First Minister Peter Robinson backs controversial preacher Pastor James McConnell who denounced Islam as 'spawn of the devil'
First Minister Peter Robinson has backed a controversial Belfast preacher who denounced Islam as the "spawn of the devil".
Speaking to the Irish News, Mr Robinson said Pastor James McConnell of the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast didn't have "an ounce of hatred in his bones".
His comments come after the Belfast Telegraph revealed that during a Sunday evening sermon Pastor McConnell said: "Islam is heathen, Islam is Satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in Hell."
The 75-year-old pastor's comments sparked a police probe.
Peter Robinson said he had visited the church on several occasions and he would attend in the future.
He said there appeared to be an attempt to demonise Mr McConnell.
"There isn't an ounce of hatred in his bones," he said.
"This is someone who preaches the gospel."
Mr Robinson's comments have prompted a fresh clash with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
In response, the Sinn Fein man and former IRA commander McGuinness, who has already accused the pastor of hate-mongering, told his partner in government to show some leadership.
"All of us in positions of leadership have a responsibility to represent and stand up for all the people of our society," he said.
"We have a duty to promote equality, mutual respect and tolerance for all in our society based on the core principles contained in the Good Friday Agreement."
That prompted a heated reply from Mr Robinson.
He hit back on Twitter, stating: "I won't take lectures from a self-confessed leader of a bloody terrorist organisation on equality, tolerance and mutual respect for all."
Earlier this month, Pastor James McConnell said his remarks were inspired by hearing the story of pregnant woman Meriam Yehya Ibrahim (26), who has been sentenced to death in Sudan after refusing to recant her Christian beliefs.
A week on from his initial remarks, the evangelical pastor at the centre of a religious the hate row spoke of his week of turmoil and defiantly vowed he won't bow to what he described as "powers of darkness".
James McConnell took to the pulpit at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle a week on from his controversial comments about Islam which sparked a fierce backlash and subsequent police investigation.
Peter Robinson said a Christian minister had a right to "denounce false doctrines".
The DUP leader added that he would not trust Muslims for spiritual guidance, or those engaged in terrorist acts, but would trust Muslims to "go down the shops for me".
In response, Martin McGuinness called on Mr Robinson to step out of his own political constituency and represent all the community.
"We must recognise and embrace the social, cultural and religious diversity of our society," he said.
"I value the diversity and multicultural nature of our society, the significant and valuable contribution the Muslim community makes to this society day and daily.
"There is a real need for all of us those in positions of responsibility to step out of our own political constituencies and religious groupings and show genuine political leadership for all."