On Tuesday the 5th of January Pastor James McConnell from Northern Ireland was found not guilty of making “grossly offensive” comments about Islam. Pastor McConnell was in court due to comments made in a sermon at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast in May 2014, which could be heard online, saying: “Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”
A judge said that while he considered the remarks offensive, he did not consider them “grossly” offensive under the law. After the verdict Pastor McConnell said that he loved Muslims but he was against “their theology and their beliefs.” A statement from Pastor McConnell’s church read:
This is such an important ruling for Churches here - it is vital that Pastors and Ministers are able to speak out what God has led them to preach. It is vital that the Internet can be used by Christians to effectively spread God’s message. To say that Jesus is the one and only mediator between God and man, is to preach the message of the gospel, and today the freedom to preach, and to publish online, has been upheld.
We can praise God for the judge finding Pastor McConnell not guilty for causing offense and this is a welcome outcome in the defence of the freedom of speech. However, the fact that Pastor McConnell’s case went to court at all should be a reminder to Christians of the nature of the secular society in which we live. There will no doubt be other Christians taken to court for speaking out on biblical truths who will not face the same outcome as Pastor McConnell.
Pastor McConnell’s case should cause Christians to think about how they relate to a culture which is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity.
Firstly, as Christians it is important to remember to pray and intercede for those in authority over us (1 Timothy 2:1–2).
Secondly, even though our culture is trying to eradicate Christian speech, as Christians we are still called to be gracious in our speech with the world about the truth of the gospel (Colossian 4:6) and to answer with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). Yet we must always remember that the gospel is a scandal to the unbeliever and will always be seen as offensive (1 Corinthians 1:18–23; Galatians 5:11), although this does not mean that our speech should be.
Thirdly, when the time comes that those who are in authority over us demand that we be silent about the gospel, we must not be silent but rather follow the example set by the apostles and obey God rather than man:
But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19–20.)
This is a spiritual battle and one in which we must stand firm even in face of those who would seek to silence the gospel.