Rev David McIlveen: Dr Paisley wasn't treated with respect and dignity he deserved
The controversial Free Presbyterian minister tells Chris Kilpatrick why he has never wavered in his opposition to homosexuality and abortion - and of how former DUP leader Ian Paisley was such a huge influence in his life.
Q. How did you become involved with the church?
A. I became a Christian when I was 15 and still at school. I was very keen to develop my Christian principles and was encouraged by a number of young people from the school. In about 1964 I began to attend Ravenhill Free Presbyterian Church where I was really impressed by Dr Paisley's preaching, particularly his public prayer at the beginning which was something I hadn't been accustomed to.
I felt that was the church and ministry which I could identify with.
In 1966 when Dr Paisley was incarcerated in prison the whole issue of his ministry became very much the focus, not only of my interest but of others.
Q. You have a high public profile - you are known for your hardline stance on issues such as homosexuality for example - is somebody like you with those thoughts in the minority in Northern Ireland now?
A. I think it's inevitable over a period of time society does change and we see that particularly in a much more liberal interpretation of life.
There are things accepted today that would not have been accepted in our society 30 years ago. Nudity in theatrical performances, for example, would have been totally rejected by the vast majority of people.
But now whenever you do raise your voice in protest against some form of theatrical pornography people think you are really out of step with everyone else.
Perhaps that is true but we are certainly not out of step with the deeply held and sincerely held convictions of our heart.
Q. Have you mellowed at all in the last 20 or 30 years?
A. No, I don't think so. I think from the point of view of having very strong convictions I don't see in any sense I would be mellowing in those convictions. I certainly appreciate more the challenge people face in terms of addictions and so on. But those are issues you learn to discover more about.
You have a greater pity, a greater compassion for people - but no, your convictions remain exactly the same.
I don't think I was someone who would have risen to an aggressive type of response; I felt it was important we did speak the truth and love. That was dominant in my approach to any subjects I had to deal with.
Q. Can you shed some light on your close friendship with Dr Ian Paisley?
A. I met Dr Paisley in a more personal capacity in 1968 when he asked me if I would take over the ministry in the Sandown Road church.
I didn't expect at that time our relationship would become as close as it did but it was something which developed because, for example, I was able to take the children to school, which brought me into the family environment.
I do have to pay very warm tribute to both Dr and Mrs Paisley because not only was Dr Paisley the moderator of the church, he was also a father figure to many of us, as Mrs Paisley was a mother figure.
Nobody will ever know how much they contributed to the shaping and moulding of young people's lives in terms of the church's work.
Q. Given the time spent with Dr Paisley, do you think the DUP failed him at the end?
A. It's a very difficult one to assess. I think what I can say openly is that from the documentaries I watched, both Dr and Mrs Paisley were hurt. I think that's something we don't always appreciate when it comes to somebody of outstanding leadership, that we are human. I certainly appreciate and recognise the contribution made.
I'm not in the DUP, I'm not a member of the DUP but no one looking at life from a short distance or a long distance could fail to recognise the sacrifice Dr Paisley made in terms of the political contribution he did to Northern Ireland. That sacrifice could so very easily be diminished in its value. The one thing I do feel, in my own mind, was missed was that we do need to learn from the past, we don't wipe out the past. I think there's a great danger that because a person is a leader they can simply be put aside.
In Dr Paisley's case he should have been treated with the utmost respect, he should have been considered with great dignity and I think that, in hindsight, was missing.
Q. At the time of the Iris Robinson affair you were quoted as saying Peter Robinson's position as First Minister was untenable. Was that the case?
A. The situation surrounding that was because Mrs Robinson had been such a vocal person in terms of making very anti-homosexual remarks and I felt it was important to send out the message that even though Mrs Robinson would probably be off the stage in terms of her political profile that the homosexual community needed to know the voice of opposition wasn't weakened because of this.
In terms of Mr Robinson, the word untenable maybe wasn't the best. Whenever I saw Peter very publicly broken because of what happened I thought it would be good for him because of what happened to step out of public life for a period of time, as I would have advised anyone under the circumstances, which actually he did. I felt that was the right thing to do.
Q. You had links to the DUP, you support the party, why did you never join?
A. My attitude is always if you are going to do something you give yourself wholeheartedly to it and there was no way I could honestly do that to either the DUP or any institutions I may have a sympathy with. The church life was my calling. It was my first and foremost responsibility.
Q. What impact did the decision to enter power-sharing have on the Free Presbyterian Church?
A. It clearly had an impact not only on the community but on the church. People had their opinions and that is really the strength of the church in one sense; that you have diversity and unity. There was a very strong view of course that expressed opposition to what Dr Paisley was doing politically.
There were others who felt, as I did, there was a difference between the role of the church and role of the political system. Dr Paisley was elected as the moderator by the Free Presbyterian Church, he was elected as First Minister by the country. There was a very clear distinction between the two but some struggled with that and felt it was impossible for what was described as a dual role. That brought differences of opinion which were difficult.
