Pastor James McConnell has found himself at the centre of a political storm after branding Islam as “satanic and heathen” during a fiery sermon last month.
Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson’s subsequent remarks in defence of the preacher led to him apologising to Muslim representatives in private last week.
The Democratic Unionist leader is now facing mounting pressure to issue a public apology for his claim that while he would not trust Muslims for spiritual guidance, or those who followed Sharia law to the letter or who engaged in terrorism, he would trust them to “go down the shops” for him.
His critics characterised the shops reference as condescending and insulting.
Mr Robinson has insisted his comments have been misinterpreted.
The episode has played out at a time when the North has witnessed an upsurge in race hate crimes. Both Mr Robinson and Mr McConnell have condemned all such attacks.
Mr McConnell, who has stood by the contents of his sermon at his church in north Belfast, has visited the home of two men who were targeted by racists twice in a matter of hours over the weekend. The Pakistani men, aged 24 and 28, were assaulted in their Parkmount St home in north Belfast on Sunday afternoon. The night before a bottle was thrown through their front window.
An 18-year-old woman has been charged with disorderly behaviour in connection with the incident.
A 57-year-old man has been released on bail pending further police inquiries.
A statement from Mr McConnell’s Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle said he had visited the two victims. “The pastor, who has been embroiled in a storm regarding recent comments about Islam, has told the men that he is appalled by the incident and explained that there is ‘no justification for such an attack on any individual or their home whatever their religion’,” said the statement.