Stephen Timms

A Labour MP has been condemned for his “upsetting” decision to praise a church with a history of anti-LGBTQ campaigning – just hours after Keir Starmer was forced to apologise for visiting it.

Stephen Timms said he applauded the “extraordinary work” of Jesus House For All The Nations church in Brent, north London.

The East Ham MP’s tweet came the same day the Labour leader said he was sorry for visiting the church over Easter and endorsing its work despite well publicised anti-LGBTQ statements made by one of its senior leaders.

The Labour Campaign for LGBT+ Rights had branded Starmer’s visit and subsequent praise for the church’s work in a video as “unacceptable”.

Starmer eventually accepted it had been a “mistake” to visit the church, which is serving as a vaccination centre. He said he was “not aware” of its views on LGBTQ rights – despite Theresa May having been called out for the same reason after she visited it in 2017.

Timms opposed same-sex marriage ahead of its introduction in 2014 because he said marriage was “ordained for the procreation of children”.

He told HuffPost UK on Wednesday he had “checked” with Jesus House, which told him it regarded “homophobia as anti-Christian”.

But the church’s senior pastor, Agu Irukwu, has previously spoken against same-sex marriage and equality legislation.

In 2006 he signed a letter to The Daily Telegraph condemning the then Labour government for its position that “homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality”, something Irukwu said he did not “believe”.

“The latest discrimination against Christians is the new law called the Sexual Orientation Regulations, said to combat the problem of homophobia in Britain,” the letter said.

“It alarms us that the government’s only evidence for a problem actually existing is ‘accounts in national newspapers’.”

A separate letter in The Daily Telegraph, signed by Irukwu in 2013, said “marriage is and always will be distinctively a union between a man and a woman” and argued same-sex marriage would be “devaluing” the institution.

A survey run by the church in 2015, uncovered by Yahoo News, grouped homosexuality, being bisexual or transgender in with beastiality. 

Jesus House

 

Eloise Stonborough, associate director of policy and research at Stonewall, told HuffPost UK: “It’s disappointing to see politicians praising organisations which speak out against LGBT+ equality.

“This kind of acknowledgement is even more upsetting when so many faith groups welcome and support LGBT+ people of faith, and are doing crucial work to support their communities.

“Last December, over a hundred faith leaders came together from across the major religious traditions specifically to support a ban on conversion therapy.

“At a time when many LGBT+ people face huge challenges, we should all be focused on tackling prejudice and creating a world where everyone can thrive no matter who they are.”

Responding to Timms’ tweet, Labour MP Kate Osborne said: “Another day of disappointment.

“I also applaud the work of churches and faith groups who support their communities but, I do not applaud those who hide their bigotry behind their so-called religious beliefs.”

Timms told HuffPost UK: “Churches and mosques in Newham – including one of the Jesus House affiliates in East Ham – have done a superb job during the pandemic in distributing food to people who would otherwise not have had any. 

“The hardship of the pandemic would have been even worse without their efforts.

“They have been especially important for those with no recourse to public funds

“Given concerns expressed yesterday, I checked with Jesus House who told me that they don’t do anything like conversion therapy, and regard homophobia as anti-Christian.”

In an interview on Wednesday with Premier Christian News, Irukwu said the church does “not engage in any form of conversion therapy”.

Downing Street has also defended Boris Johnson’s own recent visit to the church.

The prime minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said “one of the main jobs inside government over the last few weeks and months has been driving up vaccine take-up in communities that are hesitant about taking it, most notably the black community”.

“It was an incredibly important visit. Making sure every aspect of the population feels confident in and takes the vaccine is a top priority for this government.”

She added: “This is a government that is fully committed to advancing LGBT rights and championing equality.”

Jesus House and the Labour Party has been approached for comment.

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