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30 May 2014

Statement on recent comments surrounding Islam in NI

Statement on recent comments surrounding Islam in NI

There has been significant media coverage of the comments made by Pastor McConnell during a sermon last week and subsequently. A number of politicians have since commented on the issue and the police are investigating a "hate crime motive". This occurred in the wider context of attacks against minority groups locally and Christian persecution internationally. The fallout continues.

Important questions have emerged - how do we as a society disagree well about fundamental beliefs? How do Christians engage those with whom we differ in a way that is loving, wise and missional? What happens when faith and politics conflict? Where are the lines between freedom and responsibility?

These issues have clearly touched a public nerve; words and emotions have escalated quickly. There is wisdom in the biblical call to, "be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger" (James 1:19). There is also "a time to keep silence and a time to speak" (Ecc 3:7). we have listened and acknowledge now is a time to speak.

Our role is to generate more light than heat, to speak truth and show grace. Christians believe that everyone is created in the image of God for relationship with Him and others. Every person is worthy of dignity in the eyes of God. Jesus continues this core message, calling His followers to a radically new identity and radically new relationships with Him, and with others.

We are to welcome the stranger and foreigner; loving our neighbour and enemy has always been part of the call of Christ. This is not in contradiction to the call to preach Christ or His truth. This is the very space for transformation, life and freedom. It is the role of Christians to hold these things in tension with the love that drives out fear and the truth that sets free.

We now have the very unfortunate situation that some minority groups in Northern Ireland feel less safe and less welcome. This is at odds with the Christian responsibility to "seek the peace and prosperity of the city" (Jer 29:7). Muslims and Christians have fundamentally different beliefs - most significantly about the deity of Christ and the salvation that comes through His death and resurrection, which distinguishes Christianity from all religions. We do not compromise the truth or deity of Christ by loving our neighbour, it is the very reason we do it.

We encourage Christians to counter the current negative narrative through prayer, action and humble words. Let's go out of our way to extend the truth, love and life of Christ to all who dwell here.