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Fundamental Primer

Christian fundamentalists have fired the opening shots in their battle to oppose a papal visit to the North. Radical Unionist political commentator Dr John Coulter probes the hardline beliefs, main clerics and key sects which make up the modern Protestant fundamentalist movement.

Dr John Coulter •30 January 2008

Northern Christianity's rampant fundamentalist movement is on the march again. And there's the real danger it could become a Protestant Al Qaeda, dominating the Irish Christian faith, especially the churches, in the same way as radical Islamic fundamentalism now controls much of the global muslim community.

The strong arm of Christian fundamentalism was demonstrated during the row caused by one of Stormont Enterprise Minister Nigel Dodds' special advisors, Wallace Thompson. Thompson branded the pope as "the anti-christ" during a live radio interview. These remarks shot the 54-year-old to the 'top of the fundamentalist tree' as Thompson is also a member of the ruling council of the hardline pressure group, the Evangelical Protestant Society, founded in 1946. Its magazine, Ulster Bulwark, has called for Protestants to oppose the planned papal visit to the North by Pope Benedict.

It said: "We praise God that there is still a remnant of faithful evangelical Protestants who will not bow the knee to Baal, and that remnant might be called upon to take its stand if, as now anticipated, the Pope pays a visit to Northern Ireland."

Thompson is now one of the Top Ten fundamentalist organisers in the North and belongs to one of the dozen fully active fundamentalist sects. EPS is one of six main pressure groups espousing hardline fundamentalist Christian beliefs across the North.

The main core beliefs of most Northern Christian fundamentalists are:

  • The Pope is the anti-Christ warned about in the Bible;
  • All Catholics will burn in hell unless they become 'saved' or 'born again' as defined by the Biblical New Testament text of St John 3, verse 16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life"; the same fate also applies to 'un-saved', liberal or ecumenical Protestants;
  • Sex is only allowed within the sanctity of heterosexual Christian marriage;
  • Civil partnerships, homosexuality and same-sex relationships are wrong, punishable by hell's damnation.

Fundamentalists use the example of the fate of the Biblical Old Testament gay city of Sodom, which was destroyed by fire and brimstone because of its homosexuality;

Fundamentalists oppose abortion, divorce and human cloning as interfering with God's Will; for fundamentalists, God created Adam and Eve - not Adam and Steve;

They are staunchly pro-Creation, adamant that God created the world in six days and strongly oppose evolution, the big bang theory and that man is related to monkeys;

Fundamentalists strongly oppose joint services with Catholics or other non-Christian faiths and would be vehemently opposed to the ecumenical movement;

Hardliners within fundamentalism view the Jews as being responsible for calling for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the Christian faith.

They oppose preaching roles for women in churches, and have used this platform as a means of infiltrating mainstream Protestant churches, such as Irish Presbyterianism, where a row has erupted in Portadown over a female cleric.

The North's Super Six fundamentalist groups

1. The Caleb Foundation: founded in 1998 mainly by Independent Orangemen opposed to the Evangelical Prayer Breakfast Movement. It now claims to represent 200,000 evangelical Christians, which if true would make Caleb the most influential of all the fundamentalist groups in the North - capable of winning a European seat; 10 Westminster seats, and returning at least 28 MLAs. It denies being a hardline anti-Catholic group, yet its web site does not list any Catholic clergy in its ruling Council of Reference.

2. The Evangelical Protestant Society: religious sources claim it has around 3,000 supporters; some of its members also hold joint membership with Caleb. There are no Catholics on its ruling Council, fuelling perceptions the EPS is vehemently anti-Catholic. The late DUP East Antrim MLA, George Dawson, who died in May 2007, was a key member of the ruling bodies of both Caleb and the EPS.

3. The Independent Orange Order: founded in 1903 following a political split with the main Orange Order. Has now become a predominantly working class loyalist movement of around 1,000 members based mainly in counties Antrim, Down and mid Ulster. First Minister and DUP boss Ian Paisley - although not a member of the Independents - has addressed their annual Twelfth demonstration for many years. The late Dawson was also its Grand Master at the time of his death. He was also Caleb's first chairman.

4. The Faith Mission: Was the most influential fundamentalist group in the North in the 1950s and 1960s. Its power base continues to be Protestant rural districts, and its full-time evangelists - known as pilgrims - must complete formal preaching training. Still quietly influential through a network of rural mission halls. Appeals now to a largely aging, middle class population. Has difficulty attracting young people into its ranks because of its strict fashion code, and the growth of other fundamentalist churches has seen its numbers shrink.

5. Christian Workers' Union: The urban equivalent of the Faith Mission. Operates through a well-organised network of CWU halls, mainly in predominantly Protestant towns and cities of the North. Like the Faith Mission, CWU membership is aging, but it is still popular among the elderly urban Protestant working class.

