The new leader of the Methodist Church declared that "black lives matter" as he called on the US authorities to "stand up against the evil of racism" following the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.
Speaking prior to his installation as president last night, former US oil company lawyer Rev Dr Tom McKnight said he had been "deeply saddened by the heartrending death of George Floyd".
The ceremony in Belfast's Assembly Buildings made history because it was the first time in just over a week that two Irish Church leaders had been installed in the Presbyterian Church's headquarters.
Rev McKnight said: "I feel that now is the time for the powers that be in my home country to stand up against the sin of racism, especially in the areas of law enforcement and justice. My hope is that those with access to the levers of power should learn from this and instigate much-needed reform."
He backed reform of the police and said that those involved with the Black Lives Matter campaign were right to protest. However, he added: "I am worried about the lack of social distancing during some of these protests, and given the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, I think that the best way for people to protest at the moment is to do so through a communal effort online."
Asked his view of President Donald Trump (right), Dr McKnight replied: "I note that Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, said that she would pray for Donald Trump, and I can do no better than that also.
"However, I do think that the series of events following Mr Floyd's death could have been handled better and with more sympathy than has been shown."
Yesterday the ministerial session of the conference accepted a strongly-worded resolution calling on Methodists to stand against "the sin of racism in the wake of the cruel and needless death of George Floyd and the widespread cry for an end to the 'polemic of racism'".
It added: "Let us not just condemn the wicked actions of others... but let us examine our own hearts and attitudes. Like the related evil of sectarianism, racism can be deeply ingrained and yet hidden under a veneer of respectability."
Born in Dallas, Dr McKnight, minister of Donaghadee Methodist Church, came to Northern Ireland in 1981 for a one-year internship but married local woman Elizabeth Bell the next year and has stayed here ever since. They have two grown-up daughters, Beth and Katherine.
He was installed last night as his brother Monty, sister Mary, cousin Jeanie, a former United Methodist Church missionary, and their families watched the live video-streamed ceremony from Belfast.
In his address Rev McKnight said: "I doubt that our Church - I doubt that society - will ever be the same again. Covid-19 should teach us that to meet together we don't always need to travel with the time, expense and harm to the environment which that entails.
"Also the protests following the death of George Floyd should remind us that we must not limit our understanding of God's grace to those like ourselves, and that - as has been often repeated - black lives matter."
Those taking part in last night's ceremony in the Presbyterian Church's Belfast headquarters included outgoing President Rev Sam McGuffin; Rev Dr Heather Moore, secretary of the Methodist Conference, and Hazel Loney, who was installed as the new lay leader in succession to Lynda Neilands.
A number of leading clerics from British Methodism, the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church watched via video-link.
On June 1 the Very Rev David Bruce was installed in the same building as the new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.