Keir Starmer has apologised for the “hurt” caused by his visit last week to a London church, Jesus House, with a senior pastor who has spoken out against same-sex marriage and LGBT+ equality legislation.
Labour’s Rachel Reeves had defended the Labour leader’s visit earlier today, claiming that Starmer was “visiting a vaccine centre”, which did not involve an endorsement of the views of worshippers there.
The shadow cabinet member told Sky News: “He was visiting a vaccine centre – that doesn’t mean we endorse all the views that the people who worship there would potentially endorse.”
But a number of Labour activists pointed out that Starmer spoke of Jesus House being “a wonderful example of a church serving their community” as both a vaccine centre and running a food bank.
Although socialist society LGBT+ Labour said it had received an “unreserved apology” from the leader’s office, the party did not make the apology public and Starmer’s video tweet was not deleted – until now.
Starmer tonight tweeted: “I completely disagree with Jesus House’s beliefs on LGBT+ rights, which I was not aware of before my visit. I apologise for the hurt my visit caused and have taken down the video. It was a mistake and I accept that.”
In the video posted on Friday, the leader said: “I’m here today at Jesus House in London. It’s a wonderful example of a church serving their community by coming together with health professionals and volunteers in the fight against the virus.
“From rolling out the vaccine to running the local food bank, Jesus House – like many other churches across the UK – has played a crucial role in meeting the needs of the community.” The video showed Starmer and Dawn Butler praying with the pastor.
LGBT+ Labour published a fresh statement this afternoon detailing the conversation held with the leader’s office – including an admission that research of the church had not been carried out – and Reeves’ comments.
The group explained that it had given the office the opportunity to “fix their mistake”, yet “they chose not to take up that opportunity”, and concluded that its trust in Starmer and Labour had been “damaged”.
Agu Irukwu, the pastor, signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph opposing laws that would protect LGBT+ people from discrimination in 2006 and signed another letter to the same paper opposing same-sex marriage legislation in 2013.
The letter signed by Irukwu in 2006 said the Equality Act would “force” churches to “promote the idea that homosexuality is equal to heterosexuality” yet “this is not what the Bible teaches and it is not what we believe to be the truth”.
Boris Johnson visited Jesus House in March to praise “the incredible work” being done on Covid vaccination there. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall also paid a visit to the north London church in early March.
Theresa May was criticised in 2017 when she met with members of Jesus House, which she described as “one of the most lively growing churches in the UK”, and participated in a Q&A session with Irukwu.
Jesus House responded at the time to what it termed “misinformed comments”, saying: “We are called to love all, irrespective of their ethnicity, religious background or sexual orientation. It’s not in our place to judge others.”