6. The Christian Institute: One of the most active groups in terms of media campaigns, especially against civil partnerships. Is particularly strong in campaigning for Creation teaching in schools. Is also very active in lobbying Assembly members on moral and social issues. Working with Caleb and the EPS, the trio combined could form a nucleus of a Christian Coalition at Stormont of 'born again' MLAs.


While the first decade of the new millennium has seen a slip in numbers attending mainstream Protestant churches, such as the Irish Methodists, Irish Presbyterians, and the Church of Ireland, there has been a steady growth in the smaller fundamentalist faiths.

The Top Twelve are:

1. The Free Presbyterians - founded by Paisley Senior in 1951, the power-sharing Stormont Executive has forced him to stand down as Moderator. Has about 16,000 members.

2. Evangelical Presbyterians - among the smallest Protestant denominations, but has key members in high places, such as the EPS and Caleb.

3. Elim Pentecostal - probably the fastest growing denomination in the North, its lively form of worship and 'happy clappy' image have proved popular among young people.

4. Plymouth Brethren - influential through a network of Gospel Halls. The sect is now trying to establish its own Christian faith schools.

5. Exclusive Brethren - and even more strict version of the Plymouth counterpart. Frowns heavily on its worshippers marrying non-Brethren partners. Closely vets those who join the sect.

6. Church of the Nazarene - named after the Middle Eastern town of Nazareth where Jesus spent much of his youth. Known for its lively worship formats.

7. Church of God - Pentecostal-style sect, again with a strong focus on lively worship. Has a strong appeal among urban Protestant young people.

8. Free Methodists - Small sect which does not agree with the ecumenical direction of the mainstream Methodist Church in Ireland.

9. Baptists - Next to Elim, the Baptists are the fastest growing sect in the North. It has several representatives on Caleb's Council of Reference. Strongly anti-Freemasonic, it believes passionately in adult, full emersion baptism as performed by Jesus in Biblical times rather than child christening or confirmation.

10. Reformed Presbyterian Church - Next to Paisleyites, they would be the most fundamentalist of the Presbyterian sects.

11. Independent Methodists - Smaller, more hardline sect of Methodists with around a dozen churches in the North. Would push a strong 'born again' agenda. Influential in Caleb.

12. Congregational Union - Its Caleb representation has been to the fore in campaigning against Sunday soccer.


While many Northern villages, towns and cities have a selection of clerics, there is a strong and growing network of fundamentalist preachers. Here's the most influential fundamentalist activists:

1. Wallace Thompson - Nigel Dodds' special advisor who branded the Pope the "anti-Christ". Staunch member of ruling bodies of both Caleb and EPS. According to the EPS web site, he is also an Independent Orangeman and Ulster Bulwark editor.

2. Rev Ron Johnstone - Armagh Free Presbyterian minister who succeeded Paisley Senior as Moderator. An Orangeman who is on Caleb's Council of Reference.

3. Rev William Malcolmson - EPS president, and according to its web site, is "active in the Orange and Black Institution and the Boys' Brigade", one of the North's largest Christian uniformed youth groups.

4. Pastor Eric McComb - Irish Superintendent, or leader, of Elim Pentecostalists. As a Caleb Council of Reference member, he is a hot tip to replace Dawson as chairman. As Ireland's top Pentecostalist Also has considerable influence in Britain's Elim movement.

5. Rev David McConaghie - Former Maghaberry Elim pastor, now with Paisley's Free Presbyterians. Caleb founder and on EPS ruling Council. Hot tip to replace Dawson as Independent Orange Grand Master. Now viewed as Caleb's media mouthpiece.

6. Rev William Park - Leading light in the Fellowship of Independent Methodists and served as Deputy Chairman of Caleb. Could be a potential replacement for Dawson on the EPS ruling Council.

7. Assemblyman Mervyn Storey - North Antrim DUP MLA, Free Presbyterian and senior Independent Orangeman. Could be in line for either the DUP's European nomination to win back the party's seat from dissident Jim Allister, or may even win the North Antrim DUP nomination for Westminster if Paisley senior retires.

8. Rev Stephen Dickinson - minister of two Presbyterian congregations in east Antrim. Member of EPS ruling Council. His late father, Rev Bertie Dickinson, was one of the most popular moderators in Irish Presbyterianism of the 20th century. A senior Orangeman tipped to replace Bobby Saulters as Grand Master. Perceived to be a supporter of Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice movement.

9. Rev Eric Culbertson - EPS ruling Council member, and described by the group as "a staunch defender of evangelical Protestantism within the Church of Ireland". One of few mainstream clerics within fundamentalism. Active in the Orange and Black orders.

10. Pastor Kenny McClinton - former UFF convicted killer turned 'born again' cleric. Now runs Portadown-based Ulster American Christian Fellowship. Angered many nationalists last year when he suggested his friend, the murdered LVF boss Billy 'King Rat' Wright, was now in heaven.



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6 February 2008

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