Belfast preacher 'had no intention of causing offence' with Islam 'satanic' comment

An evangelical preacher who sparked controversy in the North when he said he did not trust Muslims has apologised for any distress he might have caused.

Pastor James McConnell referred to Islam as “satanic” and “heathen” in a firebrand sermon at his Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast last month.

His comments are being investigated by police.

Stormont’s First Minister Peter Robinson publicly apologised earlier this week for comments he subsequently made in defence of the pastor.

Mr Robinson was heavily criticised after he said he would not trust Muslims for spiritual guidance but would trust them to “go down to the shops” for him.

Days after Mr Robinson said sorry outside Belfast’s Islamic Centre, Mr McConnell has also issued a public apology.

“I wish to make a clarification statement with regards to statements made by me recently in relation to members of the Muslim faith,” he said on a statement on his church’s website.

“I wish to emphasise that I had no intention of causing any offence or insulting any member of the Muslim community or to arouse fear or stir up or incite hatred towards any member of the Muslim community.

“I wish to apologise publicly for any distress I may have unwittingly caused on my part.

“My sermon was drawing attention to how many followers of Islam have, regrettably, interpreted the doctrine of Islam as justification for violence.

“I have qualified my comments by reference to those who use their religion as justification for violence. As a preacher of the word of God, it is this interpretation of the doctrine of Islam which I am condemning.

“I abhor violence and condemn anyone, of any faith, who uses religion to justify it.

“I have devoted 60 years of my life to the service of God and preached the word of God as a pastor to thousands of people in our community over my lifetime.

“I have worked tirelessly to promote my Christian doctrine. Many faiths and denominations have attended at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, including members of the Muslim faith.

“My mission has created a community in Ethiopia which ensures over 600 children a day, including Christians and Muslims, have access to clean water and food. In addition, we fund a clinic in Kenya which provides 1,200 people a month with access to medical care.

“I believe in the principle of free speech and in freedom of religion.

“Finally, I also will welcome any opportunity to attend at the Islamic Centre in Belfast in the near future.”

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