NI church head says race attacks ‘must stop immediately’

New head of Presbyterians says attacks an ‘affront to us as democratic and civilised country’

Racist attacks such as those against Muslims, above, were an “affront” to democratic and civilised values, the incoming Presbyterian Moderator has said.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Racist attacks such as those against Muslims, above, were an “affront” to democratic and civilised values, the incoming Presbyterian Moderator has said. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Mon, Jun 2, 2014, 20:04

Racist attacks were an “affront” to democratic and civilised values, the incoming Presbyterian Moderator has said.

Dr Michael Barry, speaking at the opening session of the Presbyterian Church’s general assembly in Belfast last night, condemned such attacks, saying: “That is behaviour that must stop immediately.”

The comments sit in stark contrast to those of evangelical preacher, Pastor James McConnell of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast, who in a sermon last month said: “Islam is heathen. Islam is satanic. Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”

His comments have sparked a fierce debate in the North about racially motivated crimes. More than 4,000 people attended a rally against racism in Belfast, with hundreds at one in Derry, on Saturday.

First Minister in the North Peter Robinson, who sometimes attends Pastor McConnell’s sermons, appeared to support him last week when he commented of Muslims: “I wouldn’t trust them in terms of those who have been involved in terrorist activities. I don’t trust them if they are fully devoted to Sharia law. I wouldn’t trust them for spiritual guidance. Would I trust them to go down to the shops for me? Of course I would.”

Mr Robinson has since said he apologised if his comments caused any distress.

Such is the concern about racially motivated violent attacks that the PSNI has established a dedicated phone line for reporting such incidents.

Dr Barry said the honorary consul for Poland had expressed his concern to him about attacks on the Polish community.

“And of course it is not just people from Poland, and it is not just because of a person’s nationality. All such attacks are an affront to us as a democratic and civilised country,” he said.

“We must never do or say anything that would give the slightest comfort to those who would verbally or physically attack people they do not like. We are to treat all people with respect and dignity because they have been created in the image of God,” he said.

Dr Barry, minister of the Sandys Street congregation in Newry, Co Down for the past 28 years, called on the Presbyterian church to “be a people of service reaching out to the needy”.