Belfast Telegraph

A man whose good works will be overshadowed by row

By Alf McCreary

The retirement of Pastor James McConnell from the Metropolitan Tabernacle is no surprise and it was rumoured in evangelical church circles very recently that this was imminent.

His remarks earlier this year that "Islam is a doctrine spawned in Hell" and that Muslims could not be trusted created a huge furore which led to the First Minister Peter Robinson visiting the Belfast Islamic Centre to apologise for his own remarks.

Mr Robinson said he would not trust Muslims involved in violence or those devoted to Sharia law, but that he would trust Muslims to go to the shop for him. Mr Robinson said later that his remarks had been misunderstood.

Meanwhile Pastor McConnell maintained his stance in a disastrous television interview, but eventually apologised publicly "for any distress caused".

He also went voluntarily with his solicitor to Newtownabbey police station where he spent almost two hours.

Mr McConnell was no doubt sincere in his apology, but his clumsy remarks earlier alienated the Muslim community and even some in his own flock.

However, it is doubtful if even yet he has realised or admitted deep down that he did anything wrong.

Neverthless James McConnell is a remarkable man who rose from humble beginnings to found a conservative evangelical Protestant church on the Whitewell Road which later became the huge Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Members included on occasion the DUP luminaries Peter and Iris Robinson and Sammy Wilson.

The pastor brought his message outside his church and held successful rallies at Ravenhill and west Belfast which gave him particular pride. He showed a gift for oratory and great determination in building up his churches.

He is now well into his 70s and has health problems which also influenced his decision to retire.

It is a certainty, and somewhat sad however, that his earlier remarks this year will cast a shadow over his otherwise noteworthy achievements within ultra-conservative Ulster Protestantism.

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