Pastor McConnell: I won’t retract Islam comments when I address Muslim leaders

Pastor McConnell pictured with Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini during his trial
Pastor McConnell pictured with Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al-Hussaini during his trial

Pastor Jim McConnell, who last year was acquitted of making “grossly offensive” statements about Islam, won’t retract his controversial comments when he addresses a group of Muslim leaders at a conference in south Down.

The two-day conference is organised by singer Tommy Sands and artists, peace activists, journalists and academics based in Rostrevor. It will be attended by Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders as well as politicians, scholars and artists.

In January 2016 Pastor McConnell was found not guilty at Belfast Magistrates’ Court of making “grossly offensive” comments about Islam, after he branded the religion “Satanic” and “heathen” in a sermon.

Pastor McConnell said he will be addressing an audience of Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders at the event.

“On the opening night they want me to speak – and to question me,” he said.

Pastor McConnell never retracted his controversial comments “and won’t”, but said he will not repeat them in Rostrevor “because everyone knows what I stand for”.

He added: “I don’t know if it will be heated but I hope not. However I will stand up for what I believe; Jesus Christ is both the Son of Man and the Son of God.”

This contrasted with the Muslim religion, he said.

However, the burden of the event will be on “freedom of speech and freedom of conscience” which he said are not strongly practised in predominantly Muslim countries.

Also appearing will be Muslim cleric Sheikh Dr Muhammad Al Hussaini and Belfast Catholic priest Father Patrick McCafferty, who both stood by Pastor McConnell throughout his trial.

Organisers said the conference takes place “in the context of global insecurity, religious extremism, Brexit and the future of the Stormont assembly” and that participants “will embark on a journey with people they strongly disagree with, understanding at all times that they may continue to disagree”.

The discussion is intended to lead to a ‘Rostrevor Declaration’ and takes place at ‘An Cuan’ on Shore Road, Rostrevor on March 9 and 10. It is not open to members of the public.

Delegates include Rev John Dunlop, Archbishop Allan Harper, Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop Donal McKeown and Dr Heather Morris.

A delegation from Belfast Islamic Centre and a Jewish delegation will also attend.

Invitations have also been extended to representatives from political parties.