DUP man issues apology for blaming coronavirus on abortion and gay marriage
A DUP councillor has issued an apology after claiming the coronavirus pandemic is God's judgement for abortion reforms and legalising same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
John Carson said his online remarks were "misinterpreted" and he did not intend to cause hurt or offence, but added: "I will never apologise for my Christian faith".
The DUP faced calls to suspend the Ballymena councillor over his Facebook comments, which were described as "disgraceful".
Mr Carson wrote: "I said when abortion was legalised that our nation would be judged by God because of its departure from his word and the legalisation of the murder of the unborn child as well as same-sex marriage.
"I was laughed at and mocked by some but as I said at the time, they laughed at Noah until the rain started.
"You reap what you sow and our nation is now reaping the judgment of God because of an immoral and corrupt government.
"It is time to repent and turn again to the God of our fathers."
Abortion law was liberalised and same-sex marriage legalised in Northern Ireland following landmark legislation passed through Westminster last year in Stormont's absence.
The DUP has remained strongly opposed to the changes.
It distanced itself from Mr Carson's comments, saying that he was "expressing a personal opinion and not that of the party".
Mr Carson told the BBC's Nolan Show he stood by his comments, but some hours later issued an apology on Facebook.
"Folks yesterday afternoon I put a post on Facebook which was taken by some and totally misinterpreted, anyone who knows me will know that I would not intentionally set out to cause hurt or offence to anyone and if l did then for that l humbly apologise," he said.
"However I will never apologise for my Christian faith and will not be silenced by those that are opposed to the truth of God's word."
Mr Carson's original Facebook post was 'liked' by DUP MLA Trevor Clarke. Asked by the Nolan Show if he wished to retract this, Mr Clarke said "no comment" and "I'm not getting into that".
Asked about the controversy, DUP economy minister Diane Dodds said the councillor's comments were a "distraction" and party officers are likely to examine potential disciplinary action.
"They are a bit of a distraction from what we all need to do... which is a very, very serious challenge of fighting against Covid-19," she said.
"I believe that we have a God of love and mercy. And I think that's where most people will take comfort.
"And I think that all faith communities in Northern Ireland have been working incredibly hard in challenging and very, very difficult circumstances."
In regard to potential disciplinary action against Mr Carson, Mrs Dodds added: "I'm presuming it will go to party officers – it certainly does not reflect the views of the DUP."
LGBT support organisation the Rainbow Project described the councillor's remarks as "disgraceful but not at all surprising".
Abortion reform campaigner Naomi Connor said: "Mr Carson not only offends same-sex couples and those of us who have had or will need abortions, he does a disservice to people of faith.
"We are sick of fundamentalist religious rhetoric barring our rights."
Peter Lynas, UK director of the Evangelical Alliance, said they were unhelpful comments and the media would "go to town" on them.
"The church response is one of compassion, practical needs like food banks, lament, hope and prayer," he said.
Mr Carson is a member of the Royal British Legion, according to Mid and East Antrim council's website. He is also part of the Orange Order.
The DUP has a long history of hostility towards LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people.
In one previous instance, DUP Ballymena councillor Maurice Mills claimed Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 was sent by God to punish the city's gay community.