In last week’s Fermanagh Herald, the Rev Foster outraged many Catholics with his comments about their church. Ryan Smith visited him and his small congregation to find out more about the controversial cleric and his flock…
IN the small village of Kilskeery at around 7pm on Sunday evening, around 30 people, from young to old, entered the Free Presbyterian Church from a room behind the pulpit at the head of the church.
They were swiftly followed by a man who, although now a retired minister, is clearly revered in this part of the world.
Leading this evening’s service was Reverend Ivan Foster. To the general public, he is a ‘firebrand pastor’, ‘outlandish’ – and accusations of stirring hatred are thrown his way at a whim.
To the congregation here, however, the Lisnaskea native offers a pure distillation of the bible. He is looked upon for guidance and his experience, knowledge and teaching is admired.
In last week’s Fermanagh Herald, after 62 per cent of people in the South voted in favour of legalising same sex marriage, he blamed the Catholic church which, he said, has ‘cursed’ Ireland. Last week he accused the South of defying God and ‘embracing sodomy’.
This paper was inundated with letters of outrage, social media comments and a feeling of general disdain towards the man and his views.
But, as he conducts the crowd of 30 through hymns and prayer the outside world seems very far away indeed.
At 71, the preacher cuts a sprightly figure. Normal church service takes a predictable slant – but it’s the topic of tonight’s service that makes the context relevant: ‘Republic of Ireland declares itself for that which damned Sodom!’.
He compares the Catholic Church to a ‘cancer’ – himself and Free Presbyterianism as the ‘surgeon’ to remove it. He claims a history of deceit – and refers to teachings on Mary, Saint Patrick and the church abuse scandals – as having created an environment for the Irish people to rebel against the church.
“My dear friends it is something to be utterly ashamed of, rather than glorying in,” he tells he congregation.
“Such a decision could only have been taken by a nation in utter ignorance of the view that God holds of that sin which they have legalised, or will in a short time. It grieves me to think of a people so delighted in… a sin that will be followed, I have no doubt, in God’s time, in God’s retribution. And it grieves me that people should be in such darkness to act in this fashion and without hesitation.”
During his sermon he jokes with the audience: ‘Some years ago there was a Roman Catholic man in my house. They do come into my house, and more importantly they get out again’.
But, it’s clear when he compares the Catholic faith to a cancer that his views on theology and religion are no laughing matter.
“I don’t have a hatred for the Roman Catholic people by any means. Now, I’m not in love with Roman Catholicism, any more than a surgeon going round the wards and speaking to those suffering from cancer is in love with cancer.”
“He wants to do what he can for the patient but he hates the disease that has rendered them to the state of desolation that they’re in.”
He blames the ‘deception’ of this religion as forcing people to ‘jump from the frying pan into the fire’.
“Many feel that Ireland has taken a great step forward, a step of liberty and freedom – a breaking free from the Roman Catholic church. My dear friends it’s a break in the wrong direction.”
But at close to two hours later, he ends his sermon telling the congregation that although they ‘hate, loathe and cringe’ at the ‘sin’: “We should not hesitate to present the gospel to the sinner, no matter how lost they are.”
A MORE candid Reverend Ivan Foster, having preached to 30 of his congregation, sits in the living room of his home just a few metres from the church.
He has been retired for eight years as a minister but still retains a large role within the Kilskeery church.
In an interview following his sermon, he reveals more of his views on homosexuality. He makes no apologies for what many would see as controversial, or hate-filled comments. On his analogy between the Catholic Church and cancer said earlier in the evening, he makes no retraction.
“It’s like when I look at a man who’s drunk, he’s under the influence, he’s carried away. He’s in a make believe world, he’s no idea what’s going on,” Minister Foster said on homosexuality, “Well these are people carried away by lust. The argument is people should be allowed to do what they like. Does that mean a thief has a right to thieve, does that mean a liar has a right to lie – he doesn’t.”
On the suggestion that homosexuality is not a choice, he said: “My response to that is: My friend God will not accept that plea. God will not accept that you can’t help it. There’s many’s a crime, many’s a wrongdoing that has been committed where someone says they couldn’t help it. You hear it all the time, ‘Voices told me to do it’ etc etc and nobody accepts that, so why should they accept it from the sodomite?”
Asked if he understood that there will be a large section of the population offended by his cancer and Catholic church analogy, the preacher said, “Of course they will!’.
“That doesn’t bother me in the least because God’s truth has always offended people. When I speak the truth, I try to speak it in love, I don’t set out to annoy – I don’t set out to say it in a fashion that this’ll annoy that boy and I’ll really rub it in. No I don’t. But, if I preach the truth – and no matter how I have striven to be kind in my presentation and it still annoys him – that’s it, I don’t feel any responsibility for his annoyance. It’s his rejection of the truth that has caused his annoyance.”
He concluded: “When I’m administering the water of life, the bread of life, the truth of God and somebody spits it out – I grieve that that person is so foolish as to do that.”