Q. Why do you feel so strongly about homosexuality?
A. I don't feel any stronger about homosexuality than I do adultery. Both are described in the Bible as an abomination. Homosexuality is unnatural. We are created in a very specific way, male and female. Biologically we are not created homosexual, we are created heterosexual.
Q. The LBGT community would say it is not a choice.
A. Generally that is their response but that is only their view when they are put into the debate. I think most homosexuals are quite openly willing to say 'I've chosen this life'. This is something they have a particular identity with, rather than something they have no choice over. They might use that as a means to try and neutralise the argument I would put forward that people do choose that particular pathway.
It is my earnest belief anyone who is homosexual has chosen that pathway according to the inclination of their heart. The one thing strikes me is people will see us as being anti-homosexual in terms of the person involved. That is not true.
I don't look at a man going down the street and wonder if that person is a homosexual or not. The fact is homosexual individuals tell you. They identify themselves by their sexual orientation. If they didn't do that there would be no response from anyone. Those of us who believe the Bible which teaches us homosexuality is an abomination in God's eyes, and a perverseness of sexuality, then we have to respond to it. That's exactly what we do. Again I stress we do so in love. There's no way I'd advocate or sanction violence against any individual but it's important to express the truth.
Q. You wouldn't advocate violence against individuals. DUP councillor Maurice Mills, recently bestowed an MBE and who you know, previously said Hurricane Katrina was God's judgement on homosexuals. Do you agree with that?
A. It wouldn't be my way of putting it. The only time I can really speak with authority in terms of God's judgement is whenever I think of the message on the cross of Calvary where I see God's judgement placed upon His own son for the sins of this world.
I do believe there are occasions in this world when we can relate certain calamities to a situation, whether we are right or wrong is another issue.
In Maurice's case, he believed he could do that, he saw there was a link and he was quite right in my view in expressing that link. I do not necessarily believe that everyone who is a Christian would endorse what he said. I would defend his right in making his views known.
Q. Would they be your views?
A. No they wouldn't. But I'll defend the right of anybody to object. I can't express my point of view if I don't defend the right of others to express theirs. I may disagree with them but I'll defend their right to say it.
Q. You appreciate members of the LGBT community would find a lot of the terms used such as "perverse" and "abomination" offensive?
A. Of course they would and the reason they would find it offensive is because of insecurity.
If I'm convinced I'm doing what is right then no matter what is said I am not going to be offended.
If people have a principle they believe is right they should not be threatened by offence.
The very fact they cry out 'I'm offended by that' I believe underscores the insecurity of what they are trying to promote.
There's something missing in their lives.
I don't feel we should condemn people for what we do, rather bring before them the challenge of what the Bible says.
Q. If a member of your family or a close friend told you they were homosexual, how would you respond to that situation?
A. The one thing about a parent and a child is that love never diminishes, no matter what a child does. Parental love will always be the same. While I've been in the situation where parents have confided in me about their family, I've always taken a very clear line on the matter that you don't put your children out of your home.
You continue to show them love and provide for them, and there's no way I'd advise them to say to their son or daughter who told them they were gay or a lesbian to leave the home.
Q. You wouldn't put your children out in those circumstances?
A. Oh no, not at all.
Q. Are there any circumstances in which you see abortion as acceptable?
A. Those of us who are pro-life are sometimes considered as being very harsh in our dealings with our view. It's easy to stand up and say we are pro-life. My argument is when we discover a mother and father are involved in a situation where there is abnormality of the child we should be there to give support.
I have found there are people who out of a very strong belief in being pro-life, carry a child that had some abnormality. Then they were left alone and there was very little support after the child was born.
I was seeking to make the point we who are pro-life can't just walk away from our responsibilities by encouraging people to pursue that principle and not be there for them.
Q. Are there circumstances such as fatal foetal abnormality or rape in which abortion is acceptable, in your opinion?
A. I think there is an issue over the mother's life and that is something which will always be part of the discussion on abortion but I would have to say, 100%, we should be advocating the preservation of the life of the child. I'm not happy with referring to a child as a foetus. The conception is of a child, not a foetus. I know that may be semantics in some people's view but I see the conception as the commencement of a child's life.
I'm always keen to encourage people to preserve life. I've found some of the most affectionate people are those who do have some physical or mental abnormality. Society would be poorer if we didn't have people so wonderfully preserved and cared for by parents who have shown to all of us which is worthy to emulate.
Q. What did you make of Stephen Fry's comments about what he would say if he met God?
A. Obviously he had thought this out. His response was to dwell on his imagination of God. It seems strange for somebody to create an imaginary God then denounce the very imaginary God he has created in his own mind. That indicates a man who is at war with himself. Therefore he's a man to be pitied rather than condemned. To me it is indicative of the atheist who says there is no God but is always seeking to denounce God.