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Pastor McConnell case raises questions about truth and freedom

By Peter Lynas

Published 07/08/2015

Peter Lynas
Peter Lynas

Pastor McConnell appeared in court yesterday for preaching a 'grossly offensive' sermon.

The case raises fundamental questions about truth, freedom and what sort of society we want to live in.

The decision of a local political party to insist candidates support same sex marriage, the judgment in the Ashers case and the pastor's prosecution are evidence that Northern Ireland is struggling to adapt to being a more plural society with a range of views and beliefs.

Surprisingly, it is the self-professed liberals who have fallen into intolerance while claiming to be more tolerant.

When they pick and choose to champion only certain rights and freedoms, they undermine all rights and freedoms.

People say we need a stricter separation of church and state. What they mean is that the church, which is of course a group of people, should stay out of the public square and leave that to the state. They don't really mean that the state should stay out of the church's business - like monitoring the content of sermons.

The state needs the church to provide many of the services it cannot and the state should check that churches are complying with health and safety and child protection legislation. In a thriving society there is a healthy interdependence.

Unless the prosecution withdraws this case, a trial seems inevitable. During the trial Pastor McConnell will likely take the stand.

He will be asked to place his hand on the Bible and then swear by Almighty God that the evidence he shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

I imagine the Pastor might then open the Bible on which he had just been asked to swear his oath and turn to John 14:6 and begin reading: "Jesus said 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'."

As Tom Wright, the former Bishop of Durham says: "The whole point of Christianity is that it offers a story which is the story of the whole world. It is public truth."

If the Bible is true, it is true for everyone.

CS Lewis said, either Jesus was and is the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse - but let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher.

I hope the pastor will point out the irony of the State asking him to swear on the Bible because of a belief that it will make people more likely to tell the truth. I hope that he will then show that that very same Bible declares Islam to be false - the very thing he is being prosecuted for saying.

I hope that he will remind the court that the unmerited generosity and grace of God is and always will be 'grossly offensive' to many.

Finally, I hope that he will begin to preach the good news about how God, the good Creator, sent his Son to die and rise again to bring light and life to a world living in darkness.

In the Bible, when Joseph is reunited with his brothers after they sold him into slavery, they worried for their safety. Joseph reassures them - what you intended for harm, God intended for good, to save many.

I suspect Pastor McConnell is meditating on this passage as the trial approaches.

Peter Lynas is Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance

Belfast Telegraph

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