".
The pastor said he would welcome an opportunity to visit Belfast's Islamic Centre.
A senior surgeon, who has previously warned that Muslim doctors could leave the health service here over the row, welcomed yesterday's apology. And Dr Khalid Khan told the Belfast Telegraph he was in no doubt Pastor McConnell would be welcomed to the Islamic Centre.
"I'm happy Peter Robinson apologised and if the pastor has too, that is even better," he said.
"So many people have come to me in support and have been so nice. The last people who want trouble are Muslim people. They are immigrants; they have jobs or they are students.
"I think it is nice of him to suggest that (the visit). I am very happy with that."
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also welcomed Pastor McConnell's remarks: "Pastor McConnell's apology is most welcome. Our ethnic minorities enrich our community and contribute to it in many ways – they must be valued," he tweeted.
He had strongly criticised the remarks made by the First Minister before Mr Robinson apologised for comments he made to the Irish News on the row.
He delivered his apology on the steps of Belfast's Islamic Centre on Tuesday evening.