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New information makes it harder for the PPS to meet evidential test

By Peter Lynas

Published 10/07/2015

Peter Lynas is Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance
Peter Lynas is Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance

The case against Pastor James McConnell takes another strange turn today.

The Belfast Telegraph has discovered that Dr Raied Al-Wazzan, the head of the Belfast Islamic Centre, was the first person to report Pastor McConnell to the police.

Each new piece of information raises further questions for all involved.

Firstly, is Dr Raied a regular listener to Pastor McConnell's online sermons?

There is a significant difference between having a message directed at you, or encountering it in a public space, and going looking for messages you may find offensive.

Given his own history of causing offence, might Dr Raied not have recognised a kindred spirit in Pastor McConnell?

Last year he described Mosul as the most peaceful city in the world since Islamic State took over. He later apologised for those remarks and others, in which he drew a moral equivalence between the Charlie Hebdo killers and the coalition forces in Iraq.

Interestingly, Dr Al-Hussaini, a London-based Imam and academic, took a very different approach, saying he had "grave concerns" about the case against the pastor and that he would go to jail with him if the pastor was convicted.

The new information also raises more questions for the Public Prosecution Service.

It will have an even harder time proving that it can meet the evidential test - that a reasonable jury is more likely than not to convict.

The information also makes it difficult to see how this prosecution is in the public interest.

The courts have indicated that context is important in cases such as this and the fact that these words were part of a sermon should prove to be important.

Surely the law itself would suffer if preaching a sermon was legal, but putting it on the internet was a criminal offence.

Post-Ashers, could someone be prosecuted for electronically sharing Pastor McConnell's remarks, but sued for refusing to put those same remarks on a cake for religious reasons?

Finally, questions still remain for Pastor McConnell and all Christians.

Islam and Christianity make exclusive claims - they cannot both be right.

Christians are called not only to truth, but also to grace; not only to justice, but also to mercy.

The Evangelical Alliance delivered a box of chocolates to the Islamic Centre following the sermon. We respect the pastor's right to free speech and agree that Islam does not lead to God, but we also want to build redemptive relationships.

Are there better ways to highlight fundamental disagreements, while inviting listeners into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus?

  • Peter Lynas is Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance

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